During our northern-France pilgrimage this summer, we went to Mont Saint-Michel. I’d been maybe 15 years ago, but I experienced it very differently this time, of course. It’s the most dramatic approach of anywhere I’ve ever been. First, it’s a little spire in the distance–literally pointing toward heaven, directing all those who see and approach to focus their attention on God.
It was cloudy, windy, and a bit rainy as we walked the pilgrim’s way toward the Mont (by afternoon, at the top of the post, it’d cleared up beautifully). When you think you’re almost there, you aren’t–as you pass the dam (above) you’re actually only getting close to the pedestrian-only/official-buses-only section; the pavement ends and those on foot continue on real earth (it was sort of lovely and medieval).
Then you finally arrive, and crane your neck. The main tower points like a finger toward the sky, with the smaller spires of the main chapel’s gothic apse joining in, beckoning your attention toward the vast expanse of sky symbolizing the vastness and the glory of God.
Just below the highest tower (below) much of it is blocked from view–you can see its fullness more clearly from afar. In the midst of life, often it’s more difficult to contemplate the whole thing; a step back, contemplation, slowness, helps us humans, limited as we are, to take in the greatness of God and of life.
The upper main chapel is extraordinary, as are the rooms in which monks have lived, eaten, prayed, studied, and celebrated for centuries; this time, though, I was deeply affected by the Chapel of St. Martin, built almost exactly a thousand (1000!) years ago. The automated guide told me, almost apologetically, that it hadn’t been touched much in the intervening millennium. In classic, understated Romanesque style, this quiet, sparse, dark little room was my favorite moment of the whole day.
Can you imagine praying where God-seekers have been soaking the walls with prayers for a thousand years? As far as we are removed for those who built this holy place for prayer and worship to the glory of God, they themselves were removed from Jesus’ time in Galilee. When I realized that as I sat at the back of this chapel, I started to understand how small I am in the course of history and in the life of the church.
Though our lives matter–the prayers we offer and the virtues we cultivate–each one of us is tiny, miniscule, perhaps even so small as to be statistically irrelevant, in comparison to the Church (all people who have sought after God throughout time and space). Our significance comes from being part of something much larger than ourselves, a millenia-long heritage. Being so small is a comfort to me, though; I am not such a linchpin myself that my shoulders need bend and break under the weight. The little pieces each of us contribute are offerings to this great God of centuries and space.
Fear not! As pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber said recently, “The Church of Jesus Christ has survived papal corruption, the crusades, sectarianism, and clown ministry. It will survive us too.”