An Oasis for the Soul | Refreshment, Light and Peace
By Br Pablo Rodríguez Jordá OP | In our new Lenten series, the student brothers invite you to discover those places that have become ‘oases’ in their spiritual journey, significant places in their lives where they withdraw to encounter God. Today, Br Pablo writes about a house in the countryside where he spent a considerable part of his childhood…
Decades ago now, my grandparents won the lottery. For several years, my grandfather had assiduously collected and followed up these coupons that came with one of the daily papers, and which had to be checked against the winning numbers. Then, one day, the numbers matched. As I was growing up, I always believed that it was this stroke of luck that had enabled them to fulfil one of their dreams – buying themselves a house in the countryside. Yet long afterwards I discovered that the total sum was actually rather modest; that the greatest satisfaction had been a brief mention in the local newspaper; and that, after all, the house had already been acquired by that point, and only after much diligence and austere saving throughout the years.
I like this anecdote because it conveys the sense I have always had that there is something special about this little house in the countryside. Some of my earliest memories come from spending the summer there: planting potatoes and tomatoes in the orchard, running around fields covered with poppies and bugs of all kinds, gathering and cracking pine nuts from the windfallen pine cones on the ground. My favourite spot was in fact a hammock that hung between two colossal pine trees, where I would spend hours reading or simply enjoying the sound and smell of the afternoon breeze. I was probably in my late teens when I took the picture that heads this post.
I was not particularly ‘religious’ at that time, but I now recall some of those moments of leisure, intellectual discovery, and sheer childhood joy as God’s own gentle presence in my early years. The book of Genesis, in wonderful mythical imagery, speaks of God walking around the Garden of Eden at the hour of the fresh afternoon breeze. When the faithful departed, those who ‘sleep the sleep of peace’, are remembered during the Canon of the Mass, the priest asks that they should be granted a locum refrigerii, lucis et pacis: ‘a place of refreshment, light and peace’. Anyone who has ever been in a Mediterranean country during a hot summer day can see how a place with light, fresh water (refrigerium) and repose could become the proper expression of all good living for the early Church, and by extension, of the place where we are ‘recreated’ – the counterpart of the original Garden of Creation.
Needless to say, I haven’t visited my grandparents’ country house for a considerable time, and will only seldom do so in the future, especially since I only go to the city, where my family live, during my brief sojourns in Spain. Besides, I have been in Britain for so long that I have even grown unaccustomed to the climate of my home town: the heat feels somewhat oppressive and makes me miss the ‘crispness’ of British weather. Although this little country house has proved very useful for my grandparents to be outdoors during the pandemic, they are now of an advanced age and cannot get there without my mother or my aunt’s assistance. The visits have become less frequent and they usually reveal a new crack here or a new leak there. The weeds have taken over the orchard and there is no more planting of potatoes or tomatoes. As time passes and my grandparents’ energies wane, things will only continue this way.
Yet this little house has always stayed with me as a translucent memory of what it means to be at leisure, almost as a place to return no matter where I am. If anyone is looking for some Lenten reading, I would strongly suggest Tolkien’s short story, Leaf by Niggle, where this is illustrated much better than I could ever put it: a story about the human longing for a place where nothing withers – not a make-believe place, but a place we come to know already in this life, especially in the moments when we are truly happy, truly at peace, moments that seem to ‘burst the fabric of reality’, so to say, and grant us a glimpse, through the cracks, of a beautiful land where there is light, refreshment and peace; moments that awaken in us a thirst for eternity, and that nothing in this world can quench.
All the posts from the series An Oasis for the Soul:
- Introduction, by Br Pablo Rodríguez Jordá, O.P.
- Refreshment, light and peace, by Br Pablo Rodríguez Jordá, O.P.
- A Place in the Sky, by Br Bede Mullens, O.P.
- Praying in a Museum, Reclaiming Sacred Art, by Br Albert Elias Robertson, O.P.
- Where Astronauts and Novices Sound Alike, by Br Francesco Lorenzon, O.P.