I learned a new spanish word back in 2012: Querencia… a place of safety, home, a place from which one draws strength, a place we all need to go to and be made whole, it seems: the Wanting Place.
At one time in my life, querencia had a very concrete, physical location. It was the interior of St. Mary’s Church in Opelika. A not too large space with cool, green carpet overseen by an oversized crucifix from the front and loved into peace by the gaze of Mary in the center of the stained glass window that graces the back of the church in the middle of the choir loft wall.
Even my skeptical, cynical self cannot wipe away sitting in a back pew and knowing that Jesus wrapped His arm around my shoulder and declared “Welcome home.” I know, kind of strange. Imagined. But, somehow undeniable and very concrete. I knew at that point that this place was HOME – Querencia – place of safety, place where I must go… my “flee to.” It has been a place of much laughter and many tears. In this tiny chapel of a church I have been ripped to shreds and made whole — sometimes it seems the shredding and healing were almost simultaneous.
There are a few places in this world where the veil seems very transparent and Love (and Love’s associate, Peace) are able to shine no matter what madness and darkness surrounds me.
But, life is a journey, and we don’t often get to keep the same Querencia, at least not in a physical sense. There are indeed those thin places and times, but I find I must seek Home in God, in all of creation and look for the times I am almost awake and aware of God’s presence. These moments become Querencia.
It is hard to believe, but Advent is here. Time flies, it seems.
When I was walking the Camino back in October, I would often sing to myself to get me through. On mornings when the fog was so thick that I could barely see 10 feet in front of me, I would hear in my head: “We walk by faith, and not by sight…” complete with various instrumental accompaniment. And, when climbing or descending steep slopes, several songs of Advent would pop into my head. You can imagine: “Every valley shall be exalted, and every hill made low” type of thoughts. So, it should be no surprise that I chose an opening song for mass this morning that begins “Let the valleys be raised and the mountains made low.”
Normally, people in my neighborhood [, town, state, country] travel from place to place in motorized vehicles. We travel mostly by car. And, in traveling that way, we lose touch with the ground beneath us. We are no longer acutely aware of hills versus flat areas. We lose consciousness about changing landscape and the energy required to ascend or descend a hill, or walk on uneven ground, cracked sidewalks and paths littered with twigs, leaves, acorns and pecans (or walnuts or chestnuts). We forget just how much easier it can be to travel a smooth, flat road. Boring maybe, but still generally a more gentle ride or walk. Only when we get out of our comfortable space, get on foot or some human powered form of transport, do we begin to be awake to the world around us. And only then can we begin to appreciate the proclamation of valleys being raised and mountains made low so that our God has an open, direct way to approach us.
While walking the Camino there was a space to open up and feel the road. There was a way to be grounded in the present simply because my feet were definitely grounded on the road that I walked. I was awake and aware of the world of my present moment and I could journey more easily than usual, letting the past and the future fade as I concentrated on the present. I get a lot of that when I run or practice yoga as well, but somehow walking The Way created a special image in me of being present in the current moment. It is an image that I hope to maintain and enhance.
In Advent, we are making a journey to the place where we receive God’s love in the form of a new life — Jesus is born as one of us, with all of the wonder and joy and tears and difficulties that we will face. I hope to walk this Advent rather like the Camino — one step at a time, in the present moment — and to arrive at last at Christmas with a sense of wonder and thanksgiving a bit like the joy (and sorrow and excitement) of arriving in Santiago de Compostela. To stay with the present and simply experience it.
On my way to mass this evening, I had to stop to get gas. Distressing to see what it costs to fuel my car! Besides, I got notice that I was needed to play for mass in mid-afternoon and I wasn’t in a joyful, positive state of mind to begin with. There was a tornado watch in effect. I was tired, and grumpy and just generally out of sorts.
The rain was falling, but just as I finished filling the tank, the sun burst through the clouds. The rain began to fade away. And right there at the Exxon station, I was treated to a full blown, full arc, double rainbow. I had to step out and just gaze at it. My mood began to transform immediately and I thought to myself “Wow! God is reminding me of that there is good everywhere.”
On to mass. Running late. Couldn’t find the second page of the communion hymn. Somebody had made a major mess of the numbers for the hymnboard. No time to check my tuning on my guitar. Went to set the cell phone to silent and saw a missed call from my youngest child who was in an automobile accident yesterday (not his fault, thank goodness). My emotions are hanging out all over my face.
And Fr. Jack proceeds to focus the homily on how God shows up in the most unexpected places (water from a rock in the desert? get real!). Nothing spectacular required. God is present in wine, water, bread and oil. How common and basic can you get? And I thought of the rainbow.
Out of nowhere the sacred is injected into life. In a shared meal, a surprise rainbow, a baby’s smile. Life is good. There is hope.
It may seem a small thing, but… I never sleep all night through, even using my CPAP.
Several years ago, I didn’t sleep well at all. (Pre-CPAP) I woke up repeatedly during the night, my mind spinning out of control. Anxiety. Panic. No way to shut it down. I found my own use for a rosary in those days. Instead of a Mystery, I would try to focus on just one of the great cloud of worries, and hand it over. Then, came the Hail Mary’s as I tried to let go. Next, decade, I would try to single out another worry and let go. Some nights I think it took all 15 to calm down enough to try to sleep.
Quiet. What a gift! Now I still wake up a few times per night. But it is different. If I lay on one side for too long, my hip hurts and I wake up. If I am on my back, sometimes my arm will go to sleep and I will wake up. And there’s that stupid hose that pushes air into the CPAP mask and tangles me up at times. But — the mind in quiet. The cloud of worries has dissipated. The present lives. I breathe. I am. Aaah.
It was a pretty useless cloud of worries — a list of things that I could not control or things that I had “done wrong” that took great joy in hounding me. It was a cloud intent on keeping me from peace, from the present and always in the past or future. May it never return.
Football season in the SEC is now officially open. At one level, I see this as so much hooey. But, deep in my bones, it is exciting. As I left work on Friday afternoon, the atmosphere crackled like a festival. The FiJis (over at ‘Bama, those boys might be known as Phi Gams, but here on the Plains, they are Fiji’s) had the couches out on the lawn alongside the monster speakers that blasted us with a serenade somewhere between rock and country. Tailgaters were relaxing at picnic tables and outdoor folding chairs inside their spots that were marked with orange safety tape. Kids sporting football jerseys played on the sidewalk.
When I no longer work at the Library, I think this will be one of those scenes I will miss… it’s hard to explain the simultaneous thrill and peace that I experience on Friday afternoons in the fall, when the Tigers are playing at home. Life is good. All shall be well. The universe is in order.
It might be shallow. There are those who might take my enchantment with this mystery of being as sacreligious or heathen. But, I noticed that in today’s Gospel, Jesus healed a deaf mute, not by standing over him and praying but by touching him – up close and intimate – put his finger in the deaf-mute’s ears, spit and touched his tongue. That is getting close. That is being present in whatever way is necessary for healing. And so, I’ll enjoy my Friday afternoon experiences where I feel touched. I will enjoy the time where the joy and excitement, and sense of belonging to a community are palpable.
Oh, yes… in the South, football is alarmingly like religion.