If you’ve had a chance to read my last two Commissioner articles, you know that I have been sharing lessons that I learned from a recent pilgrimage to Chartres, France. This will be the last time that I write about this particular journey…for now. It is the type of experience that keeps unfolding, and I am surprised by how often my thoughts turn to this trip. I believe that I will continue to unpack what I absorbed for months to come.
As I mentioned earlier, part of our time in Chartres centered on exploring the Cathedral and walking what is likely the world’s most famous labyrinth. There have been many elaborate theories surrounding its construction, but it is figured to have been created in the first decades of the 13th century. Set into the floor stones in the nave of the magnificent structure, it is thought to be a representation of a pilgrim’s spiritual quest to the Holy Land and is sometimes referred to as the “Road of Jerusalem.” Pilgrims have been coming to walk this particular labyrinth for around 1,000 years, and judging from the numbers of people we encountered, it is still a popular place to travel.
When a person sets out on a spiritual pilgrimage, there is most often a desire to walk a path with the hope of becoming closer to God. In the past, people traveled to Chartres for this reason, and they also walked this labyrinth as a means of repentance. In those cases, pilgrims would walk on their knees as a symbol of humility before God. The uncomplicated design of the labyrinth makes it a powerful spiritual tool. In its simplest form, it is a walking meditative path. It is not a maze or a puzzle to be deciphered. There are no tricks to be discovered, in fact, it is a unicursal path. The stones that make up the path are not painted with the pattern as you might imagine; rather, the stones comprise the pattern. The path is laid out in eleven concentric circles intricately woven in a sacred geometric pattern. The only decision you have to make is when to enter.
While there were many opportunities for us to walk this path as individuals, we walked the labyrinth as a group one evening. As I walked, I was keenly aware of the interactions we have with one another on life’s journey. With some, we stay and linger for a while, taking in the lessons and joys that can only be experienced with a particular person or group. With others, we pass in what might seem like casual interaction, but we soon discover that even a fleeting interface can be life-changing. As I walked along at my pace, there were some whose stride I found difficult to follow. There were other times when I came face to face with a fellow journeyer. Did it feel right to reach out to him or her or was it a moment when I needed to remain within myself? There was no right or wrong choice, and I soon learned that I needed to walk in the way that seemed right to me.
As I delved into the mystery and the sacredness of the labyrinth, I realized that I was being invited to consider my chosen path in life and those who walk with me. I was being offered a moment to see the holiness of all life. I began to understand that all of us travel with joy and sorrow and ease and difficulty side by side. If we wait until we feel only joy or we see that the path ahead is an easy one, we will never take the first step. As I put my feet into the crevices that were created in the stone through years and years of those who came before me, I understood anew that we travel together in order to ensure that each of us is in forward motion.
You don’t have to travel to France to walk a labyrinth. Next time you need some clarity or you feel the need to encounter God in a new way, visit our chapel and try walking our labyrinth. I can’t promise a particular outcome, but I can tell you that you will leave differently than you entered. That always happens when we take a step closer to God.
Celebrate Life, LuAnn