An Unlikely Encounter – Caravaggio and Picasso

“I used to spend a lot of time at art museums,” She said.

Showing up at a new parish means making rounds. There are lots of people to meet, and in my case, each one seems sweeter than the next. On this particular day I had crashed a meeting of some wonderful ladies. I was the youngest one in the room – by a long shot. I was cool with it, because when I look at an old person, I see a living history book. I want to hear the stories about what it was like to be a kid, and more importantly a young adult, in the old days.

In most cases, they tell incredible stories about a world that seems to have drifted away from my reach. It always sounds magical, and extraordinary, and I always wish that I could transport myself there. With my life full of traveling, parish work, friends, and so on, there isn’t usually a topic or two that I find to have in common with an older person. This day was different though.

There was a moment when art became a thing for me. It was when I was standing in the Vatican Museum staring at The Entombment of Christ by Caravaggio. The tour guide announced: “The white in this painting is so brilliant that it can never be reproduced.” I’m sorry WHAT!? Is that not the hand of God!? Don’t they say that there are colors in heaven that we don’t even know about!? Beauty stirs the mind to wonder and awe, and God, the author of everything, gives us beautiful things as a foretaste of heaven. Here I am, looking at white so brilliant that I will never see it again on this EARTH! WHAT?! So basically, God gave Caravaggio a gift, and because of that, I get to experience a foretaste of heaven. I was mesmerized to say the least. I wanted to stay there for hours.

I have this thing about wanting to know more. When something turns out to be more than what meets my eye at first glance, I want to know everything about it. It is a propensity, a passion, and I have to read books. Haha…is that not exactly what art is? Every painting has more to it after first glance. Artists place things inside their paintings that are not always noticeable to the untrained eye, but once you hear the story, and get all the clues, the painting comes to life in a whole new way. It gives me the feels. The feels.

So this sweet looking older lady drops this bomb on me. She says: “The first time I saw this particular impressionist painting, it was like it captured me, like it took me in, and I was stunned.” She described being unable to move, and my thought went back to that moment in the Vatican Museum. I disclosed to her the fact that I knew what she was saying, how she felt. Honestly, I have never encountered another person who has ever described that feeling. Other people have felt it, I’m sure, but no one ever talked to me about it. I know that feeling grabs me because beauty is transcendent, and when I encounter it, its like brushing up against the Divine. She went on to tell me that she traveled places to look at art, and she would take her son to museums and he would play with match-box cars while she stared at the paintings. (Can you say mom goals?)

There was an obvious connection between us, me and this sweet lady. It wasn’t forced like many conversations between younger people and older people, striving to find common ground. We both simply loved something, and were happy to find someone who would gush about it. I actually didn’t know this could happen. I didn’t know that beauty could transcend generation gaps and move two women so similarly, but at different moments in history.

Beauty really is powerful.

-M

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