Last Sunday, the Albuquerque YAVs and I were invited to speak at Las Placitas Church. We were each advised to share a story from our YAV experience thus far, but the prompt was fairly loose; we just needed to tell our story. We only had two to five minutes, and I probably stressed out about this more than I needed to, but I reflected on an important aspect of my reasoning for participating in this year of service, and that my search for something holy, something meaningful, or at least for something to show me that I’m never truly alone on this journey. Below is my experience as a pilgrim walking alongside others in solidarity to demonstrate unity. (for information ~ http://nmpilgrimage.org/2019-pilgrimage.html) I have since realized that I did more than walk along paved roads and gravel trails; I was walking on holy ground.
PSALM 40:1-11 (EDITED)
I WAIT PATIENTLY FOR THE HOLY ONE; I KNOW SHE HEARS MY CRY. SHE DRAWS ME UP FROM THE DESOLATE PIT, OUT OF THE MIRY BOG, SETTING MY FEET UPON A ROCK, MAKING EACH OF MY STEPS SECURE. HER STEADFAST LOVE AND FAITHFULNESS WILL KEEP ME SAFE FOREVER.
The first few months of my YAV year were met with a new community, new experiences, and an eagerness for a new adventure in a beautiful place. There were also met with loneliness, loss, and a desperate need to feel God’s presence. I expected to encounter all of these things, though the latter came sooner than I anticipated.
I used to think that in order to experience God’s presence it had to come with some grandiose gesture, an overwhelming sense of emotions, a feeling of complete awe. That may be the experience for some, but it was never mine, and I’ve learned that it still isn’t. The presence of the Spirit doesn’t seem to appear whenever I desperately want it to. However, She eventually makes herself know, typically when I least expect Her and after I’ve given up on searching.
My first unexpected encounter with a holy presence occurred in September on a pilgrimage for unity which started a pattern I’ve learned (still learning) not only accept, but embrace. I was accompanied by most of my fellow ABQ YAVs and many others stemming from various faith communities in the area – Episcopalians, Catholics, Quakers, Unitarian Universalists, Presbyterians. The pilgrimage fell close to the time of year I lost my dad four years ago.
Each morning our walk started at Ghost Ranch, a place so beautiful I was almost moved to tears. I soon realized why this place is called “the land of enchantment.” Surely, I thought, God is near if not here with me; She will make herself known. When I wasn’t met with Her presence immediately, I started to search a little harder – through prayer, walks by myself, in the mountains, early morning sunsets – but I still felt disconnected.
The first night before the pilgrimage started, Pastor Ken referred to the land that Ghost Ranch inhabits as “holy ground.” I know he was right; I just wish I could experience its hold and sacredness for myself. I decided to make that a prayer of mine as I walked ten plus miles for the next three days. However, my legs grew weary and my feet began to blister. It wasn’t long before my prayers drifted into the back of my mind and my focus turned into myself to keep moving forward.
Then, unannounced, I felt Her presence. I witnessed God in a brief conversation with one of the other pilgrims during a snack break. We rested our tired bodies on a blanket, enjoyed some dark chocolate, and just talked until she noticed my tattoo on the inside of my left arm. It reads:
Love you, Dad.
What’s the story behind your tattoo, she asks. With hesitation, I told her that I got it after I lost my dad my first month into college. This prompted a conversation I was not anticipating. She then began to ask questions about my dad, ones I wasn’t used to answering. She was interested in who my dad was as well as who he was to me; I found these questions to be a bit tougher to answer. I also had the privilege to hear her own story with losing her father. Her interest in me and my experience forced me to open up enough to finally notice God’s presence – She had been there all along. God shined through someone who at the time was almost a stranger and has become someone who I dearly admire. This exchange of stories continued after our snack break, and I am grateful for that. I started to feel lighter, more relaxed, and each step afterwards felt like I was walking on holy ground.
Since our pilgrimage, I have lost two other people who were, and still are, very special to me and my family. This new adventure did not start off easy, nor has it gotten much easier. But I am surrounded by a community who constantly shows me support, love, compassion, and humility making this year special. I’m learning to be patient with God, which requires me to accept the fact that though I believe She is ever-present, I won’t always notice. And when I’m in a place that seems to lack Her presence, I remind myself that surely, this must be holy ground too.
To read more from Caitlin, click here.