From the start, you can tell this is no ordinary walk in the woods. First off, there is the name, The Grotto. The history indicates that a young boy prayed for his mother’s life after she nearly died in childbirth and when she lived, he promised God he would build a shrine. Years later he joined the Servite Order and was sent to minister in the Archdiocese of Portland, OR. In 1923 he found acreage that was appropriate and work began on carving out a cave for an altar in a 110 ft. basalt cliffside. The 62 acre property was developed by the Catholic Church over time, including gardens and a Grotto Monastery of the Order of Friar Servants of Mary atop the cliff. There is daily mass held, retreats offered, weddings in the pretty church and many special events for surrounding communities. The Servites remain active in work and prayer at the monastery.
In order to fully enjoy the gardens and a view of the Monastery, as well as embark on a contemplative walk, we take the elevator up to the clifftop. The view upon disembarking is expansive, allowing one to observe parts of the city and the Cascade Mountains (on the Washington State side of the Columbia River).
On the Upper Level are opportunities for a prayerful experience with the Stations of the Cross, a Meditation Chapel, a labyrinth, the monastery and a few cultural shrines of Mary, as well as lovely green and floral garden walkways. There are ponds and flowers, a few benches to rest upon. The birdsong and towering trees are wonderful.
The labyrinth is designed to replicate France’s Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth. I had never walked it; it isn’t a quick or easy meditation to do. But I was truly awestruck by photos of Chartres as a young teen and later as an art student in college, and ever after longed to go there, to experience it scared beauty in person. But I may never do that. So this time, I walked this labyrinth and took my time. Though others came and went and a couple started then quit walking it, I was fairly oblivious. Soon the labyrinth pulled me in and I followed the complicated turns, step by step. I kept on, up and around and back and forth and toward to center again. I felt its quietude, its unique power. I can’t explain why. I stood in the center and felt deep calm. I followed the way out and as it ended I was deeply moved, with the surprise of tears arriving.
We completed the walk through the gardens in an hour, grateful for cool breezes and pervasive silence, the prayerful texts and the opportunity to contemplate the many ways God can be sought and discovered.
We had come full circle and decided to end with the Meditation Chapel before taking the elevator back “down to earth”. We chose to stay outside as many people came and went. There’s a wall of glass on the western side of the chapel and the view is excellent. It does make one feel like a small speck in the scheme of things. And yet, a part of the scheme and counted.