Sacred Space


This Sunday morning, I tried to recreate a special experience from my past. Turns out–you can’t do that.

Vivi and I took the cable car up to the top of Nob Hill early this morning. As we climbed the steps to Grace Cathedral, I reminded her that this was a real church. She needed to be quiet and respectful. People were here to enjoy a sacred space.

It was a beautiful blue sky morning. I couldn’t wait to walk the labyrinth again. Nine years ago, when my heart was still broken open, that labyrinth gave me a moment of peace so rich that I cried. The moment when I walked the path with a sincere and open heart, so that when I got to the center, God said “duh” to me.

Vivi began to run towards the center, but I grabbed her elbow and pulled her back. “There’s a special way to do this, sweetie. You focus on your feet and you follow the path slowly and carefully. You breathe quietly and you think about a question. When you get to the center, God might answer your question.” She nodded.

“You ready?” She nodded again. I gave her a little nudge and she started her walk. I waited a few beats and started walking the rose stone path myself.

She skittered ahead. I opened my mouth to be a mom then decided against it. A gaggle of gray-haired Chinese ladies gossiped in Mandarin on the terrace above us. I tried to ignore it. Vivi whizzed back to the start to try again. She ended up behind me, scuffing her boots across the stone. I tried to ignore it. A man propped his foot on the low wall around the labyrinth and proceeded to slap his thighs vigorously, three minutes each leg. I tried to ignore him. Car horns and cable cars. Pigeons. Three tourists holding cups of coffee stopped to watch me walk. I tried to ignore them.

My frustration reached the point where I felt like shouting, “I AM TRYING TO BE CONTEMPLATIVE HERE!!! KINDLY SHUT THE FUCK UP.”

By the time I reached the center of the labyrinth, I had just about given up on carving out any sacred space for myself in the midst of all these raucously living beings. But when I did step into the center, I closed my eyes and let the sun fall upon my face. I stood there breathing in the fresh air at the tip top of the city.

Even though I had been too distracted to meditate on a question, an answer came to me.

It’s All One Life. One crazy noisy bumping together life. I accepted it, imperfect as it has to be, and made my way back out. Back into the world of Mandarin gossip, coffee cups, scuffing boots and pigeons. That is the sacred space.

As I made my way back out by the winding path, two girls about Vivi’s age exploded up the steps and screeched to a halt at the labyrinth courtyard. They watched me for a few seconds then one yelled, “It’s a maze! You have to figure out how to get out,” like she was at Uncle Buck’s Punkin Patch and Corn Maze.

Vivi took a few steps towards them and said, “You walk the path and when you get to the middle you get to ask God a question.” They didn’t quite seem to care what she was saying and went on jumping from one row to another and spinning across the center. I felt that protectiveness flare up–someone might be dissing my baby.

And that moment made my inability to recreate the magic of the labyrinth OK.

The first time I walked this labyrinth, my heart lay in slivered shards. Now it’s feeling whole again, but it’s been placed inside two small people who careen around the world in their noisy and carefree ways. My heart, walking outside my body, dragging its feet and going too fast and really not paying attention to The Rules. My heart, out there, is the reason I have to make room for the world.

Oh, I asked Vivi if she had gotten an answer to her question when she walked to the center of the labyrinth. She scrunched up her face and slowly shook her head.

“No? What was your question?”

“I asked God why humans have to think so much.”


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