Prayer in the Portiuncula

More thoughts about God from my recent trip to Italy:

So often, we communicate with God without receiving any physical sign of His presence with us — though, in faith, we believe His promise that He is always close to us. But sometimes, spiritual energy manifests in a physical way, so that we can tangibly sense God’s presence around us.

That happened to me while I was praying in the Portiuncula (also called the Porziuncola), an ancient church outside Assisi, Italy.

The Portiuncula is a small chapel that Saint Francis of Assisi restored in the 1200s and used often for prayer and worship with others. After Francis’ death there in 1226, many people continued to pray and worship God inside the Portiuncula, and eventually a large and ornate basilica — Saint Mary of the Angels — was built around the humble chapel to preserve it in its original condition.

People from around the world visit the Portiuncula on pilgrimages. When I arrived, the little church was full of people praying, and I joined them as soon as a spot opened up for me to kneel in prayer. I set my purse and sunhat down beside me as I knelt down and closed my eyes.

Then it happened.

As I thanked God for the privilege of visiting that place and asked Him for guidance about decisions I was facing, I felt a powerful sensation that was like someone pouring warm honey all over me, until I was completely encased in it. That physical feeling was accompanied by a mental feeling of pure bliss, which came from a thought that filled my mind: God loved me completely and unconditionally, and there was nothing I could do to either earn or lose His love.

I stayed in the embrace of God’s love for a while (several minutes, according to my watch, which I checked after the experience was over and I’d regained full awareness of time). While I enjoyed God’s presence, I also realized that it wasn’t just for me alone. I sensed that all of the people in prayer around me were connected to God — and all of us to each other — by the power of love.

Finally, the warm honey feeling (which I believe was the Holy Spirit’s physical presence around me) melted away, and I emerged from it awed and humbled by having literally felt the spiritual energy of God’s love at work.

It wasn’t until I’d boarded my tour bus outside that I realized I’d left my sunhat beside the place where I’d knelt in prayer inside the Portiuncula (I’d instinctively grabbed my purse before leaving). By then, it was too late to return to retrieve my hat. But I didn’t care. What a wonderful way to lose something — while encountering something I could never lose, something that had more value than anything else: God’s love!

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