I look into the mirror and laugh sometimes because my freshman self would not recognize me now. First, she’d ask where six or seven inches of her long dark hair went. Then she’d squint and notice that perhaps her face had less makeup on than she remembered. Her body frame would be more relaxed and her clothing more comfortable. She’d look around and ask what the weird chanting music I was listening to was all about. And why the books beside my bed include the Bible, Thomas Merton, Douglas Steere (a Quaker philosopher), St. Josemaria Escriva, and a book titled “In Conversation with God.” But I’m willing to bet that when she’d look into her own eyes, now four years older, she would be unable to deny that senior Kate seemed joyful, more self-assured and at peace. Then freshman Kate would let out a sigh of relief and give herself a high five because the freshman fifteen really didn’t last forever
Freshman Kate also would have asked what the heck a faith journey is. She would have scrambled. “I don’t have a knapsack or a staff or anything here resembling a pilgrim’s outfit, I just brought my backpack and the farthest walk I make takes only ten minutes across campus…. Do these sandals work?” she would have said, not really understanding that a faith journey is the journey within...the journey to the core. What, that Quaker Steere says is “the hardest journey.”
She would have been shocked to know senior Kate is a part of Christian Life Communities, Rosary Prayer Group, eXaLT Eucharistic Adoration and retreats. And if you told her senior Kate also goes to mass almost daily, she would have rolled on the floor laughing and realized this was all a joke…some type of misunderstanding
I say these things not to criticize myself or to detract from a time in my life, but to provide you all with a little bit of perspective. Many of you have come to know me recently or may not know me very well at all. But when I was asked to talk about my spiritual journey at Santa Clara, I realized I had to show a part of my path. I needed some beginning point and some end to share part of my story. I needed to show a change, a growth, a movement.
I can’t explain why I was about the third person to sign up for the Ignatian 5-day silent retreat online or what it was about spending five days not talking during a holiday that appealed to me so much. But maybe it was this: Has anyone ever asked you what you’d do on your perfect day? Do you know the answer? Prayer, meditation, exercise, reading and writing would be included in my twenty-four hours. They were all I got to do while on retreat. This was my chance to think about the mysteries of life, where this life would take me, what part I wanted to play in it after graduation. Well, hypothetically. I didn’t know what I wanted to think about, only that I wanted to think. I wanted to spend my life in the exact way I would spend it were deadlines, appointments, and assignments not part of the equation. I wanted to live my perfect day.
When I got to the Los Altos Hills at the Ignatian Retreat Center only twenty minutes away from my old freshman dorm room in Dunne, I had never heard of a labyrinth before. Apparently, a labyrinth would be laid out for most of the days of the retreat. From what I could tell, it was a plastic mat like the one you would find in a box of Twister, only instead of colored dots, this one had some sort of maze-like pattern on its white background. Apparently the deal was to walk it, meditating on a Bible passage, a mantra, a quote, anything, nothing at all. It was supposed to be meditative in some way—how, I hadn’t yet deciphered. I took note of its funny shape and decided to fit it into my busy schedule of jogging, writing journal entries, Rosary praying, Bible meditation, eating, and listening to presentations. It probably went somewhere closer to the bottom of the list.
I think it was dark, or maybe midday. Though my journal reminds me it was December 13th, 2011, all the days seem to jumble in the glory of bliss and the beauty of continual encounters: what Martin Buber calls Thou moments in the world—the glimpses into eternity. For one who had not had many insights into the eternal and divine, especially in such a concentrated period of time, I found I was falling more and more in love with the world around me. This world was completely different than the one I had just come from. There was no adherence to time. There was no obsession with a blinking flash of red. There was no adjusting done in front of a mirror. This world had mountains. It had sunrises and starry skies, candles and singing. This world had life.
I found I was the focus. Not in the “put me in front of the group picture” kind of way but in the “sit down cross legged on a hill and hear what you have to say” kind of way. In doing so little, I had never done so much. After writing in my journal, in the circular room overlooking the valley, I remember being compelled to it, to the labyrinth. I picked up one of the several paper cards with a quote on it before I began. It was some neon color: hot pink or bright orange. It said something about placing your life and trust in God, about knowing His is the right path.
I found myself stepping onto the mat and going along its winding path, step by step. Putting one toe over the curved lines seemed sacrilegious. It was like having to color inside the lines all over again, only this time I had no one ensuring it, no one to give me a sticker
I found myself talking to God and continuing an internal conversation. I may have started this journey slowly, unsure of my steps, but I was somehow sure of God. Sometimes the road seemed straight, easy to follow. Other times it curved, confusing and slowing me down. At points it seemed to take me back or close to where I started from. It seemed to parallel my real life journey. I struggled. I let go. I skipped, ran, walked, tripped, crawled. I fell. I wanted to turn back. At points, I needed to be pulled or carried. At others I needed only a prod. But through it all, I realized God carried me. Through it all, I was loved. And then I found myself in the center of the mat: at the heart of myself and God, experiencing the Thou.
There I found myself, in the center, looking around questioningly. “I’m here!” I wanted to shout. Now what? The center of the labyrinth was warm, not because of the whirring heater or because of the white lights glowing from the Christmas tree, but because it represented the core of my life journey. I wanted to sit down, set up camp. “It’s pretty nice in here,” I thought. “Let’s stay.” Had I learned, standing there in the center of the plastic mat, that this comfort and peace didn’t last forever? That walking back down the winding path would result in curves, dragging and falls? In here, I seemed safe. I had just done this “thing.” I had made it to the center, to the core. And I didn’t want to leave.
Perhaps God is the plastic mat my labyrinth is on. He is not only in the center but the creator of the journey itself. The creator of the journeyer herself. God had made the feet I had used to leave so many footprints. Where had I allowed my feet to take me? What kind of prints had I been leaving? I thought a bit about my past, about time wasted. But then I realized that right now it didn’t matter. What mattered was where I was going, what I did along the way, and how I would get there
The world outside awaited.
The world outside still awaits.
What will I bring them? What will I share and show?
“The purpose of individual growth is to share with others,” Kathleen Norris explains in The Cloister Walk. I think she’s absolutely right. On one of the days in silence I remember reading the passage of the annunciation—where an angel appears to Mary and tells her of God’s divine plan in which she would bear his son. Before, I had thought of Mary as a meek, quiet woman. But I remember, sitting cross-legged on the floor, that Mary was anything but meek. She said yes to God’s kooky plan despite all logic pointing otherwise. I want to be like that, I remember thinking. I’m done being a coward. I’m done being scared of the future or haunted by the past. "God,' I said, "your will, not mine."