Well I’ve just got back from an amazing four weeks in Italy! Many of you will know that I love Italy and would probably have every holiday possible there if I could (afford it that is).
The holiday was in celebration of major birthdays and anniversary (there is a 50, a 25, a 21 and an 18 in there – not necessarily in that order!).
There were several highlights for me. Firstly, my lovely daughters took me out for my birthday (ok I admit it I’m at least 25!) to a restaurant with the most amazing view out over the valley below Cortona.
Then there was the fab present – a hammock. I have wanted one of these for years – and Angie got Nigel in to check that there was room in the garden for it. I shall hope to have it setup in the garden sometime soon.
Another great experience was going to see the opera Madam Butterfly at the Puccini Festival at the Torre del Lago near to Pisa with some friends (Simon and Lynn). The Festival is held on open air theatre on the shore of Lake Massaciuccoli very near to the sea. It is an exquisite setting and very magical (Glyndebourne by the sea). We arrived earlier than we realised we needed to (we assumed that the performance would be at 7.30pm but actually it started at 9.15). It then allowed us the chance to go for an amazing meal in a restaurant overlooking the wonderful lake – truly magical. Then as darkness gathered we took our place and watched a great performance of Madam Butterfly. I have watched a number of plays in the open air but never an opera and it was a not only a new experience but a very moving experience.
And because you know that you love opera here are highlights from some of the performances at the Puccini Festival from past years:
In Addition there were all the wonderful places to visit – Cortona, Arezzo, Firenze, Perugia, Siena, Montepulciano, Volterra, San Gimignano, Lucca etc. The art, the sculptures, the layout of the cities all make it wonderful places to visit.
In one of the places we stayed we looked out over San Gimignano – known as the Medieval Manhatten of Italy given its 14 medieval towers.
It was all in all a wonderful holiday and we spent it with some great family friends.
Then after three weeks of holidaying I spent a week on my own in a small apartment overlooking Lake Como! I do try to take a week out each year to read and pray and I find that I am by nature a hermit in these times. I prefer to be on my own and so this year since I had the car in Italy and I was having to drive back I hired somewhere on the route back – which just happened to be a cheap place up a mountain overlooking the top of Lake Como.
It was lovely and secluded and had some great walks (as long as you liked climbing up and down mountains!). I had loads of time to read and pray and it was a really good time to think.
One of the great things that retreats do is not only give you ample time to pray but also to read all the books that you have been wanting to. So I came with a stack of books to read. The odd thing is how often connections are made between different thoughts and themes in different books. So this year the books included (I’ll review some of them over the next few days or so):
- Finding our way again by Brian Mclaren
- Speaking of Jesus by Carl Medearis
- Good Strategy/Bad Strategy by Richard Rumelt
- Jesus and the Eyewitnesses by Richard Bauckham
- The First Urban Christians by Wayne Meeks
- Meet the Rabbis by Brad Young
Now I have to admit that a couple haven’t been finished. This is usually because I find a theme unfolding in my prayers and reading and I am more interested in following that than finishing a book. But they were all interesting and I plan to read all of them.
Obviously, one of the things that people want to know about retreats is what you come out with. Well for me its primarily about making space for God. Life gets busy and its easy to crowd God out. For me it is a commitment to the value of listening. It usually takes me several days for life to calm down and to really start listening. Its a discipline and a reminder that silence and solitude are great disciplines to develop and seek.
Then it was the 850+ mile drive back on Saturday. Leaving 5.30am in the morning the drive was a good one and I managed to get an earlier crossing and get back by 10pm.