I walked a prayer labyrinth this morning (Thursday) for the first time. What a rich experience!
First, there was the joy and trepidation of entering it. This is not something that is part of my heritage. In fact, people coming from my heritage would largely wonder about me for participating in this ancient practice. Plus, I had no clue what I was doing there. I asked Brother Robert, one of the monks, if there were any guides or instructions or anything. No, he told me, just let the Spirit lead you. I didn't tell him he was talking to a hyperrationalist. Oh, well. There's no one quite so desperate as a Restorationist with no written instructions!
Part of my trepidation, though, centered more on whether I would find God in the labyrinth, or at least find some kind of meaning there. Perhaps, coming from the background I do, my greatest fears center in discovering the absence of God, rather than his presence. A worthy subject to explore some other time, and, I am sure, one that is heavily influenced by my religious upbringing, not to mention the scientific method that was both part of my high school science classes and my post-graduate religious training.
Anyway, I found in this labyrinth a metaphor for my life and relationship with God. You begin by entering toward the center, but that takes you only so far into the circle before you hit a big rock. Exhilarating to enter at first, to be sure. I remembered when I was first baptized, when I first committed myself to the way of Jesus. Lewis talks about the cloud of joy that surrounds you for a time. It seems that indeed nothing can separate you from God. Consciously enveloped in that fog of divine love, it is almost as if you have died and gone to heaven.
But soon the path turns and we become distracted. Life interferes. There is work or school, family, children, the struggle of relationships, the stresses of life. Lewis suggests that God removes the cloud of his immediate presence for purposes of maturing us. As one who has experienced the silence of God for awhile – the painful silence of God I might add – it is an extremely uncomfortable experience.
I paid particular attention to the turns in the path, pausing as I reached each one, contemplating what significance the turn might represent in my life. I noticed as I was walking the labyrinth pathway that some turns took you toward the center and some took you away from the center, the thing you were focused on when you first entered the maze. How like life that is! In our darkest moments, we think we are turning from God, or we cannot see him, feel him, sense him in any way. That is certainly true of the periods of silence I have experienced.
You look for God but you are facing away from the center.
What I realized is that God is still there, guarding my back, or at least still well aware of me. I also realized that even with my back to the center, I am still within the circle of the labyrinth, representing his love and care and even relationship. I am still within the sphere of his influence. He is there whether I see him or not, sense him or not. And if I will but keep walking the path, I will end up in the center.
But I get ahead of myself.
Most of the path in a labyrinth is directed not toward or away from the center but in orbit around it. That too was meaningful to me. Most of my life is not directed toward the center, but in orbit around the center. I saw various vistas rather than just the center. Sometimes the vistas represented people, sometimes the environment, sometimes the community of faith. I realized that often we see God best when we look at others.
This is not a new concept to me, by any means, but reminded me that sometimes I see Jesus best in the face of my brothers and sisters in community, or in the people I encounter in life who have no observable faith. The least of these, Jesus called them. How often I miss seeing Jesus or God simply because I don’t see the least of these. God forgive me!
Another thing about those “orbits” around the center.... Sometimes they are farther from the center and sometimes closer. And you can never quite see around the bend either. What is there before you if you are looking ahead is a path that reveals itself as you walk. The next step or two, that is all. Until you face a turn. Then it is a turn of faith because you can’t see round the next bend. Sometimes a turn closer to the Presence, sometimes farther away. Isn’t that how life with God is, though?
As long as you don’t “jump” the outer wall, as long as you don’t sit down in the path and stay there, you are still under the influence, within the sphere of the power of the Center. All you must do is keep walking.
Finally, after walking the path that alternates closer to the center and then farther away, you actually do reach the center. What a glorious thing to bask in the glow of God’s presence. But what I realized while standing in the center of the labyrinth is that the only place left to look or go is outward, toward where you entered. You can’t stay in the center forever. Just as surely as the entrance faces inward toward the center, the center looks outward toward the rings and entrance.
I guess that’s what you call God’s viewpoint.
I think I get the idea.
Grace and peace,