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Monday, November 13, 2017

My Pilgrimage to Chartres: Day 4

     Having been absolutely flattened by illness for the past several days, my reflections on the Chemin have gone by the wayside. But alas, today, I am actually able to crawl out from under the covers and put together a coherent thought or two so I will take up my reflections once again. My body is really sending a clear message...you are no longer in charge, I am. The point is well taken. I guess that's what happens when you can barely breath due to a severe throat infection, a cough that won't go away, headaches that cause near paralysis and fatigue that I have not known for years. This is indeed a season of paying attention to my physical self more than ever and trying to make sense of what feels like an utter breakdown in strength.
     Breakfast on day 4 was a light affair, the tensions from the previous night had been washed away by mostly sound sleep. I slept the best I had in spite of waking up at 3.00 because my stomach was turning over. I was able to get back to sleep but in the meantime spent some middle of the night googling about what to do on a long hike when you have diarrhea. BRAT: Bananas, Rice, Applesauce, Toast. Toast was out so I went with the BRA option which was inspiring since bra means good in Swedish! Obviously cooked rice wasn't happening but rice/cereal cakes were a good, dry, tasteless option. I had some soda crackers and applesauce abounds in France in little single size containers that are easy to carry. As we prepared for the day, there was much optimism. ONLY 10 MILES TODAY! What joy that thought brought us. Our verse for the day was centered on gratitude. Quite simply, Colossians 4:2 was a good word: Devote yourselves to prayer, keeping alert in it with thanksgiving. Emily asked us for one word that states what we are thankful for. Mine was recovery. I was amazing each morning at how different my body felt. The body longs to be well, to heal, to do what it is supposed to do. It was amazing to find new strength for each day. After a good stop at the grocery store to get our lunch provisions, we were off to tackle a new day.
     The walk out of Rambouillet was decidedly more wonderful than the walk in. There is a large Chateau there so we were able to skirt along the grounds. The sun was glorious, the trees were beautiful and all in all, it was just a very refreshing morning. I was cautiously optimistic that watching my diet and drinking plenty of water might fend off the dreaded "poop in the woods" that I'm sure all hikers fear. In addition to forests and trees, there were wide open fields that filled my soul with strength. There is something so soothing about the wide open spaces especially when you live in a city.
     Before we knew it really, we had come upon this most lovely of villages and decided it was a perfect place for lunch. I was a little bummed that my lunch was so tasteless that day but granted, utterly grateful that I wasn't struggling along the way. This stop was so refreshing in every way. Warm sunshine, beautiful water, soothing scenery...it was hard to leave. But upon leaving, we knew that we only had a few more hours and then we'd have lots of free time. Kim had assured us that the Priory where we were staying that night was also awesome so we were excited to know that comfort awaited us.
     How was I doing? Overall, pretty well. I had gotten to a very comfortable place with my feet in terms of getting them wrapped up and secured from further blistering. My hip wasn't really bothering me at all. I was happy that I realized that switching out the insoles mid-walk was actually helpful for my overall comfort and the conversations and times of quiet that I was having were all quite enjoyable. Nice to have such an easy day after feeling the struggle more dramatically in the past. I purposefully warded off thoughts of the 18 miles (28k) that awaited us on the next day. Today was about today's steps...just take care of that.
     Much sooner than we had expected, the signs for Épernon came into view. WHAT, we were already here?! There was much rejoicing. We had to walk through the village before we headed to the Priory so all were inclined to stop for refreshment. I had had a "solid" day so threw caution to the wind and ordered a beer! I needed the carbs and a little salt and so snacked on the potato chips that were in my bag. I would pay for this later but in the moment it was great!
     The church was beautiful with a scallop shell for a baptismal font. That will forever be etched into my mind with much deeper meaning than ever before whenever I see one. The other place many of us visited was the pharmacy to stock up on moleskin and other things that were needed as we faced the final day.
     Since we wanted to get an early start the next day, we also gathered our lunch provisions that afternoon. My friend Emily and I had spotted a bakery on our way in so went back down there to get sandwiches and pastries. Earlier in the walk, Emily had spotted what is called a Religieuse and ever since then, was waiting for her opportunity to have a religious experience. The funniest thing was that next to this in the case of this bakery, was a divorce...a half coffee, half chocolate delight that caught my eye. We were pretty loopy by then so laughed more than we should've at the joke that she was having a religious experience and I was getting a divorce. Both were delicious by the way, as we enjoyed a wonderful afternoon "fika" (still can't come up with a better word than this Swedish word for coffee and a little something) in the priory cafeteria.
     Signs of the shell appeared in many places. Soon we were at the Priory of Saint Thomas and we walked into their garden. This garden was like a haven of beauty and rest. It was so lovely. They greeted us with such warmth and hospitality. We all felt deeply ministered to. For this one night we had our own rooms with space and time to re-pack, re-arrange what we needed/wanted for the long haul to Chartres the next day. Dinner was served in a lovely dining room, where the atmosphere was just calm and inviting. One of the women in our group, the oldest of all at 72, someone who had lived in France for nearly 30 years, treated us to some good red wine. All in all, the end of day 4 was such a gift. The gift of hospitality is not to be overlooked. Weary people being received in a gracious and generous manner is a gift that we should look to offer when we can. Being on the receiving end was amazing. (The priory is open to the public. You can book space there for a personal retreat or some private time. If you find yourself wanting this and in the vicinity, I could not recommend it more).
     The Examen was a joy-filled, quiet time, each one more grateful for the day than not. Not too many lows today. Eager/nervous anticipation for the morrow was certainly present in all of us. Rain was forecast. But we were somehow ready to face whatever we needed to in order to complete the pilgrimage. We all somehow knew we'd make it. Perhaps we wondered what the obstacles to overcome would be. But overcome them we would.