It has been an unusually hectic few weeks filled with people, events, a crisis or two and…LIFE! Not only was my body weary, but that core called the soul was crying out for tender, loving care that we know only God’s Spirit can provide.
And so I took a few hours away from all that was everyday familiar to drive up to the peaceful Mount St. Francis Catholic retreat center in the hills northwest of our city. I’d been to meetings in their buildings and enjoyed walking the green lawns, sharing space with singing birds and totally disinterested deer, from wobbly fawns to bold and brash bucks.
On this visit I noticed a path behind the conference buildings and walked up a gradual slope to a spot where a small waterfall gurgled into a lily pad-covered pond. There I sat on one of the stone benches, feeling the afternoon sun gradually relaxing my tense and tired body, feeling the breeze, listening to the water and peering into the cloudless sky.
Eventually I glanced farther up the hill and saw something that caught my attention—irregularly sized small rocks laid out in a circular pattern 10-15’ in diameter.
I walked up the hill and discovered the rocks placed in the form of a labyrinth. In cathedrals around the world, a labyrinth design is often laid into the floor. These paths have been part of Christian worship for thousands of years. Beginning in the 11th century, labyrinths were used to symbolically represent pilgrimages to the Holy Land.
Today, labyrinths are for reflection, meditation, prayer and comfort. Although I had knowledge of labyrinths and remember seeing them in European cathedrals, I had no personal experience with one, and even wondered at their value. (Incidentally, labyrinths are not mazes—mazes have dead ends, labyrinths have a beginning and an end.)
Curious, I stepped into the labyrinth and began walking the paths. When I finally stopped wondering how long this was going to take, would someone see me if I skipped over some of the rocks to make the journey shorter, and was this just an activity for people more “spiritual” than myself, I found my mind and heart quieting.
I began to think that labyrinths are a lot like the Christian life:
- The path is narrow and I’m alone. While community is necessary for disciplined spiritual growth, we also need to consistently walk alone with Jesus.
- It’s easy to slip on the loose gravel. It’s the little things in life that distract me from abiding in Christ.
- It seems to go on forever! Just when I think I’ve conquered one of life’s challenges, another rises up before me.
- Wasn’t I just going in this direction? I’m sure I’ve passed this way, but the path circles back. Will I never get to the center? And what will I do when I get there? Just sit on the boulder? Why? The questions in my life with God seem never ending.
- Who in the world laid out this path?? For that question, I knew the answer!
An interesting thing happened as I walked. The questions faded and I began to sense that Jesus was walking with me. Not beside, but before, behind and in me.
I finally did get to the center, sat as comfortably as possible on one of the boulders and enjoyed the quiet that had entered my soul. Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of Jesus’ words came to mind: Are you tired? Worn out? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” (Matthew 11:28-30 The Message)
I suspect the labyrinth will become a regular part of my worship.