We are waves on God's ocean, ebbing and flowing from the Presence, playing hide & seek with the divine spirit. We meet the pilgrims we need on the Way; often, we find ourselves meeting them at every turn.
I rose early Saturday morning, and began mowing the lawn as soon as it was fully lit by the sun (shortly after 7). I have a mulching mower. I mow as Padre taught me, in a concentric circle. It grows ever more inward. This circle reminds me of the labyrinth; it is almost a prayer walk - although I'm more goal-oriented than fully prayerful.
Later that morning, I went to a labyrinth workshop. This ancient form dates to the pre-Christian era; most of us know the name through the tale of Daedalus and the minotaur. It had a resurgence in the Middle Ages, when it was no longer safe to make the longed-for Jerusalem pilgrimage. Twenty-two European cathedrals were designated labyrinth cathedrals; making the pilgrimage to these cathedrals and walking those labyrinths was held to have the same spiritual benefits as making the pilgrimage to Jerusalem.
The labyrinth, we are told, has a resurgence at times of transition, such as this profoundly noisy millennial era. Contrary to Thoreau, most people today lead lives of noisy desperation. We bombard ourselves with multiple stimuli in a cacophonous stew of images, voices, music, and print. Our minds chatter more than Monkey, and we long for peace. We are fear-filled, and long for comfort. We are bold individuals, making our bold way alone in this ever-changing landscape, and we long for community.
There are times we must tap into the Great Silence that is beneath all things. The labyrinth is one of many spiritual tools which help us get in touch with that Great Silence. It can be a means of deep healing.
There were over 60 people present for this labyrinth walk. My group had eight people. We were told to remove our shoes, for two reasons: the space was holy, and the labyrinth was cloth – an exact replica of the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral. People were guided in at respectful distances, yet there were several times groups would cluster; the circuits were relatively thin (I estimate 4-5" in width), so the pilgrims would often need to side-step each other.
A labyrinth is a long winding path. You often think you are nearing the center — you could easily step right into it if you jump the designated path — then find yourself led far away from it. I applied two types of prayer that have been fruitful tools in the past – walking and breath (they are closely related). As I walked, I was mindful of the length of my pace; I was intentional as I rolled my weight onto my toes. I was acutely aware of my breathing.
I've been working the past several months on childhood wounds – most of which are hidden from conscious memory (I know of them through reliable reports). As I walked the circuits to the center, I repeated this prayer with each breath:
“Grandmother God, I bring my woundedness to you.”
A wooden floor was beneath the canvas labyrinth. Even the wood prayed as we softly walked the circuits.
I was acutely aware of a burning sensation near my heart – not indigestion, but the prayerful heart burning the disciples experienced on the Emmaus road. I was aware of the tears burning at the well of my eyes.
This tearfulness was quite pronounced when I finally reached the center, which was trimmed with fleur-de-lis. Each pilgrim stepped into his or her own alcove – we were still close enough to touch. I was in the west-most alcove. Within a few moments, a woman stepped into the ESE alcove. She was crying.
I prayed for discernment: was this private grief, to be shared with God alone? Or, would she welcome comfort? The spirit led me to her. I gently put my arm on her shoulder. She drew me close, and nuzzled her head into my right shoulder. My tears were strong. My heart-fire was strong.
As I walked out of the labyrinth, it seemed I met this woman at every turn. It seemed meant to be: Nothing romantic, just a reminder that I was not alone on my pilgrimage. I had a new prayer:
“Healing Spirit, descend upon me”
Grandmother God, I come to you with open hands.
I come to you with tender voice.
I come to your embrace.
Wrap me in your healing blanket.
Teach me your compassion.
Let me drink your life-giving waters.
Grandmother God, I come to you beloved.
I bring you my wounds:
with your tender kiss, I become whole.