I try to let a “pilgrim mentality” dominate my travels. Part of that mindset means staying open to surprise. Traveling reveals how much of our daily lives is devoted to NOT being surprised. We love the illusion of safety we create with our routines and the insulated environments of our homes and neighborhoods. A pilgrimage disrupts my usual defenses as it keeps highlighting how I do not know what is going to happen next. I pretend I can control the future at home but I really can’t do that on the road. On the road, I will need to trust God. If I don’t, the anxiety I create by trying to manage the world properly will become helpfully obvious. The lesson traveling teaches so well is: No matter where I go, it is always better to go with Jesus as he leads my way through birth, through death, and into life.
Yesterday was Alhambra day. The famous site was not a surprise. It was a wonder, one of those bucket list moments. But I’d seen the pictures and knew the history. In some ways I had it under control.
But before I got there, the day provided two surprises which reasserted how little I really know. They reminded me how pleasant it is to meet God in new ways, like bumping into her in the street, often when the GPS is not tracking well, or when I least expect him.
One surprise was huge.
The Hospitallers of St John of God opened a spectacular shrine to their founder in Granada, Spain in 1759. It has been called the city’s best kept secret. I can attest to that. It certainly surprised me!
I did not know anything about St. John of God or his monastic order. I just noticed the roof of their mother church when I was going somewhere else nearby. I popped in because I had some time before my plan kicked in. I am still happy I did that.
The Portuguese man, Joao Duarte Cidade, has an inspiring life story. He ended up an orphan, became a soldier, then a refugee, and then a printer. He did not have much direction for his life until he was 42 when he had a vision of Jesus who told him to move to Granada. He moved, and was so overwhelmed by his religious experiences there the townspeople had him committed. A spiritual director helped refine his understanding and he then applied his fervor to helping the sick.
John’s personal hospital housed a collection of people he found who had no way to receive care. Crippled. Mentally ill. Starving. Demented. The same people we still cast off today. Soon people joined him in service, including two notorious enemies he helped reconcile through their common acts of love. Before long there was an order recognized by the church which is still active in 53 countries. John died at 55 of pneumonia after he unsuccessfully tried to save a man drowning in the cold river.
The picture above does not do justice to the gaudy splendor of the order’s over-the-top expression of praise for God and John. I was surprised again and again by its art, passion and oddness. For instance, around the remains of the saint in a silver chest were collected relics of many others. I took a picture of San Juan Capistrano. What’s more, as we were about at the end of our time, the attendant herded all the visitors into the chapel seats for an unexpected treat. The wall you see above is mechanized and sections were lit to tell its story of God’s incarnate love in action! I almost missed it!
Another surprise was small
Later, we expected to find a place to lunch on the way up the hill to the Alhambra. I turned my nose up at one little place that seemed beneath my dignity and likely to have substandard fare. But nothing else was open so we backtracked and I reluctantly entered.
Once again, I knew nothing. The food was very nice! And we were seated in this unusual section, by ourselves in a crowded town, surrounded by a big plant reflected in a window of mirrors. I looked at myself a bit bemused. Why am I surprised so often by the wonders of the world, by the blessings around every corner?
Humans are an artful species whether with a chisel and stone or pan and egg. Once we got to the Alhambra and I looked over Granada from the tower in the wall, I let my small mindedness get swallowed up by creation. Thunderheads were forming and light was pouring around them into a valley framed by the original Sierra Nevada mountains. It was another light-show highlighting the love of God. I made sure not to miss it.