Work in Progress

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The boys and I arrived in soggy Barcelona last Thursday.  I arrived with three European sized suitcases and two happy children in tow all by my own self.  Brett had been there all week for a busy work conference and so we decided to take the kids out of school for a few days and crash Brett’s hotel room.   It’s one thing to family crash in a big hotel, but quite another in a forty room boutique hotel.  For example:  when your children insist on taking the scarce elevator upstairs to the first floor.  However, Brett has been a loyal customer of La Pratik Rambla for five consecutive years now and has sent a lot of Amazon business their way, so they were happy to make an exception allowing the four of us to stay in one room.  By the second day, they knew to up the resupply of toilet paper.  By the first two minutes, I knew it was a mistake to let the nine year old pack himself.    

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I intended to do some pre-work with the boys by having them research La Sagrada Familia, Antoni Gaudi’s famous Basilica.  I have a friend here in Luxembourg who has her kids write a brief synopsis on a site they plan to go visit in advance of the trip.  The thinking being that the more the kids know in advance, the more interested they’ll be when they see it in person.  It sounded like such a good idea (and it is a good idea), but in execution it felt a little like spiking the kids’ orange juice with Aloe Vera juice.  It was an obvious, medicinal “I know what’s good for you” overture.  Extra, unassigned writing for a nine year old boy is something that requires a long runway and a convincing sales pitch.  I had neither.  And uninspiring YouTube clips of La Sagrada Familia weren’t helping.   I concluded that it must work better with daughters, or with families who played more Trivial Pursuit than Battleship.  The boys did however study up on the FC Barcelona Basketball team as we got tickets in advance to watch our first Euro Basketball game.  Ah-ha! So that’s the ticket.  Maybe it would have been a better idea to let them pick the thing they want to do pre-work on.

I, on the other hand, did study up on La Sagrada Familia and within an hour of our arrival determined that Friday would be the day that we would all go see it and we would see it WITH GOOD ATTITUDES.  Thursday night: Euro Basketball Game.  Friday: Spain’s Most Visited Monument.  And there would be no complaining, no rushing Mommy, and maybe a quiz at the end.

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There is nothing quite like seeing La Sagrada Familia in person.  Millions of people visit it each year and much has been written about it, and there is good reason for it.  Antoni Gaudi’s passions were architecture, nature, and faith and you see the intersection of those passions in his work.    There is something for everyone.   Gaudi said: “Everyone finds his things in the temple.  The peasants see the hens, the scientists the zodiac signs, the theologians the genealogy of Jesus.”  When I saw it for the first time two years ago, I was impressed by its scope but turned off by its extravagance.  It was like Tammy Fay’s make up.  Too, too much.  Seeing it from the street was enough for me.

This time, I wanted to get closer.  I was ready to hand over some Euros to get inside.  Pre-work does work! The line was long, but fast moving, and Brett got us tickets with the audio tour while I traipsed around the perimeter with my camera.  Gaudi wanted La Sagrada Familia to be the “Bible in stone.”   There are books dedicated to helping you read through the Bible in one year, so getting through La Sagrada Familia in one morning was only going to be scratching the surface.  Knowing the ambition of my goal, Brett gladly took charge of the children.

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Immediately you are reminded that this cathedral that began construction in 1882 is still far from being finished.  Scaffolding covers the Glory Façade, and ten of the eighteen planned spires are yet to be completed.  The goal is to have it completed in 2026 which will be the Centennial of Gaudi’s untimely death.   It still seems a lofty goal.   You can spend hours on the outside tracking the story of Christ’s birth in the overwhelmingly detailed Nativity Façade and of Christ’s last days in the haunting Passion Façade.  But I came this time to go inside.  Plus, it was very windy. 

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Once I entered the cathedral, I understood what all the fuss was about.  I was no longer counting towers and looking for the column supported by a tortoise.  I was experiencing what Gaudi wanted to evoke – a sense of peace.  The whole interior is a majestic exaltation of beauty.  Layered with symbolism, Gaudi used tree-like columns to convey an enormous spiritual forest where the believer feels protected and united with God.  With light filtering in and hundreds of people like me wandering through the cathedral with their audio headset on, it felt like a community of people who were “Connected, but Not Alone.”

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As I walked and listened (and the boys walked and listened on their own), I found myself thinking about how this monumental work – even with all its beauty – was still a work in progress.  That Gaudi envisioned a place so beautiful that it would take more than a lifetime, and many setbacks like the Spanish Civil War, to realize.  I also found myself thinking how wonderful it is that even unfinished things can be of use.  The church was consecrated in 2010 and is now used for religious services – scaffolding and all.  Work in progress, unfinished – some words that came back to me later in the trip when I lost my temper with my kids, when I lamented my aging body, when I wondered “what’s my next vocational chapter? – and p.s. it better be good.”

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When asked about the slow construction, Gaudi was reported to have said:  “My client is not in a hurry.”  I’m so glad God isn’t in a hurry with us either – the beautiful works of art we all are.

(See all Barcelona photos)