Four years ago today, Jake and I were on an evening hike in Monterrosso (one of five small seaside villages in Cinque Terre, Italy). I'd love to be able to tell you all of the tiniest details of that walk together, and I do remember lamenting that I wished I had brought my camera but- at the last minute- I had decided to leave it behind in the teeny flat we were staying in. (Images are below are from other times in our stay). The only part I remember with any clarity was that at one point, Jake and I got separated. He went one direction down a winding path, and I had continued to ascend the hill, focusing on my footing so that I wouldn't slip, and then suddenly I found myself standing at the door of an unmarked, stone building.
You know those moments in your life when you debate whether or not to hit "publish,"or "send?" Or when you're curiosity simply gets the best of you and you can't help yourself? I stood there for what seemed like an eternity weighing my options before I finally decided to knock lightly on the large door, and then when there was no answer- and when reason should have prevailed- grabbed the handle and leaned my body against the door. It swung open with a loud groan and I instantly regretted my decision. But it was too late. A handful of people, sitting in pews, lifted their heads and turned their gaze toward me. I stood there transfixed and stupid, briefly noting a crucifix on an altar, and a priest who also seemed just as shocked to see me as I was to be there. I'm pretty sure I mumbled that I was sorry, "mi dispiace," (I had learned to say that a lot on our trip) as the door thudded to a close. But even as my face burned with embarrassment, instead of leaving, I continued to stand there on the threshold- ear pressed to the door, listening to the incantations. Up until then, Church- as I had come to know it- had always come with a lot of expectations. An atmosphere of worship was something that was created- had to be cultivated and sound-checked and rehearsed- in order to be experienced. Even though I knew that this wasn't how church was "done" everywhere, I had become so versed in the the culture that it was truly hard to imagine it any other way. The fact that I could- quite accidentally- stumble upon this ancient stone house nestled into a seaside cliff with only six people was mind-blowing. And, reassuring.
To this day, I sometimes wonder if I imagined it. I wish Jake had been with me- if for no other reason than to share some of the embarrassment of the moment when I interrupted an intimate Friday mass. Monterrosso may be most known for its pesto and limoncello, and of course- it's breathtaking scenery. But I'll always remember it most for the sacred ground I found myself on that chilly evening in March, that would ultimately challenge my "Christian girl" worldview.