The Privileged Life: Lessons from the Sistine Chapel and Coronavirus Pandemic

“Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.” Acts 9:18

Are you scrubbing your house and fixing it up during your stay-at-home time? You are? Great! Come work at my home next, ’cause I’m NOT getting nearly enough cleaning done….

One of the best things about house cleaning is that it lets you see things in a new light. My brother David once said, “Life looks better through a clean sink.” He was right. Every night, I clean my kitchen sink, counters, and stovetop before going to bed, just so I won’t have to face a pile of dirty dishes in the morning.

Several years ago, my friend Lee Anne Duncan and I took our teenaged daughters on a special mother/daughter trip to Italy over spring break. We went to all the usual tourist spots, catching glimpses as we shoved our way through madding crowds in a desperate attempt to follow our tour guide’s telescoped flag way ahead of us. 

Rome was our first stop, and we were duly wowed by the Coliseum, the vast interior of St. Peter’s, and the gilded hallways of the Vatican. Truth is, I was prepared for a letdown by the time we reached the Sistine Chapel. Crowds were enormous everywhere, and I figured this would be the same: no quiet, holy, meditative experience could possibly lie ahead of us.

As we entered the famed room, smaller than I had thought, I was surprised it wasn’t packed to the rafters. We passed through the rood screen, and I saw a stone bench extending along both sides of the walls. Quickly, I ushered my daughter, Elizabeth, over to it and had her sit down on the bench’s worn marble surface, the respite of many clergy derrières over the centuries.

We were warned not to sit on the floor, but I flouted the rules (only a bit) by seating myself on the step below the bench in front of Elizabeth, leaning my head back on her knees for a good view of the ceiling. 

Everything else in the room disappeared and drifted into silence. I was completely stunned. 

From an early age, I had observed Michelangelo’s celebrated frescoes in coffee-table books. Prior to our trip, we had even watched “The Agony and Ecstasy” with Charlton Heston (excellent film, by the way). I had seen articles, too, about the restoration of the ceiling, finished about a decade earlier.

My view that day, however, was nothing at all like what I had seen in print or the film. Restoration artisans had painstakingly removed hundreds of years of candle wax, incense soot, and grime to reveal Michelangelo’s original work. It was as if I had entered a darkened theatre and suddenly was struck full in the face with a Technicolor explosion. 

Muted Tuscan reds, greens, golds, and blues were replaced with tempera colors. I imagined Michelangelo taking a box of Crayola markers and going crazy with them. No dull hues here—all were replaced by a breathing, living rainbow of characters.

I marveled, too, at the three-dimensional genius of this Renaissance fellow. How did he make the figures swing their legs from the crown molding?? They defied me, laughed at me, sang to me. It was trompe-l’oeil as its finest and most symphonic.

Too soon, we had to trudge out of the room with our tour comrades to make way for the next set of guests. Michelangelo’s magnificent display followed me, though…its breathtaking depiction of Scripture stories was now permanently etched in my memory. It was the highlight of my entire week in Italy.

This coronavirus pandemic can be a soul-cleaning time. Perhaps you and I have allowed soot, dust, and worthless fluff to cloud our view of God. Perhaps He is lovingly restoring our sight, cleaning off all our excess junk and revealing the brilliance of His glory.

This is truly an unexpected, privileged season when we are compelled to return to what’s most important—the strength of faith, family, and fellowship. Our ho-hum, complacent attitudes about worship are being replaced with life-changing awe and wonder upon entering His presence. He is scraping off years of accumulated grunge so we can see Him and others through a clean lens again.

Like the apostle Paul, who was blinded after his remarkable encounter with Christ on the road to Damascus, we need Him to touch our hearts with healing, to peel back the scales that have fallen over our eyes. Let’s ask Him to do just that, to illuminate our lives with the same beauty He is restoring in His spring re-creation all around us. 

May you be blessed today, in the afterglow of Easter, with His amazing splendor and life-giving love.

Jesus Christ, Savior and Redeemer, we lift up our hands in awestruck praise at Your glorious resurrection. Let Your Easter glory, the truth that You live and reign eternally, follow us in the days ahead. Open our eyes to Your sovereign plans for us, and purify our hearts with Your hope and joy. Have mercy upon us, heal our world, and call us to share Your good news with those who need to hear it. In Your blessed name, Amen.

For a 360-degree virtual tour of the Sistine Chapel, check this out:

Photo source: Webgallery of art, Bartz and Konig, “Michelangelo”; Sistine Chapel, the prophet Daniel before and after Restoration—Michelangelo (1475-1564)

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4 responses to “The Privileged Life: Lessons from the Sistine Chapel and Coronavirus Pandemic”

  1. Loved your metaphor between Sistene Chapel restoration and God’s restoration of us!! How true! And how marvelous to find something positive in the covid-19 experience. Please add me to your blog so I am notified when you post.


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