I was walking around the Wallace Collection, admiring the décor and the paintings that the dedication of a family of collectors brought together for us to enjoy centuries later when a friend mentioned the fundraising a blogger had done for one of the Swiss Guards. At the staggeringly high figure that was raised to cover a specific cost, my first reaction was to bring up the children around the world dying from lack of access to vaccines for illnesses we’ve controlled in the West. To this, he replied: “You’re so Franciscan”.
This was before I would spend the Easter weekend with a large group of under 35s at Worth Abbey, a Benedictine monastery. There is a quality about Worth Abbey that I can hardly put into words, and that weekend marked one of the most spiritual experiences in my life. There was a sense of being there for a purpose, and friendships that went deeper than years can achieve. The round church with dim lights and worship music on Good Friday is something I will never forget, as I won’t forget the church brought to light and life at the Easter vigil, with the readings feeling simultaneously ancient and present, and the experience of nearly seeing the dawn, singing around the piano while the world was asleep, waiting to discover the empty tomb and the risen Lord when the sun was up.
Those words from my friend haunted me during Lectio Divina, with passages from St Paul’s letters about letting go of the things of this world. Go back a few months and it’s New Year’s Eve and a Franciscan friar advising me about letting go of a lover entering religious life. Fast forward to the present and here I am, in a messy room in a loft in London, learning to let go of material things. I have a sentimental attachment to objects. Objects have a story, or many. They bring back memories. If we didn’t have them we wouldn’t know the past, and the most insignificant object can open up immense possibilities.
Historians like to know about the past, but we also struggle with nostalgia and a bit of antiquarianism more than we’d like to admit. We escape in the past, and often we understand it better than the present and feel that we belong there, when sometimes we don’t feel like that in our own present lives. It’s hard to let go of things. Some of us like to control, and possess, and accumulate things that make us feel in control. I certainly do. The future is uncertain, so why would I want to do something from which I can’t turn the clock back like getting rid of things? Maybe I will need them someday. Maybe I will use them again, maybe they’ll be vintage fashion when my daughter is a teenager and she’ll be mad at me like I was at my mother because she threw away all she had before she got married.
I don’t feel that Franciscan at all…