Last February I had a dream. I dreamt I was riding along Highway One in California in a white convertible, with a dog on the seat next to me and the road winding around like a ribbon on a gift. There was no defensive driving necessary; no traffic lights, no oncoming cars-just me and the dog and the white convertible, and the road rolling along.
Last summer my dream came true. I went on a pilgrimage to San Francisco, California. I had read Lauren Artress's book
Walking a Sacred Path and I wanted to walk the winding path of the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral. I wanted to find out more about Artress's journey and about the labyrinth.
While I was in San Francisco, I talked with her about her life and about the labyrinth as a spiritual
Lauren Artress is canon of special ministries at
Grace Cathedral in San Francisco and will be coming to Princeton in April to do a workshop on the labyrinth at the Seminary. She earned a Master of Religious Education degree from PTS in 1969 and received her D.Min. in pastoral psychotherapy from Andover Newton Theological School in 1986. In between, she was ordained to the Episcopal
Artress grew up not 10 miles from where I did, on the banks of the winding Changrin River east of Cleveland, Ohio. We both spent many hours playing on its
All the way back then, she knew nature as an important way to connect with God, and she looks back to those early days by the riverbank as crucial to the unfolding of her spirituality. "The older I get the more I realize how foundational that was and how much it stirs the imagination and the spirit," she says. "There's a kind of path through your life...it's very much like the labyrinth-circuitous, and you just keep putting one foot in front of the other."
Artress believes there has been guidance through her life that comes from having an early mystic experience. She tells this story: "One time a light appeared, I think I was in 6th or 7th grade. I remember really talking to the light. Having a deep heart-to-heart conversation with it. Such experiences plant the seed for many of us to find our path and mission." Yet for her talk of mystical experience, Artress is also very down to earth-direct and no-nonsense; maybe centered is a good word, like a river, with direction but not
Artress's early mystical experiences with nature were formed into a Christian commitment in college at Ohio State University through the United Campus Christian Fellowship. Of that time she says, "A lot was trying to break through and one needs supports for that." Bob Russell, the campus pastoral counselor and a Princeton alum (Class of 1950), counseled her and eventually guided her to
From the first, Artress was interested in the relationship between the human psyche and the Spirit. The first question she asked in seminary was, "What's the relation between psychotherapy and confession?" She was already thinking about how to bring people before themselves and before God, and sensed that both elements were essential to growth. "I was interested in how people change. How can I become aware of my own inner world, my anger, my needs? How can I be present with people across racial barriers? How can I forge my gifts and talents in service to the world?" She warmly remembers studying with James Loder, Freda Gardner, and James Lapsley.
Artress became an Episcopalian after seminary, recalling, "I needed a church and liturgy that had more symbolism, on more than the word level." She had done field work at Trinity Episcopal Church in Princeton while in seminary, and after graduation she worked at Trinity for a year, then did a year of social work in Philadelphia. She soon realized that she didn't want to do case work, but to work with the human psyche. In 1971 she went to New York to train as a
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