My parents weren’t awful parents. They just didn’t realize how harmful bad religious art can be. The bad stuff—that cherubim hugging a baby lamb surrounded by a halo of daisies—ate like acid at the little faith I had, till God only came out on special occasions to terrify me.
At 25 though, I rode the one train forever, emerged to black skies over Fort Tryon Park, gray thunderheads blotting out the sun, like I’d reached the end of the world. I ran through the rain to the museum and made it to the Fuentidueña Apse, shivering in wet clothes, and You were there, crucified, suspended in midair.
You stared down at me, deep-cut eyes, regal, but unfailingly kind. I stood there staring back, trying to work up some great emotion–love, adoration, gratitude–that wasn’t there yet, only the horror of knowing the truth without loving truth. My coat dripped on the stone floor; I went away sadly.
And yet this morning, in this cold church, no feeling in my feet, the Word older than the sky is laid on my tongue, and suddenly, You are everywhere around me. Not a painting, not a statue, but alive, breathing, crying. In the air. In my whispers. In the winter light streaming into this pew, a light where I will never be hungry again.
There are departures that are actually the first steps toward home.
I will light a candle for every day I did not love You.
Cover image by Foto Ad Meskens.