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Side-Walk of Faith

Meg Mirshak | Thursday, September 30, 2010

President and nature conservationist Theodore Roosevelt said, “A grove of giant redwoods or sequoias should be kept just as we keep a great or beautiful cathedral.” Through his efforts of preserving land and protecting wildlife, Roosevelt created for the American public and all its visitors a living sanctuary contained in our national forests.

During a visit to the San Francisco area, my sister and I visited one of nature’s cathedrals. We took a late-morning walk through the giant redwood trees of California’s Muir Woods National Park. This towering grove of trees has for more than a century reminded people of the long, vertical architectural lines of cathedrals that point upward towards God in heaven.

I walked through the cool, damp and hushed nature preserve, like many people before me, with a sense of reverence. The great redwoods surrounded me like fortressed walls and their branches formed a vaulted ceiling over my head. It was here that I offered a prayer of gratitude to God our creator, maker of our places and our days.

Although the oak, sycamore and pine trees on God Quad and across campus do not stand nearly as tall, they can beckon us to a similar experience of prayer. Just as we keep the beautiful Basilica a place of sacred silence and pristine, golden beauty, so should we keep the ground we walk on daily.

How do you imagine the sidewalks, green quads and lake paths of our campus? Are they simply a place that you rush across to get to class? Perhaps, you cut corners on your bike to save an extra minute, or the mile-long lake paths fit nicely into your exercise routine.

Until recently, and especially after my visit to the cathedral grove of Muir Woods, the sidewalks on campus meant no more than a way to get to class, meetings, the dining hall and the stadium. Now, I am reminded that they can take us on a pilgrimage.

We journey to a place of great significance everyday on this campus, and we do not travel alone. Our stories gain more meaning from the people we bump into along the busy sidewalks. Like intersections in the pathways, our lives cross and we meet the Christ in one another.

You may not be visiting the Basilica or making a pilgrimage to Europe’s majestic cathedrals, but you are nevertheless walking an extra step in your journey. Remember the conversation you had on South Quad or the coffee you shared on a bench underneath the Dome. These encounters help us know the presence of a loving God.

If we stretch our minds, we can treat each day as a mini-pilgrimage. The sidewalks can carry you to holy sites and spiritual centers on campus. Visit the Holy Family statue on Bond Quad and reflect on relationships with your parents or your dorm community. When you pass by O’Shaughnessy Hall, recount Jesus’ meeting with the Woman at the Well and the desires he has for you.

We do not have to fly to California’s redwood forests to find nature’s sanctuary. As students, professors, rectors and staff members, we are blessed to go somewhere each day on our campus. With each step towards your destination, Christ draws near to us in people and places.

As the leaves change into their brilliant fall hues, find a bench on God Quad or walk down Notre Dame Avenue where you can look up high through the trees. Imagine the colorful leaves as stained glass windows in a grand cathedral and recall the people you met on today’s journey. Where did you go today and where is God taking you? With reverence and thanksgiving, preserve for yourself a space of sacred silence.

This week’s Faithpoint is written by Meg Mirshak, intern in the Office of Campus Ministry. She can be reached at mmirshak@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.