Whenever I travel to share Angel, the trip always ends up being so much more than the book event. Last week, my appearance at the James V. Brown Library in Williamsport, PA turned into a retreat for the entire staff of Little Falls Press (i.e., my assistant Robin Anne Floyd and myself). We left Washington on a lovely late summer morning with just a hint of fall in the air, and headed up north through Maryland into Pennsylvania, a part of the country where I’d never been. It was interesting to discover the similarities of “northern” Appalachia to the southern Appalachian setting of Angel—rolling hills, small industrial towns, long stretches of stunningly beautiful rural landscape.
On the way, as we approached Emmitsburg, MD, I saw signs for the National Shrine Grotto of Lourdes at Mount Saint Mary’s University in Emmitsburg, MD. I’ve been to France many times, but have never been able to make it to Lourdes, the location of the famous sightings of the Virgin Mary by the young peasant girl Bernadette Soubrirous,who reportedly saw her eighteen times in the cave where she came to gather wood with her siblings in 1858. So here on Route 15 through Maryland is a replica of this shrine. It was such a beautiful day I couldn’t resist stopping.
Just off the campus of Mount St. Mary’s University is the parking lot to the shrine. From there you take a long winding path through a wooded path lined with mountain laurel to the sacred spring, where the water is said to be blessed.
The statue at the spring is a replica of the statue at Lourdes in southern France, where pilgrims have traveled for more than a century and a half to receive healings, blessings, and revelations from the Sacred Mother. We drank from the spring, and as we quenched our thirst for connection to the Mother of God, we submitted our supplications as earthly mothers in need of strength and guidance. Just past the spring is a chapel, a place of silence and reflection, and just beyond is the grotto itself, where we lit candles with the most fervent prayers of our hearts.
The archetype of the Sacred Mother is a powerful touchstone in a world that is in desperate need of nurturing and compassion. She shows up in religions and cultures all over the world and throughout history, as I discuss in my book entitled Prayers and Seven Contemplations of the Sacred Mother, (Woven Word Press, 2004).There is nothing more universal than this connection. Every human being, including Jesus, shares blood and breath with their mother for months before their entry into this world, and once born shares an intimate relationship with our Mother Earth. And thus every human is infiltrated with the capacity for unconditional love and selflessness that is inherent in our development. How would the world change if every one of us could remember that connection, regardless of gender, religion, race or creed, if every interaction with our family, friends, peers, co-workers, and even our enemies stemmed from this place. What if , every now and then, we got off the highway of our own agenda and took a side trip to the heart of the Mother? As in the case of thousands of pilgrims from centuries past, we might discover answers to our prayers–perhaps miracles.