Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Ujrzały wszystkie krańce ziemi
zbawienie Boga naszego.
Wołaj z radości na cześć Pana, cała ziemio,
cieszcie się, weselcie i grajcie.

All the ends of the earth
have seen the salvation of our God.
Sing joyfully to God, all the earth;
make melody, rejoice and sing.

An echo of the psalm sounded in my ears as I set down my bag in Paradise, as the name is translated in English. There was an announcement in which Mass and something about two hours was mentioned. Marzena informed me that as Mass was already going on in the church, our group would have to wait our turn. I immediately glanced at the tea and coffee table. Plenty of time to take some of that and preserve the Eucharistic fast!

My fleshly self was so gladdened on receiving the Java that my soul could not find the power to be saddened at the worldly attachments of her earthly counterpart. As much as I appreciated the fragrant cup of Earl Grey's brew I received every morning, the difference between the leaf of Camellia and the bean of Coffea was like that between the companionship of cat and the fellowship of man.

Sipping my prized kawa bez cukru i bez mleka, I surveyed Paradyż Las with more enlivened appreciation and a greater certainty that Paradise herself would be quite like this. Away from the whirl of larger cities, in these lovely villages surrounded by fields as though by an ocean, one could feel as though he were on an island--on the verge of massive infinity.

Turning from the fair coloured, stucco shops and houses to the magnificent stone sanctuary, I could not deny that I was in a 'thin' place. The dimension between time and eternity was a thin veil in realms like this, and a mere flutter could whip the ephemeral wall away. The portal to Heaven might part at the whim of a zephyr.

I smiled, remembering the fear eternity had inspired in me as child. The grandeur, glory, and might of God so ravished my imagination with its extremes like fire and chill: beauty and truth, justice and mercy, feasting and fasting, and heights of inspiration coupled with depths of certainty. But after such moments of transcendence, tears often clouded my eyes. Lying in my bed at night, I would wonder about my family, my friends, my pets, and how they would react at the impending martyrdom I was constantly imagining, wondering if beautiful, immaculate Heaven could tolerate something as comfortable and dirty as a fireplace or a mossy log. I feared the loss of the homely in gaining my eternal home.

Leaning against the wall of the sanctuary, now open to layman as freely as it had lovingly and jealously guarded its religious so long ago, I conjured in my head the now familiar image of Plato, depicted in swirling, Raphaelite robes, and Tolkien, clad in a decorative waistcoat, and British tweeds. The grand philosopher spoke of the presence of absolute Good in all good things, and I recalled again that no good things would die. Tolkien gestured with his pipe to a painting of his, The Last Homely House, and I recalled that man's destiny lay somewhere between the cozy Hobbit and the fae Elf.

Here in this Polish village where--with a family for companionship--I could easily live out my days, I felt no cleavage between the two realms. I wonder still whether this blessed unity is an aspect
of Polish genius in particular or of Slavic genius in general.

* * *
The forests and their loose, sandy trails gave way to a more rough and wild terrain as we progressed. Snaking slowly along the narrow trail in single file was a necessity amongst the brambles over the rising and falling ground.

It was nearing four o'clock in the afternoon, and I wondered that we had not yet stopped for lunch. I was not too concerned, knowing that we had to atone for the longer time our group spent in Paradyż, but my stomach was beginning to cry out in protest. It was then that those ahead stopped altogether. It was rather confusing and a trifle irritating as there was no visible impediment before them.
As we waited, pilgrims strayed one after another from the path and began to reap a savoury harvest from land long lain fallow. Jagoda, forest berries, lay hidden amongst the little sprigs of bushes all along the ground, and I gladly joined the picking, observing how two of the valiant children accompanying us--a brother and sister of 8 and 6--were eagerly dying their mouths indigo with their feasting. I can only hope, not having any way to check at the time or later, that I did not do the same.

Looking up, I saw that a branch of our party shot off in another direction from the trail, taking a level, but rather meandering, route towards the forest. I was not long puzzled though when I saw those remainin
g on the main trek taking their shoes off. There was nothing for it, but to plod through the marshy trail which was cool with shade in some parts, and warm from the sun in others, while soft, slimy, and squishy everywhere.

Rather enjoying this development, I commented in bad Polish that this wading was quite refreshing. I received a comment back in good English, 'Did you see that dead fish floating by your leg?' My querulous stomach wrenched a little, and I quickened my pace.

Arriving on the other side, we took another break amidst suspiciously Celtic-looking mossy mounds. Approaching them was not advisable as massive anthills lurked about them, and the ants wound everywhere in their continual lines. It took a great deal of searching to find a spot where they did not bite so fiercely.

When we were roused to resume the journey, someone inquired when lunch might be taking place, and we discovered that it had already been held. I couldn't but laugh at my folly, though the hole in my stomach was suddenly more palpable. How the others who had
also missed it reacted, I don't know.
* * *
Hours later at the farmstead, I was glancing about a darkened tool shed, trying to make certain I had left nothing behind after my washing. My bare feet were swiftly covered in soft, powdery dirt as I strode back to my bag, but it mattered not. I was happily clean, had the benefit of a banana and a slice of watermelon in my stomach, and I had learned I was assigned to washing dishes the next morning. It warmed me no little bit to think I was actually assisting in the pilgrimage rather than only taking part.

I studied the image of the Sacred Heart, crowned and sceptered, that sat on the windowsill under the carport where I planned to bed that night. Checking the barn earlier, I saw that there was no more space and with a few humourous thoughts concerning the Scriptural passage--'no room at the inn'--I made my bed next to the car, for fear of rain falling or chickens' droppings if I slept in the open unprotected.

After supper, I finally got to meet the brave young souls who thereafter wished to be known as Frodo and Pippin, the boy and girl respectively. As most well-behaved children, they had appeared shy and quiet when I had encountered them before. As they grew more at ease, I had noticed more exuberance and cheer on their part. They were wild with enthusiasm for The Lord of the Rings and took great pleasure in practising their English by telling me the characters and scenes they liked. They very sweetly bestowed the name 'Arven' on me before being called away.

Having befriended a small black and white kitten, I was able to indulge my affinity for felines, and I probably laughed more than was fitting for a pilgrimage at the stories I was told, oddly as funny when told in Polish before I understood them as they were translated, while occasionally Piotrek forced me to repeat Czech phrases, apparently a very useful thing to do while one is struggling to learn Polish.

When compline was called, I feared some of the joviality might linger on in my mind to distract me, as is often the case with my indulgent train of thought, but as we concluded the hymn, I recognized enough of Psalm 125 to be completely drawn in:

Gdy Pan odmienił los Syjonu,
wydawało się nam, że śnimy.
Usta nasze były pełne śmiechu,
a język śpiewał z radości.

Mówiono wtedy między poganami:
„Wielkie rzeczy im Pan uczynił”.
Pan uczynił nam wielkie rzeczy
i ogarnęła nas radość.

Odmień znowu nasz los, Panie,
jak odmieniasz strumienie na Południu.
Ci, którzy we łzach sieją,
żąć będą w radości.

Idą i płaczą
niosąc ziarno na zasiew,
lecz powrócą z radością
niosąc swoje snopy.

When the lord brought back the captivity of Sion,
we became like men comforted.
Then was our mouth filled with gladness;
and our tongue with joy.

Then shall they say among the Gentiles:
The Lord hath done great things for them.
The Lord hath done great things for us:
we are become joyful.

Turn again our captivity,
O Lord, as a stream in the south.
They that sow in tears
shall reap in joy.

Going they went and wept,
casting their seeds.
But coming they shall come with joyfulness,
carrying their sheaves.

It was in such a spirit that I went to my bed on the pavement. I had drifted into that misty state between waking and dreaming, when one of my pilgrim sisters spotted me, and began speaking to me too quickly for my sleepy head to comprehend. I tried to excuse myself, when I heard an exuberant voice say: 'Is that Rachel?' A moment later, Piotrek's head, upside down from where I lay was in my face.

'What are you doing here?'

'I'm trying to sleep,' I said, hoping I didn't sound grouchy. Confession was not available to me after all.

'Well, there is a space for you at the place where they store hay. Here, I'll help you move your things.'

I bit my tongue and got my things together, fully expecting to say 'I told you so' on going back to the packed barn. It's a good thing I had bit my tongue, or later I would have had to put my foot in my mouth for there was a second barn. 'Room for me after all,' I thought with a smile.


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Warsaw, Poland
Domine, spero quia mundum vicisti. Lord, I trust that Thou hast overcome the world. Panie, ufam, żeś pokonał świat.
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