(First posted at the original FBA website by lefever on September 12, 2010)
Have you had an indelible experience ever, from any religious art?
Milan was industrial gray and cold; it was winter, and the trees had shed their leaves – the electric trains spat electric crackle through the night air with each passing, reminding me of Milan’s modern life.
Modernity. Modern life.
This was not what I expected from Italia’s center for design and couture. More apocalyptic in my mind, a dirty city not unlike the Los Angeles I had left half a day ago. This was my first impression on the night I arrived. I might have been unjust; I was travel weary and carrying naive expectations of the romantic Italy created by Hollywood slight of hand.
I came here to find a specific girl, a high school flame, but it was a different encounter that would change me. In Milan, something happened at Il Duomo.
I got a kiss from God.
This was the mid 1980s. I was not a Christian, though I fancied myself a believer in God, having homogenized Buddhist practicality with Theosophical curiosity. I was in Milan for only three days, and I wanted to see Il Duomo di Milano, the third largest cathedral in the world.
My first impression stays with me still, all these years later. I entered one of its large main doorways; in the darkness I saw candles, light from the tiny clerestory windows pierced the dark cavernous space like pathways streaming from heaven into the darkness of my soul – though I did not feel my soul was dark.
I related to this space.
Something came over me as I stood there, the feeling that I should bow to my knees. I resisted the urge, but it kept on like waves lapping at the shore. On your knees. No. On your knees. No.
I thought perhaps I sensed the pious energy of the prayers of ages collected by the stone walls, making the place feel holy to me, calling me to reverence from my knees. But I resisted on the basis of intellectual non-belief and pride.
It was a compelling experience I did not anticipate, and it left an impression.
I would continue on to see San Marcos in Venice, the art of Florence, the Vatican, the Sistine Chapel, and churches of Rome. But I would not have that feeling again that I had in the Duomo of Milan.
I would set out again in 2003 to see the churches and cathedrals of France, seeking to find out if art and architecture could affect me the same way now as I had been in Milan. This time I was a Christian, and I was looking for the consecrated spaces.
I visited Paris, Reims, Rouen, Chartres, Amiens, Beauvais, and Taize, but it was a small chapel in St. Paul St. Louis that I would feel called to pray in.
For years I have asked people if they have ever had an indelible experience in a church space or from a piece of religious art. I have heard so many stories.
“… and if you gave me $10,000 to forget that memory, I would not take the money.”
“… I have never forgotten a mural I saw as a kid in a cafeteria of Jesus feeding the 5000…”
“I am not a Christian, but when I entered that church in New Zealand, I felt like praying…”
“…as a child I saw a fresco of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane, praying – it stuck with me and that image brought me into ministry as a Catholic priest. Now here I am standing on the very rock in Gethsemane holding mass…”
…and on and on.
So my question to you who reads this:
Was there ever a time that you had an indelible experience like this from a church or piece of religious art?
What was it?
Did God meet you through this experience? If so, what was it like? How do you feel about it now? How were you touched?
Please share, as much or as little as you would like, but please, do share.
And please send this post to others so we can hear from as many people who have stories to share.