Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Miami Zen

It's one of my favorite places in Miami, this cone-dome shaped church that sits along Biscayne Bay. Whenever I visit Miami, I find myself driving over one of the trio of Miami Beach-to-Miami causeways to Coconut Grove to meditate along the bay. This is one of the few places where I get all Zenned out. (The other is the Blue Hills just outside of Boston.)
Don't get me wrong. I'm not preaching. I'm not even the most religious person but I am drawn to this place and I never quite understood why. Sometimes I enter the church, known as La Ermita de la Caridad Church, which has become a spiritual center for Miami's Cuban exile community. Inside the shrine is a replica of Our Lady of Charity statue that once resided in Havana, Cuba. Like pilgrims, people stop here and pray, every day. (My mom too whenever I bring her along during one of my hometown visits. She gladly accepts the ride here.)
The church isn't just a place of worship. It offers stunning views. Visitors like me enjoy plopping ourselves along the seawall where we gaze at the gorgeous gleaming bay. I can't help but study the choppy navy-blue waters of Biscayne Bay. The breeze envelopes me like a giant invisible hug. In the distance, the golden dome of the Miami Seaquarium and the grand estates of Key Biscayne beckon. Every now and than, a grand yacht will churn the waters as it zips by. As I sit along the bay under the shade of one of several coconut palms, I can't help but look back at the unusually-shaped church, which reminds me of the space ship from Close Encounters of The Third Kind. Upon first glance, the shrine looks out of place here but then if you look around, it makes perfects sense that it's anchored here.
Perhaps my pull here also has to do with the fact that I was born a few hundred feet away at Mercy Hospital. For people who have sick loved ones at the hospital, they stop by the church or sit along the bay, comforted that they're not alone in their personal situations. Denizens also bring bread to feed the white seagulls that hover near the church. You'd never know it but the church isn't officially listed on popular tourist stops in Miami and maybe it's better that way.