Waterloo??? This is a long way from Tonnerre both geographically and spiritually, and it still remains something of a surprise to me that I am almost back where I began a month ago. El Camino, le Chemin, the Way, has its own way, with plenty of twists and turns and new beginnings, this I am learning. Surprise is as much a part of this Way as knowing the next step; in fact, I believe it is more a part of the Way than having a clear and certain path ahead. Almost everything about the pilgrim's way is a matter of NOT knowing what is ahead, learning to live peacefully in this ambiguity, and being constantly surprised by what turns up: catastrophe or grace or, most usually, both at the same time.
So this week's "catastrophe," (a favored word among the French to describe such things, I have come to discover), brought on by a cranky tendon and the goofy diagnosis of a very goofy village doctor, (my opinion at the moment...we'll see tomorrow if I am right or owe the man an apology), is also a great grace. In these days away from the walking part of the pilgrimage, I am resting, recuperating, and best of all, reflecting, that is, having the time and space to let the experience thus far soak in, begin seeing its patterns, feel it at work in my innards, deepening me, changing me, creating something new in me. Take fretting, for example: in the early days, heavens, did I fret! All I could see ahead were potential problems, worst case scenarios, "what if this..." and "what if that..."; that worrisomeness, that disposition to expect the worst, that awful fretting that has been such a big part of my life for so long, seems to have been cleansed from my mind and heart over the past thirty days or so. This I only notice now that I am here, on leave from the daily regime of walking, walking, walking, though it is the "walking, walking, walking" that has done this.
Then there is the opportunity now to step back and remember the faces and voices and gestures of kindness of so many whom I have met along the way. Their smiles, the glint in their eyes, their enthusiastic support expressed so often in the lovely word (as it is pronounced in French) , "Courage!" come together in my imagination in a single collage of images that brings me joy and gratitude. This communion of saints along the Way makes the more full communion of saints that we profess each time we say the Creed, the great cloud of witnesses that St. Paul writes about, becomes as real and corporal as the flower lady at the Eglise de Notre-Dame in Tonnerre, who came up to me as I sat resting in the cool and quiet of the church on Friday morning waiting for my ride back to Belgium, and assured me with the most kind smile possible, that it was okay for me to "repose" in the church as long as I wished. These people are saints. For their goodness and attentiveness to weary pilgrims, they bind themselves to Jesus' body and together, without even knowing one another, they form one body, one communion, one church. What a tender joy it is to be part of this body, too.
And then there is prayer out there. It comes in so many ways on the Way. Having a hymn roll around over and over again for days in the back of my head, sometimes retreating into the subconscious where dreams are concocted, other times coming to the fore of consciousness, but there all the time: "...there is power, power, power in the blood...in the blood of the Lamb! There is power, power, power in the blood...in the blood of the Lamb!" This is fine prayer. There is the silver rosary that my fingers work their way along in the early morning freshness, the Hail Mary's keeping time with my booted footsteps and the passing of white dashes in the center of the road. There is the exclamation, "Oh my Jesus!," exploding from my guts with each extremely painful, tendonitisized step along the twelve kilometers between Bragelogne to Etourvy. Those exclamations were not a taking of the name of the Lord in vain, but a prayer to the Lord to get me through one more step...and one more step...and one more step. I didn't see it at the time, but I do now.
So my friend, Father Vincent Chavez drove down to Tonnerre from Waterloo on Friday morning and met me in the center of town at about 11:30 and after having an early lunch there, we got in his car and headed back to Belgium. Somewhere between Tonnerre and Troyes, we saw a highway sign indicating that ahead was an eglise with three sanctuaries. We both thought it would be fun to stop and see whatever this odd description of a church might be. So when we got to Isle-Aumont, Vince pulled into the village center and parked in front of a rather ordinary looking village church. From the outside, not much to see. Its doors were locked so we wandered about the church yard a bit and peered in through the keyholes to see what we were missing on the inside. Then an elderly lady approached carrying mops and brooms and offered to open it up for us and show us around. It was a remarkable and beautiful place, far beyond either of our expectations. Bits of it go back to the 5th century and the Merovingians, other pieces are Carolingian, including an altar stone set in place as it was in the 8th century. A scallop shell indicating its history as a church visited by pilgrims to Compostela was carved into the base of a stone column. But best of all for me was the armless corpus of the crucified Jesus from the 13th century. His face and particularly his closed eyes expressed pure tranquility in his agony. That tranquility made sense to me. I felt it. I loved it. In some small way, it is mine now. This too is prayer. This is the Jesus I know and love and with whom I walk. He is teaching me things I didn't know I needed to learn. "No storm can shake my inmost calm, while to that rock I'm clinging..." That song too rolls around in my head now and in my imagination it is the Christ of Isle-Aumont that I see when I sing it.
So tomorrow it is off to the doctor I go. I hope for good news and a return to the walking part of my pilgrimage, but whatever happens, walking on or no walking on, grace upon grace is what is ahead. Of that I am sure.
A final word of thanks to Fr. Vincent for taking a day to drive to Tonnerre to "rescue" me and for welcoming me into his home here in Waterloo as a brother and a friend. His kindness to me is part of the pilgrimage, too.
Waterloo??? It is a surprise to be here, certainly; but in pondering it a while, it is not so far from Tonnerre after all.
It has taken three tries and nine years, but as of July 2012, I have finally walked the entire Way of Compostela from my former home in Leuven/Louvain, Belgium, to Santiago de Composela!
My contact e-mail remains the same: email@example.com; I am always happy to receive mail!
Grace and peace to you all!
Sunday, August 5, 2007