Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

Links to the Camino de Santiago pilgrimages are on the navigation links to the right of the web page.

Saturday, April 27, 2019

In the Wounds of Manzanar

I'm feeling something today. I was on a pilgrimage to the Manzanar National Historic Site with folks from church and the diocese to remember all the Japanese American families that were forced to sell their possessions and move into internment camps. Up to 120,000 men, women, and children were imprisoned for up to 4 years for no other reason than they had at least one great great grandparent who was born in Japan.

I walked around feeling such tremendous sadness and outrage. I couldn't imagine what it must have felt like to have dust blowing into the barracks relentlessly. Or having no privacy in the bedrooms or in the bathrooms. These folks weren't soldiers. These folks weren't convicted of any crime. They were just feared not for what they did but for what they looked like.

I kept thinking about what it must have felt like for them all. How do you forgive and reconcile with people who are oppressing you? Where's the grace? Where was God?

So I kept searching. Seeking. I couldn't believe that God could be here.

And then we stumbled upon an artificial pond, made of stones and cement. It had two wings, sort of like angel wings, with a bridge crossing over. On one side was a rudimentary, primitive stone lantern made of rocks from the area. Lovingly, the lantern lined up with the bridge, which lined up with a path that went off towards a mountain. And the lantern was built to look like that mountain.

The soil was hard. Hard as the hearts of the government and soldiers who imprisoned all these innocent people. Flinty as the people who turned their backs to the plight of the "evacuees" who were collected and concentrated in these camps. Dry as the faces that could no longer cry as their families were torn apart.

And in these wounded grounds, the people built gardens, and ponds, and serene spaces filled with sacred quiet. In these painful voids, they found God, unearthed beauty, raised up life-affirming inspiration. And I sensed what it felt like to have the the Holy Spirit comfort and inspire you. And I sensed what it felt like to believe that there was hope.

This wrapped around me as I contemplated the Gospel reading for this Sunday. We read once again the story of Thomas, aka Doubting Thomas, and his transition from doubt to belief.

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
John 20:24-29 

On the long bus ride back, I pondered the scripture from a different perspective. I thought, what if the wound that Thomas explored wasn't just in Christ? What if he was exploring the wounds in himself? In his side, in his hands, in his heart? What if Christ wanted us to touch our own wounds as well as his? That in touching all these wounds, we can believe in God?

And in doing so, in feeling those wounds, in reaching our hands into the places that we protect from painful touch, in caressing these sacred places, we can believe that Christ is present. We can believe in his miracles. We can believe that our inspiration for healing, our Christ, showed us the path into our bodies so that we can find our own healing. Our own miracles. In exploring the wound, we can remember what our bodies are made of, what we are made in the image of, what we need to be made whole.

And with that thought, I remembered the pond. That in this wounded place, someone touched the ground and created a place for healing waters to flow. And with the water flowing into the pond, inviting even more life - birds, squirrels, rabbits - to come, rest, and heal.

We don't have to demand to see the wounds. They're all around us. Sometimes the wounds are wildly painful like at Manzanar. Sometimes they are wounds that only we know. May we touch these wounds - invited by Christ to see that they are real, invited to believe in his healing presence - and discover the grace of God in the most unexpected places.

Monday, April 22, 2019

The Pilgrim and the Tourist

Two things this month have caused me to write this. The first is the disaster at Notre Dame. I've touched upon that in my prior post "Sacred Spaces".

This Saturday, I'm helping out a diocesan group - "The Gathering: A Space for Asian-American Spirituality" - and All Saints Pasadena's Transformational Journeys as we head out to Manzanar National Historic Site. Manzanar is located in a desolate area of California, in the Owens Valley, about 230 miles from Los Angeles. And, it was one of 10 internment camps in the USA, where upwards of 120,000 people of even 1/16 Japanese blood were sent. The definitions of internment camp and concentration camp were historically identical until the Nazis horrific acts caused concentration camp to be linked with extermination camps.

As I prepare for this pilgrimage, and it's a special one as this will be the 50th anniversary of annual pilgrimages to Manzanar, I was asked to share a reflection with the group. The topic is one that I've pondered often, the difference between a pilgrim and a tourist. We are heading to Manzanar as pilgrims. I've done many pilgrimages. I've been a tourist many times. And they aren't the same thing.
Julz of Australia from my 2017 Camino Portuguese
reflects on our long walk. We broke bread many times
on this pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, with
lots of laughter, tears, and stories. Even our swim
to waterfalls on the walk here felt holy

Oh, I take photos on both. I laugh, share stories, linger, purchase trinkets and memorabilia, meet strangers, take selfies on both types of journeys. I sometimes have to grab a group or bus or listen to guides because I need the experienced person to explain what I'm seeing.

But they are different. And - I am adamant about this - it's not a judgment to be one or the other. A pilgrim is not better than a tourist nor the tourist better than the pilgrim. I distinguish the two because it helps us to know how to approach a destination. Whether we go to a cathedral or to a secular spot, we can approach it with a better understanding of what to find and what to anticipate. On a visit to a new city, I can be a pilgrim at one or two locations and a tourist at all the others.

Here are some ways that the two differ to me.

Pilgrim Tourist
FocusThe destinationYourself at the destination
ExpectationTo be changed by the visitTo see sights and learn from the visit
Common ActivitiesSit and absorb, perhaps skipping some of the popular or common sights to see, not making a long checklistTake the various sub-tours, read all the posters and signs, make sure to hit the checklist of activities and things to see
PreparationRead about the facts and storiesRead about the facts and stories
ChangeYou want to be changed or to know yourself betterChange isn't an issue
Visiting the World Trade CenterYou had a relative or friend who died there on 9/11 and are grappling with issues about lifeYou want to pay your respects
Visiting the VaticanYou're a Roman Catholic. You want to confess, go to mass (often), pray.A huge basilica, a square, history, spectacular art,and Swiss Army guards
Visiting the Golden Temple in IndiaYou're Sikh. You want to pray and help feed the 50,000 people who eat there daily. You want to see the temple and watch the 50,000 people who get fed there daily
Visiting the LouvreGet a pass and go multiple days because art is in your blood and this place is everythingMona Lisa, Winged Victory, Venus de Milo, Law Code of Hammurabi,
Gabrielle d’EstrĂ©es and Her Sister
Visiting the Grand CanyonYou care deeply about water and land conservation, Native American culture, natural beauty, creationYou care deeply about natural beauty and hiking
Your local place of worshipYou want to be transformed, pray, give thanks, be willing to be uncomfortable.You want to meet your obligations, hear good music, raise your kids right, be comfortable
When you returnYou know yourself or life betterYou are the same, perhaps better informed
ScheduleSchedule isn't as important as time to process and internalize what is seenSchedule is important to see/do as much as possible
Sacred landThe site is sacred and is respectedThe site is respected
Passing throughThe destination passes through youYou pass through the destination
Not quite what you imagined? Construction?Not a distractionDisappointment

Let's take an example using that well known phrase "It's not the destination; it's the journey". When you're a pilgrim, the destination does matter. You're going to a place that holds deep meaning to you and you want to be transformed by it. The preparation for it is important because you want to be ready for transformation. When you're a tourist, you look forward to the destination because it's something you've wanted to see and learn about; you prepare because you want to make sure you see everything you wanted to see and not find yourself disappointed if you miss something.

Lately, I accept that I enjoy my tourist visits to places AND that much of my life has been a pilgrimage. I may forget that it is, but I remember that it is a pilgrimage much more often than before. I will always be a tourist to new places. But I am rarely surprised when I find myself transformed by certain journeys.

The pilgrim accepts blessings for their journey because there's some fear there. Will your heart be open to transformation? Will you be afraid of what the changes are asking of you? Will you accept the ramifications of change?

With that, allow me to again share "For a Traveler" by Father John O'Donohue.

Every time you leave home,
Another road takes you
Into a world you were never in.
New strangers on other paths await.
New places that have never seen you
Will startle a little at your entry.
Old places that know you well
Will pretend nothing
Changed since your last visit.
When you travel, you find yourself
Alone in a different way,
More attentive now
To the self you bring along,
Your more subtle eye watching
You abroad; and how what meets you
Touches that part of the heart
That lies low at home:
How you unexpectedly attune
To the timbre in some voice,
Opening in conversation
You want to take in
To where your longing
Has pressed hard enough
Inward, on some unsaid dark,
To create a crystal of insight
You could not have known
You needed
To illuminate
Your way.
When you travel,
A new silence
Goes with you,
And if you listen,
You will hear
What your heart would
Love to say.
A journey can become a sacred thing:
Make sure, before you go,
To take the time
To bless your going forth,
To free your heart of ballast
So that the compass of your soul
Might direct you toward
The territories of spirit
Where you will discover
More of your hidden life,
And the urgencies
That deserve to claim you.
May you travel in an awakened way,
Gathered wisely into your inner ground;
That you may not waste the invitations
Which wait along the way to transform you.
May you travel safely, arrive refreshed,
And live your time away to its fullest;
Return home more enriched, and free
To balance the gift of days which call you.

Wednesday, April 17, 2019

Sacred spaces

There are moments where many people from very different lives suddenly find themselves in emotional unity, in harmony, with hearts beating together. The distances between them can be short or they can span around the world. This week many experienced one of these moments as we saw a well-known Roman Catholic cathedral, the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, burn in flames.

It is entirely predictable that the French Roman Catholics were moved. It's part of the national identity. It's also very understandable that Roman Catholics around the world were touched by the unfolding tragedy. There are the many Francophiles around the world who are deeply saddened. Architect lovers. Historians. Many different peoples who would have been shocked by the fire.

It feels like a wide range of people were emotionally touched by this fire. It makes me appreciate the human need for beautiful places, quiet spots, sacred spaces. To some, such a space might be a cathedral. To others, a small chapel. To many I know, it could be in the wild country, the mountains, their garden. And to some, it could be a yoga mat, or window where the sunlight warms you as you sit quietly.

We all can be inspired by art or by music, by simple walls or by silence. These places and visions, scents and touches have a way of reaching deep into ourselves, giving us grace to think, to connect, to process. They also are highly personal. What works for me may not work for people close to me, even my own spouse. And that's ok. What resonates within us is part of our unique being.

To each of us, these places are special; they are sacred. They are sacred not because of a label or certificate, but because we consecrate them with our love and our intimacy with Creation and our Creator when we are there.

They are where we are invited to discover ourselves, see ourselves, be ourselves. They are where our core being floats to the surface, able to breathe in the air of life. We all need these places because our longing, our life energy, depends on a fertile ground to grow. Sacred spaces make space in our hearts and minds to discover the sacred within.

What if those places become destroyed, burned, and hidden? What if we move away? Are these places any less sacred? Are we bereft of the sacred when this happens?

All things return to dust. We certainly do. And special places cannot escape this truth of this world. It doesn't mean that we who remain behind cannot find meaning in the ashes. We can build ourselves a new space. We can give new life to a new place that in return gives life to us. We ourselves make a place sacred by discovering how that spot, that room, that wild open countryside changes us, reshaping us, reminding us of who we are.

Some places, like the Cathedral of Our Lady of Paris, were not on my radar as a sacred place to me. I didn't understand my emotional response. But when I looked inside, I had subconsciously found in those aged stones a foundation for my journeys. I began my backpacking journey through Europe, my first visit, as a college student. I attended daily mass there on various trips, by myself, with my parents, my ex, my husband, my nephews. I started my Taize pilgrimage from that Cathedral. I started my Camino from Lourdes to Santiago de Compostela by first visiting this Cathedral. I listened to the bells all night long -- every night -- on my last visit to the cathedral, as my AirBnB was a block away. I didn't intend to do so, but I had consecrated the cathedral because she invited me to share these special journeys with her.

What places have you 
intentionally or unintentionally 
made sacred with your love and presence?

May we always remember those places which invite us to feel alive, and may we be privileged to return to those places as often as we need.  In these sacred spaces, we are blessed by merely being present and we become one with the blessing that unites us all.

Monday, April 15, 2019

You will not always have me

Gratitude can be expressed in many ways. Most people write a card or buy a gift or dinner to the person they want to thank. Some offer to lend a hand, to raise a wall, to show their appreciation for whatever was given to them.

And some things leave you wondering how best to say thank you. Perhaps you might not even know that the feeling you have is gratitude, much less how to best express it. I often find myself forgetting all the things I have that can make me feel grateful, as long as I notice them. But when I do notice them, I am more than honored to share my feelings of gratitude and love for the kindness given.

Let me describe a little story that happened last week. I was at a work conference in Phoenix and a business colleague who I have known for at least a couple decades was attending. He brought his 90 year old mother along, picking her up at the airport after her flight from her home in Florida. She's a charming, delightful person and I immediately enjoyed her presence. At one of the receptions, he asked me to tell his mother about my volunteer efforts at Laundry Love. I described how I volunteer at a couple of Laundry Love offerings: one in Hollywood, one in Eagle Rock. I shared that we offer 2 hours where folks who are struggling to make ends meet can wash their clothes, receive detergent, dry their items, and even toss in a dryer sheet, with the funds coming from donations and from local religious organizations. Folks can walk away with some dignity wearing clean clothes; some families don't have to choose between laundry and food; some folks can walk into a job or job interview wearing clean apparel.

She thanked me for telling her about this volunteer work and was glad to hear that it was becoming popular across the country. And the next night at the conference, she brought me to tears. She had walked over to my dinner table and grasped my hand, gently but firmly placing money in it. "Thank you for what you do. I do hope that Laundry Love can use this."

I thanked her and could not get the story out of my mind. It was such a caring gesture at a business setting. It's not something you see often at a technology conference unfortunately. It was an intoxicating, infectious moment. Her gratitude filled me with my own gratitude. Gratitude creates gratitude, like love creates love. If you've read Diana Butler Bass's latest book "Gratitude", you'll find numerous examples like this moment, and I cherish these moments that connect me with things I've read, with my left brain life, with hand-grasping-hand gestures of love.

It made me think of one of the Lenten gospel readings of Mary, Martha, and Lazarus welcoming Jesus into their homes. Mary lavished oil on Jesus's feet, drying it with her hair. Others balked at the extravagant gesture but Jesus said let her be. You will not always have me.

We should not be afraid to love those who bring love into our lives, into our homes, into our hearts. We should lavish them with the gratitude that fills you, because love and gratitude are not zero sum games. They grow and proliferate when we share them abundantly. There's no need to hold back. Be generous in your love and gratitude for love is generous with you. Nothing in this world is permanent, and everything moves on. So show it now. Share it now. Be thankful now.