In this poor world, only love can be entrusted with the truth . . .
When you’re out hunting secrets, make sure you’re looking for the right one.[i]
I wish I could be with you in celebrating the remarkable journey of my dear friend Lauren Artress. Lauren and I go back a long way. Our friendship began in New York City where we were colleagues at the General Theological Seminary in a program in Spiritual Direction. Later I invited her to San Francisco to be the canon pastor of Grace Cathedral.
When I think about Lauren and the founding of Veriditas, I think of the centrality and power of friendship. We often speak tenderly about friendship but I wonder if we realize its true power to build trust and to risk transformation? Lauren and I couldn’t be more different in temperament and in theology (the one thing we have in common is that we are both geographically challenged in that we don’t always have a good sense of direction!), yet our friendship and the trust that undergirded it enabled us to work together in a project which has taken us both by surprise. I could yell out to Lauren , “Just because you’ve experienced it doesn’t mean it really happened!” And she could yell back, “Just because it happened doesn’t mean you experienced it!” And we could both laugh because we trusted the other to share whatever insights we were given.
The energy and vision to bring the work and wonder of the labyrinth came entirely from Lauren – stubborn, faithful, and determined. That determination was first manifest when we tried to make contact with the authorities at the cathedral at Chartres. As dean of Grace Cathedral I wrote to my opposite number the rector of Chartres seeking an interview and permission to walk the ancient labyrinth. This was over twenty years ago. The story has been told many times but my version of it is the true one! Six of us arranged to meet at La Serpente – a café – adjacent to the cathedral at 9 a.m. on a Monday morning in June. My letters and faxes to the authorities were of no avail and when we gathered for our lattes and cappuccinos that Monday morning, we were at a loss as to what to do. The three women in the group and only one man were all in favor of rebellion. “We’ve come thousands of miles to walk the labyrinth here at Chartres. I vote that we go in and move the chairs and simply walk the walk.” I made a serious objection.
“I wouldn’t want a bunch of French tourists coming into my cathedral and moving the furniture!” So, two of us stayed in the café for more coffee while the intrepid four went and moved the chairs. After a while, my companion and I gingerly entered the cathedral by the south door. There were rebellious four walking the labyrinth and I decided to cash in on their outrageous breach of protocol and walk it myself. There weren’t many visitors that early in the morning but with the six of us walking the labyrinth (joined by a couple of other visitors) I felt the ambiance of the cathedral change from a place for tourists to a sacred space for pilgrims. After the walk, I took myself off to the gift shop to buy postcards. Meanwhile the infamous four made a crucial mistake. Instead of leaving the chairs as they now were, they decided to tidy up and put them back on the labyrinth. Not a good idea. By this time the custodial staff had got wind of what had happened and came yelling words easily understood in any language – “Police! Police!” But in the end mercy prevailed. A postscript to the story is that Lauren and our friend Barbara stayed on for the 2 p.m. tour of the cathedral by the notorious Malcolm Miller. “Do sit down,” he said. “I’m sorry the chairs are in such disarray. There were some German tourists in here this morning.” A shameful end to a shameful episode – Germans being blamed for American pushiness.
When I think of this hilarious and wonderful beginning of our relationship with Chartres, I am grateful for Lauren’s vision and courage. Her determination lead to a long and fruitful relationship with that great cathedral and the cementing of a deep and abiding friendship with Father François Legaux the then rector of the cathedral. François and I developed a deep personal friendship based on our shared theology of God’s generosity. We saw great hope for the future in helping people move from drifting into true pilgrimage. Spirituality -- deeply grounded in compassion and action for building community -- is the issue for this new millennium. I think this is Lauren’s gift and insight, summarized in the Cistercian, Aelred of Rievaulx’s maxim, Deus est amicitia: God is friendship.
In the monastic setting where I was trained as a priest, we were told that God is madly in love with us! The sheer beauty of it all swept us away. The American Roman Catholic, Father Andrew Greeley suggests that the Church remodel its understanding of authority in the light of a generous and open view of the way God works in the world: “God as inviting, calling, attracting, instead of God as controlling, directing, regulating.” Friendship can go a long way to healing differences. Friendship, too, is a way of doing theology.
The friendship between François, Lauren and I also expressed the great relationship between Grace Cathedral, San Francisco and the Cathedral of Our Lady at Chartres. This celebration of the relationship between two pilgrimage cathedrals became a sign of mutual respect and affection between our two communions. It was a matter of falling in love. One reason for our growing affection and regard has to do with the extraordinary gift of the Labyrinth that Chartres holds in trust. Under the inspiration and guidance of Lauren the Labyrinth is being discovered by thousands of people to be a healing tool for prayer, meditation and renewal. The Labyrinth at Chartres was the original inspiration for this growing world-wide ministry.
We live in a time when people are looking for sacred space. Sometimes, without consciously knowing it, human beings find themselves on pilgrimage. There is growing evidence from our experience of those who walk the Labyrinth and from stories Lauren brings back from her travels in the USA and around the world that people are being drawn, once again, to sacred places. We are all on pilgrimage. A headline in a French publication read: Chartres et San Francisco Unis Par Un Même Mystère. The great mystery which unites us is the love of God which draws us into holy places to be deepened and nourished in our loving and in our finding ways to give ourselves in service to the world.
With love and prayers,
[i] Bruce Robinson, The Peculiar Memories of Thomas Penman, Woodstock: The Overlook Press, 1998, p. 199.