For those unaware, my wife and I just returned from a trip to Italy and England. We started with a couple days in Florence, followed by 5 days in Rome, and 2 days in London on the way home. It was meant to be part relaxing retreat, part whirlwind adventure. Yet, God invaded in so many ways that I just had to share some of them with you.
Our hotel in Florence was less than a block away from the Florentine cathedral, Il Duomo. We just don’t have buildings like this in Calgary. The dome is visible from across the city, and when you first enter the piazza it’s in, there is a moment of complete awe. Tourists everywhere are stopped mid-stride, fumbling with cameras to capture its majesty. It dominated our entire stay in Florence. We ate breakfast while gazing up at its marvellous architecture. We climbed to the top of its bell tower and descended to the depths of its crypts. Such a piece of beauty, built for the glory of God, nearly drove me to my knees many times.
Across the street from the Duomo is the equally green/pink Baptistry. This was our second “wow” moment. The entire ceiling is a mosaic of biblical history. We spent so long piecing together each of the stories captured in the artwork that our necks started to hurt. The fact that art was considered so important, for its beauty and its teaching ability, is encouraging for those of us who live in a culture where art is considered a secondary or tertiary concern at best. If God could convince the Florentine people that art was important, I’m sure He can do it again in Canada.
Rome itself is a masterpiece of majesty. Thousands of years of history, pre-Christian, Renaissance, and modern, come together to create a city that seems entirely timeless. We ate dinner at a cafe across the street from unmarked ruins. We touched the arch commemorating the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. We rowed boats across a pond around an 18th century “temple” to the god of medicine. I was forced to contemplate the smallness of my own life. How billions of people have lived and died before I was even born. As we are reminded at Ash Wednesday, I am dust, and to dust I shall return. Yet, while I am here, it is possible for me to leave such a relic of legacy that may be remembered for thousands of years to come. If so, may that legacy be one that points to the glory of God, not the glory of Brandon.
We spend most of one of our days in the Vatican City, which, as someone raised Catholic, was a profoundly moving experience for me. St. Peter’s Cathedral is a monument to God’s glory and the witness of His saints. The Sistine Chapel is a masterpiece that tells the story of Michelangelo as clearly as it tells the story of the Bible. The depiction of Christ at the Last Judgement struck deeply into my heart and forces me to wrestle with the common view of Christ as our buddy and companion. He is also our Coming King who will judge all the earth. That is the power of good art.
Finally, London reminded me of the power of my own art form: theatre. We saw two shows on the West End, and both proved incredibly powerful. The first, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Queen Anne, took us on a journey of devotion and betrayal, of love and loss and the futility of selfish ambition. While we knew little of the political environs of the play (and it was rather political), the RSC was able to take us on an emotional ride that captured my heart for several hours.
Our second show, Mischief Theatre’s The Comedy About a Bank Robbery brilliantly showed what is possible when one takes the time to work a script until it shines like gold. Not a moment of this show was anything less than smart, funny, or impressive. My wife and I spent the rest of the evening (and much of the next few days) discussing how well done the play was, how sharp the script and committed the actors. It has inspired me to step up my writing moving forward.
I have so many more thoughts (about Christian appropriation of ancient sites of worship, about the importance of majestic churches, about the need for adventure to shake up our ordinary), but after more than a week of art galleries, churches, ruins, and theatre, I am most struck by how great was the God of the masters of the Renaissance. His buildings dominated the cities they sat in. His story inspired the best artists to create their best work. The art and architecture still stands, centuries later, inspiring devotion and worship. Though my art is not as impressive, I am inspired to put just as much of myself into what I create. Whether for myself or the church, I want to send a message to those who encounter something I’ve created: This is my God; there is no other, and He reigns over all.