I reconnected with the image of the “Cosmic Christ” window from Grace Cathedral at a weekend retreat I attended a few weeks ago. One of our retreat facilitators brought a collection of spiritual art and religious icons to join us in our time together, including a photograph of the window pictured here. As I held this miniature image in my hands, I was immediately transported back to the time several years earlier when I stood in front of that massive window, transfixed, amid the rays of light pouring through the glass and spilling in pools around me. It was truly magnificent.
This visual image unexpectedly filled my thoughts again this morning. I was preparing my materials to attend this year’s annual social work education conference, for which I will soon be traveling to Dallas. The year our annual conference was held in San Francisco, my colleague Kia and I, who were and are travel companions, decided to sightsee in that great city before the conference began. This included a visit to tour Grace Cathedral. This particular trip, although fresh in my thoughts today, actually occurred six years ago. I tried to wrap my mind around the images flooding my mind as the person I was at that time in my life: a newly minted, enthusiastic academic with a preschool child, career and family simultaneously propelling me forward and colliding into each other routinely. I suddenly remembered how not-grace-filled I had been upon touching down in California, immediately receiving a call that my daughter had been sent home from preschool with a terrible case of strep throat, and then arriving shortly thereafter on the steps of Grace Cathedral when we couldn’t yet check in at the hotel. I recall the sun was brightly shining on that particularly beautiful autumn afternoon, but what I felt was the brooding embodiment of maternal guilt: 2,000 miles separated me from the hugs I wanted to give my daughter.
The next thing I had to check myself on in my memory was whether or not I even considered myself Episcopalian at the time. After thinking hard about this, I realized that at that time, I most definitely did not. I had started sporadically attending Episcopal churches a few months earlier. I went to the local downtown cathedral a few times (which was my friend’s place of worship) and I was currently checking out the Episcopal church in my neighborhood by occasionally sticking my toe into the water of a Sunday service or outreach opportunity. I preferred to remain non-committal in my expressions of faith, though. So, I recalled that while I had reverence and respect, I didn’t come to Grace Cathedral as someone who believed, or who belonged. I now consider the possibility that I may have been longing for that, in a place in my soul unable to give voice to those feelings at that time. What I do recall is that I had two keen interests in this sightseeing expedition: walking the labyrinths (indoor and out) and seeing the interfaith AIDS chapel with the Keith Haring alter piece.
I am surprised at how much detail I still retain about this visit. I was struck first by the vastness of the space, particularly the labyrinth within the space. There was a wedding rehearsal going on in the main sanctuary space, so we walked the perimeter to look at the amazing stained glass. While I love traditional stained glass, it was the contemporary cosmic series that drew me in. I remember standing in the light flooding around me, practically unable to walk away. Even when I did, I kept turning back to see the window from different vantage points. What was it that drew me? The color? The light? The symbolism of the image? Perhaps it was all of the above. Carl Jung might have described it as an archetype of my unconscious self, experiencing a moment of recognition. If I was there today, I would bask in that light and pray. I know I would. I would likely reach in spirit toward the vastness of God in the cosmos that becomes incarnate in a spark of inspiration in the smallest, quiet places of my soul. I would think of Rilke, of mirroring immensity.
But in that moment, I realize now that I did something just as vital. I simply allowed the image to permeate my soul.
That afternoon, we also lit candles, we read some scripture passages from a lovely illuminated bible, and quietly admired the alter linens and tapestries. Toward the end of the tour, we found the AIDS interfaith chapel. I spent some time alone in this space, kneeling at the alter and thinking about the people I had loved and lost at that time…Carlos and Michael and Gabriel…and so many others…too many others…whose amazing lives were cut short. I felt connected and understood in this space, and comforted. I have no idea how long I was there. Afterwards, I met my friend at the outdoor labyrinth which we walked as the late afternoon sun began to sink into the clouds. I completed the expedition on which I had set out. But, I also left that space with several gifts: calmness, yearning, gratitude, comfort.
I have come to know these as attributes of divine grace.
Like the light spilling through the image of the Cosmic Christ, this grace had started to seep into the cracks of my brokenness and illuminate the images of my heart and soul. It grounded me not simply in who I am, but in the vastness of who we all are. We move through this world illuminating the path with our small points of light, each contributing to the vast kaleidoscope of divine love and grace.
I experienced this again, holding this image in my hands a few weeks ago.
I felt it again this morning as I become more aware day by day of where my journey is leading me with each step I take.
Small points of light, through windows of grace.