Leonardo in London during Lent


Ms. Schaefer

A wise person once said, “Thank God our minds don’t have PA systems.” I was grateful for this truth a few years ago during Lent when I visited London’s National Gallery and saw da Vinci’s Virgin of the Rocks. I had given up judgment of self and others for Lent believing that it’s better to give up something difficult and valuable imperfectly than to give up something perfectly but easily – like chocolate.

So there I was on a crisp March Sunday morning in London anticipating seeing several masterpieces — especially Virgin of the Rocks — feeling pleased with myself for having scoped out the closest entrance to the National Gallery’s Leonardo Room, and having arrived early enough to be the first in line (!) before the doors opened at 10. As soon as they opened, I dashed up the stairs, made a beeline for Virgin of the Rocks, and stood awestruck for several blessed minutes alone in the quiet gallery. It actually was sublime. As I stood marveling, some man walked right in front of me with his iPad and began filming the painting. Thank God our minds don’t have PA systems, indeed.

I stood my ground remembering, irritably, that I had given up judgment of self and others while feeling my annoyance bubble into outrage. Breathe deeply, keep quiet, and calm down until you can respond in a way befitting God and this painting. I thought this to myself as this man set aside his iPad, pulled out his cell phone, and began clicking away inches from my face. While struggling to contain my outrage, a security guard strode up to the man, smacked his arm, and said — oozing with disdain — “Do you mind? She’s actually looking at the painting!” As he walked back to his post, the guard muttered loudly, “How rude.Amen to that, I thought, as Mr. Infernal Devices sheepishly walked away.

Later that evening as I was examining my day, in addition to profound gratitude for the experience of being with Virgin of the Rocks at length and uninterrupted, I also felt a curious combination of embarrassment at my smug self-satisfaction and appreciation that God seemed to have provided my authentic response through another person. For Lent this year, I’m giving up judgment of self and others, as the record indicates room for improvement.

Whatever you choose to give up this Lent, may your experience increase your wonder for our blessings without number, and our mercies without end.