God speaks Italian - did you know that? Oh how He loves to speak it. He loves to let those words wash over His people as they totter through the cobblestone streets of Orvieto, and Roma, and Fiorenze. He loves to shower them with flowing Italian in San Bernadino, the Duomo di Orvieto, in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, in Santa Maria Novella... And so in Italy, in Italian, English, Polish, sign language, and the most wonderful language of all - silence - I hear God speaking.
Today we boarded the train at 7:44am, eyes bleary and hands tucked into coat pockets and ratty gloves, our breath like smoke rings in the Orvieto morning. We were bound for Florence, or, as the conductor says, "Firenze Santa Maria Novella." I keep thinking about blogging as I am cut off from blogging, how I would like to scatter words about Italy to you like leaves you can't help but throw up after your mother has neatly raked them into a pile. And today I found two things, two little snippets and snapshots that might shed a little bit of this radiant Italian light onto your day: Santa Maria Novella and nutella gelato.
Santa Maria Novella is a church built of Florentine marble, greens and reds and whites stacked like Lego blocks towering above me, such a change from the translucent whiteness of French churches.
And the cloisters, echoey and wide, seem to welcome me and my feeble, warbling voice as I tentatively hum a few bars of "All Ye Who Music" - an old song from my 9th grade chorus. Italy, or what I have glimpsed of it, is full to the brim of these tucked away treasures, pearls of a great price that are known only to those weary travelers who, full of sleep and brioche and questions tramp their feet across the threshold. Beauty here is exceptional and everyday, taken as a simple fact of seeing this grand world but hanging out your laundry, because there is laundry to do and meals to cook.
I want to run arms outstretched to the sky and shout, "Thank you!" for what else can we ever say, when, as wise Ann says, "all's Grace" - all of this crazy beautiful creativity. Humans are terribly, wondrously creative, our chisels and paints and words and pens and blogs and books. We map our world, we make metaphors and pictures, we sing and pray and laugh together. Who needs adjectives, I wonder, when so much of the beauty of being human is that we are verb creatures? We act and contemplate and love.
Yes, there it is again, that Love, dolci and bella and meraviglioso, that theme that won't let me go this year, this new season. Even as I roll through Umbria and Tuscany and gape at a blood red sun over the papal fortress walls, through copses of trees shaped like towers, or at fog so thick I could wrap myself in it.
Love, as I stroll the corso, my hands swinging at my sides, my heart brimming with the spirals of the duomo, the sweet sticky face of the boy eating a Kinder bar in the caffé where we get cappuccino.
Love, as my mouth smiles in delight when I find that I can order a gelato with raspberry (lampone) and nutella (cappriccio) and let them take me back to Pitango Gelato Company on 7th St in Chinatown.
Love, friends. Love in the language of nutella and Santa Maria Novella, in the chipping paint and scuff marks, the tortellini and the Tiber.
How much of this world have we forgotten to love today? How many sorrowful stories have we chosen to tell beyond our joyful ones? How many thousands of small gifts, moments of wonder, moments of the piercing clarity of His eyes have we missed because we were looking at empty hands, at what we didn't get for Christmas this year, at even the simple failure to pack our bags for school before leaving for Italy? He longs to put Love in our grubby hands - but He waits for us to say Yes first. Yes, Lord, I will see You here. Yes, Lord, I will journey scrambling over rocks and thorns and thistles, trek through the muck and mess and miracle of hearts to that place where You show Yourself glorious and where we can hear You say, "I love this one of mine."
And so in the midst of this country I call dolci, sweet, so sweet it smudges on my face like chocolate, I hear Him say that about all of you. And I hear Him scold me for forgetting about this great call to love, love of the mundane, of bread and wine and gelato and markets full of flowers and languages we can't understand and Italy.
So I pray with you, from the pages of this small journal cramped into a chair on Trenitalia, returning to Orvieto:
Heavenly Father, we give You thanks for the small gifts today, for meals to enjoy and friends to love, for the smells of peonies and the extravagant beauty of birds. We thank You for the questions children ask and the stories that humble us with their answers. We thank You that Your sovereignty is full and gentle, Your love is sweet and fierce, and that You create in us the ability to know You. May I be a vessel of Your love to this world and the people You have put in my heart. Help me to whisper always of Your love for them and for this world, that Your light may radiate forth and illuminate all things. In Jesus, Amen.