A Meditation on the Pathways 2016 Pilgrimage

A Meditation on the Pathways 2016 Pilgrimage

by Anne Clarke, Lifelong Christian Formation Coordinator

Keeping all the details and logistics of an event like Pathways together is complicated work, as many of you know from similar experiences. There are a lot of calculations when you go on a journey with a group. Would this delay mean we’d need to add another bathroom break? How can we rebalance that small group? Whenever we had a quiet moment, my mind would whir with logistical details. Things like: Have the vegetarians been getting enough protein? Did that kid seemed too overwhelmed by the story we just heard? Do we need a longer break this afternoon than we’d planned? How can we include this person’s voice in the next conversation?

About midway through our Pathways adventure, I decided I needed to check back in to the present moment. We’d arrived at our first stop on the tour of the Tule Lake Segregation Center. “First stop” might be an ambitious way to describe it. The land where over 18,000 Japanese-Americans were forced to live for years during World War II has only been a historical site for a few years. So we basically pulled over to the side of the road, and stood under the hot sun, looking at a dusty poster that park ranger Angela Sutton was holding.

It was hot and sunny, and there was not much to see but a few scattered artifacts of a place most people had tried for decades to forget. A dilapidated house had once housed the officers who enforced the rules of the camp, the red gravel road had once marked a boundary and had not been paved over during the last 60 years. I looked out over the sweaty heads of the youth and young adults in front of me and wondered, not for the first or last time, whether it had been a terrible idea to bring them all here.

I shifted over to try to catch a piece of shade, while listening to our park ranger guide describe how she came to be standing with us. Sutton grew up in the nearby city of Tulelake, and heard from her white grandmother and great-grandmother that the camps were set up for for the Japanese-Americans’ own safety and weren’t that bad. When the National Park Service had gotten the funding to preserve the site, her boss, knowing that his counterpart had received death threats when the camp at Manzanar had gone through the same process, asked Sutton to create and lead the educational programs. She talked about going to the library to learn the history of what really happened inside those barbed-wire fences, and then arguing with her grandmother and great-grandmother about the truth of what she’d learned.

From my new vantage point, I could see the faces of our group, this still-forming little community, who had come on this adventure without knowing, really, what they were getting into. Young and old knew we were hearing an important story, an important truth about what had happened on this land. All those faces, squinting into the sun, studying the map, listening with careful attention to our guide’s story of her own learning about truth, then formulating thoughtful questions to move more deeply into the truth. I won’t forget those faces for a long time.

One of our own young adult leaders, Maddison Vernon, named this trip several months ago as it was coming into being: Pathways: Journey toward Reconciliation. This hot and dusty stopping point on our path was one of many, as we sang and listened and talked and prayed our way toward a deeper knowledge of truth, and, I hope, some lifelong tools that will equip us all to be ministers of reconciliation in a new way. It’s a long journey and a complicated one. It requires a lot of attention to our common life as a community, a willingness to listen to difficult stories and to travel to out-of-the-way places, and a desire to be transformed by what we find along the way. It’s worth it to mark the places along the path, unglamorous as they might be, when we find truth, when we experience God’s presence, when we see joy and resilience and life spring up from the dust. I’m not sure where the journey will take us next, but I hope that we can go together.

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