Written in both Italian and English, the booklet handed out for the mass walked us through each liturgy and each song was presented with musical notes. Familiar carols, fragrances and passages filled the air as I followed along as best I could.
I decided earlier I would take of the wine traditionally offered during communion, as I wanted to partake as fully and genuinely with the ritual as I could. Given that I've been in recovery for 17 years, this was a huge decision! Thank goodness, when the time came and wine was not offered with the communion wafer, I knew the "power greater than myself" was taking care of me.
As the service approached conclusion, we were invited to bow down for the blessing. With earnest I did so as the following passage was recited:
experience can transcend words and concepts and we become aware of things on a different level--an energetic level, is the best I can convey it. Our attention gets so refined, we can 'hear' on a more subtle level, with our whole body. It's not that words and intention behind those words don't matter--quite the contrary--intention matters most, because it can be detected and experienced energetically, regardless of the words associated with it. Regardless of the language.
It also isn't to say that sounds don't affect us--music, intonation, rhythm in language--these too are crucially important because of the energy underlying them and the movement of space through time that sounds produces.
This is why each and every religious offering--Catholicism, other Christian traditions, Buddhism, Taoism, Islam, Hinduism--can touch us. It's the goodness within the intention. Some of my most profound spiritual experiences were participating in and listening to religious offerings in languages I didn't understand. Whether it was during the Sikh New Years kirtan in England or India, Hindu kirtan in India, evening chanting by monks in temples across Thailand, or attending Christmas Eve Midnight mass in Vancouver (and now Italy), thanks to mindfulness, I can experience the goodness of these traditions in my heart, transcending the barriers and limitations of language. I'm more in tune with the language of the soul as it passes through my body.
Even with all the misunderstandings and failings in practice in religions, there is a goodness within them. And that goodness depends not only on the intentions of those involved and their practice, it depends on my intentions in receiving and practicing their goodness. This night, I could experience that touch of goodness with tens of thousands of others who opened to and shared in that goodness as best they could.
Whatever more blessings were on their way, I had already experienced blessings enough for many a lifetime, and in this, I felt blessed like no other time in my life.
The crowds quietly dispersed into the cold late night Roman streets, like fog slowly filling a valley. Jim and I strolled back to our hotel, sharing our experiences and wonder. It was Christmas.
Christmas day? We spent it exploring the largest Jewish Temple in Rome and it's accompanying museum, indulging in a delectable sidewalk meal, and watched the newly released version of Pinnochio, featuring Roberto Benigni. And that experience led to yet another epiphany--one about family--that I'll share more about in the next post. In the meantime, with every good wish...
JoAnn Saccato, MA is a mindfulness teacher, author, life coach, educator, and consultant in Northern California. She is author of Companioning the Sacred Journey and Mindful and Intentional Living: A Path to Peace, Clarity and Freedom