Thursday, July 18, 2019

Plugged in

I showed up at the Vatican Observatory yesterday, wrung out and exhausted by jet lag and more. I'd spent part of a night sleeping on a plane between the US and Rome. The next night my sleep was broken by a fierce 3 am thunderstorm, the thunder echoing oddly in Lake Albano's crater. But last night I'd been awakened in the middle of the night by a text from a colleague's husband: She was dying. Please let my colleagues know.

It was still waking hours in the US, so I got up and sent emails and texts to those who would want to know. I crept back to bed about four in the morning, dragging myself out of bed four hours later, still bleary, but determined to make 10 am coffee at the Specola where I could plug in to electrons and wi-fi and restorative collegial conversation.

By late afternoon I was desperate for a nap, un riposo, but more desperate to pray. I went up to the small chapel with the tabernacle by mosaicist Marko Rupnik SJ to pray in the hour my colleague was being taken off life support 4400 miles and six time zones away.  A Jesuit chapel seemed the right spot to sit prayerfully present to the dying, to be pulled back into the meditations of the third week of the Exercises. Somewhere in the midst of this, I noticed an electrical outlet at the very bottom of the nearly floor to ceiling tabernacle. Not in the wall next to it, but in the base of the tabernacle itself.

What on earth was an outlet doing in this work of art? My mind wandered not to the pragmatic, but to the metaphorical. I could pray anywhere — at my desk, in the apartment, on a walk in the gardens, in any of the three churches within a five minute walk or the cathedral basilica across the piazza —but had been pulled here, to this tiny chapel where I could draw close to Christ crucified, Christ in truth. I wanted to be plugged in to Christ.

These days we look for outlets to pull electrons from for our phones, to bring them back to life. Do we equally have eyes for the places where we can recharge our spiritual life?

A day later, I realize that it is likely that when the tabernacle was installed, there was an outlet located in the wall that was rerouted to the base. Though why not to the wall next to it? There must be a reason.


  1. Wow - that is a powerful analogy. Prayers for your friend who left this life for the next, and for you and all others who will mourn her.