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.
I’ve been back stateside for 2 weeks now… the trite, but oh so true, feeling is “so long ago and far away, and yet, only yesterday.” I spent 5 weeks walking the 500 miles from St-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. My job, as it were, was to walk — walk about 15 miles (25km) every day with a pack on my back. To walk in rain and sun, heat and cold, light and darkness and to be present in every moment along the way. And, that way was marked by yellow arrows.
I smile when I think of those arrows. Sometimes they jumped out at you. Sometimes, they had to be sought out. You might find a yellow arrow on a street or a sidewalk, or the side of a building. You might find a yellow arrow on a bench, a rock, a wall or a lamppost… on a tree trunk or a stone marker. They showed The Way. And, if you hadn’t lost your way, it seems that a yellow arrow appeared just at that moment when you began to question if you were on the right road.
We missed a yellow arrow one morning in misty darkness. The way felt “not right” but since there were few, if any options for turning or not once we had veered off the path, it took us more than a kilometer to find the path ending in a field. Yup. We missed an arrow. By this time, there were 3 of us headed in the wrong direction. Nothing to do but climb back up the hill until we found an arrow. Oh, and then follow it. Back on the path.
How many times in life have I just kept going despite strong misgivings and no arrows to validate my path? How hard is it to admit that I was wrong, and go back to a place where I can see the arrows? Hard to admit taking a wrong turn. Hard to hold back from blaming someone else for my error. So easy to say “Well — I wouldn’t have gotten lost if YOU had painted that arrow bigger, or brighter, or in a slightly different spot that would have been easier to see! Not my fault!” Hard to say — “Oops! That was a lovely path, but it seems it wasn’t the one I wanted/needed.”
Since my return from the Camino, I find that I must continue to look for something akin to those yellow arrows. I must follow these instructions, even if I don’t know much, if anything about what I will find on the path, exactly where it will lead or how far I will go today. I know that they will lead me to my goal and I really don’t have to know every detail of the path before it happens. And, if I miss one and find myself lost, then I must go back and find an arrow, and begin again.
I read the readings before mass this morning. I listened to them again. I listened as [Fr.] Bruce reflected on them, and how each represented an encounter with God that made a permanent change in the person who had the encounter.
Isaiah — now he sees the Lord in the temple. That is is a powerful encounter, and a fairly frightening image of an ember touched to his mouth/tongue. But, it occurs in a house of worship, it seems. A place where we might expect to meet God. I found myself singing [in my head] a refrain from my experience in pentacostal circles:
We see the Lord. We see the Lord
And He is high and lifted up and his train fills the temple
He is high and lifted up and his train fills the temple
The angels cry “Holy”
The angels cry “Holy”
The angels cry “Holy is the Lord!”
Enter Paul and his description of how his encounter with Jesus changed and transformed his life in unimaginable ways.
But, the one that almost made my laugh, just because of the almost day to day ordinariness of the situation was Peter and the fishing trip. OK, the scene as I felt it went something like this:
Peter and his coworkers have been working all night. Yup, at work. Ordinary, regular, making a living, feeding the family work. Along comes Jesus and climbs in the boat. He hitches a ride out from the shore, so he can teach the folks on shore without being overwhelmed. Peter and crew go along with this. Then Jesus says – “Hey Peter, head out to the deep. We need to catch some fish.” At this point I can just hear Peter sighing as he grouses at bit. “Jesus, we’ve been working all night, and we have nothing to show for it. Are you nuts? But, OK. If you say so, I’ll do it.” It wouldn’t surprise me to see this said in a sort of “I’m not really thrilled with this, but if it will make you happy, I’ll give it a shot.”
Whoa! A catch of fish beyond belief. Riches beyond any expectation. A change in vision for Peter. The very idea of becoming a “fisher of men” is born.
Sometimes God catches us in the most mundane, boring, un-fun points in our life. All he asks is that we be open to the occasion.
It seems that being my friend is not good for your health of late. For a second time in less that a month — a friend has died early on a Sunday morning.
Julio was a Spanish priest of the Congregation of the Mission. He was one of my favorite people in the world, despite the fact that we communicated in an odd-ball spanglish language. His english was far better than my spanish, but he was always far more comfortable in spanish. We would meet most often at Maison Mére (the motherhouse for the CM’s) in Paris, although we also had the occasion to work together in New York a couple of times. Julio would come in bearing a sheet of paper, filled with tiny script, and proclaim “I have a few leetle questions!” They were never few, and never little!
We laughed and ate and drank our way through many levels of the web: HTML 1.0 hand coded, all the way to WordPress 3.3.2. With the others that we worked with, we explored parts of Paris and attempted to translate the phrase “Systemic Change” into comprehensible Spanish (a literal or direct translation does not successfully convey the meaning — it probably conveys something totally out of line with the intent).
One evening in New York, the resident New Yorker in the group was occupied with other obligations and ask me to escort Julio and Claude (a french priest and another story altogether!) from Jamaica Queens for a trip to the top of the Empire State Building and dinner in Manhattan. Mind you, I am an Alabama native who had braved Manhattan a couple of times in the firm control of others who knew what they were doing. Oh, and I had to be told how one might hail a taxi and how to know which ones were available! Off we went — we took the photograph at the Empire State Bld., we rode the elevators, we admired the city view from the top of the building and I think we bought a souvenir or two. We wandered toward Times Square and found dinner at Dallas BBQ (or something with a name like that). Not Alabama style BBQ, but still, a pretty good dinner. We walked up to St. Patrick’s, but it was closed up for the night by that time. And, I got us a taxi back out to St. John’s area in Jamaica. And I brought home change! The 3 of us laughed and spoke a variation of spanglish that incorporated French as well. SpaFranglish? I’ve never been afraid to tackle Manhattan since!
That year, when we left Julio off in Harlem (he was staying overnight with some Spanish priests who lived there) he gave me a hug that I shall not forget. He smiled a smile that is what I see in my mind’s eye when I sing the refrain to “Pescador/Lord You Have Come”
Lord, with your eyes set upon me, gently smiling, you have called my name
The Spanish is more beautiful, but I’ll have to copy it from the music to be sure I spell it correctly
I remember the year my husband (JP) and daughter (Marie) made the trip to Paris with me for the sort of annual meeting. On the first evening in town, a group of us walked up to see Notre Dame at night. Our guide was Juan Julian (another spanish priest) and he and Julio debated whether Notre Dame was best seen by night or by day. They then proceded to argue over who would buy Marie’s gelato for her (all the while, she was trying to pay for it herself. One of the Spaniards won.)
The last time I saw him in person was also in Paris. Due to an unfortunate turn of events, Julio and I were the last 2 left in Paris at the end of the week. I was able to reschedule my flight so that we left within an hour of each other. We both had colds. We enjoyed my favorite lunch – [French] soup a l’onion at a cafe near the motherhouse and shared a taxi out to Charles de Gaul airport. That was the day of trying to sort out the concept of Systemic Change. I’m not sure he every completely bought in to it, but we discussed in spanglish. the cabbie turned out to be a spaniard as well, despite working in Paris and speaking French. All was well until we stopped to drop Julio at his terminal on the way to my terminal. Again, there was the hug, the kiss on both cheeks, the sad parting. I sat in the back of the cab, and the cabbie paused before asking if it was ok to leave. I have no idea what he thought the relationship was. But as I look back, I wonder if I somehow knew that I would not see mi amigo in person ever again.
This morning one of the members of my Cursillo reunion group announced that she has to leave the group. Of course, our first reaction was “NOT ALLOWED.” But then we listened to her fill in the blanks… and it was good news and bad.
The bad of course is that one of our close knit group won’t be joining us each week. She feels that she does this just for herself (we aren’t so sure about that, as she is a vital part of the whole and makes wonderful contributions). AAARRGGH! Why?
The Good News is that she has taken the step of acting on a call to serve others. She will be joining the local Vincent de Paul Society and working with them — and they need her at the same time our group meets. She has been wrestling with this… we can tell. I rejoice in her growing to this point. I am glad she has found a call and is willing to follow it.
Change is constant. Change never seems to be easy. Another member is leaving for a month in California because of her mother with Alzheimers. It’s hard to have her gone. Another is in the throes of moving to another state to be closer to family. She has no family left here in town and knows that is is the right decision to move closer to her daughter(s). She is a bit stressed, but seems confident that this is indeed the right move. Another is facing a health challenge. All sorts of changes in my cozy little world.
Lord, let me walk trusting that You are the Way, that You have a plan, that You are with me, and that all shall be well. All manner of things shall be well.