Pathway to Prayer

Looking down to Fishermen’s Wharf and the Golden Gate Bridge and all the other wonderful sights San Francisco has to offer, high above the streets of San Francisco atop Nob Hill sit several buildings which have cameo roles in Hitchcock’s Vertigo (recently voted the best movie of all time). Across the square from the Fairmount Hotel sits Grace Cathedral, this is not only modelled on Paris’ Notre Dame but has copied stained glass from Chartres. Sad to say, I’ve have yet to visit Chartres but I am determined to do so in the near future as what fascinated me about Grace Cathedral was its labyrinths. These objects too have been copied from Chartres. In Grace Cathedral one labyrinth is in the chancel and the other is outside, after all this is California.

No Minotaur, underground caverns or golden thread, these labyrinths are two dimensional projections on the floor. Such labyrinths have been traced back as far as 324 AD and in the USA, at least, seem to be enjoying something of a renaissance. They are used as an aid to prayer.

Tracing a labyrinth’s path (I write “path”, singular, as unlike a maze there is only one path to travel) there are no blind alleys or cul-de-sacs, and you can’t get lost, at least not geographically. However, you may find you can lose yourself in God’s presence and transcend the space mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Something quite supernatural may be felt as you walk slowly from the entrance to the labyrinth towards its centre and back out again, praying or meditating on words of scripture. The concentration induced by the exercise somehow helps one to centre-in on God. The usual mental distractions to prayer (vividly described by Henri Nouwen as like monkeys in banana trees) melt away as one leaves the entrance and picks up the rhythm of walking and praying. Fascinating.

But you don’t have to be in California or France to experience a labyrinth. You can replicate the experience by simply tracing a labyrinth with your finger or pen. I find it a very helpful tool for my quiet times, particularly when distracted by the cares of everyday life, maybe you will too?

Can you recommend a good hotel in Chartres?