Monday, April 19, 2010

Reconnecting with my Spirtual Side

There is something about living in a Renaissance city that really brings out the Bible in you. Since I've been here, I've actually finished reading the Bible. I pride myself on being a quick, dedicated, and motivated reader. I used to get made fun of for it. When I was in seventh grade I had a friend who literally used to make fun of me every single day because I was never without a book. I even count the books I read. Okay, off track here. The point is, I read every damn word of the Bible. You don't realize exactly how long that book is until you try and make it through the Old Testament. UGH! That book is chock-full of wisdom and enlightenment, but smite me now, God, if the Old Testament isn't dreadfully boring. I counted ten seconds before writing this sentence and yes, I'm still living, and so I think God gets it.

He knows, though, that reading the Bible has seen me undergo a personal transformaton. I went to Catholic school for nine long years. I was force-fed the stuff everyday of my life. Not only did I go to church at school, I had a church outside of school. I went to mass every Sunday. I prayed at the foot of my bed. I even participated in the nativity scene every year as an angel. By the time I turned thirteen, I fucking hated being a Catholic. So I quit. I don't know that its possible to up and quit being a Catholic, but I did it. When my mom forced me to recieve Confirmation, I did everything I could to thwart the process. I chose Valentine as my name (ridiculous), I was an upstart in CCD, and I got myself in loads of trouble for telling the priest in confessional that I'd murdered a guy and buried him in my backyard. If my mom hadn't of taught at my church for a number of years I'd have been kicked out immediately. When I did get confirmed, I stuck my tounge out in my pictures with the Bishop who'd come all the way from New York as a last fuck you to Catholicism. I started reading the Bible before I came to Florence because yeah, I missed God. And I've noticed that he and I are really kind of close, again. Close enough that I don't really hate being inside churches anymore. I don't feel like God is giving me the stink-eye anymore.

Florence probably has the highest denisty per square mile of churches in the world. I'd bet on it. Santa Croce, Santa Maria Novella, San Miniato, San Marco-the list goes on. My favorite one, though, is the Orsanmichele. I walk past this church every single day on my way to school. It has famous statues in little nooks all over its walls, beautiful relief sculptures decorating the outside, and a pair of the most fabulous doors in the entire city. It used to be a grainery and was eventually converted into a church alot of years ago. The inside is truly spectacular. The sculpture and decoration is some of the best in the city (and that kind of says alot) and the tabernacle is so ornate and delicate I could admire it for hours and still find new things to be impressed with. Inside is, what else, a Madonna and Child, but the rest of the church is so beautiful not even that can bother me. There are frescos EVERYWHERE of scenes that somehow seem alive because the stained glass lends them color. The first time I came to this church it was with my sculpture class. Perhaps I fell in love with the church because I followed my professor who I am in love with around as he spewed out knowledge about the works inside. Nonetheless, I fell in love, and found myself so overcome with joy that I decided I really needed to pray. It was such an intense feeling, such an overpowering feeling, that I knelt in a pew and opened myself once more to God. Anyway, I wrote a short story about it for my travel writing class and here it is:

She hadn’t been inside a church to pray in years. She’ been in them to study artwork and admire the architecture, but not to pray. A long time ago, she stopped praying. It wasn’t because something tragic happened in her life and she blamed God. She didn’t have a bad experience with any of the members of her church. She never went through a period of teen-angst that led her to explore the idea of Atheism. She just stopped praying and she didn’t know why. Before, prayer had been a ritual. She would say a thank you prayer in the morning, a thank you prayer at mealtimes, and a thank you prayer before bed. It had become redundant; there was no feeling, no real connection with God. Prayer, in her life, was a habit. One day, she didn’t say a prayer before her meal. Nothing changed. The next, she didn’t say a prayer at all. Still, nothing changed. She wasn’t struck dead by the hand of God, she didn’t suffer a series of plagues, and inside she felt exactly the same. With the passing of her prayers, God evaporated from her life. Soon after, the suffering started. Her pain wasn’t physical. What she suffered from was fear-fear of death and dying, fear of an afterlife and of eternity, fear of herself in her own loneliness. Night after night sleep eluded her, replaced by thoughts that led to fear so strong it threatened to claw straight through her soul.
And then she went to church. She had moved to Florence to study art; every corner boasted another masterpiece, every building held some small treasure. Each worn cobblestone seemed to guard some important memory of years gone by and ages past. She was grateful to be having the experience of a lifetime, but she didn’t know to whom she should give thanks but herself, for working hard. She went with her art class to study the sculpture and decoration of the Orsanmichele, a famous Florentine church, and felt welling inside her that same overwhelming gratefulness. Carved into the brick walls were sculptures, masterfully crafted, and reliefs so old it was truly a miracle they remained intact. She was so proud of those artists, so proud of herself for appreciating them. She was proud that she worked so hard to get there. Art was a gift to the world, and somehow she had opened it. She could understand it, and she was thankful. She could see it and love it and know, deep down, that it was special.
She expected, when walking through the wooden door to the church, to stand in awe of the gifted hands of the tabernacle’s maker, or to bask in the colored lights of the stained-glass. She didn’t expect to feel the urge to pray. At first she ignored it. Her classmates were all there; praying would seem foolish to them. I can’t pray, she thought, I don’t even remember how to do it. I haven’t even blessed myself with holy water on my way in. She’d always blessed herself with holy water before going inside a church, and she hadn’t done it in the Orsanmichele. She knew she was standing inside a church so rich with history and spirit that thousands traveled to see it, and she forgot to bless herself. There was no point in going back and doing it, now. But she felt guilty. It seemed to smother her, to wrap around her like an itchy, woolen blanket, and she knew then that she needed to kneel and pray. She didn’t know what to pray for, at first. She didn’t know how to say she was sorry; she wasn’t sure she even was sorry. All she knew was in that moment she needed to talk to God.
She knelt down on a worn pew, made the sign of the cross, and said “Hi, God, its been a while.” And suddenly every missed thank you prayer, every missed cry for help, every missed feeling, came pouring out to God. A weight didn’t lift off of her shoulders, no, but the red, swollen claw marks all over her soul seemed to finally begin healing. She saw the art of the Orsanmichele in a new way, after her prayer. She saw the pieces as the thank you’s of those artists; they were outpourings of their gratefulness to God for his gift. And suddenly, everything was more beautiful.

Hope you liked it, reader! Arrivederci, for now.
Love, Gabby

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