The Chapel

On Wednesday, we put the whole school, all 300 or so students, faculty, staff, even the cafeteria ladies, on buses and drove out of town for about an hour trip to Our Lady of Guadalupe Camp (OLOG) in eastern Oklahoma County. It’s cool to see the whole school get together and move to a place like that, especially for a retreat, to spend some time together outside the business of learning (at least regularly planned learning within the classroom). We?ve done it every year in early September, since the tragedy in New York and the Pentagon. The weather has always been gorgeous—not too hot, not too cold, and not too windy considering it’s Oklahoma.
At lunch/recreation time, I was feeling a little lonely as I walked around taking pictures of students and faculty. The pictures were for the yearbook staff since all of the students were busy having fun. I didn’t mind. It is a way to meet some of the new freshmen. Plus, some of the photos may get used in their senior video someday. OLOG also happens to be the place where we have nearly all of our Kairos retreats. The place holds a lot of emotionally loaded memories for me. (Some other posts about the Kairos retreat: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5.)
As I was walking around, I would look every now and then off in the direction of the chapel. The chapel is set off to the side of the camp on the edge of the woods. I wanted to go sit in it for a few moments of quiet time, but walking off by myself did not feel quite right. Finally near the end of the recreation time, as if to answer an unspoken prayer, David came up to me and asked if we could go to the chapel. (David was the person who asked me to attend my first Kairos retreat almost three years ago. A retreat that changed my life.)
It is a pretty little chapel, hewed from logs and lots of big windows along three of the walls. Nature makes itself present in this chapel. The cloudless, deep blue sky contrasted with the green trees outside and the warm, wooden texture of the log walls as David and I sat quietly and occasionally talked. It felt cozy and safe. The crucifix in this chapel is awesome. I have spent many hours at those retreats looking at it. The mixture of pain and agony and suffering juxtapositioned over the love and peace carved into the figure of Jesus creates a strange paradox to hold in your heart.
This little chapel holds many memories much like that crucifix—many happy, joyful memories and some sorrowful, painful memories. Almost two years ago, David took his first communion there after some 30 years from being separated from the church. Everybody in the chapel cheered and clapped when he stepped up to receive. My heart still smiles with joy in remembering that moment.
Last year, while the rest of the retreatants were busy inside, I saw Paulo, one of the adult team leaders, sit just outside the doorway with a senior girl and listen to this poor soul unload years of misery. It was a beautiful but painful scene, to see such pain and yet such mercy. Afterwards, when the retreatants had gone back to their cabins, Paulo came up to me and gave me a big bear hug, nearly squeezing the stuffing out me. He sobbed and thanked me for being there. It helped him release some of the emotions he had absorbed for her. The Holy Spirit was visibly present that night and my eyes still tear up just remembering it.
There are dozens of memories like those from that chapel, under that crucifix, from both ends of the spectrum, and nearly everything in between.
I am not complaining. I see it as the intersection of where the cup of sorrows meets the cup of joys. That’s the cup of life, and we all need to drink our cup down to the last drop to be fully and holy human. Looking back, a lot of healing has taken place in that chapel, or at least a lot of healing began there. Witnessing those events has changed me on the inside. It is suppose to change you. Only God can transform like that.
I cannot deal with all that pain and sorrow myself, and so I offer it up to Jesus, my friend, to help, to have mercy on those in pain.
Someone once wrote that gratitude is the leading edge of joy, and true joy only comes from passing through sorrow. Thank you Father. I feel joy somewhere deep inside my weary bones today, but I do not feel very happy on the surface. That’s okay, I know You are there, and I love You.

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