Tuesday, August 23, 2011

I awoke happy to find that none of the storm had leaked through the barn roof onto my sleeping bag, but not so happy to not find my scapular around my neck. Sitting up with a start I began undoing my plait to see if it was entangled in my hair, wondering with a panic what I had done with it. Had I taken it off when washing? Oh yes, I had! I scampered over to a shadowy corner in the barn that the ladies had made into an improptu bathing closet, but my old, brown scapular was not there. 'Condemnation!' I hissed, as I were a convalescent with a fractured vertebrae who could not find her neck-brace.
I set to packing, hoping it would emerge somewhere amongst the things I was stuffing into my big bag. I shook my sleeping bag and mat and dissected the straw I had placed under it for a mattress. Nothing. 'May it bless whoever finds it,' I forced myself to whisper, all the while moaning in my head about how wretchedly foolish I was for having lost it and (I had not yet had my tea) how stupid the world was for having let me lose it. After all, it is an Aristotelian's prerogative to attribute vitalist motives to everything in existence, so something had to have it in for me.

When we were on the road again, I felt rather like the wedding guest who arrived without the proper garment. Indeed, my inward sense of self-consciousness could not have been much stronger.

'You have but to purchase a new one, and you'll be able to do that tomorrow.'

Tomorrow? 'Well, I'll just have to pray hard until tomorrow,' I thought, sipping my cup of earl grey.

Father Grzegorz announced that Matins would presently commence. I threw out the remainder of the tea and dove into my backpack for my breviary.

The Little Office of the Immaculate Conception followed. After the initial hymn, the cantor intoned the prayer. I did not understand every word of it in the Polish, but I was eased by the gist:

Holy Mary, Queen of heaven, Święta Maryjo, Królowo niebieska,
Mother of our Lord Jesus Christ, Matko Pana naszego Jezusa Chrystusa
and Mistress of the world, i Pani świata,
who forsakest no one, która nikogo nie opuszczasz
and despiseth no one; i nikim nie gardzisz,
look upon me, O Lady, wejrzyj na nas, Pani nasza,
with an eye of pity, łaskawym okiem miłosierdzia swego
and entreat for me, i uproś nam
of thy beloved Son, u Syna swego miłego
the forgiveness of all my sins odpuszczenie wszystkich grzechów naszych
that as I now celebrate with devout affection abyśmy, którzy teraz
thy holy, Immaculate Conception, święte Twoje Niepokalane Poczęcie
so, hereafter, nabożnym sercem rozpamiętywamy,
I may receive the prize of eternal blessedness, wiecznego błogosławieństwa zapłatę w niebie otrzymać mogli
by the grace of Him Whom thou co niechaj da Ten, któregoś Ty o Panno,
in virginity didst bring forth, porodziła, Syn Twój,
Jesus Christ our Lord: a Pan nasz Jezus Chrystus,

Who, with the Father and the Holy Ghost, który z Ojcem i Duchem Świętym
liveth and reigneth, żyje i króluje
in perfect Trinity, God, w Trójcy Świętej jedyny, Bóg
world without end. na wieki wieków.

The temporary deprivation of my scapular would do me no harm. A mile later, I looked up and there was the statue of the Sacred Heart at the entrance to the pheasant farm. We were nearing the ruined manor again! Alas, though, why must the pedestal of His statue be pink?

As we made our way to our green resting place, the treat of real coffee was awaiting us on a small table. Granted, by the time I got to it there was but a gulp left, but it was still theobrama! I caught amazed whispers that the java was 'electric' (the Polish term for spiked), but if it were, I am sure it was but for purposes of fortification.

Thank you, Marzena!
The manor's chapel remained as well preserved as it had been the year before, and I finally got to ask someone if it had remained consecrated.
'It must be,' Ola told me, 'A priest comes here to say Mass every now and then. The manor is ruined, but the chapel is still in use.' I felt shivers down my spine as she spoke. The ruined manor and the living chapel, a fitting metaphor for Christendom itself.
Thank you again!

We had the pleasant green shade to ourselves, as the other groups were to pass on for Mass in Przybyszew, and we were to have ours at the day's destination. Of course, it meant a longer walk before the next break, but doesn't every pilgrim prefer alternate fasting and feasting to a comfortable, unvarying mediocrity?

It did make lunch all the more delightful by the time we arrived, and little O., with her honey-coloured hair flowing well past her waist in errant wisps, was smiling to greet us with a large bag of plums. Soup and pasta followed--the second rest.

M. had also approached me in the meanwhile, proudly informing me that the Evangelist Luke had painted the image we were to visit along with more interesting facts about the Black Madonna. I listened to his lesson with pleasure. It is important to allow children to be teachers, especially boys, and I genuinely appreciated his concern that perhaps my questionable grasp of Polish warranted things being repeated to me slowly and simply in that tongue.

Someone else had the same thought. Father Grzegorz's brother, a seminarian named Krzysztof, kindly approached me towards the end of
the break and asked if I understood the conferences that were being given while we marched. I blushed and had to admit that abstract homilies and sermons were still beyond my reach. He offered to deliver one of his to me personally. I eagerly assented, hoping the occasion would be useful practice for his linguistic skills as well as edifying for me. Then came the topic of the conference: vocations.

I stiffened inwardly, yet I did not want to tell this warm cleric that I had grown unwillingly skeptical of the idea that every soul on earth served as a thread in a luscious tapestry, each with a purpose to perform in the story being told. While I knew there was a purpose to each life, I was not convinced that each soul had a destiny.

Still I wanted to hear him. I am generally agnostic even in my skepticism, and whether I could take Cl. Krzysztof's thesis to heart or not, it would still be a lesson in humility to listen. Thus, I told him sincerely that I would gladly take his instruction. However, as the group's traffic directors herded us together for departure, my mind momentarily drifted from the heat of the summer sun that day and back two and a half years to a frigid stay in wintry Kraków and to the thoughts encircling me at that time.

Having reached definite conclusions regarding my profession, not all of them the most uplifting, I had turned my thoughts in earnest to discerning a vocation. As I read through saints and scholars on the issue, I was sent a sermon (written by a very trustworthy priest) concerning the matter. This would be the work that would greatly shake my belief that God had a unique plan for my life.

In this essay, the priest asserted those who were waiting for a divine call or looking for signs as to their state in life were in fact indulging in the heresy of Quietism. 'Discerning one's vocation is this simple,' he stated, 'The married life is higher than the single life, and the religious life is higher than the married life. These are our only rules, and whenever possible, one should encourage a searching soul to the higher calling. One must not passively expect God to endow him with understanding as to some situation He means for him. We have free will and God expects us to use it. One is not meant for way of life or the other; it is a choice.'

Was that all then? Was there to be no guiding light, burst of feeling or steadfast joy to indicate the mode of life where a soul may best serve God? Both the orthodoxy of the priest and the fact this world is a 'vale of tears' gave me great cause to ponder whether my life may very well be more desultory than I had hoped. Old doubts reawakened, and
while my reason oscillated between pessimism and realism, my heart, if not my soul as well, fell into the grip of a sort of agnosticism. I tried to will myself to believe otherwise, but no number of visits to the confessional could release me from that conviction that there was no path set out for me to follow, merely a tangled thicket through which I must haphazardly hack.
And yet, paradoxically, there was still a small voice inside of me saying that my grim supposition was mistaken, and one day I would be proven wrong. Still, I had not embarked on the pilgrimage this time for any answers, only to obtain the peace to stop asking and to listen instead. I could not have guessed that this prayer might actually be answered nor could I have expected what I would hear from Cl. Krzysztof the next day (our lesson being postponed as he encountered acquaintances of his en route).

We arrived swiftly in Michałowice with plenty of time to wash clothes and let them air in the sun. Mass was sublime with the choir singing from the renovated loft, and the church itself was half finished! Many pilgrims from Warszawa came to join us, swelling our ranks.

and again!
The day closed beautifully with softly falling rain, causing us again to huddle together in the dryness of the barn for supper and Compline. Yet, the grey gave way to a hue of the most brilliant coral rose in the west, and all who were drawn out by it were rewarded by a vision of a most exquisite, rainbow--the brightest and most complete arc that I had ever beheld.

And God said: This is the sign of the covenant which I give between me and you, and to every living soul that is with you, for perpetual generations. I will set my bow in the clouds, and it shall be the sign of a covenant between me, and between the earth. And when I shall cover the sky with clouds, my bow shall appear in the clouds: And I will remember my covenant with you, and with every living soul that beareth flesh: and there shall no more be waters of a flood to destroy all flesh.
(Genesis: IX, 12-15)


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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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