When I left for Italy a year ago, I didn't know why. It wouldn't be a vacation--I knew that. More like a pilgrimage whose purpose had not yet made itself known. I only knew this: that my brief visit to Florence in January of 2017 hadn't been enough. Florence offered more--much more, I thought--and I needed to find it.
And that's not too big of a stretch. Florence, the seat of the Renaissance, was home to names everyone knows--DaVinci, Dante, Botticelli, Donatello, Galileo, and of course, Michaelangelo. So much happened there in so short a time that it changed the way we think about God and man, beauty and evil. The Renaissance was the perfect storm of man in the process of looking for God, digging himself out of the Dark Ages into a Wonderful Light. I wanted to vicariously live it--to climb out of ordinariness and taste it all.
So I decided to stay a month. Surely, in that amount of time, I would find what I was looking for.
Much of Florence was the same as I remembered it--songs and statues, pasta and paintings--so much that there is an actual disease that derives its name from taking in too many of the sights too quickly. But that was not my plan. I had plenty of time and I was going slow. I didn't want to miss whatever it was I was looking for.
I found the Ponte Vecchio at dawn,
and the Duomo of Santa Maria de Fiore
and Michaelangelo's David
and Botticelli's Birth of Venus.
It should have been enough.
But it wasn't.
There was something more. And, almost a month in, I still hadn't found it.
Along the way, a local had told me I needed to go to the Museo della' Opera del Duomo. "You have to go," he said. When I told him that if I had time, he laid his hand on my arm and repeated, "You HAVE to go." And I put it on the back burner. There were other things to do first, I thought.
But three days before I was to leave, I had the time and remembered the look on his face.
The Opera Museum is in Duomo square and bigger than it looks. It is almost all white and steel and glass, but it has something I've never seen--duplicates of its most famous exhibits made for touching. The originals still lie behind barricades, but faithful copies lie out in the open and the visitor can feel them--every curve of cool marble and plaster.
And that was where I found Him.
Michaelangelo's last Pieta.
This not the pieta at the Vatican--the beautiful, graceful Mary and sleeping Jesus. This Jesus is very dead, laying awkward across both she and Nicodemus. He is dead weight, impossible to hold up but unthinkable to let go.
And I walked up to touch the face of Christ. Just like that. Smooth and hard of muscle and sinew. Here was the cord that stretched beneath the skin of His neck.
There were the muscle of His arm and there His brow. I stroked them like I once stroked Dave--slowly and with a lover's caress.
And suddenly He wasn't God but a flesh and blood man. A man given and taken by God. He had it all--blood, bone, tissue, hair, sweat, weariness, the rush of life. The bridge of His nose. His tangled hair. The way His head hung--finished but not defeated. The window of His eyes closed as He fell to the side--intact even though the spark was gone.
And I saw.
Blessed are they who have not seen and believe.--John 20:29
Maybe my faith is too weak. Maybe I am one of those who needs to see, but on this day, I touched my Savior. And even as I heard His voice tell me not to hold on to Him, that He must go to His Father, for that moment I felt the weight of Him, the genuine-ness of His flesh, and I was Mary in the garden, hearing my name spoken, impossible to mistake, in the voice I knew so well. And replying with relief and astonishment, crying "Rabboni!"
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