I Climbed Mountains

I Climbed Mountains

I love when I am able to find secular examples that point to spiritual realities.  When shown explicitly religious media, my students often give what they think are the correct answers based on their years of Catholic education.  Yet when it is something that seems a bit unrelated to the class, they tend to have a greater openness and willingness to interact with the material.

On the second class day of the new spring semester, I showed them a TEDx talk called “500 Miles, Two Best Friends, and One Wheelchair.”  (Feel free to take a minute…or 19…to go and watch this video.)  The image of strangers taking the time and effort to carry a man in a wheelchair up a mountain seemed to obviously gesture toward the Church on earth and the Church in Heaven.

“Through the power of community, I climbed mountains.”

At one point near the end, Justin says. “Through the power of community, I climbed mountains” and it resonated so much that I had to write it down.  So many conversations lately have pivoted around the need and desire for community and authentic friendship.  While some say community cannot be built, I disagree.  I believe community must be built.  While we cannot choose to magically connect with people, we must be intentional in how we use our time in order for community to be successful.

This community that Justin and Patrick found was possible because others were willing to be intentional with their time and energy.  The pilgrim duo they met in the cathedral in Burgos were willing to wait for them before climbing the mountain leading into O’Cebreiro.  Then other people heard the story and decided to wait, too, without ever meeting Justin or Patrick.  Community requires intentionality and it reminds us that in this pilgrimage of life we cannot walk alone.

A priest friend of mine often said, “You can be damned alone or saved with others.”  I think he was quoting someone but I was never certain of the source.  The idea is that Hell is isolation, but Heaven is necessarily communion.  Communion with God and with others.  The reality of this can be revealed in the many “saint pairs” that have arisen over history.  St. Francis and St. Clare.  St. Benedict and St. Scholastica.  St. Louis and St. Zelie.  St. Francis Xavier and St. Ignatius of Loyola.  The list could go on and on.  St. Teresa of Calcutta and St. John Paul II?  Saints live a foretaste of the heavenly communion through their authentic friendships with one another.  They “carry” each other up the mountain, using friendship to encourage the other to enter into deeper relationship with the Lord. Continue reading “I Climbed Mountains”

When the Exciting Journey Becomes Tiring, Carry On

When the Exciting Journey Becomes Tiring, Carry On

Over three years ago, I filled a hiking backpack, flew to Europe, and walked El Camino de Santiago.  The first day on the Camino, though difficult, was exhilarating.  We walked from the beautiful little town of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in France, over the Pyrenees, and into Roncesvalles in Spain.  The newness of the adventure combined with spectacular views made me excited nearly every step of the way.

The next morning, we were tired and sore, but eager to continue this 500-mile trek.  So we set out again, walking for hours, taking in gorgeous scenery, and dining at little cafes or from our packed lunches.

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Then we did that again.  And again.

Sleep, rise, walk, eat, walk, Mass, eat, sleep.  Repeat.

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The tiredness soon was eclipsed by pain.  My feet ached in a way they never had before.  Blisters developed in tender places.  The beginning of the day meant pressing my feet into my shoes and then starting the delicate process of walking.  After a while, the pain dulled and seemed to fade into my subconscious.  However, if we ever paused, my feet gave a fiery reminder to sit down or keep walking.

Yet even these blisters didn’t completely dampen my spirits.  I knew they could happen and it was, in a way, part of the Camino adventure.  Each day, I offered up my pain for different intentions and this made the journey a pilgrimage instead of a hiking trip.

One day, I no longer wanted to walk.  

The intense desires to sleep in, be in the same place for more than 15 hours, or watch a movie were things I hadn’t anticipated when I started walking.  There was a definite shift from “This is fun!” to “This is a pilgrimage.”  Internally resistant to another day of plodding along, I realized that this adventure would require work and an embracing of the daily struggle.

And then I realized, this is a lot like life. Continue reading “When the Exciting Journey Becomes Tiring, Carry On”

Sacred Transplant

“I’m looking for my heart because I feel like I’ve lost it.”  I was surprised by the honesty from the young Canadian friend I made on the Camino.  It made one ache just to hear of the quest and immediately hope for the success of the mission.

Interestingly enough, my Camino quest was different.  Instead of finding my heart, I wanted to give it away.  Not to just anyone.  I was seeking clarity and hope in regards to my vocation, but early on, I knew that I wanted to give my heart more fully to Jesus as I walked the next five hundred miles with Him.

The days on the Camino were simple, idealized in my memory now that blisters have healed.  As an introvert, I relished the time spent walking alone, gazing at the beauty of nature and contemplating Beauty Himself.

In Leon, we went to Mass in the side chapel of the massive Cathedral.  Refreshingly enough, we weren’t ousted from the chapel right at the end of Mass, permitting us some time to pray.  Often throughout my walk I would picture myself with Jesus.  In the chapel, I did the same thing.  My intended meditation was hijacked by the Holy Spirit and instead of meditating on Mary, I was taken to an operating table.  Jesus took my heart and gave me His Heart.  It was simple but profound.  Then He picked me up and carried me.

Oh, I’m His cross,” I thought at first.  But in the next thought/prayer, one that completely alters the initial perception, I contemplated, “No, I’m His Bride.

Not a burden or a sacrifice, but a joy, a Beloved one.  In that prayer in Leon, I experienced the reality of Christ’s desires.  Longing to give my heart away, Christ is longing to receive my heart and give me His own heart.  In a method of Divine Sacred Heart Transplant, He impressed upon me the knowledge that His home is in me and that my ache to give my heart away was matched by my less articulated ache to receive Him fully.

El Cuerpo de Cristo

Setting: June, Rabanal del Camino, Spain

We are upstairs in the pilgrim house dorm room when piano music reaches our ears.  The playing is beautiful and my sister and I guess who is responsible for the beauty.  I guess one of our fellow pilgrims, Michael, and my sister guesses Fr. Javier, our beloved priest.  Curious, I creep down the outside garden steps and past the window that looks into the conference room with the piano.  It is Fr. Javier playing.

I leave for the chapel across the street for Confession.  When I return, the lovely music is still filling the house.  I peek into the room and my two traveling companions are there, listening.  I join them.  Sometimes I watch Fr. Javier play, glancing between his fingers and the music.  Other times, I sit with my eyes closed, simply delighting in the sound of classical music washing over me.  He finishes, we clap, and he smiles.

“What else?  Something by a Spanish composer.  Ah, yes.  This one.”  He finds the page.  “I’m a romantic.”  I want to chime in, “Me too!”  Fr. Javier continues, “This one is called “Eva and Walter,”  It is very nice.  Very simple.”

It is both.  As he plays, I am picturing Eva and Walter sitting on a bench or walking through a park.  At one point I believe I am in the perfect moment in time.  Fr. Javier is filling the house with music, a gentle but steady rain is pouring through the opening in the garden roof, and Patricia (the hospitalera) is it the kitchen preparing supper.  Here we are–a lovely family that eats together and prays together.  This is “El Cuerpo de Cristo.”

                                                   A little “Eva y Walter” for you to enjoy!

The Simple Life

Each day was simple in its task.  I was to wake up, eat, walk, pray, and sleep.  Each day, I was successful.

It is difficult to not be successful with such a simple task.  Yet too often I feel as though my life is not filled with simple tasks.  Instead of checking each item off the list and falling into bed knowing I did what was necessary that day, I am often going to sleep simply because I’m too exhausted to finish the task at hand.

The Camino was simple.  Not easy, but very simple.  I don’t think my interactions with everyone I encountered were perfect, but essentially every day ended successfully.

I don’t feel this success as a teacher.  I don’t feel this success simply as a working young adult Catholic.  Most days I feel as though I am miserably failing.  Then I wake up the next day to fail again.  The stack of uncorrected papers grow, the lesson plans become less than plans and more like ideas that are half-taught.  The sleep dwindles, the time I take for prayer lessens and I fall asleep during it anyway.

I am not successful.

The world measures my life by a standard of success that I do not have the luxury of choosing.  Even if I had the option to choose my own standard, I would still fall short.

Thankfully, the Lord measures success differently.  He desires my faithfulness and not simply my apparent (or unapparent) success.  With honesty, however, I am lacking in the faithfulness department, too.

All of this draws me back to the simplicity found on the Camino.  I had no papers to grade, no lessons to plan, no time to waste on Facebook, and very little distractions apart from the beautiful scenery and the pain in my feet.  It made me wish that all of life could be like that.  That life could be a simple, clear path.  I would wake up in the morning and know exactly where I was to go and I would take the necessary steps to get there.  I would nourish my body and try to consistently be in my bed by 10 pm.  It was a forced balance that I find myself not adhering to on a regular basis.  I knew what I needed and so I did what was necessary.

How do I take the simple beauty of the Camino lifestyle, the necessary discipline encompassed within that, and apply it to my daily life?

How do I encounter success through being faithful?

How do I simplify?

David

David was an American.  The first American that we encountered as a hospitalero in the Spanish albergues.  My impression of him, initially, was terrible.  That wasn’t because I was quickly judging him or disliked him in appearances.  It was because he came off like a jerk.

We showed up, with our minimal Spanish and tired legs, and inquired about beds for the three of us.  “Tres?”  The single word was a question indicating more than we wanted to attempt in Spanish.  The man with a full head of silvery hair was unimpressed.

“Yes.  I see three people.”  We were taken aback and weren’t sure how to proceed.  If I had an ounce more of stubbornness and more energy in my body, I might have left the albergue and walked to a different one or a different town.  Instead, we awkwardly stood there, feeling bad for our spokesman and wondering if he was the only one in charge.

He briskly asked for our passport and credentials.  Annoyed, I tried to kill him with kindness.  I openly smiled at him when he handed my documents back to me.  He didn’t seem quite certain how to take it.  I would have thought he would be excited or interested to meet some people from his country, but he was clearly not.

The other hospitalero came down the steps and she greeted us in Spanish.  David’s unenthusiastic voice chimed in, “They speak English.”

“You do?!  Wonderful!  I can talk to you!  My name is Patricia.”  The shift in emotions was quick.  David was brooding and annoyed while Patricia was bubbly and patient.  We watched them interact, assuming at first that they were a married couple.  She wanted to know what the men had discovered about the water situation.  Three times David gave a rude or unkind answer, but she persisted.

“No, really, David.  Tell me what they said, so I can tell those who are asking.”

Finally, he gave a genuine response that satisfied her.  My impression at this point was rather favorable to Patricia and dismissive of David.  I wasn’t here to get walked on or be the point of his melancholic sarcasm.  She convinced him to show us to our beds, a task he wasn’t pleased with but completed with minimal grumbling.

And so it was, the first American volunteer and already I was wishing one of us was from a different country.  No wonder people dislike Americans if they all act like that, I thought.

My next main encounter with David was at our communal meal.  Between Patricia and David, the plan for the evening was presented: supper followed by singing and then watching the sun set.  David kept walking in and out of the room while we settled into our seats.  I thought I had him pegged–they were a married couple and she wanted to volunteer and he came along because of her.  Not because he wanted to, but simply for his wife.

Yet within the first few minutes that theory was flipped on its head.  They weren’t married but had met the previous year when they finished the Camino in Finisterre.  Both wanted to volunteer and decided to complete the undertaking together.  He was from the States and she was from England.  This information was nothing to what happened next.

Cool, detached, collected, sarcastic David began to speak.  He revealed that this was their last night of the two weeks of volunteering.  The next day they would be leaving for a holiday.  David got choked up numerous times during his speech, his voice cracking and squeaking as he struggled for control.  It was completely and utterly unexpected.

The meal of lentil soup with meatballs was served.  David would take our bowls, with a large smile, and refill them before passing them back down the line to us.  I was baffled.  This hardly seemed to be the same man.  Here he was trying to be polite and kind, a contrast to the seemingly self-absorbed American I had encountered hours earlier.

David was one of the greatest surprises of the Camino.  I’m not sure I ever again saw such a transformation.  The first David was, unbeknownst to me, struggling with the idea of leaving the tiring but beautiful work of being a hospitalero.  He was also under stress due to water problems and trying to communicate in his rather terrible Spanish.  I didn’t know that but immediately felt not welcomed.  Patricia was more patient and knew more of his heart.  When he obnoxiously refused to seriously answer her questions, she patiently waited for him to be sincere.  That evening, David told all of us that Patrica was his best friend.

They sang silly songs, making fools of themselves for our entertainment.  Then we took a group picture outside and watched the sun set.  The colors were lovely but weren’t quite as grand as South Dakota.  In the morning, we set off, waving goodbye to companions from the previous night.  David surprised me.  At the center of our hearts is a desire to be known and loved.  We may build up walls all around us and shield ourselves with steely hearts, but there is always a chink in the armor.  Because there always remains the desire to be known by others.

Even supposed jerks like David can turn out to have hearts of flesh after all.

“I will give you a new heart and place a new spirit within you, taking from your bodies your stony hearts and giving you natural hearts.”  Ezekiel 36:26

Communal Meals

There we were.  Gathered around a long table, laden with food and wine, surrounded by a small sampling of the globe.  Simple food was passed around, abundant and filling.  Joy was passed down the row of people, the seasoning that was added to the top of each bowl of stew that was consumed.  It was warm–or perhaps it was the wine and the intoxicating blend of languages and cultures, a beautiful spin on the Tower of Babel with English being a common reference point for many.

Some say this is what the Camino is–this is the ultimate Camino experience.  The communal meals shared in random albergues around Spain to an eclectic gathering of people.  We are from the US, Canada, Brazil, India, Germany, France, Spain, and beyond.  We speak a smattering of languages but we are sharing our stories and bonding, even though this may be the only moment we are ever together.  This part of the day was one of my favorites and the memories are poignant.

Despite the beauty of those moments, they simply made me feel like I was remembering something rather than experiencing it for the first time.  Of course this was my first time walking the Camino and sharing in those lovely communal dining experiences.  But I had shared a common meal with people of varying backgrounds and motivations.  I had felt the warm embrace of belonging to a community.  All of this was simply pointing to our membership in the Body of Christ.  I belong to Him and, through Him, am united to so many others.  Although we seem so different, we are very similar.  We are all searching for truth and goodness and beauty.  We all desire friendship and companionship and love.  We are longing for fulfillment and something to transcend this fragile life on earth.

The communal meals along the Camino were the physical nourishment for the road that stretched in front of us, the difficult, beautiful road leading to Santiago.  The Eucharist is the spiritual nourishment that prepares us for the road that stretched on, the road strewn with thistles and roses that meanders to the Wedding Banquet of the Lamb.  Both are shared with others and both point to something even more.

And the angel of the Lord came again a second time, and touched him, and said, “Arise and eat, else the journey will be too great for you.”  And he arose, and ate and drank, and went in the strength of that food forty days and forty nights to Horeb the mount of God.                              -1 Kings 19:7-8

Fr. Javier

He was easily my favorite priest that I met along the Camino.  The priest in Santo Domingo was excellent but I never spoke to him.  Fr. Javier, however, was the priest I actually spent time with and I grew in admiration for him.

The first conversation we had with him was brief but it struck my heart.

“Father?” one of my traveling companions called out to him, as he hurried from the albergue to the monastery.
“Hija?”
“English?”
“Yes,” he said with a smile.

The girls I was with missed his first reply.  They simply thought he said, “Yeah?”  Instead, he said, “Daughter.”  After seeing us for a mere two seconds he was calling us by our deepest identity and also responding as our father.

We asked about Mass and he said there would be Mass instead of evening prayer.  We were so excited because this was a change from his ordinary schedule due to the other monk being away.  At Mass he welcomed us in Spanish and English.  He won our hearts when he told people taking pictures after Mass that it was not an appropriate time for that because people were praying.  Typically the tourist-pilgrims are allowed to wander the churches like museums, taking pictures and chatting as they take a self-guided tour.  It was refreshing to have our post-communion prayer time respected.  The people left fairly quickly since they couldn’t photograph the church.

Thankful to finally be in a church that didn’t usher us out within five minutes of the final blessing, we prayed for quite a while.  During this time, Fr. Javier came back and asked for one of us to do the reading for night prayer.  He chose my sister to do it, even though she was resistant.  With a quick smile and a tender firmness, he told her what she was to do and that she would sit by him during the prayer.  It felt like we had finally found a little resting place with a lovely father to look out for us.  His simple presence around the chapel, preparing for the next liturgy, was comforting.

Outside the church was a sign that told pilgrims about the different liturgies offered at the monastery church.  At the end of that was a little blurb about pilgrims being able to spend a few days in the pilgrim house run by the monastery.  During our prayer time in the church I turned this idea over and over in my mind.  My heart was longing to stay in this place for much longer than one night.  I wanted to live there or at least stay another day.  We had budgeted some extra time into a schedule in case of injury.  I had always slightly envied the people who had such an open schedule that they would stay for a couple days at different places just because they felt like it.  Our schedule wasn’t tight but we had to keep moving.  The final words written in my journal during that prayer time were, “Do You want us to stay another day?”  I wrote those words with hope but also knew that it might not be realistic.

A few minutes before we headed over to the church for night prayer, I broached the subject with my traveling companions.  The response was immediate and positive.  We decided we would ask Fr. Javier after night prayer to see if it was possible.  I entrusted it to Our Lady’s hands.  If she wanted us to stay there, then she would make it possible.  If not, then we would move on.

After night prayer we were nervous.  Fr. Javier was puttering around the church, preparing to lock up.  We went outside, planning to catch him on his way out.  He came out and thanked my sister for reading before turning to go to the monastery.  One of my friends called him back saying that we had a question.  Could we stay there for a night?  He thought it might be possible but would need to check with the hospitalero.  There was another catch, though.  If we stayed, it was for a minimum of two nights.  For a moment I thought it wouldn’t be feasible.  The three of us were typically very slow to decide anything and I thought we might need to ask Father for a moment to discuss our options.

“You would be here for the Corpus Christi procession…”
We all began to nod.  I didn’t need to discuss it, my heart was begging me to listen and remain in this peaceful place with this lovely priest.  He smiled and went to go check on the possibility.

He returned within a couple minutes and broke the news to us.
“I’m sorry.  I’m afraid it is going to be….possible!”  We were overjoyed and exclaimed, “Father!” for leading us to believe we couldn’t stay.  He introduced us to the hospitalero and instructed us to bring our things with us to morning prayer the next day and we would be able to move in.

That night we were delirious at the thought of not walking the next day.  It wasn’t necessary to fall asleep as quickly as possible and for a little while I thought I would be too excited to sleep.  The only thing that was less than desirable was that all of our friends would continue on their way.  With two rest days in Rabanal del Camino, it was quite possible that we would never catch up with them or see them again.  There was one lady that had been with us on and off from the very beginning and we were loathe to part ways.  Yet I was so excited for the retreat and rest days we were embarking on.  It felt like the Lord was simply showering us with gifts, perfectly designed for the desires of our hearts.

The next morning we woke up and had breakfast at the albergue.  The hospitaleros told us to come back the next day for tea if we wanted.  Then we wished our friends farewell and raced to the church for morning prayer.  It was peaceful and calming to enter the simple church.  Over the next two days we would transition from sitting in the pews to taking our place in the monk choir at the front of the church.  Finally, we were with people who, for the most part, were walking the Camino as a way to experience God.

Second breakfast took place at the pilgrim house before a tour of the place.  It was simple but beautiful.  A small library, an enclosed garden, a conference room with a beautiful piano, a prayer room, and a church across the road open the entire day.  I reveled in the simple joy of praying and reading in the garden that morning.  For lunch we were invited to eat at the monastery.  Fr. Javier, an extraordinary cook, made the meal and served it in the silence of the monastery refectory.  A brief reading would take place and then Fr. Javier would knock on the table to indicate we could begin to pour our drinks, water and wine.  The first meal I spent watching everyone else to see that I was supposed to do and feeling like a foolish American without any delicate table manners.  The meal was served in courses and I attempted to keep pace with everyone else so as to not hold them up.

While we ate, classical music would be playing in the background.  Otherwise, we ate in silence.  Some were exchanging glances of amusement.  Fr. Javier would wink and smile at us.  But most of the time I would just ponder the reading or take in the swells of the music or turn my eyes to my interior.  The first meal was an interesting combination of peace and anxiety, hoping I wasn’t messing up what seemed to be known etiquette.

The afternoons we would have to our own devices and while it wasn’t required or asked of us, the three of us decided we would have a silent retreat of sorts.  The first day we spent away from each other.  Despite my love for both of them, it had been a long time since we were able to go off by ourselves for most of a day.  It was interesting that while much of my time walking was spent in prayer and silence, my heart was still longing for silence and solitude.

Mass took place in the evening and then we would go to the pilgrim house for supper.  Supper was never as elaborate as lunch, but it was always sufficient.  After supper we would have only a little time before we were off to night prayer.  I began to feel something akin to what the disciples might have felt.  I was one of the few (only six are permitted at a time) to stay in the pilgrim house.  I had been to night prayer before and knew the schedule.  I had the privilege of dining with Fr. Javier, of having a key to the pilgrim house door, of receiving the smiles and attentions of those in charge of the pilgrim house.  I loved being at once a visitor and yet more of a resident of that town than nearly anyone else who was wandering through.

The days passed too quickly but they were beautiful.  We followed Fr. Javier and Jesus around the town during a Corpus Christi procession.  Later that afternoon, as the warm rain poured down through the open garden roof, we listened with delight to Fr. Javier play the piano.  We learned that he had studied classical piano in school and that beauty is what drew him to the Benedictines.  At supper that night we heard his brief vocation story.  He said the short story was that he is a monk because Jesus wants him to be.  That every other reason must boil down to that all important reason.  Nothing else matters and nothing else is a good enough reason if Jesus does not want it.  After supper we all took a stroll around the town, a merry band of wanderers pulled from around the globe.

As we walked a French lady joined us.  She didn’t say much but she seemed to just want to be in our presence.  I didn’t blame her.  I was basking in the joy of following Fr. Javier, of strolling on a day that didn’t find me walking fifteen miles.  The next morning we didn’t want to leave.  We delayed, perhaps foolishly, for as long as we could.  Mass was finally in the morning and we stayed for that and breakfast following.  It turned into a long day of walking, but we wanted to maximize our time with Fr. Javier, our time in Rabanal, and our time in the peaceful oasis we had stumbled upon.

Fr. Javier was willing to pose for a picture with a few of us.  He had asked us earlier that day if we knew the story behind the icon in the refectory.  It was of the three angels that came to Abraham, a representation of the Holy Trinity.  He talked briefly about how three strangers came to Abraham but they were actually angels.  Three of them.  And he looked at us, telling us that we were angels that had arrived there.  Of course, theologically I was certain we weren’t, but I was tickled by his compliment.

A quick hug, a couple lingering glances thrown at the monastery and church, and we were off.  That whole day I thought of Rabanal.  When it came close to two o’clock, I thought of how the little group would be gathering in the refectory for one of Fr. Javier’s delicious meals.  That evening I thought of night prayer being prayed in the church, hearing Fr. Javier’s lovely voice sing the prayer in Latin and Spanish.

My heart longed for Rabanal as we continued our Camino.  It began the interesting fact that when people would ask if I had a favorite place on the Camino, I would quickly reply Rabanal, and then feel funny that my favorite place of my walking pilgrimage was a place I didn’t have to walk much.  It was a little like the transfiguration.  It was good that the Lord called us there but we were loathe to leave.  I wanted to pitch my tent in Rabanal and remain there for the next few weeks, soaking up the peace of the town, becoming Fr. Javier’s friend, living a simple life in the pilgrim house.

Rabanal reignited my desire for Heaven.  I was longing for a place of infinite peace and contentedness but also a place that wouldn’t require me to leave.  I wanted to be near the priest who was quick to smile and tease, but devout in prayer and reverence.  Yet even more so I wanted to be infinitely closer to the High Priest who understands me entirely and loves me fiercely.  If the Camino is life and Santiago is Heaven, then Rabanal was a vision along that way that pushed me onward in body and spirit.

Fr. Javier became the priest who redeemed, in my mind, the fate of the Spanish prelate.  He welcomed, with that characteristic Benedictine hospitality, all of us into the pilgrim house and provided all we needed.  The entire time there was provided on donation basis but I felt the money I left to be insufficient.  I vowed to pray for him along the Way and Fr. Javier promised to do the same for me.  What a great influence he had on my Camino all as a result of us stumbling upon that town, deciding to stay, and asking to stay longer.  The Lord certainly provided.  Greedy as I am, I hope to someday return there.  Perhaps the Lord will provide that, too.

Lights Off

Someone in Europe must have had a really great campaign for automatic fixtures.  During my time on the Camino, I was continually surprised by the ubiquitous automatic lights.  The conclusion I came to was that automatic is not always the best.

For example, there were several times when I was in the bathroom at a restaurant and the lights would turn off while I was in there.  However, it wasn’t that they turned off once while I was in there, but every thirty seconds.  Another place it was the shower.  If it didn’t sense you moving, the light in the shower would turn off.  Besides the fact that it felt creepy to have my shower light motion-sensored, it was inconvenient to have to obnoxiously wave my hands every fifteen seconds so that I wouldn’t be bathing in the dark.

Restaurants and albergues that were quite small would still be filled with automatic lights.  I’m used to automatic toilets and faucets but I didn’t see very many of those there.  There was more than one time that I would internally fume at the lights being turned off at the most inopportune time.

I guess this is what you call a first world problem, huh?

Old Love

She walked into the chapel, hunched over and slowly walking.  Shocked, I saw her bow a little deeper before entering the pew after her husband.  For most of the Mass she remained seated, but she would stand briefly for different parts before sitting back down again.

They were elderly and found it difficult to move but they were at an evening Mass on a weekday.  I felt protective of the lady, making certain the pew didn’t move as she slowly lowered herself down again.  It was a witness of authentic love, of Jesus and of each other.

I found myself praying that someday, that would be me.  Maybe not in Leon, Spain but somewhere in the world.  That I would be able to grow old with someone, that we would make it to Mass even when standing for very long proved difficult.  Gnarled hands, stooping backs, weak eyes, fairness of youth replaced with the antiquity of age, all of it points to the beauty of love that endures, that holds fast to “I do” despite trials and hardships.

I was reminded of this Spanish couple after Mass today.  Walking over to the adoration chapel, I was forced to slow my steps as I followed an elderly couple.  He wore a cute hat and held his wife’s hand as they ambled along.  It was an image of love that encouraged me.  It left me wanting what they have, even though I have no idea who they are.

Young love is appealing in its own way–in the passion, in the ideals, in the dreams, in the hopes of forever, in the rampage of emotions, and the newness of adventure.  But old love is reminiscent of iron tempered by fire–it is calmer, it endures, it remains steadfast, and it looks beyond the superficial.

I just love love at every stage, I guess.  Just be the lay witness the Lord desires you to be.