As we are waiting for dinner to start, Sr Crystal asks me the question that is nearly the most infuriating question anyone can ask me, “What was most significant about today?”
“How can I answer that?” I answer. “I don’t really know where to start! I went to the Ibaipaba national park and had the opportunity to see the mountains, caves, and waterfalls. I also had the opportunity to see the new shrine being erected, the Santuario de Senhora de Fatima in Sao Benidito. Then I had the opportunity to visit Sao Benidito parish in… of all places… Sao Benidito. I’ve finally solved the mystery of the 25th black saint of whom I had no knowledge before coming to Brazil. (Twenty-two Ugandan Martyrs, St. Martin de Porres, Josephine Bakhita, and now St. Benedict of Sicily) Then I come to Mass in Sao Joao, which is the first time that I’ve attended a Mass with bats flying around my head. Pretty cool, if I do say so myself.”
“All I can think of during this mess of a day is that God was present in every moment. I can’t say that God’s presence was more significant in the cave, or in the construction of a new church, or in the bats. The fancy word we use in English (Sr. Crystal is a German nun) is ‘replete.’ God’s presence is replete in the world. I can’t really answer whether to choose God’s love ‘here’ or God’s love ‘there,’ and I don’t really know if I have the ability to synthesize all of that into a coherent snippet that is easy to understand.”
“Maybe you don’t have to.” Sr. Crystal replies matter-of-factly as the arrival of dinner interrupts our conversation.
I was quite taken aback by her comment. It’s the first time on this pilgrimage that I have considered that I don’t have to try to understand God’s love in order for God to love me. Perhaps it is an epiphany that I should have seen coming. I’ve reminded myself many times of the guru’s prayer “Forgive me Lord for seeking you in many shrines and not finding you here, where you were all along.” I’ve thought frequently about the sociological phenomenon of journey/pilgrimage/rites of passage. They are periods of discovery, and sometimes they result in discovering that the journey/pilgrimage/rite of passage is not what is necessary in life.
Everyday on this pilgrimage, I have tried to examine my experiences and my thoughts in an attempt to synthesize them into a comprehensible nugget of modest insight that demonstrates a modicum of deliberation. Should it be a secret to anyone that these considerations are more a comment on me than they are of God?
While on pilgrimage, I have been in more than one conversation with several casual observers about my approach. “I have abandoned objectivity. To me it is a waste of time. I think I gave it up for Lent during the early stages of the pilgrimage when I realized that the practice of asking pastors for statistical information about their parishioners, HIV/AIDS, divorce, etc., was telling me more about what was important to me than what was important about the parish.”
Apparently, my subjective approach, and narrative writing bears the same fault.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m certainly not going to stop my attempts to synthesize the experience of each day in these blogs. That’s who I am and what I do. But today I discovered that my digestion of the God-experience that I encounter during the day is not, in itself, God. God is beyond my ability to articulate what God has done for me in any given day. If I had the capacity to illustrate God, I would be God. I am not… the last I checked.
Instead, when I write, I am writing about myself, my journey, and my love for God. If I ever reach a point where all of that becomes transparently clear, then the journey is over, the mystery is solved, there is nothing more to do.
There is plenty more to do. For all of us.
If you have downloaded Google Earth onto your computer, you can view my pictorial of Ibiapaba National Park, the Santuario de Senhora de Fatima, and San Benedito by clicking here. Even if I can’t make sense of God in an intelligible way today, at least the photos came out clear enough for you to view. Enjoy, and watch out for those pesky bats.