Europe Day 6: Divine Guidance, Prayerful Procession, & the Song of Lourdes
Saturday, September 30
Travel Day! We ended yesterday walking around the city of Bath, having tea at the Pump Room at the Roman Baths and exploring more of the sites such as the notable The Royal Crescent and Pulteney Bridge. I've fallen in love with this ancient city, and with its picturesque architecture, English charm, and historical resonance, is it any wonder? Back at the house we had Indian takeaway and packed for our week-long sojourn to France.
We must have angels guiding us along this journey because travel has been so incredibly smooth. Somehow, we bypassed long lines, breezed through security and passport control, and even made an earlier-than expected train from Toulouse to Lourdes. I'm convinced traveling is my adrenaline rush--every time I watch our take-off out the plane windows, I get giddy and smiley and ready for whatever adventure comes next.
I didn't expect much out of today. Actually, to be perfectly honest, I don't know if I really expected much out of Lourdes. When the seed of this dream was planted years ago, I knew it was because I always wanted to come back to France, knew I wanted to deepen my spirituality, and knew that I wanted to visit Glastonbury as part of that quest. But that was it. The idea of Lourdes came not in a flash of inspiration but a quiet whisper as I was looking at the map of France and deciding where to go. For some reason, I kept getting drawn to it, and though I knew of its connection to Mother Mary, I didn't understand its connection to myself or the call that was rising within my soul.
The town of Lourdes isn't what I expected, either, if I were to have had any expectation at all. There are dozens of souvenir shops boasting trinkets from Mother Mary statues to cheap rosaries to plastic jugs to fill with the Grotto's Holy Water--the reason tens of thousands of pilgrims converge on this small town in Southwest France each year. These souvenir shops are a brightly-lit contrast to the ancient history of the town, with its fortress and winding cobblestone streets and basilica. My friend and I remarked on this more than once...
We arrived on the train from Toulouse at around 7:30 in the evening and got a taxi to our hotel away from the bustle of the center of town. Near the river, our hotel and room is situated beneath the walled fortress and a looming tower. When I booked the hotel, I had looked for one close to the grotto, not knowing how the town was positioned or how close it would actually be. Turns out, we're in a quieter part of town, and the sanctuary is a five minute walk right over the bridge.
After checking in, we went around the corner to a cafe in search of food. While we waited (and waited) for someone to take our order, Luna did a bit of research and mentioned that every night at 9pm there's what's known as the Torchlight Procession (also known as the Candlelight Procession or the Marian Procession). Bearing candles, participants meet at the Grotto and walk in procession, chanting prayers and singing the Ave Maria of Lourdes. Not knowing how close it was, Luna and I made a mental note to check it out the next night, but a few minutes later we heard the echo of a song coming from across the river. We decided to abandon our dinner plans (having still not yet ordered) and walked across the bridge.
That's when we saw people gathering with candles beyond the open sanctuary gates directly in front of us. We chose a spot nearby to watch, and as the crowd moved slowly closer--an illuminated statue of Mother Mary leading the way--I immediately began to cry.
I don't know if it was the unity of everyone coming together--the holiness and communion of it all. I don't know if it was the sight or the sound that was touching something forgotten in my heart. Maybe it was all of it. I was overwhelmed and emotional, not shedding one simple tear but full-on silent sobbing as the music, the prayer, the candlelight, and the ritual all converged into a stirring within me, like something remembered from long, long ago. I felt so connected to Mother Mary, to the Divine, to myself, to all these people in this place, in this moment...
But I still didn't understand it, this feeling inside of me. I was still searching for some understanding for why I was here, for why I was so moved. I was still hoping my purpose here would reveal itself.