"Our soul must perform two duties. The one is that we must reverently wonder and be surprised. The other is that we must gently let go and let be." Julian of Norwich

...Cancer teaches both!!!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

An Unlikely Pilgrim

In late August 2004, Our Lady of the Lost and Found, a novel by Diane Schoemperlen, was delivered to my hospital bed as a gift from a friend and fellow cancer survivor. Our Lady” is a story of a middle-aged woman who takes Mary into her home as a house guest. Mary, weary from 2000 years of making appearances and healing the sick, is in need of rest and renewal and has "appeared" in this woman’s home with suitcase in hand. The story that unfolds is both a delightful tale of two women exchanging hospitality and becoming friends and a wonderful discovery of the most enduring healing icon in western history. Interspersed throughout the book are various accounts of Mary’s visitations and healings around the world including the story of Notre-Dame du Cap.

Notre-Dame du Cap is a shrine to the Blessed Virgin at Cap-De-La-Madeleine on the north shore of the St. Lawrence River.  Here, it is told, an ice bridge miraculously formed on the river to allow the transport of stones needed to build a new church. This ice bridge was called the “Rosary Bridge” by those who had prayed fervantly all winter for the freezing of the river. The parish priest of the day vowed to preserve the original chapel and have it dedicated to Mary. On the evening of the dedication, three witnesses saw the eyes of the statue of the Blessed Virgin open wide!

The original chapel, with the statue, has been preseved as a shrine and a beautiful basilica has been constructed on the site. Notre-Dame du Cap has become one of Canada’s leading pilgrimage sites having received millions of pilgrims including Pope John Paul II .

In late September 2004 I had the opportunity to make a "pilgrimage" to Cap-De-La-Madeleine to visit the shrine of “Our Lady of the Cap”. Although an unlikely pilgrim, a protestant with no particular tradition of either pilgrimage or Mary, I truly felt called to make this journey.  I had recently undergone colon resection surgery, been diagnosed with metastatic colorectal cancer, and was scheduled for a liver resection the following week. My life was in upheaval, my future uncertain. I made a spur-of-moment trip to visit my folks in Ontario and took the side-trip to Cap-De-La-Madeleine with my Dad.

I found the visit to the shrine to be a peaceful and healing experience. I sat in silent prayer in both the old chapel and the basillica. I felt a profound sense of calm in both places. I lit candles to give thanks and to remember others and I walked prayerfully around the beautiful grounds and observed the Stations of the Cross.  I was filled with a sense of awe at the faith of people who made journeys to such sacred places. People yearning and searching for a place of peace where they might connect with the Holy and be renewed in body, mind, and spirit.

My friend Donald Grayston describes a "pilgrimage" as a journey to a place of  sacred or spiritual significance with the expectation of "transformation".  I like the intentionality around Don's notion of "expectation of transformation". 
I cannot say that I experienced a miraculous cure on my visit to the shrine, I don’t think that is what I was looking for. But I did come away from Notre-Dame du Cap with a feeling of deep peace and hope, with a renewed sense of courage for what lay ahead, and with an assurance that all would be well.

5 years later, it is a pilgrimage that I can recall and remember.  As I remember, in the wonderful contemplative capacity of that word, I am filled again with the same sense of deep peace, hope, and courage that I experienced at that time.  And these are things that I need now, perhaps even more profoundly than I needed then!

Peace and blessings... Rob

"If we are spiritual beings on a human path rather than human beings who may be on a spiritual path... then life is not only a journey but a pilgrimage or quest as well. When we experience sacred moments it often is not so much a matter of outer geography but of finding soulful places within ourselves." Jean Shinoda

originally posted in June 2007

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Rob...just saying hello and letting you know that I'm out here on Haida Gwaii, reading your blog with my morning tea. Christopher Robin is one of my favorite characters...and the song always makes me cry. It has always brought thoughts of my own Christopher and his journey into my mind.

I'm thining of you too.

Sandy xo