Gratitude journal
three good things

Jul 20, 2019

Heading home

I’m on the train. I’ve finished writing up my journal and I have time for reflection on the long journey North into Paris. What to ask myself? Have I made a difference to others? Have I made a difference to myself? Have I always been at the best I am able to be? Have I made others happy and achieved my own happiness in the process? Have I developed personally? What have I to be grateful for?

The last is easy to answer. A huge amount, as my earlier posts testify.

The others are difficult questions to answer because my gut reaction is negative. However, the comments I get back seem to indicate the opposite. Its true that I received grateful thanks from the APs on my section in the St Frai and from others.

It’s also very true that I felt more accepted this year, both by Ampleforth,  Lourdes and Our Lady. Maybe people are more used to me (or I am more used to them); however, I would like to think that it’s also because I want to contribute all that I can to the pilgrimage.

I know its bad to look back and have regrets, but I cannot help thinking about what would have happened to my spiritual life if I had returned to Lourdes much earlier after my first pilgrimage in 1973. Lourdes has opened my eyes to the diversity, power and strength of the Catholic community and I can’t help feeling that had I taken a greater interest in the pilgrimage in those early days my faith and ability to contribute to the Church would be far greater today, all those years later.

This is a potentially destructive feeling and I must let go of it, and just take pleasure in those I have met, the things I have done in the moment.

However, I have also had the absolute joy of watching how Lourdes brings people together, is a source of deep compassion, kindness and goodness, and this is one reason why Ampleforth must survive and thrive.

On the train, admittedly listening to Florence Welch singing about the Queen of Peace, I find myself in tears. I find it difficult to put my finger on why. Is it because of the huge joy and compassion and fortitude I have witnessed during the week? Or is it because of the pain and suffering I have witnessed?  Maybe its the sadness of all those good-byes catching up at last. Or is it for some darker, unfathomed self-centred reason?  Honestly, I don’t know. I do remember, though, feeling much the same as I returned to Yorkshire on the train after my first pilgrimage in 1973. I dare not even think about what that tells me. 

However, I also begin to realise I have been touched by faith and by Our Lady in a deeper way than on previous pilgrimages. Perhaps it’s just that, after spending nine weeks in Lourdes over the last six years I’ve grown accustomed to the place, more at home here and so more able to open my heart to its spirituality. I suspect, though, its also through having contact with those amazing people for whom their faith comes naturally; who are at ease with their faith and live their faith with joy, understanding and compassion. 

In her book The Case for God, Karen Armstrong lists the three things necessary for any religion. Compassion I get. Myth and ritual I get. But I’ve never had the faith to handle the last one, transcendency. Perhaps it’s getting to me at last.

Urged on by the desire to explore these feelings in more depth, I download Marina Warner’s Alone of all her Sex onto my Kindle (with gratitude for SNCF’s wifi). I first read this when it was published in 1976, just three years after my first Lourdes pilgrimage, and probably for the same reason. Exhaustion, emotion and the different directions the book takes me prevents me getting further than Warner’s preface to the 2012 edition. However, this is enough to rouse my interest even further and press not a few buttons.

Warner writes how the Marian message is one of help for those buffeted by reform, change and the pressures of modernity, and I get that. To read her description of Lourdes as ‘the most phenomenal sacred site of modern Christendom’ and of Our Lady as evolving into ‘a countercultural peace symbol’ mean much, as those who have participated in the Kiss of Peace at any of the masses in Lourdes will appreciate.

All in all, an uneventful return journey. Love the train, and the idea of coming down a day before and leaving a day after, so much more relaxing and no concerns if there are plenty of people at Stansted to help.

Wonderful Clang for having a bottle of rosé in the fridge on my return, and a lovely evening spent exchanging our news.

A Gratitude Journal is just a simple way of
recording and appreciating the good things in life.

Research shows that keeping a gratitude journal leads to
higher levels of alertness, happiness and positive emotions as well as
a stronger immune system, lower blood pressure and better sleep.

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