My husband and I just returned from a dream trip to Italy. Sandwiched between our visits to Florence and Rome we took a train to the Cinque Terre towns bordering the Mediterranean Sea. Rising early the next morning to beat the crowds, we hiked a trail between the towns of Manarola and Corniglia. In the town of Corniglia, the hardest to reach of the five hamlets, we veered off the trail to visit a tiny church.
When I stepped into the dark alcove of this sanctuary, a whoosh of hush surrounded me. After giving my eyes time to adjust, I was drawn to the hard, wooden benches and sat down absorbing the peace and sacredness of the place.
On the outside, the building was unremarkable compared to what we had seen in Florence. In the inside, no marble statues or paintings were to be found. No Michelangelo or Bernini or Raphael works adorned the walls or dominated the space. No fresco covered the ceiling. Just stones and mortar, an altar, the wooden benches, some lighted votive candles and other understated decorations defined the sanctuary.
I stayed in this place, in the silence, not moved to hurry on to the next destination. No guard was waving at me to keep moving forward. No rapid-fire click of a camera assaulted the silence. No sightseer jostled around me to get the prime photo. No line of tourists snaked around the building. In fact, after hours of hiking, tourists rejected the idea of trekking further up another hill to visit this tiny church.
But my husband and I did. I needed to get away from the crowds. I hungered for my time with the Lord. So here I sat on that hard bench–just Jesus and me. Me and the Son of God conversing in this oasis of calm. Captured by the sacredness of the Holy, peace washed over me like snow falling on a wintry day, melting deep into my soul. I was carried away into His presence where time and space suspended. A place where the holy met the unholy. The divine sought the ordinary. I lingered there until I heard my husband stir in the back of the church.
I could have stayed–much longer, but I knew God was not confined to this place nor to any church building or denomination claiming to have a monopoly on His presence.
As a Jesus follower, I can close my eyes at anytime and converse with the Most High God. I don’t need to go to a specific place to pray to Him. I could have met Him in St. Peter’s Basilica or here in this unremarkable sanctuary. I can talk to Him in my car, on the street, in a chair, at a party, or anywhere.
But sometimes, just sometimes a surprise encounter with our holy God in an unremarkable place invades my day right at the opportune time. The moment when this hungry and thirsty sojourner of the faith finally choses the path away from the masses towards the Master.
And a sacred meeting ensues.
What is your favorite place to meet with God?