Sunday, April 5, 2015

Happy Easter from Italy! (part 2)

When I was 20 years old, I carried a beloved and tattered copy of The Agony and the Ecstasy by Irving Stone to Rome so that I could prepare to enter the Sistine Chapel as I traveled around Europe with my Eur-rail pass. I could never have predicted how much Michelangelo's ceiling and sculptures would change me that day. I was washed away with awe and rapture; my neck had a serious kink in it by looking above for hours. I wondered how he managed to paint the larger than life prophets and people on the ceiling--even on ladders in his 70's. I continued to read everything I could about him, even his poetry.

Since that day, I have looked to art many times to fill my soul, to cascade it with light and beauty. I have been blessed to enter many beautiful galleries, cathedrals, and homes to view art that have taught me more goodness and understanding than I would have known otherwise. I have strolled, walked, guided my children around art museums since they were weeks old, and frankly, now we guide each other. One of the reasons I fell in love with my husband is because he also can spend hours and days in art museums; we have stood in front of a few paintings and sculptures with some tears. Although I am not an artist, I am grateful to those who bring sparks of light and luminosity to us, across the span of millennia. 

With the Easter weekend before us, I have been reflecting on the many experiences that we can have with art and music to prepare for this season--to ready our souls to be open to the redemptive words at this special time. I am grateful for new wells or enthusiasms that give me replenishment, that stir and awake chords of memory and discovery. 

With our recent trip to Switzerland and Italy, I was again awestruck at the grandeur of these artisans who created with great force and finesse--seemingly unfatigued and relentless. Caravaggio, the great Italian artist of the 17th century has been a favorite artist for many years, but I discovered at the Uffizi Gallery in Florence another artist this trip that made my tears drop. The Dutch painter, Gerrit von Honthorst, painted some superbly intimate moments in Christ's life. 

One of my favorite books, Crossing to Safety by Wallace Stegner describes two couples on their sabbaticals, lapping up art and culture in Italy when their children are grown. One of them reflectively says, "I know many people have read Milton's Paradise Lost, but have they read Paradise Regained?" I have to say heaven was found again in these places. I know I don't have to travel to find paradise; there are wells all around us to renew, refresh us when our souls become tired. Sometimes heaven or paradise is lost, and we have to regain it again. We have to go find it. 

Lessons Learned this Easter: 

1) Remember the whispers that resonated with you a long time ago, and try to discover them again. There are always old and new wells of replenishment to uncover and locate. 
2) Songs, words, artwork can breathe new meaning--even if you have heard or seen them countless times.
3) The soul needs to be constantly filled. Finding out what nourishes you, makes you more alive, is so very important. I am grateful I found out a long time ago on a ceiling in Rome one of the ways to fill my soul--drop by drop. 

On the second floor of the Mercado in Florence where there are many cafes and small restaurants. There were decorated Easter decorations in Italy and Switzerland ( See Blogpost about Easter, part 1) if you want to see all the Easter decorations), but the religious artwork this time of year washed our souls with breathtaking beauty and awe. 

In the Bern, Switzerland Cathedral

This is a carved sculpture on the outside of a cathedral in Basal, Switzerland.
This is a special stained glass window at a remote village, way up in the Swiss Alps, called Innerkerken. My dear friend, Annagreth, grew up in this valley, a short distance walk from this church. 

Botticelli in Uffizi

A painting by Gerrit von Honthorst, Christ Before the High Priest

One of my very favorite artists, Carrevagio, painted this painting of Thomas when he saw the Lord--insisting that he touch His wounds.
The Duomo in Florence

This scene was to represent the empty tomb in The Basilica of the Nativity in Florence. Close to this tomb is the inscription in Latin that states, "Where you are I once was, and where I am now, you will soon be." 

The Duomo Dome, with its layers of people at The Final Judgment. We climbed 473 stairs (two cupolas) to the top so that you could look face to face with the frescoes. 
The dome at the Baptistry, next to The Duomo in Florence
At the Medici Chapel next to San Lorenzo Cathedral, 
Michelangelo's sculpture of "The Day"that he created for a Medici tomb. Interestingly enough, Michelangelo purposefully did not carve his face, showing that when death comes, none of us ever finish everything we intend and desire to do on earth. 
Michelangelo's St.Matthew in the Academy
The Pieta that was supposedly done at the end of Michelangelo's life. Some scholars dispute if it was done by him or not because of the disproportionate body of Jesus.
Michelangelo's Pieta at the Academy
Bronze reliefs of Bible stories at the Duomo in Milan, Italy
At the Milan Duomo, with the Bible scenes cast in bronze
Some Easter music:

Today in Doha Qatar, I heard two brothers who are in the Vienna Boys Choir sing this song. They are here for a week with their family, as a break from their choir and school in Vienna. I had never heard this song before. The hope and love that Easter brings, along with the earth that is changing around us is so beautifully articulated in this song:
Now the Green Blades Riseth, French melody, lyrics my John M. C. Crum
Now the green blade rises from the buried grain,
Wheat that in the dark earth many years has lain;
Love lives again, that with the dead has been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.
In the grave they laid Him, Love Whom we had slain,
Thinking that He’d never wake to life again,
Laid in the earth like grain that sleeps unseen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.
Up He sprang at Easter, like the risen grain,
He that for three days in the grave had lain;
Up from the dead my risen Lord is seen:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.
When our hearts are saddened, grieving or in pain,
By Your touch You call us back to life again;
Fields of our hearts that dead and bare have been:
Love is come again, like wheat that springs up green.
I was also able to hear excerpts from the St. Matthew Passion Oratorio by Bach this week at a musical
soiree at my cello teacher's home.

Perhaps it is because I live in the Middle East and needed to find some new wells this year to fill my cup,
but I feel so grateful for artists and composers, known and unknown. It is always wondrous to  encounter
some new wells, wherever they are in the world.


  1. Again, thank you for your delicious descriptions of all that you are experiencing and obviously drinking in!