Traveling alone in Europe affords me a lot of time to think. While that can be a dubious blessing (what with various big life uncertainties currently clouding my psyche), it’s been surprisingly cathartic. I had a pretty intense bout of culture shock and isolation on Wednesday that lead to a rather emotional experience in a church – not my usual stomping ground for spiritual sustenance.
Not that I really have a usual stomping ground for spirituality, but in the past my experiences of connection and beauty and the vastness of the universe have been mostly limited to natural settings. When I hiked the south rim trail at Big Bend national park just over two years ago, I had a sort of profound sense of both my own insignificance and total belonging… it’s hard to explain. But it was amazing and transformative and out in the middle of nowhere.
When my wonderful (and patient) godmother brought me to Europe for the first time when I was 17, churches made me really uncomfortable. I was an angsty, rather atheist teenager going through an existential phase, and not only did I want nothing to do with most of the places we visited, but they kind of creeped me out. I mean, a lot of them have bodies buried in the floor! Ick!
Since then, I’ve totally come to appreciate the aesthetic beauty of cathedrals – probably more so since reading Pillars of the Earth a couple years ago. And in spite of my commitment to Camus’ philosophy at the time, I was relatively touched by the religious devotion of pilgrams when I visited Lourdes at age 20. But until now, churches have never really held any particular emotional weight for me. They sort of fell into the category of pretty buildings with a lot of history, just like so many places I tend to visit while in Europe.
Maybe it’s my looming 26.2 mile run, maybe it’s just where I am in life and my connection with the universe right now, but in the past few days, the churches and cathedrals I’ve visited have had an overwhelming effect on me. Even when swarming with tourists (like St. Vitus’ Cathedral at Prague Castle – pictured above). I’ve still wandered into those spaces and found this sense of connectedness with something bigger than me. It’s not the Christian-Judeo version of God (I just can’t hop on board with Sky Dad), but it’s something. And I don’t feel like I need to dig deeper to explain it. It’s just there. And it’s comforting.
So that’s cool. And it seemed to warrant a separate post from the forthcoming excursus on the wacky museums I’ve visited in Prague.