A Word from Our Pastor 2014 October

It is great to be back! I am grateful to the members of BMUC who so generously granted me a three-month renewal leave this summer. It was eventful, and it was a real blessing to have the opportunity to focus on renewing my faith, my energy and my health.

I am also very appreciative of Minister Chai, Mary Cheng, Mike Friedrich and Jill Israels, who carried much of the burden while I was away. They, along with our other leaders, all did an excellent job in keeping BMUC’s ministry active and healthy. I was able to trust that all of you are so deeply committed to our church that everything would go well while I was away – and that trust helped me to rest and relax fully. Thank you again, for your hard work and generosity to me.

One of the things I did while on leave was travel – to two places, in particular, New Mexico (Abiquiu) and France (Rocamadour). Both of these visits were “pilgrimages.”

“Pilgrimage” is really a technical term for a visit to a particularly important place, usually a place of spiritual significance. Many religions have the practice of pilgrimage – Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, and several others encourage believers to travel to places that are meaningful in their traditions. These places can be where the founders or leaders were born or died; sometimes where the religious figure had a special religious experience of God; it may be a place where miracles were performed or witnessed. Those who travel there – the pilgrims – hope to have some spiritual benefit – it might be healing, the resolution of a thorny problem, or simply a deepening of one’s experience of God.

I had heard about a place called Rocamadour many years ago, and when I had an opportunity to visit this year, I was very excited about going there. Rocamadour is a tiny village carved into a rocky hillside in southwestern France. It has been a major pilgrimage site since the about the year 1100, when many people crossed through France journey to a church in Compostela, Spain. Rocamadour means “The Rock of St. Amadour” – the place were a saint’s body was buried. But the town also became famous for a particular statue of the Virgin Mary and the baby Jesus; worship was at its peak in Rocamadour in the 1300s, when as many as 2000 people a day flowed through the chapel to pray before the Madonna. The statue is still believed by many to be responsible for miracles, especially healings. In the Middle Ages, criminals were sometimes ordered to make a pilgrimage to Rocamadour to be healed of their sins; in the chapel today, one can see chains that were worn by these criminals that were left behind as a sign of their healing. There were many people at the chapel in 2014 who found praying before this statue very meaningful.

You may wonder why I went so far to be in the presence of a really old Madonna statue – after all, this isn’t my tradition. And I will admit, I doubt that my feelings of reverence were very similar to others who grew up with these kinds of practices.

What I find so meaningful about this place, this statue of the Madonna, (and others like this) is the great well of faith that one encounters here. I imagine the hundreds of thousands of prayers, the tears wept, the deep hunger for healing and peace that has soaked into the ground here, that permeates the air in the chapel. How many people before me were led by pain, by desperation, by love, by faith to leave their homes and families behind to seek God. At Rocamadour, they sought God in the form of a mother who presents her child to the world. The statue is not beautiful at all, the Madonna is crudely carved. It isn’t beauty that reaches out to people: it is something interior, some might say, an inner light. She represents the possibilities of inner transformation, of hope beyond what one can see. Hope comes to us in the form of a child – again, not a beautiful child, but one that is given to the world as a sign of healing and peace, a source of new life.

Any journey can be a pilgrimage. I suppose it makes it a bit easier if it is a place that is traditionally a pilgrimage site, with a marker that explains that a deep experience of God can happen there. But anyplace can be a spot where you encounter God. If your heart is open to the search for God – God in the form of a father, or in the form of Jesus, or in the form of a mother, or in the form of Spirit – and you set aside a special time in a special place to meet God, then you are a pilgrim. I hope that you will be able to experience your own pilgrimage soon. . . and it is good to be back with you, so that perhaps, we will set out on a pilgrimage together. . .

–Rev. Naomi