When we decided to go on pilgrimage, I expected an amazing, even life-changing experience. As usual, I was completely (1) misguided and (2) unprepared. This trip has been one of the most intense emotional experiences I have ever had. Check out the sample itinerary:
9 a.m. Visit Jesus’s hometown.
9:15 Get a little freaked out by incredible archaeology and walking in His footsteps.
10:00 a.m. Visit site where Jesus prepared Peter to lead the Church.
10:10 a.m. Have overwhelming sense of His presence, start to get teary about the “Do you love me?” question asked three times of Peter.
10: 12 a.m. Question life goals.
11:00 Attend Mass on the site where Jesus actually gave us the Beatitudes.
11:03 Reflect on how you haven’t truly lived any of them.
11:20 Start sobbing during Mass.
It’s fair to say the pump was already primed yesterday after we went through the Church of the Nativity and had Mass right over the spot where Jesus was born. Right then I should have called it a day and gone to the hotel spa. Then we made an unscripted visit to the Milk Grotto.
Yes, I was initially a little freaked out that we were going to a Church built to commemorate breast-feeding, where some pilgrims were actually said to lick the walls for a blessing (insert look of disgust here). However, this is a charming traditional story from the Orthodox tradition, detailing the Holy Family’s flight out of Bethlehem to Egypt. They took refuge in another grotto to avoid Herod’s thugs. Mary nursed Baby Jesus and a drop of her milk spilled on the floor, transforming the cave into a white, chalky paradise of goodness. Pilgrims come from all over to pray to Mother Mary and many ask her to help with infertility. I made it to the cave about 20 years too late.
As I walked around this beautiful, holy place, my eight year struggle with infertility and all the pain and loneliness it brought came rushing back to me. Now, I have two amazing adopted kiddos whom I would do anything for and I truly thought I was over all this. Yet, as I gazed at image after image of Mary nursing Jesus, it hit me over and over again that this is something I could never do, despite a decade of trying. I would never be a bio-mom. It struck me that maybe this pain was my blessing, though. Kind of like how the Good Shepherd has to hurt the wandering sheep to get it back on track? Hey, Anne, better deal with this before you can move forward.
Add to the itinerary:
11:45 Have complete breakdown in Milk Grotto.