Walking the Walk
April 7, 2009
Pilgrimage at Grace Cathedral
In the Middle Ages, people usually went on pilgrimages for three basic reasons: 1) to ask for healing; 2) to give thanks for healing; or 3) to ask forgiveness.
On the Labyrinth at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, California, visitors make pilgrimages daily.
It’s a trek. Whether they come from across the continent or across the world, they've made a pilgrimage to get to the cathedral...even if all they did was climb the California Street hill!
In the courtyard and again inside, a labyrinth beckons. It's a vehicle for meditation. A symbolic pilgrimage. A metaphor for life, if you will. Start at the beginning.Keep on the path.Follow the rules. And you WILL reach your goal. Of course, when you think you’re almost there and ready to sit back and savor your success, it may seem as if you have to go all the way back to the beginning. And while you're bemoaning the fact that you’re far away and never, ever going to get ahead, hurrah, suddenly the path opens up right in front of you!Be respectful of the people you meet going forward, say the sages who know such things. You’ll probably meet those same guys on the way back.
Children chase each other joyously through the intricate design. Adults, seeing it for the first time, tend to avert their eyes as if to say, “Better wait until no one is looking.”But eventually, even they realize no one’s really watching.One person inches forward, lost in his thoughts.Others briskly pass him by.
Last year, on the fifth anniversary of the war in Iraq, the American Friends Service Committee created a very special pilgrimage at the cathedral by placing more than fifty pairs of combat boots on the labyrinth. Some were old and beat up. Some were brand new. Each had a name tag with the name of the person who had died wearing them. It was crowded and quite astounding. As many as a dozen people at a time walked the path, stopping every few steps to remember the Northern California troops whose boots they passed.
Outside on the cathedral steps were hundreds of other shoes -- high heeled pumps, baby shoes, house slippers. These were civilian shoes -- a silent salute to families whose lives have been touched by the war. Again, a powerful sight.
A year later, the fighting continues.As of April 5, a total of 4,585 troops had died.
California Collectors' Series does not currently have a note card depicting Grace Cathedral. However, we have a close connection with the Cathedral's docent program. In preparation for a trip to Ravenna, Italy, and in general preparation for a better understanding of world religions, we continue to look for ways that profound ancient ideas have found their way to the present.