Europe Day 5: Building Cathedrals, Sacred Memory, & Bath Abbey
Friday, September 29
I'm only four days into my trip, this spiritual pilgrimage, and already it's blowing me away. How can I feel anything other than grateful? Especially when I look back at my life over the years--all the challenges, all the struggle, all the loss, all the suffering--and know how I've climbed my way here? Eleven years ago, I could barely walk, my mind was in cognitive decline, and my heart was failing. Now here I am navigating Europe. For the past six years, I've been thrown into the deepest depths of myself, excavating all of the pain, trauma, and grief of the shadow. Now here I am feeling so much peace, presence, and genuine joy.
It's a reminder of the constant evolution of life--and ourselves--that I don't take lightly. I learned early on in my experiences with Lyme disease that life keeps going--and it can go on with you or without you. I made a choice back then, driven by the fire in my soul, to survive--but I didn't want to live my life just surviving. I didn't want to just get by. I wanted my life to mean something. I wanted the world to know there was hope, there was love, there was life. I wanted that for myself.
It wasn't easy to get to this place now. But being here now, I can say that every step was worth it...
My friend, Luna, and I planned on going to Avebury today. It's a sacred site similar to Stonehenge that one of the owners of my local metaphysical shop told me about. It's meant to have powerful energy, and you can actually wander around and touch the stones. But Luna came down with a touch of a cold and, after yesterday's experiences, I think we both needed some time to integrate it all.
In the afternoon, we went into town to explore Bath Abbey, including the giant Earth that was suspended from the ceiling of the abbey as part of an exhibit about protecting and preserving Mother Gaia. I walked around and admired the stained glass, the ornate architecture... I was reminded of an article I wrote for a leading Lyme organization called, "When We Build Cathedrals"--a story I heard of a craftsman who carved a bird into the beam of a cathedral only for it to be covered later. He was asked, "Why are you spending so much time carving that bird into a beam that will be covered by the roof? No one will ever see it." The craftsman replied, "Because God sees.”
Given this spiritual journey, that metaphor has new meaning. We might never know how our actions now affect the future. We might not understand where one step leads into the next. We might not ever know how far our light spreads, but that's not why we shine.
Like I wrote in that article all those years ago, the legacy lies in the cathedral itself. It's the metaphor of a life that the cathedral now represents. There is hope and beauty and love and healing that is seen and felt, and not just by those who choose to look.
This is what we're doing on this spiritual journey. We're building cathedrals...
Bath Abbey is replete with tombs from the 18th and 19th centuries, as perhaps any abbey naturally would be. My eyes were immediately drawn to one that read, "Sacred to the Memory of Susan." I paused at this one, standing vigil for a heartbeat for a girl that shared my name. She was 28 years old, having died in April 1833. It struck me upon reflection that I was 28 when I first became ill, when I was fighting for my life. Perhaps, in another life, that could have been me.
It's why I made it a point to celebrate every birthday, every year I survived. It's why turning 40--and subsequently this trip--was such a big deal for me. I wasn't just surviving anymore... I was alive. Having gone through death and rebirth a thousand times, sometimes literally within the relapses of illness, I was now coming alive in every way a person could be alive. That's what this journey has given me... Even though it has plunged me into the darkest corners of myself and I've faced the greatest pain imaginable, it brought me back to life. It's why now, at this turning point, I can't feel anything but gratitude for everything experienced.
I paused a while longer before her tomb, appreciating the honoring of their loved ones: Sacred to the Memory... There was something so poetic and everlasting about that phrase.
I continued around the abbey, eyes scanning the names and blessings of those entombed. I lit a prayer candle, said a prayer that's kept sacred within my own heart, and felt Time wrap itself around me. Tears welled in my eyes for a moment as I thought how many prayers and how many candles. How many cries of the heart and how much rejoicing. How much mercy and how much forgiveness. How much love lost and how much faith restored.
I then paused to sit in one of the chapels. It's a beautiful place, holy in its own right. But I don't feel God much here. In the gardens, at the spring, the abbey ruins in Glastonbury, but not in church.
Then, with tourists' voices echoing in the rooms behind me, I heard God say to me in the quiet whispers of the heart, "That's because I'm already within you."