Gratitude is the sign of noble souls ~ Aesop

Wake at dawn with a winged heart and give thanks for another day of loving ~ Kahlil Gabran

Joy delights in joy ~ William Shakespeare

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Hope in the Ruins

I am grateful to the people who had the foresight to preserve The Mission in San Juan Capistrano, because it is truly one of my favorite places in the world. The ruins of an old Spanish cathedral built in 1776 -- the year our country was born! -- it is a site to behold with its massive bells and columns and the soaring domed knave still standing at the head of the beautiful broken old building. I find it even more beautiful that the old mission provides shelter and a safe haven to the thousands of swallows who make a pilgrimage from Argentina every year to build their homes for the summer (instead of nests, the build mud enclaves called, no kidding, condos.) But what made me most grateful today as I toured the gardens and made my way to the tiny prayer chapel that still stands in the back, is that this year, I got to bring my husband to share it with me.

You see, the first time I found myself in San Juan Capistrano was in October of 2007 -- I was attending a retreat that was a few miles north, but they ran out of room on the grounds of the retreat center, so I stayed in a motel off the highway. And while it was noisy and the room smelled like diesel -- it turned out to be a wonderful twist of fate.
I went to this particular retreat because I was feeling lost in my life...I felt like I should be happy, but things just felt off, I felt lonely and anxious and afraid a lot of the time -- too much of the time. So I went in the hopes that some peace and quiet away from LA would help me to get some perspective, to gain some guidance and wisdom. Anyway, one morning, I skipped going to the retreat and instead went for a walk. I walked out of the hotel and just wandered until I saw a very curious and old looking domed structure that seemed to be pretty close...So keeping my eyes on it, I walked and took turns that brought me closer until I was there -- at The Mission. I couldn't believe such a place existed in California -- to me history here only went as far back as the Hollywoodland sign. But this place was more like something you'd see in Europe -- it was breathtaking, so I went inside and found that there were not only ruins there, but an ancient old chapel and to the side, a prayer room filled with kneeling people. At the front of the room there was a large book where people could go and write down their prayers.

I sat in that room for a long time, watching the people as they approached the book, feeling such an intimacy that the strangers turned into people I couldn't help but love -- love them for their courageous act of going forward and putting themselves out there, exposing their deepest hopes and pains, even their tears, on paper. It was truly inspiring -- so after shaking off an irrational embarrassment (what if someone I knew came inside and saw me? what if people knew I was weak and frightened and sad?) I went up and poured out my deepest prayers. I won't go into the specifics, but I laid them all out there...

I returned this year, like the sparrows, to the place where I had once found shelter from a storm. And this time, just three years later, I walked into that little chapel, and went up to the book to write a new prayer -- Thank you. Because in putting myself out there, I let go of fear and grasped onto hope. In looking down at my own writing and seeing the true desires of my heart, I somehow opened myself up to the possibility of them, and that day I truly began to believe the scripture that says "with God all things are possible..."


  1. This is an AWESOME posting, sweet KaraMcD...for me it is an allegory of the central theme of our soon to be published new book, The Prayer Directed LIfe. What I mean is this: Consider that what you first wrote in that book were not "prayers", but instead were "petitions" - an essential, but not most important, element of prayer. If you will allow that for a Christian, "prayer" and "praying" is about communicating with God (with an emphasis on LISTENING), then your first writing in the book just opened the lines of communications. It's what you did between the time you walked out of there and the time you returned to write "Thank You" three years later that truly defines prayer, and made for a successful outcome. First you believed that "with God all things are possible..."; then, you regularly made time to be alone with the Father and to communicate with Him; and finally, you acted on what you believed to be His suggestions and promptings, as He guided you through the different areas of your life, and provided the answers for your petitions. It saddens my heart to think of those who wrote down their petitions and walked out of there just hoping for the best or humming "Que Sera, Sera"...for that is not the way it is meant to be; or for those whose requests are answered, but who never return to write "Thank You", as they give credit for their miracle or good fortune to something or someone else. I am reminded of the event Luke tells about in the 17th chapter of his gospel account where 10 lepers called out to Jesus from a distance as He passed on the way to Jerusalem to "have mercy on them." He told them to go show themselves to the priests. On the way, they were all healed. One of them, seeing that he had been cleansed, turned back and with a loud voice began glorifying God; and he went back to where Jesus was and fell on his face before Him and began giving thanks. Jesus looked at him and said to His disciples "Where there not ten? But where are the other 9? Is this the only one to return and give glory to God?" Then he told the man to go his way, because "YOUR FAITH has made you whole." Bet that made his joy complete!

  2. I loved the mission. And the swallow ;). But most of all, I loved being there as your husband. Thanks for sharing it with me, wifey!


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