December 21, 2010

La Sagrada Familia - Guest Article

Mary Ann lives in Northern Virginia and loves singing and spending time with friends and family.

I'm obsessed with travel. I just can't seem to stop. When a place enters my mind's curiosity, and I can't shake the thought of it, I decide to go there. Seems a bit irrational, but this is how it happens. One of the ideas I had, just last year, was to go and explore Spain. I heard Barcelona was one of the best cities to visit. I was also intrigued by the Alhambra Palace in Granada, and sunny Seville in the southern region of AndalucĂ­a. Other friends had traveled to these places, and promised me I would not be disappointed. So I trusted them, and my intuitive leanings, and began to plan a trip based on these three cities.

Jumping ahead, I want to tell the story of something that happened while I was in Barcelona that I’ve pondered many times since. Here’s an excerpt from a letter I sent to a friend about the trip:

Barcelona was a whirlwind. I loved many things about it, but I think I have to say my favorite thing there was La Sagrada Familia, an unfinished cathedral designed by Antoni Gaudi (a celebrated "genius" architect who designed many surrealist modernsimo type of buildings in Barcelona).

It was the end of a hot-as-Hades midsummer day that we visited La Sagrada Familia, and our feet were in pain from far too much walking. I went here for no other reason than that many people had told me it was incredible, possibly the most important thing to see in Barcelona, and I trusted them. But I never really looked into WHY it was supposed to be incredible.

At first glance, there were some statues carved into the back facade of the cathedral where we entered that I was too tired to understand (but later realized were scenes from the last days of Christ's life, including Judas kissing him on the cheek in betrayal). I was cranky at the beginning of the visit, because they charged us 11 Euros to go inside, and it just looked like a construction site within - nothing to see, in my myopic opinion at the time. It was a lot of workers cutting plaster, huge drapes of plastic covering most of the inside. I hardly even noticed how enormous the place was. This happens when you’ve seen too many European cathedrals.

Then Darci told me she wanted to wait in this "90 minute" line to take the elevator to the top. Why should we go to the top, I thought (again, with crankiness)? I was anticipating it would only be a view of the city, and I thought I had already seen plenty of views. I was too hot and sticky and tired, and couldn't believe they were going to charge ANOTHER 2.50 Euro to ride this elevator to see who-knows-what.

The line turned out to move a little faster than 90 minutes, but then when we exited the elevator, there was a very narrow concrete stairway winding up to the top, with tiny slits for windows and light. I was trying not to pass out from claustrophobia (apparently claustrophobia was a problem for me this trip, since Darci said I woke up in the middle of one night in a panic saying I felt trapped).

When we got to the top, there was this TINY walkway (which should have fit three people, but had about seven) where you could see a view of Barcelona. It seemed to me that no one knew which direction to go, or what exactly we were trying to see. They were all stepping on top of each other selfishly, fighting to see the ‘who-knows-what.’ I was struggling to stay sane. It turned out that was all it was; you could have a partial view down to the city of Barcelona. Then you take an elevator on the other side to go back down. A near 90 minutes of suffering, which brought me to another point of more suffering. (I’m fairly sure Darci had a different experience here.)

It was after all this that we were about to leave, when Darci said, “Wait, I thought there was a nativity scene somewhere.” A nativity scene? Really? I’ve seen a few of those in my day. She could see that I was almost at the end of my rope, so she offered to leave and not look for it. She'd seen pictures previously anyway. I was completely ready to leave, but in a moment of clarity realized I couldn’t be so selfish, and she deserved my patience. I came to my senses, gathered a few more ounces of strength, and said, “We've traveled across the world, we can probably walk a few more steps to see what this is.”

And that is just what we did. What we discovered was glorious. It gives me goosebumps just to think about it. In the center of this massive facade of the cathedral was a sculpture of Joseph and Mary holding the baby Jesus. To the left, there were sculptures of the three wise men; to the right, there were the shepherds. Above, there were angels playing trumpets pointed in all different directions. There were other angels above this, and doves, and many other scenes from the birth of Christ. The grand scale on which these scenes were sculpted just about knocked me over with the spirit. I had to keep stepping backward to take it all in. I'm not sure I can do it any justice with words, but let me just say I can assure you that Gaudi had a testimony of Jesus Christ.

I think back to this experience often, and reflect upon the joy that I felt when taking in this grand and impressive nativity scene. We stayed there for some time, soaking in the brilliance and beauty, and it brought us peace. I’m not sure I ever had a more spiritually stunning and inspiring experience while travelling. The thing I reflect upon most is the attitude consuming me before deciding to view the Nativity facade of La Sagrada Familia. I was tired, uncomfortable, and almost a little bit crazy. I was quite sure that I had no patience left, and that I was finished. I felt frustrated that so many had led me to this silly place that had nothing in it for me.

As I’ve looked back on this event, I’ve related it to several different life experiences. There are many times of impatience, frustration, and even darkness, when we do not see the glorious, radiant prize that is just around the corner. My hope is to remember this. My hope is to trust that when I am promised an amazing blessing, it will happen. No matter how much patience it requires to get there, I will find that goodness. I may have obstacles or diversions, claustrophobic stairs that only lead to an unimpressive view, plastic tarps and sawdust when I was expecting stained glass and ornate carvings, my own pride, indolence, or blindness. But the promises will be fulfilled. Just having a small taste of this kind of reward helps me not to turn away too early. I anxiously await unlocking the key to the treasure-house of the many blessings I’ve been promised. And someday, I hope to look back with much gladness that I kept the faith.


  1. Beautiful post. Thanks, Mary ann.

  2. Thank you,Mary Ann. I needed to hear this tonight.

  3. Mary Ann, I loved having this experience with you even with the sweat, tears, tired feet, and waiting.