Sep 26, 2009

Grace Cathedral, the Labyrinth, and an Overly Closed Mind Opened a Little

(This post was inspired by a friends Facebook status.  Thanks M)

When I was just out of High School, I dated a girl named Jennifer.  I'm pretty sure my mother never really liked her, but dad thought she was alright.  For those of you who don't know, I was raised in an LDS household, something which still holds a place in my soul for making me who I am (however, this is not a piece on religion, so feel free to keep reading, those of you who are squeamish at the word "Mormon"). 

On a date, Jennifer and I went to San Francisco.  At her urging, we wet to Grace Cathedral, hoping by chance we might find the boys choir singing (apparently this is something to really behold; I have never heard them, but they are world famous).  Go figure, they were not singing that day.

But the Labyrinth was there, and Jennifer wanted to walk it.  Those of you who are not familiar with the Labyrinth, it is a maze that is inlaid in lime stone.  The masonry work is absolutely beautiful. 

Not to mention that Grace Cathedral is one of the most beautiful buildings in San Francisco (and quite possibly on the planet).

 So, the-then GF talks me into walking the Labyrinth. 

It is required of you to walk this Labyrinth, or maze,  with your shoes off.  What strikes me the most, looking back, is how closed minded I was to the idea of walking the Labyrinth under the roof of an Episcopal Church.  I didn't even want to take my shoes off (OK, I should really say Birkenstocks.  I haven't really worn shoes in my off time since I was a sophomore in High School.  And Birkenstock has always been my favorite choice of footwear).

Was I that closed minded?  Was I that jaded to the ideas of others that I couldn't accept the ideas of another faith as helpful in my own life?  Why was I so against this idea of introducing myself to something that was somewhat foreign to me, and in the end only designed to help me gain a better understanding of myself and the world?

In then end, I took my Birks off (after all, I had to get the girl in the end).  But then I walked the Labyrinth.

Grace Cathedral's web site has this to say about the Labyrinth:

There are three stages of the walk:

•Purgation (Releasing) ~ A releasing, a letting go of the details of your life. This is the act of shedding thoughts and distractions. A time to open the heart and quiet the mind.

•Illumination (Receiving) ~ When you reach the center, stay there as long as you like. It is a place of meditation and prayer. Receive what is there for you to receive.

•Union (Returning) ~ As you leave, following the same path out of the center as you came in, you enter the third stage, which is joining God, your Higher Power, or the healing forces at work in the world. Each time you walk the labyrinth you become more empowered to find and do the work you feel your soul reaching for.
Is this really so bad?  Even for those whose ideals don't exactly believe in God, there is nothing bad going on here.
It goes a little more to say this:
Quiet your mind and become aware of your breath. Allow yourself to find the pace your body wants to go. The path is two ways. Those going in will meet those coming out. You may "pass" people or let others step around you. Do what feels natural.
And in doing so, my mind seemed to focus on a million different things all at once.  I can honestly say I don't think I have discovered and more peaceful act than simply walking a curved path toward a central goal.  Was I in tune with a higher power?  Was I tune with my self?  Probably yes. 
It certainly helped me later in life, and I find myself far more open and interested in the ideals of others, at the very least.  But lets take a little more of a deeper look of walking the Labyrinth itself. 
Do you pass others?  Do you move to the side and let them pass?  Do you find both of you move aside for each other, and find yourselves at an impasse?  There are so many implications here, I don't even think I have the where-with-all to actually delve into them after the night I just had.
So in closing, I say this:  Jennifer, where ever you are, you helped me in a rather unexpected way to open myself up to the ideas of the world at large.  And for this I thank you, even though it a few years over due.


  1. I'm so glad that Jennifer introduced you to the labyrinth. Actually, Dad and I have been there, too and walked it.
    I have found there are two ways to look at things. Do it and get it over with or open your eyes to every new experience and find something good in it. I have found stopping and slowly looking for more in life than just what we see can be enriching. I want to be that way always.
    Good writing. Enjoyed it.

  2. Excellent post. I have wanted to walk a labyrinth for years now. I understand there is one in a church in Eureka. Just the experience of being in Grace cathedral has got to be amazing, let alone walking the labyrinth in it. I'll add that to me SF list of things I want to do. JM

  3. You're welcome, A. :)

    Unfortunately, we never made it up to Grace Cathedral yesterday. After a truly horrendous experience parking at Fort Mason, my companions were not up for more parking nightmares in a quest to find some inner peace.

    But, your piece has definitely piqued my interest in doing the labyrinth. Perhpas, I may try and get up there sometime at lunch, or after work.

  4. I've always been intimitated about visiting churches of other faiths. Not that I'm closed minded about them, just that I don't ever know what the proper ettiquite is and I don't want to do something or be somewhere inappropriate in a House of Worship. But, I am totally intrigued by doing this next time we are home for a visit... maybe if the moons are in alignment, we could all do it together?


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