Thursday, 9 August 2012

Hopscotch and Heavenly Blue

A guest post today - Joan Burkitt-Gray , my friend and co-facilitator of Sacred Spirals (places still available - book now!) writes about walking the Chartres labyrinth earlier this year. The pictures are Joan's too.









"Visiting Chartres Cathedral was something I’d always wanted to do... and a big birthday seemed a great time to let this particular dream come true.

So just the dark beauty of the cathedral itself, and the glory of the blue glass, deep blue, Chartres blue, cobalt blue deep, rising tier upon tier, would have been enough....but the labyrinth was open, blessedly open – and blessedly uncrowded – and I was able to walk it three times. (I only really realised just how blessedly uncrowded the cathedral had been the next morning, when the queues outside Sacre Coeur were so long we decided not even to try to get in!)

The first time of walking the labyrinth at Chartres it was such a blessed surprise first of all to see it so easily open and soavailable to walk: right in the middle of the nave, with all the chairs pushed back to uncover it, and allow us all easy access.
And absolutely no need for any conspiracy theories about the cathedral staff not liking the labyrinth, and so keeping ithidden under chairs: it's right in the middle of the nave, it’s absolutely huge, occupying practically the whole of the nave: and a worshipping cathedral does need chairs in the nave for the congregation to sit on!

The surface of the labyrinth is beautiful: golden limestone pitted and pocked with eight centuries of wear, with the oh-so-precisely carved and fitted markings of the labyrinth path carved and set into it in deep slaty grey-blue stone, every step and every segment precisely designed, carved, and fitted and cared for, with gloriously painstaking precision: set into the careful path, you can see centuries of careful repairs and patches as well as the foot-wear of the countless pilgrims before us in whose steps we keep walking and praying.
And of course, there’s the wear from the feet of countless tourists too, many of whom seem to think the centre of the labyrinth marks the best place to head for to pause quickly and photograph the cathedral. It probably does actually, adding countless photograph-prayers and countless photograph-pauses to the other sorts!
My first walk of the labyrinth was sheer joy – a sheer prayer of gratitude, ending in the glory of the centre with the blue of the rose window to the west and the gold of the altar to the east, surrounded by the heart-openingly heavenly blue light of the windows all around.

And I was so struck by how the labyrinth is a slow path: and how, unlike the smaller city labyrinth I’m used to, you really do lose all sense of where you’re going, and just have to trust the path: not for nothing is the path of the labyrinth used as a symbol of grace, a symbol of the grace of God like a thread leading us through life.

But walking the labyrinth – if you trust all its turns and stay with them and don’t just rush to the centre and leave  is a slow path that cannot be hurried, a slow path that takes God’s time – and walking it slowly made, I found, also a great prayer for those times of feeling stuck on the slow path, times of feeling mazed in confusion on a long and uncertain path, times of not wanting to wait on God’s way, God’s time.
But it’s also a swinging, balanced, cadenced path, with some long straight paths swirling what feels like practically its whole circumference. You can’t see or know the carefully planned symmetry of the flower-at-the-centre-with-rhythmically-alternating- long-and-short-paths-leading-to-it design of the labyrinth when you’re walking it, only experience it and keep going through all its swooping turns and changes of direction.



But it gives a powerful sense of following God’s path in God’s good time and God’s way: and of turning back to God at every twist and turn of the way, new angles of beauty opening up at every turn. The continual turning on the labyrinth path is often used as an image of repentance: and it can also give an amazing sense of whichever way you turn, God is there, that nothing can really turn you away from God, that there is nowhere where God is not.
And the second time of walking gave me a different gift: I’ll call it the gift of hopscotch and a teddy bear. Because, returning from lunch, I found the labyrinth closed: well, not quite closed exactly, but with a determined circle of chairs blocking it, like the circle of wagons protecting an encampment in an old cowboy movie. But I – like a few other determined labyrinth walkers – squeezed through, and rejoiced in the gift of being able to walk the labyrinth again, rejoiced in the process, rejoiced in the present moment, rejoiced in the blessing and creativity of all those medieval forebears who’d laid the stones and carved the marble and set the beauty of the blue glass, rejoiced in the product of their skill and artistry.
All those medieval masons and glaziers had left such a beautiful product (and the skill needed to design and carve a labyrinth meant it was also a place where the master masons of a cathedral often proudly left their names).

But my post-lunch labyrinth walk also reminded me to enjoy the process too, and to enjoy the fruits – to have fun and enjoy the process, like a little girl who was delightedly walking the labyrinth with me, hopping and skipping and running and jumping along with her teddy bear in her hand. Have fun too – and that reminded me that actually one reason so many of the medieval cathedral labyrinths were later closed or destroyed was that, in the age of the enlightenment, oh-so-rational clergy thought that they just looked like too much fun and an opportunity to waste time.
One name for them became hopscotches, and yes, children did use to play a version of hopscotch on them, and some French childrens’ hopscotches still have elements of a labyrinth in their design.

And at this point the cathedral guardian came up and told us all that the labyrinth was now closing and would we please leave straight away and go straight to the exit. I walked – the little girl and the teddy bear skipped and hopped. And that brings me to the gift of the third time of walking the labyrinth, the gift of no harm done, the gift of the second, third, fourth and for ever chance. Because it wasn’t long before the cathedral guardian came over to where I was sitting by the labyrinth to say, kindlyit was opening again and I could walk it now. No harm done... there I was, back on the graced path after a pause – the path much more crowded now.

And somewhere near the circumference, on one of the longer stretches of the path, I stepped aside again to let someone pass: and this time couldn’t find my way back to the right path. There was by now a steady stream of people heading in both directions, and I could no longer tell which was the path that would lead me to the centre and which would simply lead me straight back to the end – that is, of course, in a labyrinth,  also the beginning. I stood confused.. and then simply decided to make a new start, to head straight back to the beginning and start again. No harm done. I’d lost the path and no harm done. I could simply go straight back to the beginning and begin again. It was a powerful feeling of a second chance, of no harm done.....of the faith of the second chance, third chance, a path of love, a path of resurrection, walked in a faith of love, a faith of resurrection."

1 comment:

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Please share your labyrinth experiences and reflections with the rest of us. Everyone's welcome - and remember that we are all on different paths on the same journey. Comment with courtesy!