Impractical beauty

In the parking lot of our church, there’s a grotto to Mary.

It’s clearly been there a while. Mary looks a bit weathered, somewhat in need of a paint job if you get up close to her. But she’s still Mary.

It’s lovingly tended by the gardening group. When I took these photos last summer, there were pink cosmos and lavender and white shrub roses bordering this little space (outside of the photo, alas). A small stone cherub sits pensively in a birdbath. Little votives burn inside the cave.

There’s a bench in front of Mary, and I’ve seen ragged people lying on it, asleep. It’s nice to think that they have a beautiful place to come and rest. Hopefully the peacefulness of this spot rubs off on them.

It occurred to me once that this grotto takes up a lot of prime space. This church parking lot gets crowded at Mass time. Many folks have to circle the block looking for a curbside space, and if you’ve ever lived in San Francisco, well, you know why SF Catholics have a great devotion to Our Lady of Parking (“Hail Mary, full of grace, please find me a parking space.”) A pragmatist would say, “Gee, if that grotto weren’t there, we could fit twenty more cars into this space … maybe more ….”

But I hope we never get that practical. This grotto, standing in the heart of a busy parking lot in the heart of a busy city, has — on more than one occasion — calmed my own busy heart. And our world needs more places like this, places where nature and prayer come together in one beautiful space.

Is it a stretch to call it holy ground? Maybe so. But it’s sure sacred to me.

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