I am delighted to share another beautiful submission to the Monk in the World guest post series from the community. Read on for Barb Morris’ reflection on the Hospital of the Soul.
This is a story of following hunches, nudges, and breadcrumbs dropped by the Holy Spirit.
I found El Hospital del Alma on a cold, rainy day on the Camino. El Hospital del Alma, “Hospital of the Soul,” is in Castrojeriz, along the Camino de Santiago, on the vast, interior Spanish plateau called the Meseta. The Camino Francés begins in the beauty of Navarra and Rioja among the Pyrenees, rolling hills, rivers, and vineyards. The Camino ends in the beauty of Galicia, with its mountain ranges, deep green fields, and rainbows. In between is the Meseta – arid, flat, monotonous, and seemingly endless.
The two weeks in May that we spent walking across the Meseta were unusually cold and wet.
El Hospital del Alma was a welcome refuge at the end of a long, wet slog of a day along muddy paths and rocky roads. Finding it was an accident. Most pilgrims walk through Castrojeriz unaware of El Hospital del Alma’s existence. After our usual post-walk showering and laundry routine, we went in search of our usual post-walk beer and tapas. I don’t remember now why we departed from the main route through Castrojeriz. Then, there it was – The Hospital of the Soul. I knew immediately that I needed this place, especially the sunroom with its glass ceiling, warm wood stove, quiet music, and soft furniture. The artist owner provided strawberries, cookies, and tea. Other pilgrims soaked in the gift of this house with its brightly painted rooms, bookshelves, colorful fabrics, and photographs.
And its warmth. Oh, its warmth.
My journal entry for that day reads, in part, “I have found my life’s work on day 16 of my Camino. This is surprising to me .… I’m constantly astounded these days – by how much I walk, by the beauty around me, by my strength …. I felt a total, complete soul hit the moment I walked in here …. My ‘job’ is to create a space like this – art, photography, poetry, books, funky simple beauty – to open it to people who need it. Who crave it like I am craving it. This makes no intellectual sense.”
As a step in following my soul’s irrational guidance, I now offer regular Hospital del Alma opportunities. I provide tea and cookies as retreatants arrive and settle in. We open our time with community Lectio Divina. (I use Abbess Christine’s book Lectio Divina as a guide.) After Lectio, some participants choose silence while others stay and talk. Then we come together for facilitated conversation about a specific topic, usually an outgrowth of Lectio. A simple soup and bread lunch ends our time together.
I continue to be surprised by our Hospital of the Soul. Here’s one example. Last month, rather than picking a piece of poetry or scripture based on a hunch or yearning as I usually do, I went “hard-core monastic” and used the gospel appointed for the day from the Episcopal Church’s daily lectionary readings. I consulted a reliable source, Forward Day by Day, for the reading, which was Matthew’s account of the feeding of the five-thousand (Matthew 14: 13 – 21).
One of our regular participants is a practicing Quaker. Another has a profound discomfort with organized religion. All of us have some qualms about church. There was a little unease in the room when I announced the text.
In Matthew’s account of this story, Jesus has just heard that Herod has beheaded John, and he goes away to a deserted place. The crowd, “about five thousand men, plus women and children,” gets wind of Jesus’ whereabouts, and they follow. What does Jesus do? I imagine him wiping away his tears and indulging in a sigh of exasperation before he gets to work. As Matthew puts it, Jesus “had compassion on them and cured their sick.” He teaches and heals. And then he feeds the people. Or, rather, he tells his disciples to feed the people.
When our group listens deeply to a text in the container of Lectio, we typically hear different things. Last month, however, we all heard variations on the same theme. We are, here in the United States, living with a government doing brutal things. We were just beginning to learn of our president’s policy to separate children from their parents at our southern border. Our take-away, to a woman, was that in the face of evil acts, our task is to stay faithful to our calling – to teach, heal, and feed. To choose compassion and generosity, over and over again, just as Jesus did. Like Jesus, we wanted to withdraw to a deserted place. And, following Jesus, we will instead respond to the needs of a hurting world, trusting in the sufficiency and mercy of God.
Here’s another surprise. Forward Day by Day had the wrong gospel listed that day. They were a week early with Matthew’s feeding of the five thousand. It’s the only time I’ve known the editors to make an error.
The reading was incorrect, and the reading was perfect for us.
My husband’s desire to walk the Camino led me to El Hospital del Alma, which led to gatherings of women seeking a healing space for themselves and others, which led to deep reading in community Lectio. Holy breadcrumbs, followed faithfully, lead to healing and wholeness for us as individuals and for the world in which we live.
Barb Morris is a life coach, teacher, and retreat facilitator living in Bend, Oregon with her Episcopal priest husband. They walked the Camino de Santiago in 2014, and the trails of Central Oregon as often as they can. Connect with her at www.barbmorris.com.