This little Easter story is about one of those serendipitous moments that I so love…

It happened on Holy Thursday this past week.  I invited my friend, David, to go with me to hear readings from Dante’s “Inferno” – all the way uptown, to the 4th largest cathedral in the world, The Cathedral of St. John the Divine, the seat of the Episcopal Diocese of New York City.  It had been years since I’d been there – not since the fire and not since the scaffolding had been up in a vain attempt to finish it…  Started in 1892, “St. John, the Unfinished” as it is affectionately known by New Yorkers, is no less glorious in its Majesty and no less a contribution to the rich and varied cultural life of New York City.

As for Dante’s “Inferno” – I hadn’t cracked that book open since I studied it – in Italian, yet – in college over 40 years ago.  The nuances of Florentine politics were challenging enough at the time – I could not imagine that I would remember the story of it in one sitting on Thursday night.

No matter.  A work of epic poetry, Dante’s great masterpiece, “The Divine Comedy,” is still one of the enduring works of genius in this world – and, I often find that, with works of genius, there is something in the energy of the space when you hear a great work of literature, see a great work of art, listen to a musical masterpiece – that resonates in our deepest, most heartfelt places – our very souls — whether we think we understand them or not.

I wanted a journey into my soul and I could think of no better guide than Dante….

I was not disappointed.    Renowned names in poetry and the arts read from various translations in English, for those of us whose Italian is a bit rusty, if it exists at all — the lamentations of those lost souls doomed to whatever circle of hell for all eternity, names familiar in Florentine times… utterly unknown or forgotten now…

Ah, but the soul’s journey to God – the allegory that this great poem is – still sings in the verse about tortured souls and burning corpses – but is really about our own distance from God, in whatever form that takes…   Doubt, fear, selfishness, indifference, violence — and resonated in my own soul after a challenging couple of years of doubt and fear and wondering what would become of me – as I travel my own “inferno” of trying to live in New York City as a real estate broker during a time when everyone is scared and few can get mortgages, and everyone I know has their own version of the separation from the inner riches of knowing that God provides always.

David and I left after about an hour and a half of rapture in that beautiful space – we flagged a  taxi to travel down what would become Columbus Avenue after we left Morningside Heights, to leave David off on the West Side, and then on to the East Side, where I live.

We talked in the cab  about what we heard and how happy we were that we had gone, and how beautiful St. John the Divine is, and then we touched on the differences in how we were raised – I, as a Catholic, and David, whose father was an Episcopal Minister.

David hopped out of the cab at West 78th Street, and I stayed inside for my journey home…

As the taxi pulled away from the curb where we had left David, the taxi driver asked me if we had been to a class.  I replied that  No, we had gone to that beautiful cathedral to hear one of the greatest pieces of literature ever written.  I explained to him what it was —  and also explained that it seemed a good time to hear it since it was Holy Thursday and what a wonderful way to commemorate Jesus’ own “descent into hell” during the three days that he was laid in the tomb.

The taxi driver interrupted me, alarmed – “Who sent Jesus to hell?  Why?”  I thought for a moment and realized that I had just repeated — unconsciously and automatically (never a good thing)  —  the version of the Creed that I had learned as a young child, but that sentence is no longer in the statement of what Catholics believe.  I remembered that it scared me as a child that I had to say, “He descended into hell and on the third day, he rose again from the dead…”

I have been back in church for almost six years now, saying the Creed at every Mass, and realized that it now says, “He  suffered, died, and was buried.  On the third day, He rose again…”

He rose again….  that is the message – the redemption of man through love and compassion…

The taxi driver shared with me that he is Muslim — and that, in the Muslim religion, Jesus is a prophet.   I knew that since I have other Muslim friends…  The taxi driver and I talked about love and redemption and compassion for all people – the Jesus Christ message – and how we both believe that that is why He came – to teach that to all of us.

My heart opened up with our shared vision of a world of love and peace. It didn’t matter at all that we were two different faiths.

We talked all the way and the time passed quickly — as I fell in love with this conversation between two strangers.   Before I knew it, we pulled to the corner of 55th and Second where I was getting out.

As I paid him the fare, I offered my hand to shake his and thanked him for a beautiful interlude in a challenging and sometimes cold world.     He took my hand in his and thanked me and said, “Love will be the way… That is what Jesus wanted.”  I started to cry.

As I walked the short half block to my apartment, it occurred to me that I had traveled uptown to a great cathedral to hear the voice of genius, always inspiring, always moving to me – and came to find something even greater — a meeting of minds joined in peace and love…  in a yellow taxicab, late at night,  in New York City….

This is how we are redeemed.

Happy Easter to All!

Deliciously yours in the Glory of it All, Linda

“But already my desire and my will
were being turned like a wheel, all at one speed,
by the Love which moves the sun and the other stars.”

Dante Alighieri, “La Divina Commedia,” “Paradiso”, Canto XXXIII, lines 142-145, on the Radiance of God.

“Why do you seek the living one among the dead?  He is not here.  He has risen.”     The Gospel of Luke, 24:1-12.

The beautiful interior of The Cathedral of St. John the Divine on  West 112th and Amsterdam Avenue.

For programs and readings, go to:

© Linda Ruocco and “Spiritual Chocolate”, 2010. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Linda Ruocco and ”Spiritual Chocolate”  with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.  Thank you.

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