“It’s just down this street,” she said. “Take the second left, and go around the corner. You will see the church, but don’t go intake the steps on the right and go up to the caf. That’s where you will find it.” She was smiling as she said it, as if it made perfect sense. It helped that she spoke in friendly Italian, with lovely hand gestures to help us picture the way, but the truth was, after a day of roaming around Rome we were quite certain it would be hard to find. But we were game. After all she was very kind and so welcoming of three American tourists to her city. We had been looking for a different church, one of so many in Rome, but she encouraged us to search for this one instead. “It’s better,” she said, “and it has a surprise.” So we decided to take her advice and go for another adventure on the winding streets of Rome. As we were reaching the second left she came running after us and said, “Wait, you must look very carefully for the caf. Be sure to stay alert. I really want you to find it. I think it will bring you joy.”
We found the church, the steps, the small caf entrance and finally the surprise; a window from the caf looked out onto the top of the church. And there it was: an original Raphael. Just waiting for us to experience the beauty of this master’s work. There is something about a masterpiece that was created hundreds of years ago that shows the glory of God. I imagined I could see in the faces of the angels something of the artist’s desire to honor God. It seemed that each brushstroke was painted with care and thought, as if he hoped that by creating this work of art he could, in some small way, honor the creator of the world. I wonder if he had hoped that as the years went by people would see this painting and marvel at the power of creation. I think he would smile to hear that a small group of travelers took to heart the kind words of a stranger in a strange country and discovered his creation. And she was right. It brought joy.
It was more than the painting, as beautiful as it was. The entire experience reminded me that if we are willing, if we are open, we can be surprised by joy. In Paul’s letter to the Philippians he writes, “Rejoice in the Lord always. Again I say, rejoice. Let your gentleness be known to all and in everything by prayer and petition put your requests before God and the peace of God, which passes all understanding will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.” Paul knew what it was to live a difficult life. He was stoned, beaten, put in prison and endured countless other punishments for his efforts to share the message of Christ, and still he wrote about joy. That day in Rome I was reminded that joy is often just around the corner. It might take perseverance, a willingness to ask others for help and an inclination to trust the kindness of others. But when we embrace the adventure, we are often astounded at the beauty and wonder of joy.