San Francisco, Ca
Lessons in humility begin with the strenuous flight of stairs you must ascend before entering this “iconic house of prayer for all.” At the entrance of Grace Cathedral, you’re greeted by outstanding replicas of the Ghiberti Doors of Florence completed during the Renaissance. 1 The bronze panels are adorned with artwork inspired by the Old Testament. Featuring Renaissance art as the gateway is fitting for a cathedral that “embraces innovation and open-minded conversation” by hosting cultural events and yoga classes.
Upon entering Grace Cathedral, you’re embraced by the welcoming spirit that pervades the gothic architecture. The towering structure of pointed arches and ribbed vaults create an uplifting environment that’s insulated with the prayers of pilgrims seeking solace. On the path before you, the distinctive labyrinth invites you into the nave, ready to usher you toward joyfulness.
“it touches our sorrows and releases our joys” 2
Many cultures use the ancient pattern of a labyrinth as a guide for walking meditation. The archetype represents a “mystical tradition” of quieting the mind to prepare for spiritual fulfillment. Grace Cathedral’s, “Yoga on the Labyrinth,” is an unusual liturgy of gentle yoga and live music described as, “body-centered meditation” to “deepen your spirituality.” 3 All levels are welcome to participate...yoga and labyrinth alike.
As with yoga, the labyrinth journey will flow more smoothly when you’re mindful of your breath. The pace of your spiritual walk may vary depending on which phase you’re in. Arriving at the center of the labyrinth is the symbolic “illumination” phase meaning you’ve let go of distractions and are ready, with an open heart, to receive what prayer and meditation offer. 4 Exiting the labyrinth is a courageous step forward since you’re united with your “higher power” and free to do the work to live harmoniously.
Grace Cathedral Labyrinth
The pattern was created in 1201 for
Chartes Cathedral in France.
The code of silence expected in a cathedral allows you to decode the chatter in your head. Peace of mind is possible by simply walking throughout the cathedral or sitting quietly in a pew. While staring up at the stained glass in the clerestory windows, I often bowed my head to relieve the strain in my neck. The instant relief reminded me of how much I like the sequence of Camel to Child’s pose.
The anatomy of camel pose is daunting. On your knees. Head dropped back. Chest lifted high. A certain amount of surrender is necessary to deepen your breath and remain in this demanding posture. As you become flexible enough to support your arched back with hands on heels, you'll experience the energy surge from the backbend, and the equanimity from the counterpose. It's what Free Range Yoga calls, "the Power & Light."
Grace cathedral is a refuge from the industrious pace of San Francisco. The labyrinth (and yoga) complements all faiths because it’s a “non-denominational tool for well-being.” 5 And when you’re at ease, it seems nothing is insurmountable.
As I departed Grace Cathedral, the bells were ringing, reminding everyone to let the light in.
visit to Grace Cathedral 7/2012