Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Compass Points and Labyrinths

If you traverse the sidewalks of Chartres, you will find something a bit unusual, something that, at first, may seem misplaced – the sign of the clamshell, a guidepost to pilgrims of Compostela.

But Compostela is hundreds of kilometers, and another border and mountain range, to the south.

A few friends of mine have done portions of the Camino: Colin Campbell, rising senior and incoming President of the Folk Choir, and my dear friend Michele Von Ebers, colleague and permissions editor at World Library Publications. Both of them came back with amazing stories of their travels on the pilgrim way.

The reason why Chartres has the sign of the Clamshell for her peregrina is because she is seen as a major pilgrimage point for people as they head further south. The Cathedral is a compass point, a beacon for people on foot and by car, making their way across a holy countryside.

We left Taizé a couple of days ago, heading out of the rich countryside of Burgundy, and set our sights on the region the French call the Île de France. Even while driving, it was like stepping into a painting by Van Gogh: huge storms were rolling in from the English Channel, painting the sky a dark, vivid grey. But occasionally the sun, low in the sky, would pierce the clouds and turn the wheat fields in every direction into a brilliant gold color.

We were staying at a country inn just outside of Cherville, smack dab in the middle of those fields of gold. And upon arriving and dropping off our gear, we headed out, at dusk, for Chartres.

Even from twenty kilometers away, on the horizon, Chartres' cathedral began to rise up out of the fields. The sight of those huge spires, washed in sunlight and from very far away, was jaw dropping. It was as if, even in broad daylight, she could not help but be a beacon for those who were on their pilgrim way.

A few years ago, I gave a talk at an NPM convention in Indianapolis. The talk was on labyrinths – perhaps, more precisely, on what it means to be a servant of the church and walking the mystic path that a labyrinth signifies.

Chartres Cathedral has one of the oldest and most amazing of these meditative pathways, set directly in the floor, embedded in the nave of her 12th century foundations.

When I spoke at the NPM convention, the focus of the talk was the difference between a maze (those things you can get lost in) and a labyrinth (the other kind of pathway, the one where the way is already set before us).

That talk was about five years ago, and I've had a lot of footsteps in between. Yet my appreciation for the spiritual tool called the labyrinth is all the more profound now that I have given that talk.

And the point is this: as our road unfolds, it is the rare moment when we are utterly lost – so lost that it appears we are caught in a maze. Most often, in life, we put our feet one ahead of the other – the way we do in a labyrinth. And on that path, there is really only one way: the way God intends for each of us.

Chartres does two things: its physical greatness provides a compass point across the plains, showing her pilgrims how to avoid getting lost. But once inside this magnificent place of prayer, her floor opens up to the true spiritual journey: the quiet, interior one, that traces its footsteps, deliberate and true, according to the design of our Maker. All we need do is walk.

- Posted using BlogPress from my iPad

Location:Chartres Cathedral, France

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