Lenten Meditation in a Mission Garden

Mission San Juan Bautista

There’s a need, a hunger that sounds an alarm, that prompts a longing to put on the brakes. It’s a need for quiet and peace that comes on strong from time to time, a need to stop. These are moments when I pull off life’s highway, steer away from the present and follow history to a contemplative spot, walk with hands clapsed behind my back, head bowed like a Mission Padre. Times when I need to steep myself in prayer energy to renew my spirit and regain my balance.

On a rainy Wednesday, just before closing time, I recently slipped into Mission San Juan Bautista to walk the adobe floors, worn from the footfalls of the faithful since 1797, and stood alone before the dusty reliquary, mute, a servant waiting for the spirit. I breathed the incense of the nave and prayed among the painted sanctuary and reredos, let the vision of squirming infants come to me in the baptistery’s chill, knelt before the flickering votives in the Blessed Sacrament Chapel and prayed for grace.

In a pew at the front of the nave, a young man dressed in T-shirt and jeans sat barefoot, stroking a black cat on his lap, blue plastic child’s rosary draped lopsided on his head. Watching me, watching me with dark, disturbed eyes. Refugio, refugio. Solace. We alone, took sanctuary that day, found the comfort that soothes the tortured soul.

I wrapped my camera under my jacket so as not to provoke him, moved on, slipped into the garden in search of the old mission well, in thirst for a peaceful moment.

Between 1769 and 1823, Spanish missionaries founded 21 missions along the California coast from San Diego to Sonoma. The missions are among the oldest surviving structures in the state and are in desperate need of restoration. With each passing year, without proper conservation, the missions will sink into disrepair.  The list of needs is long, from seismic retrofitting of mission structures to preservation of art and artifacts.

Sign on the seismograph at Mission San Juan Bautista.
The mission, 15th in the mission chain, sits on the San Andreas Fault
Seismograph
The California Missions Foundation is actively working to raise in excess of $50 million for a wide range of projects. To find out more about the foundation’s work and how you can help, go to www.californiamissionsfoundation.org. See you at the mission. You’ll find me in the garden.
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