Finding peace in the empty piazza

Wednesday morning made me nervous. It made me nervous and loosened my grip and opened my heart to God’s whispering voice. Armed as I was with a map and working phone and two days of long, silent walks under my (money) belt, I grasped for control and lost it in the most delightful way. Allow me to explain.

Each morning in Rome, we left bright (actually, dark) and early to meet dozens of seminarians to walk to 7 a.m. Mass. Each Mass was held at a Station Church, a centuries-old tradition that brings the faithful from all over the city together each day in Lent. We’d meet by the seminary’s stately gates at the top of the hill and wait for the men in black to trickle out, then follow them silently to our anticipated destination. We’d walk prayerfully, clutching rosaries and watching the sun kiss the city as it rose. My little pilgrim heart swelled in these early hours. But Wednesday morning, on the way to Santa Cecilia in Trastevere, my heart was not so calm.

The route to the church twisted and turned. We met corners and stop lights and widening gaps in our pack. Forgoing my penchant for speed walking, I chose to hold back with our slower walkers—one of whom, trooper that she was, limped along uncomplainingly with a brace on her knee. Our silent string grew longer and longer, Fr. Jonathan keeping up with the surefooted seminarians to lead the way, and we, the cabooses, detained by many a sneaking obstacle. I’d watch as the walker just ahead of me would get farther and farther, as he’d disappear around corners and across many-laned streets. I felt my slight sense of panic rising, my mother hen instinct kicking in, my imagination wandering to the worst case scenario.

And then we came to the empty piazza. I entered with searching eyes, awaiting a sign for the next direction. I grasped my well-worn map and my phone at the ready. But I received the very sign I needed. I caught a glimpse, ever so briefly, of my fellow missionary, having hung back to silently alert me. He, too, was aware, was watching, was looking out for the good of the group. We locked eyes across that quiet piazza, separated by stillness, and I lost sight of him again. But all I needed was the next step, the next turn, the assurance of what was right before my eyes, and nothing more.

God invited me in in a powerful way that morning. He invited me into a certain blindness, a darkness, a not knowing. While I’d like to know the destination and the next seven steps it will take to get there, He gives me just one. Just a little nod, a nudge, a gentle, guiding hand along the way. And I don’t just mean the way to Santa Cecilia. I mean my future, and the way to holiness. My job, my relationship, my location. God can see around corners, my mom has always said. And try as I might, I cannot. My gaze, however concentrated, cannot possibly penetrate the corners on the road ahead, the road of my life. I can predict and plan and dream all I want, but God keeps me right where I am and gives me that flash of the next small step to take. The next turn to make, the next yes to say, the next unknown to yield to.

And I find that that is enough. In fact, it is what my heart ultimately desires. My heart yearns for adventure, and mystery, and freedom. Despite my stubbornness and longing for control, I do love learning into the unknown. Leaning into His will, perfectly crafted and intended for my joy and fulfillment.

So, I did find peace in the empty piazza that day. And my good, good Father keeps leading me to venture out into the dazzling unknown, awaiting the most glorious end. It’s one I yearn for from the depths of my heart, for He is awaiting me there.





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