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Finding God at the Grotto


Today’s pilgrimage will be with me for a very long time. Tonight, I am close to tears again as I think of the Memorial of the Unborn at the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. This was the unexpected moment, which pilgrimages are known for giving.

But then, my daughter and I decided to drive through Wisconsin and see if we could find a grotto I remember seeing as a child. It as in Dickeyville, Wisconsin. Every year, especially at Christmas, we would visit my dad’s side of the family. One year, I remember passing the grotto. A large crowd had gathered outside. Maybe it was a Marian feast day. Perhaps, December 8th. One couldn’t help noticing the crowd. It filled the grotto, spilled onto the surrounding grounds, and lined up down the sidewalk and wrapped around the rectory and church.

I was a preacher’s daughter back then, sitting in the back seat of my parents’ car, wondering what was the big draw. Why had all of these people come anyway. We didn’t stop the car. We just kept driving back then, when I was just a child.

I didn’t find it odd that we packed into our car all of the time – to see Mount Rushmore or the Smithsonian or Grandad’s Bluff in La Crosse. We visited the Corn Palace in South Dakota and Old Ironsides in Boston.

But we didn’t “do” grottos. Or shrines. Or basilicas. We didn’t do churches for the most part, although I do remember stopping to see Rex Humbard’s Cathedral of Tomorrow as we passed through Ohio once. But really, we didn’t seek out holy places. We didn’t think we needed them. Holiness was within – or should be. And that should be enough, we thought.

I felt a deep desire today to go back to that church… to see if I could find this grotto that I remember from my childhood. It was dark by the time we arrived in Dickeyville. It had been a long day. First, the drive from Minneapolis to La Crosse. Then a wonderful visit to the Shrine of Our Lady of Guadalupe. Was it too much to add this last little stop to our day’s itinerary?

I remembered the school. We would see it first. The school had always fascinated me, as other schools and other kids in other towns fascinated a child who is passing through. And then the church would come after the school. And then the grotto… if it was still there.

And it was. It felt like I was dreaming as we pulled up in front of the grotto. My daughter asked if we could get out of the car and take a look. I said sure.

We had the place to ourselves. No crowd tonight – as there had been some forty years ago when I saw the grotto as a child.

And Mary ways waiting for me. She had waited a very long time.

Jen wanted to take a rock from the grotto. She wanted to scout out every nook and cranny. She kept saying that it was cool. So interesting. Amazing.

She gets it. Of course we are attracted to places like this. Of course our souls are drawn close. Of course we wish to linger, to take a piece of it with us.

Only centuries of inherited bias could destroy this desire. But it does not stay dead.

It is resurrected in the hearts that are willing to receive.

What a day. What a glorious day this has been. Jesus Christ was there. And Mary. And the Apostles.

I smiled when I saw my Lord, so high above the grotto, the title, King of Heaven and Earth clearly written in the stones and shells surrounding His image.

We once thought places like this eclipsed the glory of God.

We were wrong.

It magnifies Him.

And I will be thinking about this day for quite a while, I would guess.

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