Our summer travels included a first-ever visit to Spain, a country which first caught my attention in high school Spanish classes. By virtue of our daughter’s summer internship in Madrid, we were eager to spend a dozen days in the land whose global influence endures particularly in a language that now ranks second worldwide only to Mandarin in numbers of native speakers.
We found the capital, a city of over 4 million, easy to navigate by means of a world-class Metro subway system, and with the assistance of eager-to-help residents whose Spanish I found generally much easier to grasp than the various accents and dialects encountered in my Latin American travels. Among Madrid’s many highlights are the renowned Prado and Reina Sofía art museums, many architecturally striking edifices, plenty of parks and green spaces, and first-rate theater, including a production of “Los Miserables” we took in one delightful summer evening. Even more than the Big Apple of New York City, it might be said of Madrid that it’s a city that never sleeps. With the customary dinner hour for natives just getting started around 10 p.m., the din of conversation, song and revelry four floors beneath our central city hotel window did not wind down until somewhere around sunrise. We felt blessed by double-paned windows that kept noise levels tolerable and enabled us to get a good night’s sleep.
A half-day side trip to the historic city of Toledo, first capital of the ancient Spanish empire, included a tour of its fascinating cathedral, whose grounds in succession held worship sites for Muslims, Jews and Christians. But it was on our final full day “in country” that both Pamela and I stood with mouths agape, uttering hushed “wows” as we stood beneath the towering ceiling of the Sagrada Familia basilica in the coastal city of Barcelona. This famous place of worship and artistic wonder conceived and designed by pioneering “modernisme” architect Antoni Gaudí, is difficult to describe in words; its breath-taking beauty cannot be captured until one stands before and beneath awe-inspiring arches taking in the sweep of the Christian story told in its thousands of carvings, paintings, windows, and other wonders.
Beyond the sheer beauty of Gaudí’s city-block-sized masterpiece and tribute to human creativity, I was captivated by its testimony to patient persistence on the part of thousands of artists and craftspersons who have worked for more than a century and a third thus far. Those currently at work on the still-unfinished Holy Family church project its completion date at somewhere around 2040 or so, long after many of them will no longer be among the living. Legend and lore have it that many over the decades have ventured the prophecy that when Gaudi’s Sagrada Familia is finally finished, the world will end! That’s probably as reliable a prediction as others we have heard of late on the part of some contemporary rapture-prophets who by now should find themselves more than a little embarrassed by their miscalculations.
Members of my family and those who work closely with me will vouch for the fact that I am not always among the world’s most patient people. I like to get things done, check them off my list, and see others respond with equal dispatch—according to my timeline! I quickly grow restless waiting in lines or traffic jams. Here at the Seminary, I sometimes grow a bit frustrated when projects take much longer than I think they should. Fund-raising for our many worthy endeavors often goes more slowly than we would hope; years of cultivation and encouragement are typically required in order to instill the confidence required on the part of individual donors, foundations and others by whose generosity we are enabled to carry out our mission. Compared to the two-century-long project of Sagrada Familia in Barcelona, however, our timelines and my internal stopwatch are insignificant and minor league.
Many things of lasting value simply take a long time to bring into being. A process of theological education and spiritual formation takes years; indeed it is life-long. Let that be a gentle reminder to this fall’s new and returning students who often grow impatient and restless somewhere toward the end of the fall semester. For all of us who grow impatient when things move slowly and we grow weary: may we cast our eyes to Sagrada Familia and take the long view espoused by a wise sage who observed, “we live in the ages.”
Photos: Pamela Cooper-White