The Uffizi gallery is quieter than in summertime, we're told as we huddle together, purple and green and black coats lurking in the entryway. We hike our way up flights of stairs, tired feet and heads full of so many frescoes I'm not sure which church is which, whether Fra Angelico painted the Annunciation in San Marco or the San Brizio Chapel in the Duomo in Orvieto. And then the customary hush when you enter the presence of Art.
And there is so much art here. It lurks on the ceiling - detailed paintings of Machiavelli and Galileo, the Medici family. The marble of the floors is art. the sculptures lurking in their neighbors' shadows along corridor after corridor, the frame by frame beauty of renderings of St. Thomas Aquinas, St. Francis receiving the stigmata... and I am suddenly heaven-bound, lifted up out of these tired feet into stars. I see so much beauty I want to taste it. I see so much of the vibrant, technicolor world, its dimensions stretching beyond our customary four into the dimensions of hope and justice and promises. I sink into the leather couch and start, because who is there but the Annunciation, the angel Gabriel and Mary. Botticelli's famous Venus painting is a few frames away, but while tourists click and flash their cameras, I can't stop looking at the Annunciation.
The angel has landed heavily, and I can hear the thud as his feet clatter to the floor. Mary looks startled, yet not surprised. I wonder if she expected to receive that visit that day. Was her heart so open, so ready, that she could not be surprised by the arrival? Or is the start painted more subtly, in the weighty thud of Gabriel and the visible shaking of the room?
And suddenly - a poem has arrived. My own small annunciation. The words drip out of my pen onto the page faster than I can think them. How long has it been since a poem has arrived in my heart? And yet it is here, looking at this painting, Botticelli's art making poetry about art and circling all of this creating back to the source, the Annunciation, the arrival.
Sometimes, all I see are the stella, the stars. Sometimes in between cups of cappuccino and kinder bars I find myself gazing at the world in childlike wonder, that he made all this, all THIS, for us to enjoy. He made all of this because it is all kinds of beautiful. Because He loves to make things beautiful. I gaze at the Italian night sky when our train pulls into the Orvieto station and discover that it is scattered with stella, their light beaming back the same joyful presence that I feel in my heart. They seem to smile down at my shivering body and messy heart and say, "Yes, Hilary, He really is this good, this kind of good, this full, this ready to love you more than you have ever been loved before."
Hear that today, friends. He is this good. He is stella good - the maker of stars and smallness, the One who writes Himself into universes and galaxies and the One who writes Himself in the sand of Nazareth and vineyards. In Italy I feel like Zacchaeus climbing the tree to see Jesus - the view is just so much better up here, where the air is clear and the wind quick, where I can cup my hand to my ear and hear good conversations and good questions, and the silence of art. The view is so good up here - and I can see how sometimes we get dazzled by the stella and we forget how to turn around and see Him. But He is that good, and that ready to love us beyond our wildest dreams.
I leave you with a poem (not mine - that's still being revised!) that I've long loved, by a poet I love:
FLYING AT NIGHT (Ted Kooser)
Above us, stars. Beneath us, constellations.
Five billion miles away, a galaxy dies
like a snowflake falling on water. Below us,
some farmer, feeling the chill of that distantdeath,
snaps on his yard light, drawing his sheds andbarn
back into the little system of his care.
All night, the cities, like shimmering novas,
tug with bright streets at lonely lights like his.