This morning, I reached into my folder of conference materials and pulled out the Google Maps directions that I had hastily printed off at my desk before leaving work on Thursday. I was headed to Urbana-Champaign to attend a qualitative research conference. I had been really looking forward to this conference. Unfortunately, the pace of my life had yet again resulted in my conference prep being relegated to the wee hours of the morning in the immediate days leading up to my departure. Nonetheless, I had the sudden inspiration as I hastily saved presentations to my travel drive before leaving to log-in to the “worldwide labyrinth locator” and see if there may be a circuitous path somewhere close to me, should I choose to take a stroll. One labyrinth came up, and I printed off the directions and stowed them in my bag.
This conference has been wonderful thus far in both learning and atmosphere, but early this morning I realized that I was being pulled somewhere other than a lecture hall. Indeed, the first set of sessions was going to have to wait. The sun shone on a clear, warm morning and I knew in my soul it was time to make an ordinary pilgrimage. Armed only with Google’s walking directions, I set off on my journey.
Walking through an industrial part of town, I was starting to have my doubts about my destination. Urbana is a place I have only driven through, so I was going entirely on faith in virtual directions and intuition. I had coordinates and the knowledge that I was looking for an outdoor, Chartres replica labyrinth. As I passed a large sewage treatment plant and some run-down houses with people casting strange glances at me as I strolled, I was growing skeptical. But, I turned a corner and saw a huge lilac bush down the street, catching its scent almost before my eyes acclimated. I breathed in deeply and kept walking, through neighborhoods and around the back entrance to a hospital. I walked on past the hospital auxiliary guest house, with a front porch lined with chairs. I said a few quiet “hellos” and “good mornings” but mostly, the place was deserted. I arrived near my coordinates, and found myself on the edge of a park, with a path leading in to what appeared to be an herb garden. As I walked the path toward the garden, what unfolded before me was a perfectly manicured garden filled with herbs, alliums in full stalky bloom and pillows of lavender and prairie grass framing the circular edge. There was both a shaded meditation garden with stone benches bearing ancient spirals, and a well maintained brick Chartres labyrinth situated in an open clearing in the midst of herb gardens, old trees further away casting shadows across its sunlit paths.
This pilgrimage exceeded my expectations on sheer natural beauty alone. I spent time there in prayer, meditation, and walking with chirping birds and scampering squirrels my only companions. My soul was filled to overflowing with peace, joy, and gratitude.
As I closed my time in this space, I noticed a smaller replica labyrinth with a plaque, “In Loving Memory of Rev. Jean Cramer-Heuerman.” I said a prayer for Rev. Jean before leaving even though I had no knowledge of her, or the origins of this space, nor why on this particular morning I was drawn to this ordinary pilgrimage. However, my curiosity was insatiable so I pulled out my smartphone and googled her. It turns out she was a well-respected local clergy member deeply dedicated to social justice. She had contributed to two books, one of which was liturgical, focusing on social justice and peace. The other, about finding depth in God during her experience of living with and ultimately, dying from cancer. I will be trying to locate copies of both. It was clear that her mission of hope and justice sustained her, and continued to inspire others. That day, even unknowingly, me. On this morning, I could palpably feel my own scholarship and vocational journeys pulling together, helping me discern even more clearly the pathways emerging between faith, justice, and vocation in my own life.
Making my walk back over the couple miles of city streets between the hidden labyrinth and the conference site at the University, I reflected on the paths I myself am walking these days. I have people who know me by my “coordinates” and the aspects of me they see well. Coming from various angles, I am sure that some people can only see particular aspects of who I am, and sometimes that is enough. Others can see multiple vantage points and reflect back to me (whether they know it or not) words that grant clarity to my journey. There are moments where I myself strive to bring it together for a wider audience, for example yesterday as I delivered an autoethnography of my personal experience as a scholar instead of simply the objective, knowable paths produced in my research. Like so many people, I strive both to contribute, and to be known. As I walked the steps of my ordinary pilgrimage today, I was reminded that we are known and continue to be revealed, step by step. Our ordinary moments of hellos and good-mornings, of good-byes and gratitude are building and constructing the meaning of our lives.
I am writing this blog now as I wrap up this ordinary pilgrimage to honor a core of knowing deeper than intellect, with connections more powerful than the google apps I used to help access them. I will momentarily rejoin my academic colleagues at what is certain to be an inspiring late-morning plenary on emerging qualitative methodology. But, I am grateful at this moment for wisdom, knowledge, journeying, justice, and connection. What an amazing pilgrimage this ordinary journey of life continues to be.