The first few mornings in Peru, the roosters next door woke me up. There was what sounded like a field full of them next door, a whole tribe, saluting the sun hours before it would arrive. We were up at five and off to the chapel for morning prayers. Then back to bed — lucky for me, it took me a long time to realize that 5-6am was supposed to be private prayer time in our rooms, not nap time — and up again for Mass at 6.
I loved that chapel. On the apse was a fresco, all in blue and white, of Jesus ascending to the Father, the earth already too far behind to be seen; but on another wall was a crucifix, large as life and almost as bloody. When I came to Brother Pedro on Good Friday, crushed and bewildered by I-didn’t-know-what, with no words to explain even if I could have spoken the language by then, he told me to tell it to Jesus — not the Jesus in the fresco, with his clean white robes, but the other one.
After Mass, breakfast — I savored those rolls and the cheese and the overripe fruit, and Lord, the terrible instant coffee — and the Rosary, which before long I proudly learned to say in Spanish. Then an hour or two of chores before our first session of Adoration.
A lot can happen in two hours of sitting still. It wasn’t uncommon for someone to burst into tears, quiet or loud; or to suddenly blossom into a grin, goofy or beatific, lit from the inside; or to jerk up suddenly from sleep, slamming the prayer book in his lap and then looking around sheepishly. Brother Pio always fell asleep, and always snored.
Lunch, more Adoration, more chores; time for recreation, time to visit the neighbors, time to say Mass at the village down the road; time for Vespers, time for study, time for Compline, time for sleep. A week in, and I was sick with longing for anything familiar. A month in, and I never wanted to be anywhere else. Three months, and I was ready to come down from the mountaintop.
And here I am again, deep in the valley, four(!) years later. For three months after those three months in Peru I walked several inches above the ground, knowing I was changed forever.
Was I changed? Am I? Is it possible to lose what so real a God has given? Or maybe the giving, like Creation, is not a single event, but something that never stops: the memory dissolving endlessly in the abyss of my heart, spreading its colors, miles below every ripple.