Posted by: Karen (Betty Bear) | January 22, 2012


Friday afternoon, after the kids got home from school, a frenzied packing session took place. The boy child was on his way to go skiing for the weekend with his boy scout troop and the girl child and I were going into New York City with some of the senior high kids from church. Boy child has never been skiing and needed some help with the packing. “Do you have your snowpants?” “Oh! I forgot!” “Do you have mittens?” “Oh! I’ll need them, won’t I?” There were several exchanges like this, plus a list of instructions, money separated into piles, complete with sticky notes, for food, gas money for the driver and a ski lesson and two different letters of release. The girl and I were much easier – toothbrush and toothpaste, soap and washcloth, pajamas and a sleeping bag. And my pillow.

Boy child is home, had a great time and now wants to ski every weekend. Kind of good news/bad news, but happily more good than bad.

Girl child and I were on our way to Nightwatch, a program run at the Cathedral Church of St. John the Divine in NYC. It’s an overnight program run for junior and senior high church groups. We took the church bus in and had yummy pizza across the street before the program started. It begins with the expected get-to-know-you exercises and song learning down in the gymnasium in the basement of the cathedral. (A bit of trivia: do you know what makes a church a cathedral? It is one that is the seat of a bishop; doesn’t have anything to do with size.)

Then we went upstairs into the cathedral itself. It is huge. And astonishingly beautiful. Google images for it and you will see some fabulous pictures. I took some with my phone and they really don’t do the place justice. We had a tour of the organ, which is truly an amazing thing. The cutest guy is the organist – girl child doesn’t think he was cute, but he had that pale intellectual thing going coupled with true passion for his music and that combination is totally attractive to me.

While we were listening to the organist, the people running the program were laying out a labyrinth for us to walk. It was painted canvas and we were to take a seashell at the beginning and think/pray/meditate on that which we needed to hand over to God. At the center of the labyrinth was a basket to leave our shells in as a physical manifestation of the mental handing it over. Walking a labyrinth is an intensely contemplative exercise, meditation in moving form. I found myself wishing I had one at home.

A little while later we had a candlelight meditation in the darkened cathedral. There were probably 25 or 30 people in the entire group and everyone could find a niche to be alone and contemplative in. Following the meditation we then had a midnight Eucharist service, which was also rather contemplative in nature.

Then we all trooped back down to the basement and tried to sleep.

laying out sleeping bags in the gym

It was not a particularly restful night. We were woken up at 7 for breakfast and then had a tour of the cathedral followed by a short morning service. Here is the poets’ corner like Westminster Abbey: and some of the commemorative plaques on the floor: One of the really cool things about the cathedral is that it is truly a community place. Concerts are held there and art exhibits. It houses a school and artisan workshops. An installation of various artists using a variety of mediums all on the theme of water was being held and there were artworks all over the place – video, paint, sculpture – all in some way relating to water. One of the most startling pieces was this:  It was a large circle of posts or staffs, each topped with a pronghorn antelope skull right in the middle of the nave. We kept having to walk around or through it. It, I think, was alluding to the overuse and misuse of water by people and how it affects the natural world.

Then, as a counterpart to all the spiritual uplifting stuff, we had a rather nerve-racking drive back over unplowed highways in our old bus.

I’m still tired so I think I’ll write more tomorrow. . .



  1. What an amazing and wonderful weekend adventure for all of you! Thank you for sharing this, I had no clue about any of it. (Other than the labyrinth, THOSE I am quite familiar with, being an ancient Pagan Celtic symbol and activity. 😉 )

    But I have to tell you how worried I was when I heard that you’d gone on the church bus…. those things flip over and fly off the roads on a regular basis! Okay, maybe only in like, Texas. Still, concerning to me.

    • Bill, who drove, is an excellent driver but the snowy highway was really no fun AT ALL. It was a deeply spiritual night and really interesting.

  2. It sounds like a wonderful trip. Tiring but wonderful. I also love labyrinths and now must go looking for one. I know there is one big one in SF but not sure what is down my way.
    Loved the photos!

    • I have to do a search to see if there are any near me. I seemed to find that moving meditation easier than sitting meditation.

  3. Sounds like a very fun weekend.

  4. What a beautiful cathedral. Gorgeous. And how wonderful that you got to spend that time with your daughter. I’ve never done a labyrinthine meditation before, sounds interesting. Beautiful photos. I’m so glad you had a nice time.

    • Thanks! I really liked the labyrinth. Something about the slow walking along the paths working toward the middle was very powerful.

  5. One of the best things about Dublin was the huge cathedrals there. It is amazing how gorgeous those things can be, isn’t it? Glad you had such a nice time!

  6. I’d love to see them there! I’ve been to Notre Dame and Chartes in France and to St. Paul’s, Westminster Abbey and Salisbury Cathedrals in England and they were simply astounding. That much effort and detail, all in dedication to the Divine, is just awe-inspiring.

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