Freedom of Religion
Recent communications with Walker Morrow got me to thinking about travelling, something I used to take for granted, as I have always loved to do it, whether for fun, or for business. After my auto accident, in late 2003, it became impossible for a few years to move very far, and slowly as I have learned how to cope with my disabilities, I have ventured further, usually with my favourite travelling partner by my side.
In the Fall of 2007, we took our motor home which we had bought to just get away in Ontario, and had enjoyed immensely, and headed for Arizona. It is another story in itself how we ended up in Tucson, but there we were ultimately in an over 55 RV resort. We flew home for December with plans to return to AZ for January and February.
Because of my wife's medical appointments in January, we decided that I would drive our car to Tucson by myself and so I left on January 5th, 2008 to make my way there. A significant part of my healing in the last year had been psychotherapy, as I had been dealing with the losses that I had incurred with my auto accident, the loss of my job, loss of certain mental functions, losses in my relationships with my children and difficulties that my wife and I had been having in our relationship as well.
One final loss for me that was important had been that I was for many years a musician in church choirs, playing guitar and piano, mainly piano over the last several years. I had written music for church, including the writing of mass parts along with the choir director of the choir I participated in most recently. In the 4 years at that time since the accident, I had not been able to attend mass because of the pain the cacophony of sound made in my head, and my wife was similarly challenged due to the illnesses she had contracted that disabled her. So, we had lost the ability to share in the weekly mass, and for me to actually participate in it with a gift I had been given.
The lead up to my departure was very stressful, but in the midst of that stress I had discussed with my therapist that I thought this trip was a pilgrimage for me. I had never taken on a challenge like this before. I was going to drive 3,600 km across country by myself, and had no idea if I could do it.
Anyway, I left home on Saturday January 5th in the late morning, crossed into Michigan at Port Huron, and hit the first interstate highway. I had printed out a Yahoo Maps version of the trip to get to Tucson, but because it disagreed with the route that we took when we drove our RV down in November, I planned to ignore it, and go the familiar way. The first hint of divine inspiration to me came as I got near the I90 interchange. As I approached it, I felt compelled to pull over and get the Yahoo directions out of the car and follow them.
I hadn't wanted to follow this set of directions since it took me near Chicago. Nothing against Chicago. I used to live in Indianapolis and if I had to choose which one to pass by I would choose Indy. Anyway, I followed Yahoo and breezed by the Chicago area, and was heading south on I55, when I started to get tired. As it was just on getting dark, I pulled into the small cities of Bloomington/Normal, which could have been my first clue. I was too tired for it to be at that time. It did not become clear until later.
I found a Days Inn, and a Walmart to get something to eat, and hunkered down. I was beat and fell asleep in a short while. I awoke in the morning, and felt the need to go to church, so after I had come down and grabbed some of the continental breakfast, I asked the clerk on duty where the nearest Catholic Church was. I paid my bill and followed her directions, and at 1 minute after 9 found myself entering Epiphany Roman Catholic Church, on the feast of the Epiphany, the day the Catholic Church celebrates the 3 wise men visiting the baby Jesus.
The fact that the Wise Men came and gave their gifts to Jesus, gifts of significance was not lost on me, particularly when it came time for the collection. I had $100 US in my wallet, and in my head I am thinking I need to put it all on the collection plate. As the collection started at the front of the church, I started to bargain with God about it. In my head I am saying that I'll put $20 in now, and if there is a second collection I'll put the rest in. But, as the plate drew near to me, I was not comfortable with that, and put it all in.
A little while later, as I left Normal, Illinois I realised that there had been nothing normal about this visit, that in fact I had just had an epiphany of my own, and I chuckled to myself as I headed onto the interstate, realising that I still had my credit cards and my debit card.
I stopped in Joplin Missouri that night, having driven the rest of the day. The next day, I headed into Oklahoma and saw a sign for the Shrine of the Infant Child Jesus of Prague. I went looking for it near Oklahoma City and spent some time there. While there, I came across a brochure for the Sanctuary of Chimayo in Chimayo New Mexico.
I continued across Oklahoma, enjoying the fact that it was warmer than what I had left in Ontario already, and came across the largest cross in the Western Hemisphere in Groom Texas. I mean, it was in Texas, right. I stopped there for a while. There was a life size version of the Stations of the Cross, and a book store. I contemplated staying longer there, but could not find a motel in the area with an Internet connection so I could use my portable IP phone to contact my wife at home. So, I drove on to Amarillo and stayed there for the night.
The next morning, I headed towards New Mexico, intending to find Chimayo, which was on a small highway north of Santa Fe. How hard could that be to find? Well, I thought I knew where I was going, but ended up hopelessly lost in Santa Fe, so I pulled into a Shell Station on St. Michael's Road (seemed like a safe place to me, a road named after my patron saint), pumped some gas, and went in to empty my overloaded bladder. Two things distracted me. First there was a sign that said the washroom was being cleaned. The second was the lineup at the cash register. I waddled back to my car, and headed for the interstate which was nearby.
I prayed that if God wanted me to find Chimayo he better have a smarter idea than I had, since I was out of them and oh, I needed a washroom too. A few minutes later, I saw a sign for a tourist office just off the highway. I pulled off the road, and in fact had to basically do a u turn on the service road on the other side of the highway and head about a mile back towards Santa Fe. I did not care at the moment about Chimayo, but a washroom was becoming urgent. I got out of my car, and scampered into the office, saw no one at the desk, and headed for the facilities, figuring that I would at least accomplish one important task. When task 1 was done, I came out to find a kindly man at the desk and asked him if he knew where Chimayo was. He said I was in luck and handed me a photocopied page showing me that if I hopped on the interstate back to Santa Fe, and took the next exit and followed that road, I would be in Chimayo in short order. I did and I was.
It turned out to be exactly where God knew that it was, and I had a very peaceful time of prayer there, in a very humble place. I also met the small priest who is in charge of the place, and he was a very humble holy man. It was a special blessing to my trip.
I then headed back south to Socorr, NM for the night and then on towards Arizona the next morning. I had wanted to complete my pilgrimage by going to mass and confession at the Holy Trinity Monastery in St. David's, AZ just outside of Benson on #10 near Tucson, but it was closed on Wednesday, when I arrived. So I went on to the RV resort and got the motor home set up and on site, and then went back there the next day.
On Thursday I completed my pilgrimage by returning to Holy Trinity. I discovered a really interesting bookstore there, and got a couple of books that improved me spiritually. I found a very special interpretive Stations of the Cross that were very prayerful and instructive. I had asked in the bookstore if there was mass and confessions, and they told me that there was a noon mass and that the priest could hear my confession if I asked him after mass. Anyway, after I prayed the Stations of the Cross, I went into the chapel and joined in the praying of the mid day Office prayers which they prayed before mass, and then attended mass. As I sat in the pew, waiting for the priest to finish up, he came down the aisle to me, and asked me if I wanted to go to confession. I made a good confession, and my pilgrimage was complete.
What has this got to do with Human Rights? Only this. I thank God that I am free in North America currently to worship God as I see fit, to follow my heart, to make such a pilgrimage, because I believe it is the right thing to do, currently unhindered by the laws of our lands in North America. I say currently, because there are disturbing legal trends that do not bode well for me to be able to do this in the future.
But, even if in the future it were to become a crime to make such a journey, if such places of faith were to be closed, they will always reside in my mind and my heart, and as long as I live they will live within me.