Walking the Labyrinth...
Mystic Micro-Gospels; small spiritual stories in and around my neighborhood in Southeast CT
I walked a labyrinth during a Lenten retreat. Christian designs matured during the Middle Ages based on Roman labyrinths, and are sometimes found on the floors of great cathedrals such as the Cathedral of Amiens, France. The one I walked was printed by hand on a large canvas cloth that was laid on the floor. You might think that a labyrinth is intended to confuse or confound, but this labyrinth is not like that. Rather, it is a contemplative experience. The walker enters the labyrinth, and follows the path to the center, slowly… quietly… turning this way and that, in a pattern whose way is often surprising even to those who have walked the path many times before.
I thought about the labyrinth’s metaphorical meanings on my walk. One meaning jumped right out; the constant turning of the path from one direction to another, much in the way I might see my life as a constant turning. Putting my life onto a new path is not as simple as it is in the labyrinth. My heart has to wake up to the sense that perhaps I am going the wrong way. My heart takes the lead… maybe years before my mind receives the message. At some point, my mind gets the call and I might experience metanoia; an “afterthought"… I change my mind. But metanoia does not end there. I have to take action… I turn in a new direction and step off into amendment of life. So Metanoia can be a lengthy process; a process of turning the heart, the mind, and the body, and moving out in that new direction. As the labyrinth reminds me, the “straight and narrow" path is never straight in the labyrinth.
"Where am I going?" comes to mind on the way. One way to think of the labyrinth is to see it as a path with God at the center. The way is longer than I think. Sometimes I am walking in one quadrant of the path, and in no time, I find myself unexpectedly in another; there are always surprises in the labyrinth. For a while, the path is right against the center space… I am so close to God, right there in the center! Soon though, I find myself in a far and distant place on the very edge of the labyrinth… far from God. Life seems like that to me sometimes.
I wonder about that metaphor as I get to the center at last. Standing there in the middle feels to me a lot like it does elsewhere. The view is nice… I can see the whole pattern arrayed around me as I turn around in every direction, but the feeling is not particularly special. There are no blazing insights… no burning bushes in the center. As I begin my journey back through the labyrinth to the beginning… I wonder if God was really at the center.
My feet feel the cloth of the labyrinth. My toe steps on a seam; I feel the raised material. My heal brushes over a fold in the cloth, made a permanent imperfection during storage. I feel the difference of the painted portions as I move aside to make room for another traveller to pass. I see the light catch on the the hills and valleys of the cloth. I wonder if God is not in the center… maybe God is the cloth itself… always present… always with me no matter where I am in the labyrinth. Maybe God is especially present in the seams and the imperfections of the cloth… the things I actually see and feel. Maybe the “God in the center" view is an illusion… something I talk myself into believing. Those times I thought I was near to God or far from God were just the narrative my mind uses to stay in control of my life… to convince me of my own holiness or profanity. God is with me all along… in every step… in every twist and turn of the path... and especially in the seams and imperfections… the hills and valleys of the labyrinth.
God is with me and within me, especially present in the seams and imperfections of my neighbors. God is not a place I have to go to… there is no holy center that my life approaches or that I must wait for… the whole cloth is holy. I am never nearer or farther from God… God is with me all along the way. Feel the cloth… feel the seams and folds in every turning… see how the light dances across the hills and valleys of the way. God is in that….