These two words appeared in my mind yesterday. It felt as if I were in the eye of the storm - the world rushes by, things demanding attention, work to be done, shopping, cooking, dishes, and I am able to look at it as if from the outside, not unmoved, but unaffected, and, oddly enough, humming a Latvian church hymn, about peace flowing within me like a river. And then, out of nowhere, the words jump at me - pilgrim's peace.
I am not familiar with the experience. Nor have I ever used these two words before. I never thought about making a pilgrimage, although Taize comes quite close, now that I think of it. I remember waking up in tents in below freezing temperatures, walking to the bathroom some 50 metres away, and rushing to prayer on a cold morning in Burgundy, with an absolute certainty that we will not so much as sneeze. And we never did! No sneezing, no coughing. Well, someone I know did demand meat, and I, rather uncharitably, thought this must have been exactly what Israelites were saying in the desert... Apart from having to put up with grumbling, no harm has ever occurred despite modest circumstances.
And I suppose pilgrimage is exactly that - getting by day by day on whatever the Lord provides, not thinking of tomorrow, remembering that one is here for something else, something that satisfies more that food, or wine, or clothes.
I know two people who just went to a Taize meeting this year. They don't know each other, but - who knows - perhaps they will meet there. Perhaps not. In a sense, they will be united even if they don't. When I was 16, Taize meant a whole world to me, literally even. I think I met people from 16 different nations in one day, and the fact that we all managed to understand each other, that we could pray together, revealed to me something new about the Lord. I saw Babylon reversed, thousands of people of all tongues and nations united by one common language - of prayer, of course, but also, more specifically, Latin. We all spoke one language. The mother tongue of the Church. And we understood it perfectly.
There is a Russian stand-up comedian, who, oddly enough, went to the same school I did - years before me. He became famous in the 1990's for his jokes about 'stupid Americans'. Americans don't know how to cook potatoes (???), Americans can even sell you a navel-warmer if you ask for it, Americans and all the tourists in general will never understand our mysterious Russian soul... Things like that, extremely annoying and silly, but perhaps adequate in a country that had been isolated from the outside world for 70 years. What an experience like Taize did to me was, of course, that I could never comprehend his jokes, could never laugh at them or even listen to them. I was blessed to see that, ultimately, we are all the same. In God, that is. In Him there are no distinctions.
Now, many years later, when I say Our Father in church, I sometimes see all the people and places, all the churches, chapels and cathedrals where we have attended Mass or prayed. A cathedral in Genoa, a stuffy church on Panarea, an airport chapel in Milan, the never-ending Maltese churches... People lifting up their hands to their heavenly Father. Good or bad, recollected or not, in faith or in doubt... I suppose, this, too, is Babylon reversed.
And now I have been granted this special grace - peace. I still have to pack, remember to take with me certain things and take care of finances, but it almost feels as if I were already at my destination, already there. It's as if all the pressing matters are not worth worrying about anymore. And whatever happens, I'll be in the middle of it, in peace. Well, travelling alone in the Middle East, I will certainly need peace, but this is so much more than that. It's an encouragement and a blessing from the Lord, a way for me to know that I won't be travelling that special road in vain. How beautiful!