Mel's Healing Pilgrimage 2016

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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.


  1. Thank you for your thoughts, Mel! Your words reflect much empathy, care, and compassion. May we indeed though the wounds and believe and experience God's healing presence.

    And what a privilege it was to be a fellow pilgrim with you today.

    I left Manzanar today blessed by how the people connected to Manzanar were so generous in allowing us all to share their story, that it was our story, too. I felt liberated hearing that. As a pilgrim, I wasn't just hearing and witnessing, but invited to be a part of. That is part of my transformation being there today. The blessing I received was that the people of Manzanar were not possessive - it was their story, but it wasn't just their story. What a generous and holy gift which I will richly cherish.

  2. Hi Mel! That was me, Peter, commenting. I thought it was going to publish my email. Just to let you know...

  3. Thank you Peter for the insights. One of the beautiful things about pilgrimage is that it is paradoxically deeply personal and widely shared. It's like the air we breathe; the wind touches all our cheeks, we take in our breath that was meant for us, and we exhale the air - air which is shared with others as they take their next breath. With each other, with each step, we take in our own experience and that experience is shared.

  4. Side note on this blog post. I wrote it the night we got back from the pilgrimage. It's very "in the moment". I think one of the key signs of grace that I didn't mention was something not found in the dusty artifacts. It's in the stories and photos... People supported each other, helped each other, stood by each other during their internment. This was not a Lord of the Flies type tragedy. It was a Lord of the Flood type tragedy. Despite the disaster upon them, they banded together, built their own ark, and trusted each other so as to ride out this storm together. The love and community apparent from the photos and stories were not just a salve on the wounds, but also a way to stitch the wounds so that people could heal... Mel