Saturday, September 25, 2010

The Rooms of St. Clare

One has only to go into any room
in any street for the whole of that
extremely complex force of
femininity to fly in one's face.

-Virginia Woolf

Hers is the mystery of rooms.
The room from whose window she watches
Francis walk across the Piazza San Rufino
and into whose tapestried forest
          she withdraws
to seek the unicorn's white horn
that brings her to that other room
where Bishop Guido places
the palm into her open soul.

Rooms open on rooms.
St. Mary of the Angels, the room of vows
that open onto the nuns at Bastia,
the monastery on Mount Subasio, and
San Damiano with its rooms God has prepared for her,
each room conforming to the contours of her soul
like a fitted wedding dress.
There at San Damiano
she crosses the threshold
          into the Royal Chamber.
Above the marble altar-bed she sees
herself in the mirror that spoke to Francis.
She's radiant, calm, pure with desire.
She kneels and the room
opens upon mansions of possibility;
other brides cross the threshold with her,
fill the rooms of their own espousals.
Rooms spill out into streets of their village,
a courtyard around whose well they gather
to draw water, talk their own domesticity.
They gather for church
          like women inside Assisi's
walls. They sing psalms, share the Bread of Life,
after which they pass
          a further threshold
into Lady Poverty's dining room where Clare
blesses another bread
          crossed with want and penance.

But it is the steep ascent from choir
through the narrow passageway
into their Bridal Chamber
that lifts Clare and the Poor Ladies above routine.
For there is the room of redemptive suffering where
Clare ministers to her sick sisters,
lies bedridden sewing albs and altar linens.
There she opens the door, kneels
before her Eucharistic Lord, and
prays away the threatening advances
of the Emperor's mercenary soldiers.

There in the room of consummations
she holds her Rule that holds
all the rooms of the Poor Ladies' lives.
She presses the Book of Rooms to her heart and
Crosses the final threshold into all the rooms of her life
          now graced with Him
who is the mirror she enters without effort,
without shattering the glass that
holds her image inside His.

-Murray Bodo, OFM

From Francis and Clare in Poetry: An Anthology, edited by Janet McCann and David Craig (Cincinnati: St. Anthony Messenger Press, 2005).
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