I did not expect one of the more spiritually moving moments of my life to take place in St. Peter’s Basilica. Yes, I am aware that it is a church, after all, and the largest church in the world, apparently. And I am a pastor, so churches are supposed to be somewhat moving, I suppose. But I am not Catholic, and so it was not moving for the reasons it is for so many Catholic people who venture there. I expected to be more moved by the beauty and awesomeness of God’s creation in the Mediterranean and the Alps, and I was in the former and expect to be in the latter.
But it was standing before Michelangelo’s Pieta that blew me away. I felt first the pain in Mary’s face, past the shock of the death of her son into the empty resignation stage. I wondered how a man could possibly have grasped that look that every mother would know instinctively. I actually had tears.
Then there was the perfect form of every sinew of Christ’s feet, arms, and ribs. I almost felt as if I was looking at the real thing, and seeing again that love that had endured this horrible thing for me.
Meanwhile, so many people were taking their flash photos and moving on, so they could put it in an album and say, “Yup, I saw that famous statue there in Rome.” And I could barely walk away. I just wonder how many people traveled around the world to see this, then completely missed what it was there for.
Another important quality for writers and travelers, whether in life or in the world—a sense of wonder and a willingness to be surprised.