One of the things I like best about coming to a new place is the opportunity to explore the city and I have to say that Rome is probably one of the best places for urban exploration. Rome’s a fascinating city with a history so rich and layered that it feels like one is in the grand dame of cities that looks on the other younger cities with a gentle sense of bemusement. Exploration is as exploration does and the main ‘task’ of exploration is to discover – sights, sounds and smells that are at once foreign yet familiar. Through exploration and the subsequent discoveries that we make, we enlarge our world view by adding experiences to the ones that we already have, enriching them and creating new ways of seeing the world. Discovery makes old things seem new and prepares us with new eyes to view the world that seems always to open up with every new discovery.
I’m a person who likes a little structure in life and the same goes with my approach to exploration. Like some of the explorers of old, I usually prefer a slightly more structured approach to exploration. What normally happens is that I search for places of interest, read up a little on their historical, cultural or religious significance and then check their locations on the map before planning a route for my little exploratory trips. These have been ‘successful’ in that the discoveries made were well worth the preparation and journey. In particular, a longer trip to the Papal Basilica of St Paul outside the Walls made some week ago was an experience that was enriching intellectually and spiritually. The church was beautiful and significant historically but what really struck me was the deeply spiritual atmosphere that I felt while roaming around. The physical connection that one could feel with the Christians of the past was palpable there and the church just seemed to be constructed in a way that made one comfortable praying. An added significance to us as Jesuits was that St Ignatius and the first companions made their first vows in one of the chapels within the church in 1541, hence the importance of that church to the Society as a whole.
So explorations come and go and give us experiences to take with us in our lives. But what I need to remind myself is that exploration does not need to be well planned like the ones that I’m used to. Several evenings ago, I found myself free with legs that needed stretching and so I decided to take a walk to look for a park that I heard much about. After consulting a map, I set out in search of the park. I didn’t quite find a park but instead stumbled upon a beautiful church, which Google very politely informed me was the Basilica of Santa Maria in Trastevere. It didn’t look extremely impressive on the outside but the dome of the church on the inside was covered with intricate mosaics of Jesus, Mary and many saints. It was a beautiful church made even more beautiful by the prayerful atmosphere that the art and architecture wrought. Outside in the piazza, there was a busker singing folksy-jazz songs with this guitar. The sun was setting at that moment, lending the scene a soft dusky orangey glow. Beauty to end an evening that was all about how beauty can appear in ways that we cannot even begin to imagine.
Discovery helps make all things new and gives us new insights into how we lead (or could lead) our lives. That’s well and good but the recent experience reminds me of one important aspect of discovery – being prepared for it. While one doesn’t quite go around waiting for amazing things to happen, we need to be sufficiently open-minded to be aware of things that could allow us new insights and ways of seeing the world. A little more religiously, it’s the acknowledgement of God’s role in all that we see and do and using that to realise that God indeed leads us to a deeper understanding of how we can truly appreciate creation around us. Just as scientists are often primed with a particular readiness to accept new experimental discoveries, so should we too be prepared to discover new things about our own world. Plans aid in making our lives easier – discoveries help us to grow in faith and wonder in the world.