A Basque Man Who Came to Know God

A reflective poem by Caleb Ryan, a religious education teacher at Saint Ignatius College Geelong.

In 2018 Caleb Ryan was part of a Jesuit Leadership Pilgrimage that saw him and a group of his peers walk in the footsteps of Ignatius through France, Spain and Italy, spanning a three-week experience. As part of the pilgrimage the group spent several days discerning, sharing and praying at the Jesuit Centre in Manresa. They arrived in Manresa after a full day’s walk from the mountain of Montserrat (25+ km). This poem is a piece of writing that Caleb shared with his companions as an offering before the pilgrims shared an evening Eucharist in ‘La Cova’. The ‘Father Tom’ Caleb refers to is Father Tom Renshaw, who travelled with the pilgrims as a spiritual guide on their journey.

A Basque Man Who Came to Know God

A pilgrim limps toward the Holy Land
Seeks shelter in a cave from the rain
From storms of the past too, he flees
On Jerusalem, his sights firmly set
His creator has a different idea though,
And doesn’t reckon he’s ready, just yet

Days of Light he’ll enjoy here,
Dreams of wonder, salvation and sainthood move his heart,
There’s a love affair with a serpent
Routines of prayer, fast and service
Past vain glories he wants to be rid of
A remedy he seeks for his ills,
Self-loathing he can’t seem to shake
Despite manic dedications to these disciplines
Deliverance to God, his attempts fail to make

So to his knees he falls, and howls to heaven in the dark
His mind bent with death and tempted with gravely escape
His torment is great
His pain like yours and mine
Little did he know back then though
That born from torment and struggle
The world will build a shrine

Because inside the shadow there’s light
Without day, we can’t know the night
It took Inigo from Azpetia time to know this
But with a nudge from his mate Jesus
It eventually turned out alright

What’s it mean for all us then?
Pilgrims from a red land afar
Why are we here?
Is it good company and friendship or freedom from sins?
Maybe we don’t even know yet
Some say these things take time
That deep in our hearts it is hidden,
or it dwells in the mountains, together we climb

Jesus cried out in the desert
And he wanted out in the Garden of Gethsemane
But when push came to shove he surrendered
And said, let it be your will Father, certainly not mine
St John of the Cross talked of a long dark night of the soul
Augustine confessed his black
til his pen had run out of ink
But you Inigo my brother, you climbed into a hole

And here we are then together
in your cave all the way over here
We came a long way for some answers
Surely with ears that listen
Your comfort and guidance we’ll hear
And our own struggles we can be free of
All these fickle things that we fear

I can’t talk for all you lot
And I wouldn’t want to, even if I could
But I’ll share some thoughts if you let me
Some humble wonderings I gathered
As mates we walked the woods

Self-love must come first I reckon
And I think Ignatius the Saint’d agree
Because it wasn’t until he accepted God’s love
That his heart became suitably free

Unchained and unshackled from the grip
of past deeds that no longer mattered
A modesty stiffened and difficult to penetrate
Father Tom invites me to let God in
I promise I’m doing my best mate

He said surrender to Jesus I dare you
Let him fill you up with his love
Without him your heart will be harder
Of this Inigo can attest
Your wrestle will ease, your path become clear
And some day like our friend Saint Ignatius,
You too can have rest.

Caleb Ryan