The Iron Cross: An Observation from the Way of Saint James, Part 2

CruzdeFerroContinued from yesterday

The Way of Saint James—El Camino de Santiago—is a pilgrimage that began in the Middle Ages and remains popular today. Each year pilgrims from all around the world walk from points throughout Europe to reach the tomb of Saint James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain. Some do it for sport, others for contemplation, others to pray for miracles.

In September 2013 my husband and I were among the pilgrims. We began our walk in León, trekking 200 miles in twelve days.

Our first day ended in Hospital de Órbigo, a village with an arched Gothic bridge, our second took us to Astorga, a small city with a gorgeous Gaudí palace, and our third finished in Rabanal del Camino, a stone village with a tiny central square.

On the fourth day of our Camino, we rose before dawn and departed Rabanal. As we walked a country road beneath the moon and stars, I could feel the grade increasing, straining the backs of my legs. We were ascending the pass of Irago. Soon the sun rose lemon-yellow, revealing iridescent mountains, releasing the scents of heather and gorse.

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The Iron Cross: An Observation from the Way of Saint James, Part 1

LaStoriaI didn’t know Julia well.

The first time I saw her, she was sitting at the far end of the table around which our language class met. Although I knew the instructor, Chiara, it was my first day with this group of students who for years had gathered in Chiara’s dining room to discuss classic books in Italian.

That day I was the last one to arrive, and when I entered the room the group was already engaged in friendly pre-class conversation. As I took my seat, six pairs of eyes looked up at me, six mouths chorused “Piacere” with American twangs, and six hands reached across the table to shake mine.

But the person I noticed most was Julia, a trim woman about my age with a strawberry bob and a smile like a lamp.

Since I was new to the class, Chiara asked the veterans to introduce themselves: Filippo, Becca, Davide, Laura, Carla—all genial, interesting people who loved everything Italian.

But again, it was Julia who drew me. A psychologist with a PhD, she seemed warm, spoke Italian perfectly, listened to others with attention, as if they were the center of her world. Of all the members of the group, she was the one I hoped to make my friend.

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A Jew Prays in Venice, Part 2

Continued from yesterday.

On the pleasant train ride from Florence to Venice, my wife Laurie and I began to piece together a relaxed itinerary for our final days in Italy: the Jewish Ghetto—definitely; the Peggy Guggenheim Collection—pretty sure; the Doge’s Palace—we should (but haven’t we had enough history?); the Basilica di San Marco, the Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari—haven’t we seen enough churches?

As it turns out, we did make it into a church (more than one) in Venice, but it was only at Santa Maria della Salute—a church on which we stumbled while rushing to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection so we could see it and have plenty of time for the famous Jewish Ghetto in Venice—where I felt the tenacious need to maintain my separate, external, egotistic will relax.

There was a prayer to be said and I said it in this church built to honor the Virgin Mary for saving Venice from a plague that in 1629 to 1630 killed 47,000 residents; a third of Venice’s population.

In the presence of the Madonna of Healing, my eyes fixed on the sculptures above the main altar, fixed on one sculpted figure in particular: a woman below and to the right of the Madonna, her body turned away from the Madonna, her arms outstretched beyond the “frame” of the sculpture, into the void, in anguish, afflicted, her neck twisted so she could look back and up at the towering Virgin holding an infant in one arm.

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Blue Christmas

knit shawlA few years ago, I learned about a church—an Evangelical Free Church—that holds an annual evening service called Blue Christmas on December 21, the longest night of the year. It’s a service welcoming all who feel “blue” at Christmas-time, whether because of a personal loss or illness or addiction or any other sorrow. Anyone present at the service who requests prayers is wrapped in one of the shawls that the church’s prayer shawl group has been knitting all year. The shawl is theirs to keep, a constant reminder of God’s enfolding and healing love.

As soon as I heard about this service, I wanted to go. At the time, I was writing a book that became Knit One, Purl a Prayer: A Spirituality of Knitting, which includes discussion of the prayer shawl ministries that have sprung up at churches of all denominations around the country. The specifics of prayer shawl ministries differ, but in general knitters from the church gather regularly to knit shawls to give to people who are suffering in some way. The shawl, knit with prayer, is meant to wrap the recipient in God’s love. [Read more...]

Sarah Masen: The Trying Mark, Part 2

Guest Post

By Angela Doll Carlson

In yesterday’s interview with Sarah Masen, we chatted about her latest album, The Trying Mark, a mature reflection on a life full of longing, wonder and awe. Today we delve a little more into this new project as we discover what makes Sarah such a unique artist, including her deep thoughts on community, nurturing, and chicken keeping.

Angela Doll Carlson: The new album seems to be full of a sense of longing, most specifically seen in the lyrics of “The Way for Now”:

For now I am a field in winter waiting

This cold it is a shield

No man, no plow, no seed will find its way beneath me

For now I will not yield.

Can you tell me more about that?

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