Several years ago, a friend of mine told me about El Camino de Santiago, a month-long pilgrimage that begins at the border of France and ends at the Cathedral of Saint James in the city of Santiago de Compostela in the northwest corner of Spain. The two main symbols of that pilgrimage are the shell and the arrow. The shell is the symbol of the pilgrimage, the pilgrim, and the journey itself. The arrow points the way, letting pilgrims know which way to turn, which path to follow - and lets them know that they are indeed on the right path.
On Friday, February 11th, just hours after my arrival in Spain, my dear friend, Judy, showed me her rooftop patio, a quiet place of respite above her lovely apartment in the Poblenou area of Barcelona. And there on the wall were the two symbols of El Camino. Two reminders to me that I am still on the journey and at that moment on that day, I was on the right path. I smiled and snapped a photo.
Later that same night, she and I went out for a walk near what was the Olympic village back in the summer of 1992. Above the street was this sculpture, this face looking down on us. Beautiful. Funny. Another perfectly timed and placed reminder: "Someone is watching over you - and smiling."
One of the many things that I love about Judy (and there are many) is how much she likes a good strong cup of coffee every morning. Followed by another good strong cup of coffee. Yup, she is a two-fisted coffee drinker... as am I. And she's not afraid to use real sugar in her real coffee lightened with real milk. She and I got along splendidly.
The first time I visited La Catedral de la Sagrada Familia was in August of 2002. That day there were no floors, just poured concrete slabs beneath our suspended scaffolding of a walkway. There were no walls at either end of the church and many holes in the ceiling where both sunlight and rain poured in. A lot has changed since then.
When I entered the church this time, I was rendered speechless. Senza parole. It is a truly breath-taking and spectacular sight. The walls, the floor, the windows, the columns, the staircases, the choir loft, the altar, the covering of the altar, the image of Christ on the cross, the splendor of the way the light hits that cross - it defies description. It moved me to tears and laughter and silence and praise - all at the same time. I took more than 200 photos.
Judy and I took an elevator to the top of the cathedral and walked down a rather long and twisting staircase. We stopped several times to take photos from the numerous windows and stepped out onto several small perches where we took photos of the city and of the church itself - which is still very much under construction.
After more than 100 years, La Sagrada Familia is still a work in progress. In our modern world where buildings, even the tallest skyscrapers, are built in weeks or months, the patience and trust and faith that keeps men and women working on this glorious building nearly 100 years after the death of its designer inspire me to continue to walk and work with faithfulness and determination on this my life's journey,
this slowly and steadily progressing building project that is my own life.
At one of the lower entrances to the building, there is a panel that highlights some of the stonemasons working to build this monumental place. Their eyes have seen great progress. Their fingers have been mashed and broken. Their spirits must soar when they step back and look up at the soaring towers, brilliant windows, and imposing columns. To be involved with such a hurculean task must be both humbling and life-affirming. I would imagine that, between back-straining tasks and hand-crushing mishaps, there must be moments when they think - "What I am building here will far outlive me. No one may know my name or what I did, but I know that I am participating in something far greater than me and the few stones that I have helped to shape."
As I walked around that building and that city, I was reminded that, although I am not building anything that large or impressive, what I am working on in my life - raising these two children I have been gifted with, teaching classes, leading retreats, counseling friends and family, and simply being a loyal friend and loving family member - what I do every day matters. Each moment matters. Every email, every phone call, every text, every hug, every visit, every word of encouragement, every prayer raised, every verse shared, every tear shed and wiped away, every story recounted and remembered, every smile - they are each and all part of something that is far greater, wider, deeper, more meaningful, and more important than I will ever know.
Following our visit to La Sagrada Familia, Judy and I visited several museums, churches, restaurants, even a fortress or two. We stumbled upon a celebration of the patron saint of Barcelona, Santa Eulalia, and were dazzled by the parades of giants and a type of street performance that warrants its own future blog post. Judy is the consummate host and historian, regaling me with stories and history lessons and anecdotes that made my time there far more rewarding and enjoyable than it would have been if I had not been with her. I fear that the only thing I gave her was a newfound addiction to taking photos of her meals!
The fortress at the top of Montjuic.
The Monastery of Sant Pau del Camp, the oldest church in Barcelona.
The parade of giants that we saw twice in the same night and again the next day.
One of the museums we visited had a mirrored sculpture on the roof. I hope the two lovers across the way weren't offended by the photos I snapped of them. Quite frankly, I don't think they noticed. The love they were expressing externally was what I was feeling internally: happy to be alive, happy to be there on that gorgeous afternoon, happy to be with someone I love dearly, and thrilled to be with The One I Love Most of All.
Can you see the line about a third of the way from the left edge of this photo where the mirror begins?
There is my dear sister-friend, Judy.
One of my favorite sayings is an old one: "Time flies when you're having fun." And when I'm in Spain, I am almost always having fun and it seems like time flies even faster over there than it does here in the US. On Valentine's Day morning, I found myself strolling through the unexpectedly beautiful Barcelona airport, making my way to gate 95 for my flight to Valladolid where I would spend the next 48 hours with the same friend who told me about El Camino de Santiago years earlier and taught me the significance of its two symbols.