Why I Don’t Pray

As soon as John and Jacob saw me, they knew something was up. Something weird. Because I hadn’t looked nearly so cheerful the last time they’d seen me.

I had to admit, they were right.

Even though on that particular day, I had planned to be thoughtful. Sad. Mournful. I planned to wallow just a tad. It was, after all, the first anniversary of my mother’s death. I was a long way away from my heartbroken Dad; I wouldn’t be able to call and let him know that I was thinking of her. I felt, well, I felt I deserved it, because sometimes, no matter where you were, you just have to give into the loss.

That had been my plan, anyway. That’s not exactly what happened.

Did you see the movie The Monuments Men? It was pretty much panned by the critics, but I really liked it. It was about a group of academics who went to war to save great art from Hitler. It had compelling action, great works of art, and the struggle against good and evil. Equally important, it had no robots in it. Or baseball.

Naturally, since that trailer rudely left out the most important part of the movie – the one that I was involved in, I’m going to actually have to write this story up.

Anyway, the movie stars George Clooney, Cate Blanchett, Bill Murray, Matt Damon and the Earl of Grantham and an alcoholic has-been looking for redemption.

Oh, and Lord Grantham is also looking for the particular sculpture commemorated in this post. That’s actually where my story comes in.  Well sort of.

Anyway, John, Jacob and I were In Bruges (another really great movie, actually). Bruges is a lovely old city, that seems like it is stopped in time, which is kind of because it WAS actually stopped in time.

A busy, beautiful port city that, according to Wikipedia, was:

At one time, it was considered the “chief commercial city” of the world.[6] “Rise, fall and resurrection make up the life story of Bruges, a city that glittered in Northern Europe with as much panache as Venice did in the Mediterranean World.”[7]

Only the harbor silted up, and its use as a port was history. Today?  Today, it’s a damn pretty place.

We’d been traveling for a few days, had had our own Waterloo; we’d been to Amsterdam, where we visited Ann Frank’s attic, where Jacob drove a boat filled with tourists through crowded canals, and where John and I accidentally introduced our 8 year old to the Red Light District. So we were ready to just relax and wander when we got to Bruges.

The centerpiece of the town is the Church of Our Lady, Bruges, a beautiful cathedral built between the 13th and 15th Century. It is found in the heart of the town square.

Wikipedia Image (you thought I was gonna say

Wikipedia Image (you thought I was gonna say “Google,” admit it.)

It’s a lovely church, but its altarpiece alone makes it worth the trip.  It is world famous, a luminous, transcendent sculpture that one feels as well as sees.  It has an illustrious history of its own, Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. The sculpture was the only one of his sculptures to leave Italy during the artist’s lifetime.  More currently, and relevant to the movie theme in this post, it was one of the pieces of art most sought after by the Third Reich. The Monument Men were tasked with preventing the Nazis from getting it (or destroying it) as they retreated at the end of the war.

Wikipedia Image, again.

Wikipedia Image, again.

I’m not going to tell you what happens, but I will say, that the Monument Men didn’t have an easy job of it.  Of course, I could have told them that they were wasting their effort. Because as I found out, Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child was well guarded. Even when nobody was really after it.

Are you still with me?  OK, let’s get back to me.

Well, I started the visit to the Church with John and Jacob, where we taught our young son the history of the church, looked and discussed the art work throughout the church. We went to the gift shop, where I bought a flier about the Cathedral for my Dad, and a remembrance for Jacob. We’re good parents.  We knew the routine. After a while, John and Jacob left to climb the tower overlooking the other side of the square. They left me to meditate, to think about my mother, to grieve. It was very considerate of them. Sadly, my reflection was short-lived.

The Church was nearly empty, and the late morning light shone through the stained glass, coloring the floor in front of the Madonna. I could hear the breathing of the few people looking at the paintings, there was an elderly couple doing the Stations of the Cross. But mostly I was alone with my Mom. And with another mother and baby, right there on the altar in front of me.

There are some pieces of art that reach out and touch you. That fill your heart. That start your healing as you gaze. Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child is one of those.

In the back of the church, coming from near the gift shop, I heard an announcement, softly broadcast over the intercom system. A few minutes later, I heard it again. It was in Dutch. Or Flemmish. Or Bruge-ian. I didn’t understand it. Ok, so I ignored it. What could be so important?

I continued my contemplation. I began to think of my Mom, to weep quietly, tastefully. Hardly at all noticeably, when somebody roughly grabbed my arm and shook it.

“#*&%+##@@*!” said a very tall, very grave Nun. I was pretty sure she had a ruler in her pocket. All the stories my siblings had told me about the nuns they had known – all of whom believed firmly in beating children, flooded into my mind.

“Excusez-moi, Madam?” I stammered.

“#*&%+##@@*!  #*&%+##@@*!” she repeated, which she should have known wouldn’t help, since I didn’t have a clue the first time around.

“Excuse me, M’am. I don’t understand you,” I said to her in English.

“EEENglesh!” she said, as if that explained everything. “YOU MUST LEAF.  NOW!!!

“LEAF?” I responded, confused. Why did I have to LEAF? I was in a church. In mourning. I WAS PRAYING FOR CHRIST’S SAKE! “I am here for my mother, she died,” I said, and I started to cry.

“OUT!” she shouted, pulling me.

Google this time.  You got me.

Google this time. You got me.

This was NOT Sister Bertrille.

She grabbed me by my sleeve, pulled me from the pew, walked me to the door, and firmly shoved me outside.

Now, I have been caught doing many untoward things.  But this time?  This time I was thrown out of a church. WHILE I WAS PRAYING.  Isn’t there some eclesiastical law against that?  Call the Pope.

*     *     *

So, when I saw The Monuments Men, well, I wish I’d been around during that day. They didn’t have to work so very hard, give up so much to protect Michelangelo’s Madonna and Child. All they needed was one nun in need of a sandwich.

*     *     *

This post was brought to you courtesy of Frank at AFrankAngle.  He suggested I write it up the story of how I was thrown out of a church, so I did.  Note to self:  Remember to thank folks who inspire and who also actually read your blog.


Filed under All The News You Need, Anniversary, Awards, Bruges, Church, Dad, Europe, Missing Folks, Mom, Nuns, praying, TAGS THAT DON'T Work, Thrown out of Church, Travel Stories

59 responses to “Why I Don’t Pray

  1. Ha I didn’t actually think it could be possible to be thrown out of a church….not very christian surely?! I did have a giggle about you accidentally showing your child the red light district as well, possibly hard to explain to them!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Great story. I won’t try to top it.


  3. You had me in stitches! Closing for lunch? What they can’t eat in cycles and keep the church open? How odd, how rude. Well you have another great story to tell, I think this must be your karma.

    Liked by 1 person

    • EVERYTHING in Bruges (possibly in all of Belgium) closes for a very long lunch. Everything except the pubs, most of which are operated by monks. Very strange, no?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I’ve never been thrown out of a church for praying, but then again, give it time. Of course, first you’d have to get me IN one. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • I am not much of a church-goer, either. But the European Cathedrals are so beautiful, they make even me feel spiritual. Most of the ones around where I’ve lived are more like gymnasiums, which do not do much for me on any level!


  5. You now have a distinct advantage at all cocktail parties.

    At a similar gathering, my wife and I were talking about our trip to La Jolla, CA when a very snooty woman walked up and asked if we had stayed at the very exclusive Valencia Hotel. “Madame,” we said “we were THROWN OUT of the Valencia Hotel.”

    When people ask if you visited the renowned Church of Our Lady while you were in Bruges, you can reply “I was THROWN OUT of the Church of Our Lady!”

    Somehow, there is a greater cache to being thrown out of a place rather than just visiting it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That does sound like a great plan. I have found that I can shut folks up easily (often when I don’t necessarily intend to) by saying I lived in Geneva for 5 years. They don’t quite know how to handle it. Sadly, I left voluntarily!


  6. Dana

    Hell hath no fury like a hungry nun!

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I’m not Catholic, but I’ve heard the stories about nuns. I’m sure there are some who are just wonderful – but there must be plenty who are not for the generalization to be so prevalent. I can’t believe she was still so stern when it was obvious you were in distress. I understand that rules are rules and when the church is closed, it’s closed – but she could have been more warm and understanding as she explained what was going on. People like her are exactly the reason I don’t go to church and I have a private relationship with God.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Most of my experiences with nuns have been pretty good. We lived near a convent when I was very young and adorable. The nuns loved me, and gave me candy. It was a long while before I understood why my siblings told horror stories about them — the worst stories from the most rowdy of my 4 siblings!


  8. You left me hanging! Why did you have to “leaf”? I love the idea of our emotions coming to us when they choose, rather than when we do. I’m sorry (but intrigued) that you were thrown out of a church, but I am willing to bet that you did your grieving in spite of the change in the schedule.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I had to leaf because it was lunchtime. So she threw me out. Obviously I rushed the story!

      Actually I found it hilarious. My mom would have been in stitches, so. I took it as a sign to laugh. It was a good day. Probably because all that was open were the pubs.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. Very interesting, Elyse, and especially about the Michelangelo sculpture. As it happens, we were just down to the Crystal Bridges museum in Bentonville AR yesterday and were able to examine a similar marble sculpture up close, amazingly intricate. It was Randolph Rogers’s Atala and Chactas, 1854, and depicts two Native American lovers, he in the act of removing a thorn from her foot. The process must be something like building a house of cards, nay, a cathedral of cards. My appreciation was more that of an engineer than an art lover. (I could never do a sculpture in a thousand years.) Even the thorn between two of Chactas’ fingers was carved, about the size of a grain of corn, and also the wound on the bottom of her sole, all out of a single slab of marble!

    As for the Monuments Men, I didn’t see it because, despite the stellar cast because the trailer seemed to depict one war-movie cliche after another and giving the impression of endless cameo’s. Also, their uniforms were too clean. Compare Brad Pitt in Fury. That said, I fully appreciate the terrific story of the events that inspired the movie that you describe so well. In such, there may be some hope for humanity after all.

    My Catholic-raised wife, Mollie, says the nuns in her school loved to tell her, as a little girl, all about the exquisite and infinite torture of damned souls in the fiery pit. Your description fits the picture nicely. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks for the link! It is a beautiful sculpture. I do love sculpture, but like you, I couldn’t possibly do one. One of my brothers is an artist, however, and he has done many fine ones. Among the first was a self-portrait bust he did in high school, that was so good the teacher made two bronze casts of it, gave my brother one and kept the other. A couple of years ago 30+ years later, my brother met up with a much later student of that teacher (whose name coincidentally is Jim Wheeler). On the shelf in the woman’s studio, sat Fred’s head! Jim had given the bust to her! (Thanks for giving me the opportunity to tell that story — it isn’t one I’ve managed to sneak in anywhere else).

      As to the movie, they do get fairly dirty from time to time — but rarely on their faces. It will probably become one of those standard movies that will be on TV all the time. And that’s OK with me. The art and the scenery is good, and I enjoyed it. Never saw Fury, though I’m not a big Brad fan.

      Lastly, I think your wife and I would have gotten in a whole lot of trouble together had we attended school together. My family moved when I was in 2nd grade. So my actual, real life experience with nuns were that they all thought I was adorable and gave me candy. I liked nuns. But I got all the horror stories from my 4 siblings. And really, the nuns were just teaching your wife (and my siblings) about Great Art. The paintings on the dome of the Duomo in Florence (and many other places) are absolutely terrifying. They liked their folks roasting, I can tell you that!


      • Unfortunately, my name is too common. There’s some bigoted politician in Nevada who has it, and also a young criminal in a Carolina prison. I got pulled over by a state trooper in Kansas once. He was looking for me, but not me. Nuts.

        The movie Fury is a gritty, realistic depiction of tank warfare in the final year of WW II. Brad Pitt is not a glamour guy in this and does a superb job of acting. It may be too realistic for some. Frankly, I think it should have won Best Picture.

        Liked by 1 person

  10. Haha! I love that you were evicted for lunch – talk about ruining a moment.

    I just saw that movie a few weeks ago, so I can “see” where you were in my mind’s eye, even though I’ve never seen the place in person. I liked the movie. The other thing it’s got going for it is George Clooney – duh!

    Liked by 1 person

  11. Awesome! Definitely Elysian. Did you ever find out why you were evicted? John & Jacob’s reaction? I saw Monument Men (liked it), but, I’m crushed … no credit for this post. Then again, plebes don’t inspire queens.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Paul

    What would Jesus do? That’s the question i ask when I am treated poorly by a church or a congregant (or a nun). I suspect He would take exception to throwing out people who are praying.

    So , cursed on you ignorant Nun – may the fleas of a thousand camels infest your groin. Ahhh, that feels much better. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • Jesus would throw you to the wolves, I’d wager! At least according to many modern day “Christians,” anyway.

      Thanks for cursing the nun. I’m sure that’s what she keeps under her nun’s habit — a thousand curses!


  13. I don’t care what you say, I think penguins look funny…

    Liked by 1 person

  14. The nuns of my youth were very bossy. But liars that’s what turned me off from the Catholic religion. I saw The Monument Men it is a good movie.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think that the Catholic church may be responsible for at least half the therapy in the world!

      Glad you liked the movie, too. George Clooney needs all the fans he can get!


  15. Glazed

    Rumor has it her demeanor got her in trouble, and she was transferred to Our Lady of Compassion nunnery.

    Liked by 1 person

  16. “Not Sister Bertrille” was undercover and you just got too close to that precious momma and bub, Elyse … or she had low blood sugar 🙂 Linda

    Liked by 1 person

  17. Oh the hypocrisy of that nun.

    Liked by 1 person

  18. Maybe the announcement was about a couple of professional assassins wondering around the church… one very good looking, the other not so much and older…

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Jeez, so much for compassion. That’s not what we expect when we’re in a church. Maybe she could a job with the Secret Service. No one who doesn’t belong there would get into the White House on her watch.

    I saw In Bruges years ago. Loved it.

    Liked by 1 person

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