Saturday, October 30, 2010


Saint Umilta has come to town. She's in a glass coffin, like Sleeping Beauty, in her nun's garb, her crozier as Abbess. She rests in state at the church of San Michele e San Salvi, before going on to Faenza. Then returning to her sleepy convent in Bagni a Ripoli in the Tuscan countryside. I named our website for her, on 'Julian of Norwich, Her Showing of Love and Its Contexts'.
Like myself, Santa Umilta was married with children, then became a nun, then fled from her convent dedicated to St Perpetua in Faenza because they teased her - she was illiterate - but could preach magnificent sermons from pretend-reading in refectory, then became an anchoress. Unlike me, she then founded an order, the Vallombrosan nuns, physically building her new convent in Florence with the aid of a donkey carrying the stones for it in panniers, raising a child from the dead, and being revered by all. Her nuns carefully preserved her sermons. She lived here in the time of Dante, dying in 1310. Above her tomb in marble porphyry hung Lorenzetti's panels of her life and miracles, and beside it, Orcagna's sculpture. Then the Medici bulldozed her convent to build their military fortress against the Florentines and her nuns fled with the tomb, the painting and the statue to San Michele in San Salvi. Then later to Bagni a Ripoli with just her body, the paintings being sold off to the Uffizi and Berlin, the statue remaining at San Salvi.

At least we have Julian's Church, rebuilt after its bombing, though we have no portraits of her from her time, no statues from the Middle Ages, just her marvellous manuscripts, treasured and preserved by generations of Catholic nuns, Brigittines, Benedictines, copying her out in exile, under persecution and censorship in her own land. Read H.F.M Prescott's Man on a Donkey.

They are both women who dared to do theology. And such magnificent theology. Lorenzetti's panel of Umilta in her anchorhold where she heals a Vallombrosan monk perfectly fits Julian. And Julian's century.
For the rest of the Lorenzetti panels and Umilta's complete story, see For Julian

Sunday, October 24, 2010


Explosion! A sixteen-year-old who could not even write his name is now joying in copying the Latin on the plaques in the Santissima Annunziata, the English on the plaques in the Swiss-owned so-called 'English' Cemetery. Our Alphabetization School works! He read out to me the other day a poster on 'Santa Umilta'. I was in tears for she is the saint for whom I have named my Umilta website. Illiterate, she dictated marvellous sermons of most profound theology to her nuns. Yesterday he was reading Elizabeth Barrett Browning's stanza on Lily Cottrell. EBB, in Aurora Leigh, has a gypsy heroine, Marian Erle, teach herself to read and write out of books thrown away in the rubbish.

Mihai is from Romania, a Roma, a gypsy, his family too poor for them to afford his schooling, who beg in the streets, their miserable shacks in Osmannoro bulldozed by the police, and who are forced to sleep at night in the open in the streets in groups of no more than three.

They come each Sunday after Mass, sitting under the great column and cross at the centre of the Cemetery, learning their letters and how to write their names, teaching each other in Romani, the letters being the Romanian ones, having painted laptop blackboards for white chalk out of left-over library shelving. They get sandwiches of blessed bread and ground chicken livers and apples and water and used clothing. Sometimes as many as twelve of them, all ages, both genders. It's so easy to do and yet no church, no government seems to see this is a need for beggars in the street to rise up out of their poverty. It costs so little. It can achieve so much.

We are using the ideas of Lancaster, Montessori, Piaget, Freire and Don Lorenzo Milani. They work! When I ask them which language they are happiest in they say Romani. It is from Sanskrit, from India, it is their language, in the home, in the family. Excellent linguists, we find classes being in a mixture of Romani, Romanian, Italian and English. And now Latin, too! With laughter and with self-worth.

Thursday, October 21, 2010



For images see

My generation finds it hard explaining to the next our joy at discovering the beauty of our earth seen from space. We had thought it would be large, ugly, wrinkled, brown; not this delicacy of Della Robbia blue and white, this delightful fragile blue marble, with all the wonder that there is in the body of a living, breathing baby held in our arms; the marvel of holding a hazel nut , an olive leaf, the Consecrated Host, in the palm of our hand; sharing God's delight in Creation.

Christ met the Samaritan woman outdoors, at Jacob's Well. She asked if she should worship God in the Jews' Temple. He replied that God is here, where we are, in our midst, in this world. Later, seeing a widow giving all she had, the few poor coins, amidst the great stones, stumbling blocks, the great scandal, like millstones about their necks, lying all about them for building that Temple, he said the Herodian Temple would be thrown down, not one stone standing on another, but that he would raise it in three days. He spoke of his risen body.

In Australia a nun said to me that the Aborigine are worthless, they built no cities. Moved by the Spirit, I replied 'But Cain, the first murderer, was the first city builder, Abel instead a pilgrim, who built none'. European culture with its cities transposed, York, a Viking village in Sweden, becoming the new name of formerly Roman Eboracum, the city of York in England, becoming the megalopolis of New York in the United States, is a culture of emigration, of conquest, of displacement, of trauma. But the Native Peoples left almost no trace, no scar, upon the face of the blue marble, living harmoniously with it.

The Aborigine Elders , discussing Christian theology and studying the Bible to do so in its original languages, observed that the pattern of Joshua, conquering the Promised Land with violence, trauma, bloodshed, is incorrect; while that of Melchisadek and Abraham, the one, the indigenous Priest King with the Blessing of Bread and Wine, the other, the outsider, celebrating together the Eucharist, from Canaan through Israel to all Christendom, is the Blessing of the Earth, its fruitfulness together with the labour of our human hands, in thankfulness to God's Creation, God's gift, sharing this in turn with each other, is the Peaceable Kingdom of Heaven.

Counterclockwise: white ochre for spiritual protection from Australia, blessed olive leaves from Montebeni, one small wild English hazel nut, one large Australian hazel nut, clapper stick, one of two, made by Annette Zerberis in Melbourne, Australia, of two women working at the mill, carved from oak. Compare with the Hopi Message for Humanity.

In the umilta website, created itself in prayer, is much prayer. Here we can find the Shema , here we can find the Lord's Prayer , here we can find the Beatitudes , here we can find Consecration of the Eucharist , here we can find St Francis' Lauds of God . The Shema would be said both indoors and out, and itself placed on the limen, the doorpost of the house, the house become Temple of God, the place where God is loved with all one's being. The Lord's Prayer and the Beatitudes are said on mountains around the lake of Galilee, outdoors, in the presence of blue water. The Eucharist is said in an Upper Room in a widow's home, and following it Christ and the Disciples walk to the Mount of Olives, to Gethsemani, singing and praying beneath the stars. When Fra Angelico paints the Betrayal in that Garden he carefully shows the branches of his own Tuscan olive trees. St Francis prays his Lauds of God outdoors on Mont Averna in Umbria. And I go walking about the Italian countryside amongst the olive trees, in starlight and sunlight, singing St Patrick's Lorica , which is a Christian Shema. In binding upon ourselves the sacred name of God we become ourselves part of the holiness of all.

Sussex font with Celtic/Scandinavian interlace used for embroidery on a chasuble.

We need the Rosary, the Angelus. The Rosary with images from Fra Angelico and Della Robbia, filling prayer with humanity, with beauty. The Angelus, perhaps, though this is now impossible, with the sound of my convent's chapel bell I rang three times each day, the three, the three, the three, then the nine, the Sybil prophesying Christ in nine books, Dante's Beatrice as a Nine, Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Aurora Leigh in nine books, my pulling the rope twice, the momentum giving the third, at six, at noon, at eight. And remembering once in Advent that I had been then as was the Virgin , in the ninth month with Child. Indeed this Website includes the two series of prayers that would have been known to Julian of Norwich, the Great O Antiphons of Advent, and the XV O's of the Crucifixion, upon which she structures her web of the Showing of Love . Binding our lives together with God into holiness.

Kenyan Alice Waithera's Rosary

In Kenya now there is famine. Think of our prayer. The Lord's Prayer, the Beatitude, the Consecration at the Eucharist, all about hunger and about bread, the staff of life, our hunger for God. A Latin American Grace we can say at our meals:

God, to those who have hunger, give bread
and to us who have bread, give the hunger for justice.

Fioretta Mazzei reminds us:

Trova ad avere pazienza: anche per un pezzo di pane
ci vuole un anno di lavoro e molte mani che collaborano.

Be patient: Even for a piece of bread
a year of work and many hands are needed.

In the Eucharist the priest and the people together bless the bread and wine, the fruit of the earth and of the vine and the work of human hands. Words said by Canaanites, Jews, Christians, the Royal Priesthood . Blessed be God forever!

The greatest Sacraments are the simplest, not needing Temples or Cathedrals of cut stone or marble, but water from a river, bread from wheat in fields, wine from vines, oil from olive trees, the gifts of God for the People of God. It was with water from the Jordan John baptised Jesus. It was with wine and oil the Samaritan tended to the Traveller's wounds. It was with oil the Sinning Woman anointed Christ the Christ, he saying what she had done would be the Gospel to the ends of the earth forever. It was with water Christ washed his Disciples' feet in humility, copying her, and then blessed, like Melchisadek, the bread and the wine, next prayed amidst the olives that night. Divinity become Humanity. Ben-Adam. One of us.

Della Robbia, Christ in Prayer

The Della Robbia family took the simplest material, earth, clay, terra cotta, the stuff from which bricks and tiles are made, from which God made Adam and Eve, Everyman and Everywoman, Adam in Hebrew meaning also men and women, earth and red, Christ's naming himself so as 'Son of Man', 'Ben-Adam'. Then they added to it glazes from sand of blue and white and green, creating, before we knew it, the colours of our delicate blue marble. Prayer is to take our clay, our mortal, finite flesh and bone and blood, and make it not only of earth, but also of heaven's eternity, to change its carnal red to priestly blue. The colour of the High Priest Aaron's robes in the Temple; the colour of Mary's robes in humble Nazareth.

Jesus' first prayer taught him by his Mother, said each night, 'Into thy hands [yadikah] , O Lord, King of the Universe, I commend my Spirit [ruah]'. He says it on the Cross. God breathes his spirit [ruah] upon the waters in Genesis, his spirit is upon Christ at his Baptism, it is upon us at Pentecost in Jerusalem. The image of the hand in Judaism signifies God who has made us with his.

Julian speaks of seeing in the palm of her hand something the size of a hazel nut and is told by God, 'It is all that is made'. And that because God despises nothing that he has made he loves and protects and saves it and us.

Quakers and Amish eschew churches as steeple houses, the stuff of pride. Often we meet in homes, or we build and use the simplest Meeting Houses. My children and I became Members of the Society of Friends. There is no hierarchy. Though one can be on the Overseers' Bench (this would correspond to 'Episcopus', 'bishop' which means 'looking about one'). And one can be an Elder (this would correspond to 'Presbyter', from which comes the word, 'priest'). Women and men have been in equality since the Religious Society of Friends (Quakers)' founding in the Seventeenth Century through to this our present Twenty-First Century. Likewise children were recognized as equal with adults from the start when their parents were goaled for religious dissent and the children, though flogged, continued the silent Meetings in Worship.

It was once in Meeting for Worship, where we speak only when the Spirit moves us, I found myself on my feet speaking of the sacredness of matter. That we have been wrongly taught by the Platonists to despise matter. Rather we should consider it sacred, to be altered and distorted as little as possible. It is God's heritage to us and to our children's children. For this reason we should not split atoms for quick energy, instant gratification, leaving nuclear radiation about for future generations' harm. For this reason we should walk through God's landscape, rather than burn fuel in internal combustion machines. For this reason we should be like indigenous peoples, leaving the least scarring, the least trauma, to the earth. For matter is energy, that Trinity moment, that Upanishad moment, Openheimer and I have experienced, in which God as Light is unlawfully unleashed upon our Universe.

Best to let matter unwind into energy, as Buckminster Fuller said, like the log gradually becoming instead firelight, both light and warmth, as slowly, rather than as rapidly, as possible. It is a gift, which like bread and wine and water and oil, needs to be blessed for right use and cherished as a sacred, not a profane, thing. Alcoholics come not to bless but curse the wine they drink. Energholics find it hard to breathe. Yet life is breath and Spirit, our ruah brooding upon the waters at Creation in Genesis, the first prayer Mary teaching Jesus, being the prayer he says on the cross in her presence, 'Into thy hands, yadika , O Lord, I commend my spirit, ruah'. Light and air about our cosmos need to be kept clean and free from the poison we indulge in. There is no quick fix. Best is conservation. My first son wrote his Senior Thesis at his Quaker School on St Francis . My second son named his teepee, 'Gentle Strength'. My third son had a t-shirt worn into holes and tatters from Quaker Annual Gathering, that said ' Every Person is a Holy Place '.

Hildegard of Bingen, in the Twelfth Century, said all of this and the manuscript of her final text, here in Lucca, shows it:

Hildegard shows imbalance causing disease and death, prophesying the polluting and poisoning of the earth's ecology, but also fruitful labour and right sharing of the earth's resources for all.

We are human. Before Christ a freed African slave, who wrote the purest Latin, in a play had one character proclaim, 'Homo sum: humani nichil a me alienum puto', 'I am human; therefore I consider nothing of humanity alien to me'. Montaigne painted that line from Terence's play on his study ceiling. John Donne wrote it in English as 'No man is an island'. We live on this blue marble in a delicate symbiosis, the one with the other, breathing the same air, sharing the same earth, joying in the energy of sunlight. The earth is sacred, is God's truest Temple, as Christ said to the Samaritan woman. Our bodies, too, are sacred, and are Temples of the Spirit, Paul his Apostle, tells us. Our bodies, minds, souls, are as delicate a balance as is earth, air and energy. Neither the earth nor ourselves should be wounded. Nor should we wound the earth or another. There should be no trauma , no abuse, no crucifixion, no scapegoat, no holocaust .

And where there has been harm it is our task to heal. Why we give blessed olive leaves worldwide as Godfriends' ministry,for healing and for consecration,of ourselves through each others', in our shared love of God and neighbour ~ ~ ~ . In this Della Robbia of simple glazed clay we see a Jewish/Florentine maiden as mother hold up to us her small child who blesses you.

Della Robbia, Madonna and Child


Blessed Olive Branch, Kenyan olive-
wood bowl, William Morris Print

Sunday, October 17, 2010

There's a film about non-violent passive resistance in a Palestinian village, Budrus, that offers hope in Israel.

I have seen the Palestinian people. Who are poor. Who have been UN Refugees in camps since WWII. Who were displaced from their land, from their homes, walled up into enclaves, now the most densely populated area in the world, systematically shut off from water, food and medicine, their wells destroyed, their homes bombed, now even their UN schools bombed. These are the people who still live the pages of the Bible, with olive trees, camels, donkeys. Many are Christian. Some are Samaritan. It was amongst them, the Syro-Phoenicians, that our writing began.

I have seen the Israelis. Who have all western technology at their fingertips. Who once came to that land as cattle-herding nomads from Iraq. And who then returned to Palestine/Israel in atonement for genocide practiced against them. Who could return because they had learned from the Phoenicians their writing and had written their history of their conquest of this land, a book, the Bible, shared and known world-wide. Yet the State of Israel is atheist. It has been given back its land because of suffering genocide. It may lose its right to that land if it, in turn, practices genocide. It is destroying that land with cars, roads, buildings, military hardware, a globalized non-identity that mars its pages of the Bible.

In a family where a child is acting out psychiatrists know the family etiology lies elsewhere. Oppressed peoples act out against their oppressors a theatre of the violence they themselves endure. They are then labeled 'Terrorists'. But they are mirroring back to the States the violence, the injustice, practiced against them. Gandhi, starving, was telling England she was starving India, economically and politically. Irish prisoners fasting were telling England she starved Ireland. Suicide bombers are telling States that their violence is annihilating the individual and collective right to life. An anorexic daughter is attempting to liberate herself from parental oppression by the only means left to her. An 'acting out' child is saying something is going terribly wrong in his home.

When Abraham came to semitic Palestine he was greeted by its priest-king Melchisadec with the gifts of bread and wine, gifts produced by the labour of human hands working in harmony with the earth. Australian Aborigines taught me this story in the context of their desire to coexist with the Whites in Australia, to share their expertise of living with their land and its harshness, rather than rob its life-giving aquifers of water pressure.

When I see the poverty of the Roma in Italy and learn of the bulldozing of their poor shelters made of materials no one else wants, this being justified because people must not live that way, I remember the Palestinians' homes bulldozed by the Israelis, I remember the homes of the Blacks in South Africa bulldozed by the Whites, I remember the housing of Blacks in San Francisco bulldozed by the Whites, always those with power against those without power with no alternative provision made for housing or work that can raise their standard of living. I saw in Israel a camp in the desert, a concentration camp, within it Black Jews, families in poverty baking in the hot sun surrounded by barbed wire. I have seen in America the poverty and despair of Native Americans on the reservations. A war waged with high technology against the poor in the face of violence is terrorism. There are mourners at funerals on both sides.

Instead, let there be weddings. Without bombings. My friend, Karen Graffeo, has a splendid project. She, Christian, makes chuppas for Jewish weddings, where the Moslem Roma, refugees from former Yugoslavia in Italy, embroider the names in gold thread on white silk of the Jewish ancestors.

The solutions lie here. In the sharing of bread and wine. In the planting of olive trees. In the open access to wells and to land. And to good schools of learning where the book of Isaiah is read.

Blessings and olive leaves of healing against violence,
Julia Bolton Holloway

Friday, October 15, 2010


It's a book I deeply love. Where Buber, as a young man, gathered together writings from Hassidism, from the Sufi, from the Friends of God. Many women among the men. Among them Julian of Norwich.

And another,

Rainbow Spirit Theology in which Aborigine Elders in Australia make sense of the white man's Christianity through advocating the model of Melchisadek to Abraham, the indigenous person sharing his culture with the invading nomad.