I visited the Plaza De Pilar today in Zaragoza. It’s an enormous, majestic, and glorious public square and site of the Basilica of Our Lady of the Pillar. Today is Day 2 of a 5 day celebration of Our Lady of the Pillar; flowers everywhere, set up on monuments, left at main and side altars inside and near doorways outside. People flowing in and out freely and lights and cameras getting ready for a televised procession celebrating Mary’s visitation to James, the apostle.
The story, told to me by someone who spoke English and Spanish, but who also used economy in his words, goes like this;
‘James, the Apostle, was called to bring the message of Christ to Spain. It was very difficult. Most can’t comprehend how difficult it was.
James, on a particularly part of the journey, certain that he would leave this quest, this calling, stopped along the way, and knelt to pray.
Mary, still alive at the time, appeared before him on a pillar; an apparition. She told him that she was with him. That her help, God’s help, and all the resources he needed would be with him.
Mary told him that he would be the Companion On The Journey for so many (yes, my translating friend used these words).
James never turned back after that day. Now credited with bringing Christianity to Spain, James is revered. But he almost quit.’
This may sound sacrilegious, profane maybe, very ordinary at least, but here goes…
When I walked to the edge of the square, I pulled out my camera and started shooting. Vendors filled the streets and alleys with trinkets, figurines of Mary and James, handmade soaps, food booths, and helium balloons.
I turned a corner to see a pyramid built with flowers from the day before, the Feast Day, where groups from all over the region brought and placed flowers.
I walked into the monstrous Basilica. Less than a holy or reverent spirit, it was flooded with people rushing from one thing to touch to another place to pray. Lines formed behind these particular places. I didn’t quite know what they were, but they were important to many many people.
A still voice suggested “go to what you are drawn to”. I visited a few peaceful side chapels, not really understanding the icons surrounding me.
I walked up the central aisle of the main body of the church, and I heard familiar bells, signifying the beginning of a Mass. It’s then I noticed more than a few quiet attendants, sitting, waiting for mass to begin.
I sat then stood, and I too was going to Mass. A nice serendipitous moment. While I didn’t understand a word, I knew the Mass, celebrated holy communion, and exited into the massive aisles alongside this nave with everyone else when Mass was over.
Then I said it, under my breath, attempting one more shot at having that “Mary” moment we all dream of (well, I do!). I said one thing, and a conversation ensued.
David: Ok, Mary, where are you? I’d like to really experience you before I leave.
Someone/Mary: I’m barely here.
Someone/Mary: I was here when I met with James.
David: But you’re not here now.
Mary: This place, wonderful as it is, is not for me. It’s for you, for them. A place to
pray, give thanks.
David: So where can I find the real Pillar. The place you stood and spoke to James.
Silence (as if her eyes were rolling, like she’s had this conversation before).
Mary: Where was I for James?
David: Um….on his journey through Spain?
Mary: Yes. So I was where?
David: With James in his moments of deep despair.
Mary: And what are you drawn to?
Mary: (A nod of sorts)
David: The Camino. I’m drawn to get on the trail. To continue the journey.
Mary: So, I’ll be there with you on the journey.
Mary: Yes. So, I am where?
David: With me in my moments of deep despair
Mary: And all other moments, too; joy, life, effervescence of Spirit,
laughter, happiness, grief, love, anger, fear, sadness. Don’t forget the joy and
comfort and sheer happiness you experience with your family. Despair, yes! Joy,
David: (I nodded)
Mary: Got it?
I hailed a cab and headed to the train station.
I came to see Mary, to have one of those moments that becomes something.
Instead I experienced Mary, albeit in a surreal conversation, that still feels like two voices from the same head space.
Wherever I am, though, I know that I don’t have to go to a certain place to experience the presence of God, of mother Mary, of anyone.
Those I wish to go see are perhaps, barely there, but more vigorously here, within, in my moments of deep despair…and joy! Got it?
Thank God I got it.