God Says "Duh" To Me

Half a year after Richard died, I visited San Francisco for the first time with my sister, Gay, and our sister-in-law, Beth.  Gay was there for a conference.  Beth and I were there to stay at the Palace Hotel on someone else's expense account.  Man, they have plush robes at that hotel. Nicest robe I ever almost stole.  Also a sauna, town cars at your disposal, a brunch buffet with everything from sushi to crepes, a concierge every 20 feet.  We were living high on the hog that week.  I don't know how I'll ever come back down to the Sleep Inn between the interstate and Sonic.

One morning, Gay had meetings to attend so Beth and I were on our own to navigate the city.  We decided to do some sight seeing up on Nob Hill (because you can't get lost if you keep going uphill!).  My friend, Gleam, had a thing for labyrinths and had told me much about the labyrinths at Grace Cathedral atop Nob Hill.  

haringNow....I'm not normally one for church.  At least Grace is an Episcopal church--they don't make me itch and twitch quite as severely.  I'm a church tourist, at best.  Grace, however, quickly became one of my most favorite spaces I've ever had the privilege of visiting.  I found real sanctuary there.  It's a welcoming congregation.  The first chapel I stepped into remembered thousands of lives lost to AIDS.  The "Life of Christ" altar by Keith Haring is surrounded by symbols of many faiths and a simple circle for people like me.  This was Haring's last piece of art.  He died two weeks later from complications of AIDS, in 1990.  

grace-2005

When we were there that October of 2005, the main aisle had been decorated with a genuinely soul-lifting art installation.  This tiny thumbnail is the only record of it that I could find (because 2005 is like the Jurassic Period of the Internet).  Translucent ribbons swooped from the ceiling, suspended by invisible wires.  Hues transformed from deepest red toward the altar to pale sunshine yellow down the aisle.   The floating fabric sculpture reminded me of a fiery spirit, 100 feet long.  The motion of it, the color, the space inside it--all took my breath away.  While Beth explored the side aisles, I slipped into a pew and sat quietly, just so I could share the same space with the fiery spirit.  That's when I began to cry.  I missed Richard so deeply.  He and I had spent many an hour exploring the cathedrals of Europe.  Now I was learning to adventure on my own.  

Beth had been giving me my space, but we eventually came back together and talked about what to do next.  I felt like I was holding her back, but there was one thing left to do at Grace.  I trusted her enough to risk making a fool of myself.  As we stepped out into the afternoon light, I turned to her and confessed, "I want to walk the labyrinth."  

She was game.  Beth's not usually one for any kind of mumbo-jumbo--she was totally humoring me.  "You're going to need to explain it to me.  I don't want to screw it up."  I told her what I knew of them from Gleam, who had made a pilgrimage to Chartres with the last of her strength.  Cancer took her the next year.   

Here are the instructions for the Grace Labyrinth:

The labyrinth has only one path so there are no tricks to it and no dead ends. The path winds throughout and becomes a mirror for where we are in our lives. It touches our sorrows and releases our joys. Walk it with an open mind and an open heart.

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 for which you feel your soul is reaching.

Labyrinth-HorizBeth and I began our walks.  We had the place to ourselves, which let me let go of some of my inhibitions about doing something so mystical in public.  I focused on the soles of my feet and the contact they shared with the ground, just like in Buddhist walking meditation.  I felt safe in the maze.  Not rushing, just doing.  The rhythm of my steps did help me let go of the details of my life.  I felt the grief slip away, the anxiety abate.  My quieting mind sloughed away the months of grief, the months of worry, winnowing it all down to the real question that weighed down my heart.  The question I wanted to ask of God when I got to the center of the labyrinth:

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