· A conversation with Antonella Lumini, a hermitess in Florence ·
Antonella Lumini, a delicate woman with large bright eyes described as a “urban hermitess”, graciously came to meet me at the platform of the Florence train station. The conversation was immediately easy and intense: Antonella looks at others with interest and love, and one immediately feels sincerely welcomed and ready to tell her many personal things, to lay upon her shoulders a bit of the burden of suffering that each of us carries in our daily journey. But I overcome the temptation — and this already tells me much about her — to begin what would be more a conversation than interview. We are about the same age, and so together we unravel the story of our generation, which passed through 1968, taking from it, however, not only negative lessons but also a search for authenticity that subsequently marked our lives and especially our return to the faith.
What were the most significant events of those years?
A deep sense of unhappiness and pain led, at the age of 24, to a serious illness from which I was healed with macrobiotics and the use of techniques of Eastern spirituality. Soon thereafter, a strong call to silence prompted me to seek solitary places immersed in nature. Everything seemed a miracle to me. The contact with my soul opened me to wonder and joy. Encountering Fr Vannucci, whom I met shortly before his death, was essential. The hermitage of San Pietro alle Stinche, which he founded, as well as his books have been of great importance in my journey.
Have you ever considered entering a monastery?
I visited several monasteries, but I always felt they weren’t my way. The hermitage of Cerbaiolo was particularly important; for more than 30 years it was my soul’s refuge. An ancient monastery once Benedictine, perched on a hill just in front of La Verna, it was later donated to the Franciscans. After being destroyed during the war, Chiara — the hermitess who lived there from the 70s, had it rebuilt. These sojourns — and my closeness to the figure of Chiara whom I consider to be my spiritual teacher — were fundamental to my growth.
When did you come to understand your vocation?
It was a long and difficult road because I didn’t see any outlets or find an appropriate response to the call I felt so keenly. Silence attracted me, and I sought in every way to preserve it in my home in the centre of Florence. Msgr Gino Bonanni, the parish priest of the Abbey of Florence, helped me. The Church was dear to La Pira, who had given me a decisive book: Poustinia, Christian Spirituality of the East for Western Man by Catherine de Hueck Doherty (Jaca Book, 1981). Poustinia — a term from the Orthodox tradition — means a place where one can enter into solitude and collect oneself in silence. It can even be a corner of the home, and so I began to see my home as a poustinia. I arranged a small room for meditation and listening. I read a passage from Scripture, I call upon the Holy Spirit (ruah in Hebrew), and then I immerse myself in silence. I bring everything there.
But you aren’t a hermitess who stays put, from what I gather you move around quite a lot....
For years I made solitary pilgrimages to Egypt, Jerusalem, Greece. I went to Patmose to meditate on the Book of Revelation. I wrote down in several notebooks what I received in prayer: things greater than me. I simply listen, receive, and write. Today the time of meditation is over, we have to listen directly to the voice of the Spirit and I believe that now it is women who must speak, because women are more receptive, they know how to recognize the tenderness of God, transmit it, and tell about it. If the Church is the bride of Christ and mother, isn’t it a real contradiction that women so rarely have the opportunity to express themselves? Feminine and maternal potentialities need to emerge precisely within the Church. Humanity needs it.
You said that your writings come as the the fruit of your meditations over the years.
Yes, for more than 20 years I wrote without knowing what I was supposed to do with all those notebooks. Several years ago, I began to publish a few things. A new phase opened for me, one of witness, which I alternate with silence. I am invited to speak, to conduct prayer meetings, often with lay groups in various places in Italy. There is no doubt that I am attracted by those who are far away, I know what it is to be one. I look for a way of speaking that reaches everyone, one adapted to the various circumstances: I can’t speak the same way in a parish as I can with a group of feminists. These meetings are sometimes organized by the local Church, others by groups who wish to get a taste of spirituality. There are people who ask to be listened to, for individual encounters. Some want only to lay down their burden of pain, others are looking for a way amid difficulty and confusion. They come for long periods, more or less, then perhaps they return after being away for some time. It’s a kind of spiritual motherhood. My door is open, yet I have to defend my times of silence which nourish me spiritually.
Your book ‘Dio è madre’ [God is mother] is organized according to the rules of the sacred representations of the medieval tradition: the interior journey develops through dialogue with St Mary Magdalene and the Apostle John, who shows how his gospel was inspired by Mary. It is a book of meditations centred on a message, a voice that you heard: “I am the Holy Spirit, I am the mother who is in God”.
Of course, the identification of the Spirit with the maternal aspect of God has precedent in the Eastern Fathers, who associated Him with sophìa, i.e., Divine Wisdom, and also in Hebrew, ruah is feminine. The moment has come when humanity perceives God as a loving presence, no longer as judgmental. It is we who condemn ourselves, not God. And this is precisely what Pope Francis, who aims to reawaken hearts and consciences, says in order to render them more open to love. The time we live in seems dark, but a great spiritual expansion is occurring that can reconcile humanity to itself. If we open ourselves to love, we become instruments of the Holy Spirit’s work, and the communion between God and humanity, and between all living beings, will grow. The relationship of love welcomes, it sustains.
You practice spiritual motherhood, the same that you have seen as characteristic of the Holy Spirit. In your book you speak of a new time that is opening up for humanity, an era of the mother.
Today we are in a time of great trial. All of the resistance that is opposing the work of the Spirit has come out into the open. Satan, in Hebrew “the adversary”, is pulling out all his forces. We see it in the crisis of motherhood. Women, who are the heart of love, are losing their maternal instinct, the capacity to welcome and to love. But today we are witnessing the rediscovery of Mary by so many women who had moved away from her: thus a new feminine model is being recognized which seeks to be embodied ever more universally. There is an aspect of the divine motherhood which moves me deeply: in opening themselves to maternal love, children discover that their mother carried in her heart the pain they did not want to feel. “I am the mother of a wounded humanity that bleeds because of how far it has wandered away from me” the Holy Spirit says. But the new era, that of maternal love, is drawing near: humanity will understand, it will no longer be able to believe that it is sufficient unto itself.
What are your plans for the future?
I feel the time has come to open a poustinia, a place to welcome people who need silence and to be listened to. I entrust this intuition to the Spirit. Another significant initiative is being led by the Temple for Peace, which I have been a part of for a long time. It is a lay association that sprang up in Florence and which gathers together people of various religions as well as non-believers. The idea would be to obtain from the city council of Florence a permanent space for silence, as happened in Berlin.
One is sorry to leave this delicate woman who radiates so much love, who lives a spiritual motherhood in every moment. But knowing that Antonella Lumini lives in the midst of a city, mixed in with the tense and breathless everyday life, fills one with hope.
St. Peter’s Square
May 19, 2019
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