Unsure of how to deal with the 100th anniversary of the end of a very troubled past life, I decided to just go to whatever spot I could find in Portland that people go to contemplate. I went to The National Sanctuary of our Sorrowful Mother or, as it’s popularly known, The Grotto.
I’m a bit of an outsider to Christianity these days, admittedly, but as I walked the Stations of the Cross I was struck by the presentation. At one bend in the trail, a bronze marked “Christ Falls the Second Time” was punctuated dramatically by a huge fallen fir tree behind it. The trail wound up a small hill where, at its crest, was the crucifixion. From there it wound downhill, and at the end of these stations was a white marble statue of the risen Jesus, his arms held wide, perched on a rocky outcropping.
Beyond that, there was a saint statue praying next to a small waterfall and across from it, a statue of Christ bearing his cross and pointing. Following his pointing finger, I saw the Grotto itself.
It was a rock-cut arch about thirty feet high in the side of a bluff that was about 100 feet high. Inside the arch a white marble statue of the pieta- Mary holding the fallen Christ- stood over an altar strewn with flowers. A stone platform with stairs led up to it, and flanked it with large shelves filled with votives. I was touched to see just how many votives there were, and I couldn’t help but wonder how many were lit by the faithful and how many were lit by sad souls like me, wanderers who come for the atmosphere.
I didn’t light one this time, but I sat there a while, watching as the faithful came, lit their candles, and knelt at the altar, crossing themselves. The whole scene was so much like places I dimly remembered, from long-ago lives when I too was Catholic.
To the side was an elegant Italian-style chapel. I walked in and sat inside for a while more. I was touched to see the walls decorated and colorful, not at all the sober gray stone and plaster that seems to be the hallmark of so many churches nowadays. I sat there a while, taking it in.
I began to hear worrying cracking sounds that sounded as if they were coming from the masonry around the windows and though I realized it was unlikely that the place was going to collapse, it was ruining my concentration.
I didn’t get a chance to go up to the upper levels; I had already spent my money on lunch for the day and there was no stairway that I could see. Also, I’d be lying if I said the heat wasn’t an issue today.
Still, I’ll be back. I’ll be back often. I can’t say I left any less melancholy, but I felt that I was at least a little more at peace with it by being in a place of contemplation for a while. I have no plans whatsoever to convert to Catholicism but The Grotto has a good reputation for not aggressively pushing a belief system. It’s a place of holy silence and in my troubled state, I can certainly appreciate that.