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.

11 Comments on “Heartland”

  1. Steves says:

    To suffer passes but to have suffered stays with you always. – Archbishop Sheen

    Dum Spiro, Spero! – While I breathe, I hope!

    The difference between a pig and a lamb is that a pig stays in the mud, a lamb does not!

    Happy Last Friday of Lent! Any lessons not yet learned from this Lenten Season will make one last attempt to be understood this week. Here is where we see if our “sparring sessions” have been taking root! Its cram week before finals! Its the last week before a tournament! Its the week to receive as much from God as He wishes to give to us and He is always generous! My main problem is that He and I differ on what makes a good gift! I usually come around to His understanding of why it was a good gift but only after I try to use it for everything else than what it was intended for.

    To suffer passes but to have suffered stays with you always. – Archbishop Sheen

    Dum Spiro, Spero! – While I breathe, I hope!

  2. Peter Shaw says:

    What a beautiful and moving account of a wonderful experience! Thank you, Steve.

  3. David D says:

    That last paragraph is pure prose, Steve. Thank you for your writing, it is truly a gift from God to your readers.

  4. Ron says:

    Thanks for sharing your story with us, Steve. This is part of what I like to call one’s personal salvation history.

    One of my favorite stories in the Gospels is that of the Transfiguration, when Peter, James, and John got a glimpse of the Lord in all his glory. An easily overlooked detail of that story is that Jesus and his companions descended the mountain, only to journey to Jerusalem and the Passion. So it with us, after a wonderful “mountaintop” experience we descend into the valley of our everyday lives and struggles. But we carry the memory of our times of special intimacy with the Lord, and these have the powerful ability to sustain us. Blessed are those who have such experiences, and blessed are those whose lives they touch.

  5. Greg says:

    Maybe not in the valley but on the hill, with the cross:

    The great hymn by Isaac Watts sums up the Wondrous Cross

    “When I survey the wondrous Cross on which the Prince of glory died, my richest gain I count but loss, and pour contempt on all my pride.”

    Will you believe he gave up his spirit when he had paid all you were to have received because of your sin, so that you will never have any debt with God, but the debt of love? Do you hear him say to you: “It is finished”?

    Were you there?

    Isaac Watts again:
    See from his head, his hands, his feet what grief and love flow mingling down; when did such love and sorrow meet, or thorns compose so rich a crown.

    Were all the realm of nature mine, that were a present far to small; love so amazing so divine demands my soul, my life, my all.

  6. Narcissus G says:

    Not to presume, but I think David D means that the last paragraph was pure poetry, not prose.

    Of course you were changed. Or as I used to say after my time in the seminary: ruined. But that passed too. The gift part is not really lost, it just gets misplaced among all the other things that command our attention. When life gets too heavy and overwhelming, the experience often sneaks up to surprise us, giving us a little time to breathe before we are called to move on. And we are called to move on. Twenty-five years on and I am not sure I still believe in “vocation,” but am continually awed when the feelings and experiences from that time ebb and flow in and out of me. Yes, I really was changed (but not in the ways I would have liked).

  7. Jamie says:

    Thanks for putting into beautiful words something I’ve not really been able to express. Looking back through my journal, I’m always struck with the thought that, man, Jesus and I have been really close in the past…did that actually happen? And how do I ignore, in a sense, a God who is so generous as to not only give us—constantly—Creation, but his very self?

  8. Kellie says:

    Lovely piece. But, not to change the subject (though clearly I’m about to), you’re right – argh, those Peruvian roosters! So many, so loudly, *so early*! I was in Peru (Pucallpa, mostly) for two weeks in 2004 with a choir group (I was in college), and by the second week, I was about ready to make some coq au vin.

  9. David D says:


    How about I meet you in the middle: pure, poetic prose?


  10. Owen says:

    I have stumbled across your blog only recently. I enjoy your posts. You are living my life although I wish I was “feeling fine” as much as you are. God bless you.

    1. Not all roses over here, either, brother. Keep on climbing; Easter is coming.

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