Sometimes, one has the opportunity to reach a vista of sorts, A place where one reaches a little height for a moment and can look back on the journey. When one is in the thick of life, it can seem like a tangle of threads, a confusion of design. But then, a moment will happen, where one can see a new glimpse of what is unfolding. The fabric of a life is turned over briefly and one see the beauty of what is being woven. This past weekend I took a beautiful trip to Pasadena and San Diego. But it was much more than a trip, it was a time of wonder, gratitude and awareness of the beautiful tapestry of my life interwoven with many other lives. It was a weekend of taking a deep breath and saying, wow.
22 years ago this summer I was in a crisis. I didn’t know what to do but I reached out for help and over the following three years, many things happened to me that changed the trajectory of my life. One of the things that happened was that I met a woman, Christina, who would become a close friend. I was living in Atlanta, GA at the time and hardly knew anyone. I started to go to a new parish church and decided to sit by a woman with long blond hair. She, unbeknownst to me, had just come back from a pilgrimage to the Chartres Cathedral and community of Taize, both in France.
This woman, Christina, heard me sing beside her that Sunday morning and knew in her heart I was the one to lead the parish in Taize services from then on. She had brought a little booklet back from Taize which she thrust into my hand one day and told me that I would lead the church in these songs. I had no idea what she was talking about but took this little booklet and went home, sat at the piano and began to sing. Those songs changed my life. I did begin to lead evenings of Sung Prayer with the songs of Taize in that little parish for the following three years, before coming back to BC where I have continued that work for the past 18 years. Christina, having just been to the iconic Chartres Cathedral in France, also introduced me to the labyrinth and we would work together in those years to combine the labyrinth walk with the music of Taize. Years later in BC, I build a labyrinth in my back yard and introduced hundreds of others to this beautiful meditation walk.
The pilgrimage that Christina had been on, which had changed her life, was with Susan Latimer, a former priest at the church I was now attending with Christina. Susan had learned about the labyrinth from Lauren Artress, a priest from Grace Cathedral in San Diego where the first labyrinth of the USA was built, modelled after the one in Chartres. Alan Jones, rector of Grace Cathedral at the time, led this pilgrimage with Lauren. I would meet Alan many years later as a guest lecturer through the Haden Institute.
When I moved to BC, Christina and her husband moved to Florida and then after a few years moved to CA and they are now settled in Pasadena. Susan and Christina had stayed connected through all the years. Susan had lived on the east coast in various locations but now had returned to her roots in San Diego. Pieces of a puzzle were starting to form. Their lives were reconnecting again in new ways.
In my time of crisis, Joy, my spiritual director, had encouraged me to read a book by Gertrud Muller Nelson called, ‘Here All Dwell Free’. That book, focusing on two fairy tales that shed light on the healing journey, had changed my life and I often had it by my bed over the next 22 years. I wrote to Gertrud on occasion to thank her for her influence and had written again this past year. She responded that if I was ever in her city of San Diego, I could possible drop by. This was an invitation that I didn’t want to miss. I mentioned this in a circle I lead in Niagara Falls of people training to become Spiritual Directors through the Haden Institute. One participant, Jan, reminded me that she was from San Diego and that I could stay with her if I came.
A trip began to form….a trip of connections spanning over the past 22 years …and it became a reality this past weekend. I flew to LA and reconnected with Christina, celebrating friendship and memories. Then, we drove to meet Susan and had a beautiful afternoon exploring the coast and communing together over a long dinner, sharing stories from the past 22 years and tasting the wonder of how our lives have intersected. The return from their trip to Chartres and Taize all those years ago collided with my crisis and great need and opened the door to the journey I have walked ever since.
And after a wonderful connection with Susan, Christina and I drove the following day to Gertrud Muller Nelson’s home to meet this author that I had been learning from through her words for over 20 years.
I shared with Gertrud how her words were like a light as I entered the woods of my life, a place of not knowing, darkness and formation. I couldn’t hold back the tears as I could finally express what my heart needed to say. I was so relieved to thank her and let her know what a difference she had made to me and as I pass her work on, to many others as well. At first unsure of who I was and why I was there, she began to see that her work had profoundly impacted my life and she became moved as well.
Overwhelmed and grateful, Christina and I said our farewells to Gertrud and carried on to Jan’s house, one of the women in my circle with the Haden Institute. Jan and her family live in the heart of San Diego and welcomed us with open arms. Her four glorious children knew many of the songs from my albums and we spent Saturday night singing our hearts out together with some of their friends. Children ages 4-11 knew all the lyrics to Come to the Table and many others melodies. What fun we had! Christina and I stayed in the back guest house and thoroughly enjoyed a special time with Jan’s 4 children and husband, Jon. We also learned about Jon’s work with Global Immersion and his passion for justice both locally and globally. We were touched an inspired by this family in so many ways.
On Sunday night, Jan created a special gathering for women with candles, art and beauty. Jan has such a passion for creating space for healing and connection and she gathered women from her community (including Chris, another woman from our Haden circle) to come and join us for a very
special night. Dear Gertrud was the special guest. She came that evening and in the beauty of candles, art and stillness, spoke to us all on one of the myths she writes about in her book, the Handless Maiden. She spoke as a storyteller and one who holds wisdom, insight and understanding. She spoke to us about courage and finding our voice. She spoke to us about valuing what is so often undervalued. She blessed our lives.
My heart is full of gratitude. The crisis I knew was difficult, but through it, I was guided and led in ways inconceivable to me at the time. This weekend I looked back with wonder, love and gratitude at the beauty of the journey. A chance meeting, a book of stories, a heart changed.
Thank you Christina for being a loving friend in my life and bringing the songs of Taize and the labyrinth to me and in doing so, hundreds, perhaps thousands of others have tasted of these songs and walked this path. Thank you Susan for inviting Christina on that pilgrimage 22 years ago…and Lauren and Alan for leading that pilgrimage and bringing that first labyrinth to Grace Cathedral. Thank you Gertrud for daring to write what your heart had to say and being a beacon of light to me in my darkness. Thank you Jan for opening your home and family and heart. Where else will the journey lead us? Heaven only knows!