Sunday, 30 August 2015

Think of Happy Things

We have returned from France and will during this week ease back into a full work schedule.  It hardly seems possible that the trip is finished.  When we finally got up today after 28 hours of flying and lay overs in various airports, Edmund said “well yesterday this time we were doing….” whatever it happened to be.  Over a coffee we chatted about how fast the time went, it seemed like a long time coming when we booked in February but passed so quickly.  As we chatted about the highlights and the fun we had together Edmund said the quote that keeps coming to mind is a thing of beauty is a joy that will last forever.

There is no doubt it will last forever.  What we were able to experience, the educational, the spiritual and the fun rolled into one neat little package with lots of pictures will be something that we treasure, memories that we made to share.  As the line from Keats poem says so beautifully “a thing of beauty is a joy forever.”  So when life becomes busy, stress levels get high and escape is on the agenda, it is times like these that we can look to as a reminder of the beauty and joy that we experienced.  There is a scene in the movie Pan (played by Robin Williams) where Pan returns to Neverland all grown up and unable to fly.  As he struggles to fly Tinkerbell (played by Julia Roberts) says find your happy place.  When he goes to a happy place he is able to once again soar.  The memories we build are our happy places that help us soar, find peace, remember joy and just be in a happy place.  “A thing of beauty is a joy forever” and for both Edmund and I there are wonderful memories and joys of this trip.  

“So come with me, where dreams are born, and time is never planned. Just think of happy things, and your heart will fly on wings, forever, in Never Never Land!” 
J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan: Fairy Tales

Friday, 28 August 2015

Where will You Pray?

Edmund’s Mom, Josephine, inquired last night, after talking to Edmund to wish him a happy birthday, where will you go to pray before you begin the journey home?  It was a sweet thought and question.  It was one that we had already considered and we had decided to return to the Abbey Notre Dame de Bon Secours. This place is close and it was one that I was most taken with.  Edmund told someone that I just loved the place.  He is right, there is such a serenity there that I am happy to return for the quiet and prayer before we begin our journey home.

The question that Josephine asked is an important one for all of us to consider, where will you go to pray?  This from a woman who prays absolutely everywhere felt that it was important that we return to one of the sanctuaries that we had been so fortunate to visit.  At the same time it is a deeply personal question that can only be answered by an individual for themselves.  There is no one place that speaks exactly the same to all of us.  There will be places that we will journey to because it is an important “shrine” or holds historical significance that will move us.  Then there are places that we need to see because of the significance to our religion.  But the place where we go to pray is significant to an individual, a safe place where the presence of God is felt.  Is it your community church?  A bench under a tree?  A park?  A monastery?  Each of us will answer in our own unique way recognizing that prayer is time when we build our relationship with God, handing over the concerns of the day, of life.

My book Practical Prayer is certainly a helpful tool in understanding how to make the most of the time that you have, how to set aside a safe space and how our mundane tasks can become deep moments of prayer and connection.  It does not undermine the importance of connecting with a worshiping community but certainly helps reduce the guilt factor if we have been away for a while.  It helps prevent the need to justify that indeed we are “spiritual but not necessarily religious”.  As spiritual people we enter into a relationship with the divine.  A relationship built on spending time together in quiet, solitude, community, work.  A relationship built not on guilt for what has not been done.  So as we go forward, struggling with the phenomena that people tell us in ever increasing numbers that we are “spiritual but not religious” perhaps we need to begin not with guilt but by entering into a relationship meeting the person where they are and understanding where they go to pray and be in their relationship with the divine.

Where will you go today to pray?

As we arrived "home" today these guys were waiting for dinner!  

Thursday, 27 August 2015

As we Clue up

We are nearly finished our time here in France and as we prepare to pack up it is a good time to reflect on the memories that we have made, the spiritual insights gained and the impact that it will leave on us.  When we started our journey, we knew that spirituality was a key component but beyond that we had no idea of how it would all unfold.  We left Canada, nearly two weeks ago with an itinerary for to follow.  We did very few of the itinerary items.  Instead we made new discoveries, which took us from the highly publicized places, to more obscure locations. 

So I learned that :

  • while planning is a very good thing is should be subject to change.  
  • Local people are a fabulous source of information regarding the things to see (nothing new here).  
  • Being outside and seeing what was on offer nearby was much better than hours in a car (although it looked closer on the map).  
  • Even though the GPS plans very obscure routes sometimes, it does get you to your location.  
  • I can drive like locals on the roads (a frightening concept and the roads are starting to look a lot wider!).  
  • And most importantly, prayer happens everywhere, under a variety of circumstances and one's spirituality is not limited to a particular space or action.

The bonus of doing it this way is that we were able to appreciate the richness of the majesty of all that we saw and enjoyed.  The simplicity of the Cistercian Abbeys to the richness of St. Michael de Frigolet highlighted for us that the surroundings will add to being able to center the self and every forum has a unique gift to offer the seeker.  The people that we encountered in passing were visiting for various reasons and even if they were not particularly seeking perhaps they could sense the divine at work.  These places have stood the test of time, and while they may not draw the same numbers of congregant worshipers, they are a reminder of the devotion that people have to erect such magnificent structures that are still a refuge for many pilgrims.

In a few days we will return home, we did not succeed in visiting Lourdes, the grotto of Mary Magdalene or LaSallette but we are just as richly filled with the time spent in the places that we were able to explore.  We wandered far off the beaten track, bypassed the areas with the large attractions and instead discovered these gems.

“Adults follow paths. Children explore.  Adults are content to walk the same way, hundreds of times, or thousands; perhaps it never occurs to adults to step off the paths, to creep beneath rhododendrons, to find the spaces between fences.”  Neil Gaiman, The Ocean at the End of the Lane

Wednesday, 26 August 2015

Some Things are Worth Repeating

Second looks are generally a worthwhile thing.  Today Edmund and I decided to forgo the tourist sights and headed back to the Abbey of St. Michael of Frigolet.  We have learned that it is impossible to see and take in everything the first time around especially when you have been out all day, are starting to get tired and hungry.  So while we had a good look around yesterday today was all about taking our time, looking at each pillar and painting, stopping at each altar site and enjoying the quiet.

We took a picnic lunch with us today to sit under a tree in the big field that looks on to the cross.  Several others had the same idea and there were a number of families enjoying the heat and beauty of the day in such a serene surroundings.  With the exception of the wasps it was a lovely place to be.  After our lunch Edmund wanted a siesta but didn’t much care for the ants along with the wasps so we wandered around the grounds until everything re-opened at two.  

The Entrance to the Abbey as you cross the road

The Walls of the Abbey as you glance down the street

The Chapel bell tower with the statue overlooking

A close up

If you notice the opposite side of the tower there is another statue facing the opposite direction

The Walk way as you go into the Abbey grounds, walled on both sides

Archway leading to one of the side paths

The Walk way as you come in (I took this looking back)

The towers can be seen as you approach from the road

Once the church was open we went in to take in as much as we could.  I am not sure that the brain can hold all those memories at once, fortunately we had the camera and Ipad.  The stained glass was detailed, the paintings told a story and there was symbolism upon symbolism everywhere.  The ceiling would have been great to view if you could have laid down and looked up to see the intricacies of the beams as well as the artwork and angels with huge wing spans.  The columns had a different saint on the front and back.  It is amazing and something to behold.

The splendor, magnificence and detail in this place really is awe inspiring.  There is loving detail put into the story of the life of Jesus as it unfolds.  Add to that the majesty of the ceiling and there are times when it all looks heavenly and you hope to see the angels before you and hear the heavenly choir.  Visitors who come through speak in whispers and even that little sound can be heard clearly.

 The Center Aisle

Here is some of the detailing on the columns.  On one you can see a disciple

 Tried to get some good detailing so the intricate work can be seen

This is one of the side altars dedicated to St. Teresa of Liseaux

the Altar for St. Michael as he holds Satan underfoot, again the detailing around

The Artwork above the altar of St. Joseph's chapel tells the story of Jesus' life here is the birth story

This was in one of the corners of the chapel ceiling

The High Altar

Another column with 3 saints and lots of detailing all around

 No I did not lie on the floor like I was tempted but I think this one of the ceiling came out pretty good

The Ceiling and Stained glass above the door.  Had to remember to turn around to look too!

And here is the window

the detailing that you walk through to get into the church, easy to miss if you don't look back

The sun shining through the trees on a very still day

Some things are worth repeating and this Abbey was one of those places for both Edmund and I.  We have felt the presence of the divine as we participate in this pilgrimage and have found wonderful treasures along the route that we have been travelling.  Our education time is quickly nearing its end here in France but we have finished it on the highest possible note here at Abbey St. Michael de Frigolet and we are happy to have deviated from the original plan and schedule to have found this place.  In one of my earlier blogs I included the poem of Robert Frost  The Road Not Taken and it really has made all the difference.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Lost for Words

We headed off early this morning to fit in as much as possible.  There were a number of things on the list to do.  We headed out first to Montmajour Abbey near Arles.  It was quite amazing and felt like we had stepped back in time as we wandered the ruins of the Abbey.  This place features in a number of Van Gogh’s paintings and it is not hard to figure out why with the magnificence of the towers and the imposing presence that it has over the valleys.  There are parapets around the towers for the guards to keep watch and danger can be seen from miles and miles away.  Tombs are literally carved in the rocks.  In many ways it looked like a scene out of the Lord of the Rings Trilogy.  It certainly showed that this life was not for the faint of heart.  Montmajour Abbey is hard to describe except to say that it is all stone with wrought iron gates at the entrances.  

 this is the main body of the church with the pedestal of the altar reamining

One of 2 tombs in the church.  Ciborium and Crozier were found buried here.  They are now on display at the Louvre

The fields in the Valley below

The Abbey Ruins

St. Peter's Church outside the Abbey walls for the lay people


The Tower, there are 155 steps to the top  

            A View of the top and where a watch of the area below could be kept

A Tomb

Burial Sites

The Tower

From there we travelled to Arles.  It was busy!  Obviously a tourist hot spot as well as an UNESCO world heritage site.  After a quick lunch we wandered around to see the sites.  We managed to see a number but the crowds and vendors made it less than appealing and we did not stay around for long, well only 90 minutes.

the entrance into the town square

the square

 the fountain

The Cathedral

Detailing above the door

What looks like people on either side of the doors

the Arena

the antique Theatre

Some of the people sitting in the shade.  Sidewalk View

Our next stop today was another Abbey, St. Michael of Frigolet (St. Michael and All Angels).  The tourist office in Pernes had told us that this was really one we should see.  The drive up was not at all harrowing.  There was lots of parking available but it seemed like everyone was looking for a shady tree.  The walk into the Abbey reminded you of heading into a compound and it was so large we thought that it was a secular community.  However, that is not the case.  Our first stop was the chapel of St. Peter.  It was lovely and relatively quiet.  We enjoyed some time here as well as the beauty of the place.  As we continued on we came to another church and entering in we were awestruck.  It is breathtaking!  Every inch is artwork, the ceiling decorated with stars, every column has a Disciple or Saint painted on it.  There are three parallel places of worship with the center being the largest.  A small group of local people were at worship and the acoustics were phenomenal.  The Nunc Dimitis in French is just as familiar and haunting when the canting starts as it is in English.  It was a great way to end the day of site seeing.  

St. Peter's Chapel

St. Michael's and All Angels Basilica

The Center Aisle

A Small group at worship

Again the Center Aisle

The Spires above the trees

A side garden

At the top of the path is this statue of Mary.  It is at the entrance to picnic area and large field

Our journeys here have taken us to many different places of worship.  Most have been simple and plain with little to no ornamentation but today there was a splendor that cannot be described and when the singing and praying started it just gave one chills to be a part of it.  Despite the magnificence of this building the prayers were heartfelt, as people knelt before the altar on the stone floor to offer themselves and their petitions to God.  The singing rang clear and true in further prayer.  Despite the ornateness of this Basilica today the prayers were no different in the sincerity with which they were offered than any other place that we have journeyed.  True worshipers gathered to bring their prayers and all they had to offer to God.

Finishing up the tour of the grounds we discovered a play area with picnic tables and lots of room for children and pets to roam safely.  And right in the middle of it all a very large cross, perhaps as a reminder of who we are and whose we are.