The Fatima Shrine

I walked onto the grounds of The Fatima Shrine holding my new camera and with my old trusty automatic in my pocket. Still unsure of which setting and lens to use on my new camera, my old friend the automatic comes in handy. At first glance, the gardens were magnificent. I could smell the freshly cut grass on this balmy overcast day. There were a few blue bits in the sky, but hardly enough to promise a nice day. Tall poles holding speakers played music to set the mood for worship. The scene so totally inspired me that my burdens already began to feel light.

When I was little I was raised Catholic, and I went to a wonderful school in Rockefeller Centre, New York called St. Agnes Cathedral. To me it was totally romantic, I loved Christ even then and the mass was in Latin in those days. You had to follow so closely in your missal to know what was being said in mass. I loved singing Ave’ Maria and all the traditions involved in being in church. I loved that old cathedral; with it’s stained glass windows and beautiful cathedral ceiling with huge beams hanging above. The stone floors made noise when you walked along the hard floors, and rows and rows of benches or church pews lined with prayer books, missals held special rails to kneel down and pray. I would get to school early every day so that I could go to mass before classes. The nuns wore traditional habbits and they taught all the classes. I remember Sister James Veronica and her freshly starched white, white sleeves, her tiny face showing beyond the massive white covering and black robes. Rosary beads hung alongside her garb and they would make lovely sounds as she glided down the halls of the school. I loved her and I loved the Mother Superior, who was the head of the school. Her face was angelic and it almost glowed with her spiritual grace.

Today my walk with Christianity is a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. I attend a church called Grace Chapel, home of over 2500 members, a biblical based church alive in Christ. In my lifetime I have attended Catholic, Lutheran, Protestant, Non-Denominational, Episcopalian (Church of Christ), Baptist, and Charismatic churches. I am most comfortable amongst churches like Grace Chapel, but my love of worship prefers the ceremony of the Episcopalian and Catholic services. I still adore my rosary beads and I love all forms of worship in all religions. While living in Hong Kong I was blessed with a friend named Jaya who was a Hindu from India. We would get together in her home in Kowloon enjoy a meal together and she would teach me about her food and we taught each other about our worship, but spoke of one God. My friend Neaera from Sri Lanka taught me about Buddhism. We would sit in her home surrounded by furniture and objects from Sri Lanka and she would teach me about her religion, traditions and fascinating culture. The warmth of spirituality lives in anyone’s commitment to God, not matter what their path. I read the Bible daily and adore studying, just as I did as a child, anything and everything to do with our Lord. I believe that our worship path should feel comfortable, like putting on a comfortable cloak. A set of traditions and a building does not form the true setting of worship. It is simply a state of mind; we can worship amongst a congregation or alone on a beach, a bench in a beautiful garden or on our couch in our living room. The importance, I believe is in the praise, being mindful (which I learned from Neaera) and meditating often (which I learned from Jaya) and brought into remembrance by a focal point (which I learned from the Catholic church) that we be still and listen to that still small voice within.

The Fatima Shrine had been beckoning me for some time now. Driving by, yesterday I thought well today is the day I can use some extra meditation. I brought my cameras so that I could photograph the statues for a painting I am working on, and for sheer enjoyment. The walk was beautiful and the mood of the gray day against the magnificent greenery spelled serenity. Benches were everywhere, and I always associate them with meditation. They were appropriately in place on this huge land of meditation grounds. Each bench was dedicated to someone’s Beloved. There were benches made of marble and stone, new benches in wood with green wrought iron trim, and old battered wooden benches that had been there for a very long time.

At the center of the garden was a hill with stone steps to climb. At the top of the hill was a beautiful set of sculptures. Jesus on the cross and beneath Him was several figures alongside Mary, all in different poses at his feet. I quickly photographed the folds in the stone robes to use as models for my painting. I stood there for a long while in the quiet of the moment and felt so fortunate to know the meaning of being a Christian. To me the church is so romantic in it’s traditions and forms of worship.

Back down the hill, I walked down different paths that were named for different forms of worship. From the bottom of the hill I could make out a series of huge rocks each connected by a very large blue chain, like the ones they use for a ship’s anchor. I walked closer behind the hill where I could see the anchor that lay just beneath the back of the Stone Cross. As I walked passed each rock I could see that the words to Ave’ Marie were written on a plaque. Each rock held a similar plaque only the words were written in different languages. Each rock was linked together with these huge chains all connecting back to the cross. It was quite dramatic and powerful in its message. Further along there were other statues of angels giving communion to children, and the Virgin Mary standing before the children of Fatima. It was all so lovely, and such a worship just to be there.

Well, it is so lovely to embrace our devotions, no matter what we believe or what church or temple we attend. To worship is the important thing, to praise God and to thank Him for walking with us in this crazy world. I love lighting candles but my current church does not practice that tradition. So I always enjoy visiting the Catholic Church from time to time because I think that it is totally lovely and symbolic. To kneel at an Altar in front of a statue of our Lord in front of rows and rows of lit candles, listening to melodies of nuns worshipping is what is heaven inspired, I am sure.

I photographed what my eye fancied and stopped occasionally for a talk with the Lord. I lit three candles, at the grotto and said prayers, meditated and left. This is a spot I believe I will frequent often this season. I understand it is beautifully lit at Christmas as well, with wonderful Christmas music playing. Music is important in life…I think that since we all walk through life with our own script it only seems fitting that we should also have a music score, like they do in the movies. The song playing now is Ave’ Maria by a choir of Benedictine Nuns, isn’t that perfect? Why, we almost could be in that sweet little convent that Maria, from the Sound of Music was in, when she was hiding from being in love with the Captain, do you Remember?

I am so glad I stopped to spend time with the Lord and to add an extra dose of worship to an otherwise dreary day. It is so nice to realize how He walks with us through life, I just think that He has given me so many blessings that I need to give him the gift of worship. I just want to thank Him in my own way, like those nuns singing can do with their lovely voices. Some days just being mindful is enough…noticing Him in the things around me. I had arrived at The Fatima Shrine toting two cameras a few burdens and anything but a mindful mood. Leaving the grounds, my burdens were left at the foot of the cross, where they belong, my cameras were full of wonderful images (which I hoped were in focus), my heart felt full and my attention was no longer on me, but on my beautiful Savior.

"May we walk along the right paths, for I know how delightful they really are." Psalm 119:35
Kathleen said...

Such a nice visit you had today, I am envious! A very peaceful place it seems and perfect for prayer and meditation.
I certainly do remember that scene in the Sound of Music, after all, that is my all time favorite movie!

Kathleen said...

That certainly was a wonderful visit you had today, Karen! Such a peaceful place and so appropriate for prayer and meditation.

I certainly do remember that scene in the Sound of Music, after all, that is my all time favorite movie!

Teri C said...

After reading this I need to say, "thanks for the memories". What a beautiful place to pray and meditate.

I was also raised Catholic (and still am) and have so many of those same early memories.