Mosaics of Rome

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“Oh crap!” I held in further obscenities as I realized where the door at the top of St. Peter’s Basilica had led us. The laughter was stolen from my mouth when I stepped through it onto the narrow ledge that circled the inner-dome of the tallest Christian church in the world. One hundred meters below us people moved about like a small ant colony on vacation. Perhaps it was the slight dehydration the beautiful Italian weather induced in my sun-deprived, Irish-acclimatized body that made me somehow forget, again, that what goes up must look down … 

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I plastered myself to the mosaic wall and took a few steading breaths, reasoning through my fear. The ledge was not likely to crumble anytime soon because of the care that they give the building. The tall wall of heavy metal mesh was sturdy as it separated us from sudden death 1.5 meters away from the solid form I tried to insert myself into. Avoiding looking down, I began to inspect the small fragments of stone my hands were stuck to. Centimetre by centimetre they filled the entire wall. Looking up I realized they filled the entire dome creating stunning pictures that, from below, passed for detailed paintings. On its own, each piece wouldn’t have caught anyone’s attention on the street but together they told a story. I was finally able to go to the edge and take a look before walking as far as I could around the circumference of the dome. A quarter of the way around was another door leading us to the exterior platform with a sweeping view of St. Peter’s Square and all of Rome.

Rome. There it was, spread out in front of us, steeped in history and social change. A city representing a nation built for glory that fell to a level of very ordinary existence. Lines of greenery wove between the varying shades of beige buildings forming a very different sort of mosaic from that which we saw inside. Although beautiful, this view from a distance couldn’t compare to the vibrancy of detail that mortared its shape into place – the vibrancy of the people who fill the streets and buildings.

We descended from our birds eye view to spend the following day and half exploring the extraordinary view from below. Old streets and even older buildings filled our cameras while living works of art moved through traffic, walked in and out of shops, stood in small elevators and greeted us over the counter. Tucked behind eyes peering out into the world, just like mine, were dreams and hopes for the future mingled with histories of both joy and heartache. In that close up moment of eye-to-eye, strangers softened into momentary friends with pockets full of kindness without having to say a single word. We are not so different. We are made of the same things. Unlike the mosaic at the top of the Basilica, we were made to be seen and appreciated up close, instead of from a distance. If you find this terrifying, take a few steadying breaths and reason through the fear. The experience is worth it.

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walk around like the good work of art you are

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Imagine a world where art took in a breath and came to life. Imagine it walking through the streets stirring up questions about existence, about purpose, about possibilities. It would congregate where shadows gather, lighting up dark allies that strike fear.

Fear begins to pitch its tent in the streets around me. It sells its fortune-telling trinkets from stalls glittering in dark omens on every street corner, computer and smart phone. Fight, flight or freeze – natural responses, normal responses, survival responses.

But I want to respond differently. I don’t want to be afraid. It muddies the waters and stifles out life. It steals away joy and cauterizes contentment. I want to be beauty. I want to be art. I want to speak to these streets and shout, “It doesn’t have to be this way!”

In the beginning God created a sculpture from the earth, a work of art intended to live. I don’t particularly care about the techniques he used or how long it took him. The result was beautiful. And then he breathed into it. And it lived, perfectly, for a while until diluting the breath of God with toxic pride.

Fear came. Death came. Hatred came.

That is what we were made to be. Living works of art with the breath of God in us. We still can be, but it’s a little harder than before. We have to seek out his life in us. We have to pull down the bricks we’ve built around our hearts to keep us safe and let love in. Love will change us. It will pull back our shoulders and set our spines straight. It will clear our muddied thoughts and replace them with wisdom. It will seek and destroy lesions of bitterness that are slowly killing us.

We have a choice, this choice: stand at the stalls of fear, hide in self-preservation or light up the darkness. We cannot do more than one. Want to go on a walk with me?

I want to add to the beauty to tell a better story. I want to shine with the light that’s burning up inside. And this is grace, an invitation to be beautiful. ~ Sara Groves

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why the ferris wheel might not be such a bad idea after all

IMG_5580Pastel coloured gazebos decorated the spokes of the giant wheel, as if it was a prize for making it through the sensory overload of games at the fair. “Let’s go on the Ferris Wheel,” I suggested to my adventure companions. “But Liesel,” they started, “you’re afraid of heights.” Mmmm, but I won’t remember I’m afraid of heights until I am on my way up. When we finally stepped onto it, the first symptoms came: increased heart rate, dizziness, short breaths. It wasn’t until we stopped a quarter of the way up that I clutched the post with my eyes shut, “this … was a very … bad … idea.”

Ten years ago today I was boarding a plane with a life’s worth of belongings and a plan to live in Ireland for a minimum of a four year term. As the plane took off from Vancouver airport I had the same gut reaction as I did two weeks ago on the Ferris Wheel. This … was a very … bad … idea. A commitment of four years to anything at that time seemed like a life sentence, never mind to be living it by faith. By faith, that God would work miracles in impossible situations. By faith, that he would provide for all my needs. By faith, that I wouldn’t turn into a permanent prune because of the cold and damp. With every hour that brought me closer to Dublin I fluctuated between feeling the thrill of freewheeling through the air in an indescribable leap towards whispered promises, and opening my eyes to see just how far from the ground I really was as the adventure appeared more of a teetering excuse for a safe pod up in the sky, nothing but a flimsy chain separating me from a gigantic fall to earth.

That feeling has never seemed to be terribly far away on any given day. I often find myself closing my eyes and grabbing onto the only thing that seems to be truly stable and explaining all the reasons why living life by faith is a very bad idea. In some magical and mysterious way, God just stays there while I rant at him, sometimes morning, noon and night, about how I just don’t have it in me to live hope where the only thing visible is hopelessness. When I am done reminding him (fairly loudly and firmly) about who he is and the love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness …. that he has on offer to not just me but to everyone around me, he calms my soul and gives me courage to see the world from a different perspective. Up there, from a bird’s eye view, I peel open my eyes and breathe in measured breaths. The world looks different when we see it from above. He is safe. His view is more than I could have imagined. Hope stirs every time, without fail – 100% track record. It fills my words and directs my actions.

With feet back on the ground again there is an overwhelming feeling of “I did it! I survived it!” Every single year when I look back I can’t believe that “I did it! I survived it!” … by faith.

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reflections on patrick: a love that grows in fields of fear

My name is Patrick. I am a sinner, a simple country person, and the least of all believers … I was about sixteen at the time. At that time, I did not know the true God. (1)

After I arrived in Ireland, I tended sheep every day, and I prayed frequently during the day. More and more the love of God increased, and my sense of awe before God. Faith grew, and my spirit was moved, so that in one day I would pray up to one hundred times, and at night perhaps the same. I even remained in the woods and on the mountain, and I would rise to pray before dawn in snow and ice and rain. I never felt the worse for it, and I never felt lazy – as I realise now, the spirit was burning in me at that time. (16)

It was there that the Lord opened up my awareness of my lack of faith. Even though it came about late, I recognised my failings. So I turned with all my heart to the Lord my God, and he looked down on my lowliness and had mercy on my youthful ignorance. He guarded me before I knew him, and before I came to wisdom and could distinguish between good and evil. He protected me and consoled me as a father does for his son. (2)

~ St. Patrick’s Confession, written by Patrick himself

Kings and Druids ruled the forests, mountains and plains of this island. Their very spiritual daily life was rooted in the goddess of fear and the goddess of intoxication. Sold into Ireland as a foreign slave, Patrick was malnourished and under clothed while forcefully introduced to this new culture. Yet, it was in this environment that a young man, who didn’t even know the true God, began to call out to him. God met him as he prayed. He filled Patrick with a growing love when the gods around cultivated fear. So it was that Patrick came to know Ireland and God in the 5th century, before escaping for home.