Monday, April 20, 2009

Best Pilgrim Gift - An Unexpected Candle

Pilgrims need very little. A big thing about being a pilgrim is that material possessions are minimal. The focus is on the experience. A gift to a pilgrim should be lightweight, small in volume, useful, meaningful.

I’m experienced and carry a small, light pack. Everything I carry fits in neatly and efficiently. Had anyone asked, and many did, I’d have said I need nothing.

On Christmas Eve, I arrived at the Abbey of Jouarre, a Benedictine monastery of nuns in a small village east of Paris. The nuns welcomed me warmly, invited me to Vespers and an evening meal, followed by Midnight Mass with the community and finally to a party. Having walked more than 35 kilometers (22 miles) on that cold sunny day, and despite a short nap after Vespers, I was too tired to enjoy a party and just put in a brief appearance for courtesy’s sake.

The nuns had invited me to stay a second night in the abbey, my first day of rest after 12 days of walking. On Christmas morning, the nun responsible for greeting guests pulled me into the room where the party had been. From the fir tree bedecked with handmade decorations, she untied a small package with a neatly written tag ‘La Pèlerine’, and handed it to a very surprised me. A gift for me. I unwrapped a simple tea light of aluminum punched through in a simple winter scene and in-filled with tiny bits of colored glass – a cabin surrounded by pine trees. A sweet little gift, for me. I thanked the nun and put it safely in my pack.

Nearly a month later, in the southwest of France, the hurricane hit. I was walking through the land of Landes and was taken unaware. In a day, the region was devastated; the forests felled in broad sweeps. Power was of course knocked out early in the storm, even before the floods hit, and wasn’t restored during the three days it took me afterward to walk to the higher ground toward the Pyrenees.

Who knew on that Christmas morning that the candle from the nuns would be so important to me? As I walked during and after the storm, residents, with many houses destroyed by fallen trees and floods, offered me tea candles to replenish the first that I burned during the first evening without power. It’s even possible to brew a cup of tea with a tea candle – cherished in the raw weather after the storm hit.

The lovely tea candle was the perfect gift – small lightweight and absolutely useful. While it burned for light and warmth in the unheated pilgrim houses after the storm, I thought of those kind nuns who gave me such an important gift.

1 comment:

Laura said...

Thank you for such a simple and beautiful story.