University Pastor Melissa Maxwell-Doherty and senior Jesse McClain, last year’s Associated Students of CLU president, have worked for two years on changes to the 24-hour meditation chapel located directly under Samuelson Chapel’s steeple. This fall, with help from the ASCLU Senate, Lord of Life student congregation, and Facility Operations and Planning, they oversaw the construction of a labyrinth behind Samuelson Chapel for walking and contemplation.
Other than the new day and time, how is Chapel hour different this year?
Jesse: I’ve enjoyed working on this shift from Chapel hour to Sabbath hour. We’re saying, “We would love for you to come to University Chapel and be part of that community, but if that’s not your thing, we have resources for you to use.” Most importantly, it’s a time to take off, an open hour for people to do different things. You shouldn’t work or study during this hour.
Melissa: The change of schedule gave us an opportunity to rethink again: what resources can we provide to encourage people to stop? We’re offering suggestions of ways to pause, to Sabbath, to unplug, to reflect – to breathe in your body, mind and heart.
This is very countercultural, but it’s consistent with the Judeo-Christian heritage. “Remember the Sabbath to keep it holy.”
Maybe today, in our world, it’s not so much about taking a whole 24-hour day. Maybe today it makes sense for us to think about “Sabbaths.”
What are some of the things people can do?
Jesse: We’ve created meditation walks around campus, we’ve revamped our Wennes Meditation Chapel this summer, and we’ve done a lot of work to create an open hour for people to do different things.
Can alumni living far from campus participate somehow in this Thursday Sabbath?
Jesse: Even if it’s 15-minute Sabbaths throughout the week, you can still take that 15 minutes. You can still just be quiet or do something that’s for you in the middle of your workday. There are lots of things you can do while sitting at your desk that are incredibly refreshing.
Melissa: I’ve been given little finger labyrinths to do while sitting. This summer, we discovered an online labyrinth with music and prompts. I’m quite sure that if I were wearing a cuff, my blood pressure would have gone down.
Tell me about the labyrinth on the Chapel grounds. I mean, it sounds like a good place to get lost.
Melissa: It’s different from a maze. A maze you come in and out of in different ways; something might be hidden; you don’t know where the ending is. A labyrinth you walk in, and then you’re in the center, and you walk out.
Jesse: There are no tricks. There are no dead ends. There’s one path, but how you walk it can change every time – depending on attitude, depending on focus, depending on what you’re feeling that day.
Now it sounds like a trail.
Melissa: It’s an ancient device and practice of walking. Probably the most famous labyrinth is at the Cathedral of Chartres in France. That one is very large, maybe 24 loops, and has areas shaped kind of like roses. We went with one that fit the space behind the Chapel, with I think 14 loops.
Jesse: Twelve. There are six on each side.
Melissa: And then there’s the center, which is about three widths of a path in size. At some point, we’re going to put something there in the center. But it’s also meant so that you can sit and ponder.
What made you want to put a labyrinth here?
Melissa: This is not the first labyrinth we’ve had on campus. [Art professor] Michael Pearce’s class put one up, of rocks, near Nygreen, and that was there for a time. At Scandinavian Festival one year, he put one out in the grassy area between the creek and the library.
Our synod, our ELCA region, has had a labyrinth. It comes in a sort of Christmas tree box, and you set it up in three pieces. We had people walk the labyrinth in Overton.
More and more places are putting them in as a tool of contemplation: a lot of hospitals and churches. An alum in the Bay Area tells us they’ve put in a concrete labyrinth outside their church. Anybody walking out in the street can use it. The church of another alum out in Palm Desert had put in a labyrinth when the University Choir went there this past year.
What do you like about labyrinths?
Melissa: Walking a labyrinth, I have this sense in my body that, oh, I’m arriving. And then, I’m actually thrust outward again.
Do you ever think, I’ve learned my lesson. I’ve got it? And then you’re in the path of life and you think, Oh my gosh, I didn’t learn that at all. I’m still a work in process. Life is like a path.
Jesse: Life is a path.
How has the Meditation Chapel changed?
Jesse: It’s been a long process. We added, for example, holy books from different traditions, Qurans in English and Arabic, incense, prayer rugs, books about prayer. Part of it is that we have a growing number of Muslim students on campus, and they really don’t have a space where they can go pray when they need to, so we’re trying to create that.
But the Meditation Chapel is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and it’s for anyone who wants to use it.
Are the changes, overall, meant to stress an interfaith approach?
Melissa: That’s definitely a Lutheran way of living in the world, and we’re very blessed in this community to have so many different faith traditions.
I’d say we’re doing two things. We remain committed to a bold proclamation of the Christian gospel and, at the same time, a radical welcome and inclusion to those of all faiths, or none at all. I think if one just says, “CLU is doing interfaith,” it really misses the creative way we live here together.