Thursday, May 10, 2012

Crystal Symphony Entry 15

I’ve really fallen off of the blog bandwagon lately.  I have no excuse other than the half-finished entry about Istanbul (first of two parts!) sitting stubbornly on my desktop, refusing to complete itself.  While I wait for that pot to come to boil, I’m going to write about today and my visit to the monastery-mountain of Montserrat.

View of Santa Cova from the cable car.
I’ve been to Montserrat twice before; once while working on the Grandeur, and once while on the Camino.  You can find the first visit here:

And my second visit here:

The Crystal Symphony is headed West again from Istanbul and with most of the day off today in Barcelona I decided to pay a third visit to the monastery.  It seemed only fitting – on my first visit, I had a powerful experience that led me to the Camino, and the second visit was the first major milestone on my road to Santiago.  A third, concluding visit was in order.

The train ride from Plaza Espanya takes about an hour.  It is amazing to me that I can cover that distance by train in only an hour when last time it took four days to walk.  Cataluña is either in the very end of spring or the very beginning of summer – either way, the thick, verdant green foliage is fresh and fragrant with the muscular power of summertime.  It’s going to be hot here, and soon.

The first view of the mountain was impressive, as always.  Tourists had their cameras out (that is, the tourists who didn’t have their bags lifted on the third stop . . . it was quick and surgical, I didn’t even notice the thieves until afterwards) and were snapping shots through the train windows, craning their necks at the peaks above and clicking their tongues in frustration when we went through tunnels.  Luckily, the cable car ride up the side of the mountain is a much better photo opportunity, and I was not disappointed with the flurry of shutters filling the tiny cabin as we sped through midair.

The chapel of Santa Cova was my goal.  This is apart from the main monastery and is built against the cliff at the spot where an image of the Virgin Mary was supposedly found over a thousand years ago.  It is a powerful place, one that inspires people to prayer, and even though I didn’t find what I was looking for last time I visited, it is still an important place in my personal history.

This time I had the chapel to myself.  Everything was just as it was the first time I visited – the grotto with its simple stone altar, the two rows of simple wicker furniture, the rack of candles burning softly in the back of the room.  It was quiet, quiet, quiet!  So quiet that I could hear the candles burning.  There have been very few times in my life where I’ve felt the need to pray, but something about the chapel of Santa Cova usually brings it out in me and this time was no exception.

The first time that I visited, I was just beginning to wake up and I prayed for the strength to act despite fear.  The second time, I was footsore and discourage, and I did my best to renew that wish.  This time, though, I sat there in that silent chapel, listening to the candles burn behind me, and had no idea what to ask for.

I got bored.  My mind wandered; it was stuck at a brick wall and so it went sideways.  I started thinking about all the places I’d seen since the first time I visited – the beautiful people I’d met, the weird things that had happened on the strange road to Santiago . . . I thought of the red brown dust of Cataluña, the relentless wind on the meseta, and the strange Basque language called Euskara.  I thought of the complex, captivating scent of Buenos Aires.  I thought of the sound of a carnival drum line starting up in Rio de Janeiro.  I heard the first call to worship in Istanbul echoing from the minarets around me.

And that’s when I realized it.  I had not come here to ask for anything, but rather to say thank you.  I said it, and then I said it again out loud.  I wanted to laugh, it was so simple.  That’s what prayer is; not asking, but giving.

There is a small room off the main chapel where people leave gifts, tokens to the goddess (er, the Virgin Mary . . . I’m reading too much Joseph Campbell lately and all the traditions are starting to blur together) in thanks for boons received.  I still had the last seashell from Finisterra . . . it had been tucked away in a tiny plastic bag along with my tuxedo studs, packed in my luggage when I left home again in February.  I didn’t know why I had brought it along until earlier that morning, getting dressed in the pitch blackness to the snores of my roommate.  The shell was an offering, a gift from the end of the world given to that which sent me there in the first place.  I left it with a string of other camino shells in the chapel – apparently I am not the first one to have had this experience.

Now I can finally come home.  This is an idea that will be developed more fully when I finally get around to posting those camino entries from Finisterra, but suffice it to say that I reached the end of the world only to find that the way back from a pilgrimage is just as important as the way there.  That’s why things felt so wrong when I arrived in Michigan in January – it wasn’t time to be home yet.  The way back had to be considered.

And with this visit to Santa Cova, I have found what I was looking for.  Now I can come home.  This journey, started March before last and almost three times as long as originally planned, is coming to an end.

Also, I finally got some pictures of a portion of the camino that I walked!  It was good to see the signs again.

A paving stone with the camino symbol, just outside the monastery.  This is one of the signs I followed on Day 6 of the camino.

A sign for the GR6, the trail I followed to Montserrat from Barcelona.  I passed this sign on Day 4 of the camino.

A sign I found in the cable car parking lot for an alternate path along the camino.  I did not take this path, but this is an excellent example of one of the ubiquitous yellow arrows.

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