The moment my dear daughter awakes, she begins excitedly chattering about our day in San Francisco. In her kindergarten naïveté, she’d imagined we’d take the Golden Gate Bridge. My dear son the geography expert, patiently listens as I explain to her that we need to take the Bay Bridge from our home. We all delight in the shiny new bridge. The moment we exit on Fremont Street she squeals with delight as if we are on a roller coaster.
We are heading to Grace Cathedral, as I had read about the current artist in residence and the liturgical art experience. Twenty miles of thin ribbons hang from the cathedral ceiling, in the colors of the stained glass. The ribbons represent both our prayers and God’s love. I knew I wanted to see it and I thought my children would apprciate it, too. My in-law’s were in town so they decided to join us, and they brought along their friends. So it became a motley pilgrimmage. Ah, well, such is the journey.
Quite simply, the experience is majestic. The ribbons bring the light and colors from the stained glass windows into the sanctuary and across the pews. The natural light through the windows enhances the ribbons’ colors. As the clouds and winds change, the ribbons seem to move and dance in their stillness. I learned later that some of the ribbons had the actual prayers of the community written upon them. From every angle there is beauty and life. I bring my now-extended family to the center of the worship space and chose a pew. My children and I kneel on the soft blue cushions conveniently stowed. “They look like suitcases!” My daughter exclaims in delight. Once kneeling, we look up into this vast rain of color. There is no doubt that this is a sacred space. Grace is alive and present.
From here we walk the labyrinth. There are two at Grace, and we chose the inside one, located in the cathedral. The labyrinth is a prayerful experience in itself, as one walks toward the center, one is to notice and acknowledge thoughts, moving away from the distractions. When one reaches the center, one waits in silent prayer, centering. Exiting via the same path, acknowledging the return to self, although hopefully somewhat more enlightened.
I invite my son to walk himself, as I invite my daughter to hold my hand. She leads me. I want to enjoy this experience but my mind is spinning with troublesome thoughts. I don’t think she’s going to hold my hand the whole time. Is my son doing it right? I wish my in-law’s weren’t here and didn’t bring their friends, it’s so crowded and we are all going too fast. I’m whispering to my children to be quiet and giving them stares and telling them to keep their hands to themselves. I’m already wishing we are having a different experience. But this is my experience. The path is narrow and winding and I think we are reaching the center but then the path guides us away, back to the edge. I realize this is the metaphor. There aren’t four paths to the center, there’s one and we will walk each quadrant. We keep bumping elbows and hips and bags and purses. My son can’t help but try to push my daughter off course and tickle her. I’m frustrated because I’m trying to have a prayerful experience but they’re goofing around. And I keep bumping into my mother-in-law, of all people. I learn to reposition my cross-body purse so that it rests behind me. Now that I am walking with my purse bouncing on my big behind, I get it. Sometimes a symbol just has to jump up and spank you: no baggage on the labyrinth! I’m free with both hands now. My son has moved to lead us somehow, I hiss at him to slow down and he falls behind us now in protest. I find myself harshly whisper-explaining as I seem to do often, and I realize I don’t like the sound of myself right now. So I stop. Let everyone be. We enter the center finally, and we each choose a leaf -like alcove to pause for reflection.
My own reflection is spared in the interest of time and helping others. Typical. I’m whispering to my young daughter an improvised prayer, which she will voice for us both. I turn to my son and ask him if he prayed. He says yes. I notice my in-law’s have now arrived at the center and so now we can remove ourselves from the reflection pods and begin the reverse course. I say to my son: Show us the way. We follow him out. We meet and cross the friends, as they began later than we did. We have to maneuver a little dance to let them through as we exit. The whole thing seems to take longer than it should, and yet not long enough. I’m somewhat frustrated again, but this is how it is.
We exit the labyrinth at a baptismal font of holy water and bless ourselves. We admire some tapestry and I snap a few pics on my phone. I note that my kids are restless, and so we pick up a few pamphlets and say goodbye to our group, heading for the gift store. The couple say to me that they have lived just five minutes away for years and years, and yet they’ve never come here before. They thank me. They are really very sweet. She actually invites us to come to their house next time we come to the City.
Dear Daughter wants to buy everything in the gift store, for everybody that she loves. She wants matching t shirts for she and her brother. Finally I say she can have one book. She chooses a board book entitled “Where is God?” and is already reading it aloud all by herself. She is delighted by the verse. “God is in the first tomato?” My heart melts in her sweetness. Dear Son wants a bookmark, as he is a reader. I am drawn to an expensive book of daily centering prayers. I guess I need centering. I buy all of these, plus a magnet featuring a sea otter for my husband, who has to work on this school holiday.
We cross the street to the parking garage. Dear Daughter is delighted by the hills. So we walk a few feet down a particularly steep sidewalk for fun. Fortunately there are steps for the way back up. Once in our car, I let the disembodied voice of the smartphone guide me down California Street towards our next destination. It’s a gloriously sunny day with clear blue skies and wondrous views. I wish I could stop and take photos as we head east. As if I could. These moments are graced with wonder, as they fleetingly pass by. But life keeps going o.n. And more moments occur. Hills of ups and downs and one-way streets. We are not taking the most direct route to Pier 39. And why would you? When there’s California Street, cable cars, and the Embarcadero. At the edge of the city we turn north, following the circle. Just like in the labyrinth. And I find myself centered, finally. This is what it’s all about. After a delightful lunch and visit on the pier (including the funny hat store, where you must try on crazy hats and take pictures), we followed yet another route toward the Bay Bridge. Exiting the labyrinth of the City from the same entrance point, the new bridge takes us home, to our ordinary lives, to our selves.