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Pilgrimage to Ground Zero, and Beyond

Now the daily build to 9/11 is palpable. It's not just numbers; it's energy. It's thick and getting thicker. The downtown is dense with energy on a normal day with Wall Street workers, the heavy international tourism load, and the thousand construction workers building the towers, tunnels, and plazas. Now add to that the arriving pilgrims. I call them pilgrims not because I know the intention of their hearts but simply because they have come for this specific destination. That's at very least what a pilgrim is. There are a couple dozen right now standing in front of the firemen's memorial next to Ground Zero. There are several hundred more in St. Pauls Chapel, all having a variation of every pilgrim's experience.

For all these pilgrims, before this moment, the project was about getting here. Now that they are here, in this moment, the project is about making meaning of the experience. After they snap their photographs that slight sense of lostness appears on their faces that is so common to pilgrims everywhere. I saw it most strongly in Santiago de Compostela in Spain at the end of a 300-mile walking pilgrimage. The pilgrims arrive on the plaza in front of the cathedral and their walk is over. Now what? Then it sinks in: the next step is part of the journey, maybe the most important part.

On Tuesday Krista Tippett broadcast her NPR show On Being from St. Pauls Chapel, and she titled it "Remembering Forward." How do we remember who we are called to become? Her program will air in the context of Trinity's theme for this week: "Remember to Love." We have been reflecting in sermons and music on how our contemplation of our past calls out of us something more that regret, revenge, or empty loss. Remembering to love actually takes us to a new place: unlike physical healing, spiritual healing is about far more than returning to normal; it is discovering a new norm far greater than the old one. Its growth and evolution.

Three years ago, when I first arrived in New York, I saw a jacket emblazoned with the slogan. "I didn't forget; I don't forgive." That's one way of remembering - it's a powerful one that fuels many people's lives, but it's not one that will make more of us in the end. Forgiveness is precisely about NOT forgetting, about remembering in a new way, one that takes the toxicity out of the memory. Remember(ing in a way that allows us) to Love. This is the most important pilgrimage of all: the pilgrimage of the heart and the transformation of our world. If we lose sight of that destination we are done for.

I hope that at least some of those who come to this little place that has the whole world's focus this weekend will let their disorientation sink in, and let the "What's Next?" pilgrim question do it's holy work. September 12 will be an important date for all of us: HOW we return home or return to normal makes all the difference, whether we return to our lives as tourists back from vacation or as dazed pilgrims pulled into a larger story, discovering a greater path and a higher calling.

Either path is a choice that is open to us at every moment.