Juneau offers many beautiful outdoor gathering scenes that inspire residents and visitors alike. These specific places require attentive maintenance and care. One such gathering place is maintained and owned by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Juneau, better known as the Shrine of St. Therese. People near and far benefit from this reservoir of stunning beauty in the wonder of the Alaskan wilderness. One of the more recent outdoor developments of the Shrine is the Merciful Love Labyrinth.
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Just prior to the building of the labyrinth in 2001, a friend of mine and I lead a retreat there at the Shrine of St. Therese. Some on the retreat helped carry a few of the larger rocks to the site where the Merciful Love Labyrinth exists now. One retreat pilgrim who carried an abundance of rocks never met those who initiated the idea or who did most of the construction. All who participated in the laying of the labyrinth have provided a valuable service to many visitors, to short term and long-term residents, and retreat participants.
This summer I have walked the Merciful Love Labyrinth at the Shrine of St. Therese on several occasions with two friends of many years. We incorporate walking the labyrinth, a relevant book study on the subject after our walk, and we enjoy lunch together on the Shrine grounds at a picnic table. We've each walked other labyrinths. Two of us, at different times, have walked the labyrinth in the narthex of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, CA. We all share a common Christian faith but different traditions. We share a common basic value; the divine is one of abiding Mercy, the Shrine labyrinth's theme.
We gather quietly together at the entrance of the labyrinth before moving through the winding path to and from the Center. The meandering through the labyrinth symbolizes the twist and turns in the road of life. In the midst of these uncertain twist and turns, pilgrims exercise an inward trust; there is a Center of Mercy, a rest point that resides in everyone and everything. As we move forward on the path, we remain focused on each step. We each have our own way of returning our thoughts to a still Presence within us. While we breathe together and walk towards the same destination, we're aware that our steps fall on different points of the circle at different times. We do not push, prod, or rush through the process. We slowly walk towards the Center where the big rock altar stands patiently waits for pilgrims to take their rest stop. On the rock, we observe the vases, cut flowers, small pebbles, and coins placed there by others. We wait together at this rock center in quiet and stillness for a few moments. One of us leads out and we walk the same winding path back towards where we began. In our sharing time following the walk, we focus on our book study and discussion. During lunch the experiences of life are shared and our time is closed with verbal prayer.
In Alaska, a place of intense transition, the labyrinth has become for me a metaphor for moving towards a Merciful Love. No matter what happens to us, this reality avails itself to us in most surprising ways in solitude, with trusted friends, and adverse circumstances where this Center may seem out of sight. The labyrinth can provide one way of practicing vigilant faith. Many thanks to all who continue to maintain The Merciful Love Labyrinth for community use.
For more about the Merciful Love Labyrinth, visit www.shrineofsainttherese.org/at_the_shrine/labyrinth.htm.
Sharon K. Cooper is a member of the Aldersgate United Methodist Church.