Monday, November 10, 2014

postcard from Chile, the final one...#5

landscape of Santiago de Chile, from the top of the Cerro de San Cristóbal
Spanish is the language of my soul. I don’t mean this in a romantic, esoteric way—but rather as a profound, eucharistic reality.

I’m not idealizing Chile. And I do acknowledge that I’ve been extra emotional remembering and mourning my Dad on his six-month anniversary. But what I’m addressing and trying to put into words is about more than that.

Being in Santiago de Chile this past week has been a deeply spiritual experience for me, and being immersed in Spanish is a huge part of the reason why.

I hear a prayer or a song that I learned in Spanish as a small child, for instance—and in spite of the fact that I haven’t said it out loud in decades, the words burst out of my mouth without hesitation. 

Just today, kneeling before the altar inscribed with the words: Yo soy el Camino, la Verdad y la Vida,” just reading the words brought spontaneous tears to my eyes. I hear the word “Camino” in all the levels of meaning that it has: Literally, the word means, I walk. It is also the way, as in el Camino de Santiago. And ultimately, it is my profession of faith that Jesus Christ is the Way.

In a much more mundane way, I am so very comfortable in a culture that starts the day later (than I am allowed to do without guilt in an American culture), then serves lunch around 2 pm, and dinner after 8 pm!

And finally, there is the issue of my name.

Every time I am addressed by my full name here, what I call my real name—María de Lourdes and not “just maría,” it’s as if the real me is acknowledged. I am known, in the deepest sense of the word.

One more thing. Clearly, my experience in Chile has been enhanced by the fact that in this profoundly Catholic culture with churches, chapels and shrines all around me, I’ve been able to pray, sing, and celebrate Mass in Spanish every day but one during our seven-day visit. And that one travel day, we stopped to pray at a national pilgrimage site for Chileans, el Santuario Lo Vásquez, where I discovered a new (to me!) Marian devotion to La Purísima.

Never ceases to amaze me how much attention our God pays to details! What a grace to be allowed to mourn in a Latin culture--with everything that means to me.

Just for fun, here's a few other things I have loved about my week in Chile:

the feel of being in a major city:

Stunning, colorful street art! 

As my daughter Michelle would say, food from the gods! 

And in keeping with all things Catholic AND good food--a cooking show by a nun!

Sor Lucía's cooking show
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Long before I could grapple with the theology of transubstantiation--or even try to pronounce that word!--the Eucharist had a special meaning to me. My heart understood that the Eucharist was a special and unique gift that Jesus Christ left for us, a way for every Christian to get to know him intimately. I have somehow always “known” that this type of food could nourish something in me that even now I struggle to name. The Eucharist also reminds me that I belong. In a real, even if mystical way, the Eucharistic celebration heals and answers our inner need of “belonging.” “I have called you by name... You are mine!” says the Lord. And in Christ we are, literally, one with Him and with each other.
Perhaps as pilgrims on our journey home there is no greater compass than the Eucharist. As a Protestant friend once said to me, “I wish I really did believe in the Eucharist, because then I would run to receive Jesus every day.” And I do want it and hunger for it every day. As I struggled with nowhere to call home, it was being Catholic, being claimed by something bigger than myself, and the communion I felt with Christ and his people in the Eucharist that gave me that much needed security growing up…          
It was at Mass that I could go and claim to belong, even when no one there knew me. This was the one “place,” regardless of the particular church we attended, where I felt that I “fit.” Together, we stood and professed our faith as believers in one and the same God, and we received in the Eucharist the gift of Christ’s presence right here and now. I “knew,” even when I couldn’t understand these abstract concepts, that the community of faith that claimed me became one Body in our one Lord, Jesus Christ. My heart understood what I even now struggle to explain in words.”

Sunday, November 9, 2014

postcard from Chile, #4

When someone you love dies, there seem to be certain universal truths that all who mourn inherently experience.

No one tells you what will happen. It just does. And like a shared whisper, it appears to be true for everyone.

For example, in those first few months (or perhaps it will be years? I don’t know yet) of missing him or her you not only remember the person who has died, but you also recall in much detail everything about the end.

In the past six months since Papi died, in fact, most of my memories and thoughts of him seem to be focused not so much on what I remember of the 54 years we shared together—but rather on every element about the last one. 

I am talking about memories of the final things that he and I shared together, to be exact.

The last words I said to him.

The last dinner we had together at my house.

The last great-grandchild he got to meet.

The last Christmas… Easter… birthday.

The last laugh we shared together.

The last time the whole family was together.

The last time I saw him—and how he looked.

The last time we celebrated Mass together.

The last time I drove him to the doctor… or the store… or to church.

I don’t know what exactly I’m trying to piece together. But I do know that my experience regarding the final year seems to be common, conceivably even universal.

Today I read,

“In a culture that values autonomy and self-reliance, we sometimes imagine that we can call only on our own personal strength to shoulder the burdens of those we care for and to face our own difficulties. The Gospel reminds us again and again that God’s love is our true source of strength. On him the strongest person can lean without apology.”

~in Magnificat, Morning Prayer for November 5, 2014

Perhaps recounting what the last or final moments were like is simply a way to name, to touch, what is no longer here…  a concrete and tangible way to acknowledge the hole left behind in my heart and in my world by a man too big for words.

Papi would have certainly liked hearing my stories aboutChile, the people, and the culture I’ve experienced here.

Somehow, I have always known deep inside me that I’m only here, in this life, traveling on my way to somewhere else. Even as I strive to understand how to heal and nurture my human hunger for “home,” I remain thankful that my spirit, my heart of hearts, knows it will never feel at home in this life. My hunger for home, my need for security and intimacy and stability, is nothing less than God’s way of sending me a personal call, an invitation, to seek Him and to set my eyes on my everlasting and eternal home…

I choose to open myself to healing and love and hope, trusting that this will lead me to true freedom, even though I know this also opens my heart to feel hurt and pain and sorrow. I choose to trust in what will happen, in what could happen. But more importantly, I choose to trust in a God who wants to be present in whatever does happen.  And when I do, I will be shown first-hand the great and marvelous things that God has in mind for those who love Him.”

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Postcard from Chile, #3

bench art, Santiago, Chile, 2014
street art, Valparaiso, Chile, 2014 
street art, Valparaiso, Chile, 2014
“Strange as it may seem, beauty still needs to be defended. In the history of the West, beauty has played the role of Cinderella to her sisters, goodness and truth. I don’t mean to say that beauty in art or nature hasn’t been appreciated throughout history—though there have been times when beauty has been the subject of frontal assaults—but simply that when we start getting official, when we get theological or philosophical, beauty becomes a hot potato…

In theory, goodness, truth, and beauty—traditionally known as the “transcendentals,” because they are the three qualities that God has in infinite abundance—are equal in dignity and worth. Indeed, in Christian thought there has always been a sense that the transcendentals exist in something of a trinitarian relationship to one another. But in practice it rarely seems to work out that way.”

~Gregory Wolfe, see link here

Street art, Valparaiso, Chile, 2014
Street art, Valparaiso, Chile, 2014
street art, Valparaiso, Chile 2014

"In each one of my experiences, the actual physical journey, the people, and even the situation that I encountered there, all became conduits for a transformation of some sort within me––or at least, they were the agents for an invitation to grow that was offered to me. Something about the experience itself became a personal and intimate reminder of the deepest Truth of all: God is with us! “God’s dwelling is with the human race. He will dwell with them and they will be his people and God himself will always be with them [as their God]” (Revelation 21:3).