The last couple weeks I was in Paris and Rome. It was my first time there and I fell in love with these cities. I sat in the café where Simone de Beauvoir frequented and my feminist heart exploded with joy. I had the best boeuf bourguignon soup where I swear the spirit of Julia Child descended upon my meal. I floated along the Seine River and marveled at the City of Light. I prayed in the Cathedral of Notre Dame and was encouraged to see ministry taking place around the cathedral. People want to pray.
Rome was also incredible. Not only is this one of the great historical cities globally, but this city is one of the geographical centers of our faith. When I was younger, Romans 8 was formative to my faith. When I got to Rome I sat in a park overlooking the city and read Romans 8 out loud. This type of Scripture reading practice is one I highly recommend. Scripture can come alive differently depending where you read it. Reading The Letter to the Romans in Rome and imagining Phoebe delivery this letter made feel connected to my faith a little more. Rome is decorated with gorgeous beauty. Everywhere you go there are fountains and monuments express the beauty and desire of the artists.
In both of these great cities are many houses of worship that are open to the public to pray. I was surprised that often the doors to churches were just open. That is often not the case in New York City and that usually frustrates me. I understand security and care of facility, but I also desire houses of worship to be accessible to the people. People need places to pray. Going into this vacation I didn’t realize that I would pray as much as I did.
In my younger years my household was a Catholic family. I often find the reverence and beauty of a Catholic church to this day ushers me into an openness to God in ways many other places of worship don’t. I know the rhythms of a Catholic church like I know the rhythms of my morning routine. The ritual of placing my hand in holy water, crossing myself, and kneeling still comes natural to this Reformed minister (the irony is not lost on me).
Every basilica and church I entered I would not only observe the great art, but I would go over to the areas sectioned off for prayer, place my euro in the offering and light a candle. This is not to make it sound like my vacation was a spiritual retreat (it was in a different way which was accompanied by good wine), but I found hope and connection going in and out of the different houses of worship lighting my candle among the other candles that symbolized people before me coming to pray to our God. The light of our prayers flickering in the dim sanctuaries represented an eternal communion bound by something greater than ourselves.
I will hear people talk about Europe as “post-Christian” and I always cringe when I hear that. Here’s what I know: The churches were open in Europe, more than I experience in the United States. People were praying. People will always want to pray. It is a language that unites religious and spiritual folks alike.
So today and everyday may we be people who pray, knowing that our prayers are joining our siblings in bedrooms and basilicas, coffee shops and cathedrals, and places of worship around the world.