Tuesday, October 01, 2019

Finding Beauty in the Hard Places

I seek beauty in the hard places
in the dark night of the soul places.
I seek beauty in lost tears
in a forgotten promise.
I seek comfort in the cold places
in the last place you'd look places.
I seek comfort in a glance,
an embrace, the soft tremble
of a falling leaf.

About Tom Cole

Young Tom Cole
was the master of his soul
should you happen to ask him.
As he looked at his life
so free of strife
he would call no man his master.

Wednesday, June 05, 2019

My Labyrinth Year: Introduction

When I reflect on the past year, the word which immediately comes to mind is “community.” And this seems appropriate, since the modern Christian labyrinth walk has its roots in pilgrimages, when new communities would form among the pilgrims as they traveled to Jerusalem, Santiago, or Canterbury.
In my life’s pilgrimage, there was a time when I thought I could walk a spiritual path alone. But now, I’m suspicious of those who say they are “spiritual but not religious.” These people believe they can live a fully realized spiritual life alone, outside a community. I firmly believe life in a faith community is absolutely necessary for a spiritual life:

  • A community is comprised of people dedicated to the ideal of “mutual support”, to borrow a phrase from the marriage ceremony;
  • Members of a community may also challenge you:
    the First Letter of John asks how one can claim to love God, whom you have not seen, while hating your neighbor, whom you have (I Jn 4:20).

I. 15.July.2018

As I was training to be a labyrinth facilitator last May, I was already envisioning a presentation for my faith community. The priest in charge had resigned abruptly in April, with an resignation letter which implied that the community had prevented him from fulfilling his mission. I had been through a similar situation at a different church, and felt that community had not directly confronted its wounds, and suffered for it in the following years. I feared the same would happen in this community.

About a month following our training, the new priest in charge requested volunteers to lead a labyrinth experience for our community; this was expressly to give trainees an opportunity to fulfill the Veriditas licensure requirement. I waited for other trainees from our church to accept the invitation; when no one else had within a couple of days, I did.

I met with the priest in charge a few weeks prior to the presentation, and shared my ideas to confront any wounds within the community. She was not comfortable with the sort of confrontation I had envisioned. She suggested the presentation focus on transition instead, and mentioned her sermon that Sunday would also focus on transition. We discussed themes we might share and emphasize in her sermon and my presentation. She also suggested that I ask participants to meditate on what had brought them to our church, and consider what keeps them returning.

Because no one else had volunteered for the presentation, I thought I was on my own for all parts of the event. It did not occur to me to ask for help until about a week prior to the event. So a few details were forgotten, like whether people would need to remove their shoes prior to walking the labyrinth (only one of our four canvas labyrinths may be walked with shoes on): so there was lack of communication on that point.

From this I learned that I needed the group mind of the community to remember all the details that go into a labyrinth event. It was a successful event, largely because I had sought the counsel of our current priest in charge, and had placed her vision - and her perception of the community’s needs - above my own.

My Labyrinth Year II: 2.Dec.2018

The next event was facilitated by two women who had attended the same training as I.  It’s still not clear to me if either was the primary point person. Regardless, they had chosen to structure the experience around a form of Lectio Divina they were familiar with, and had previously used in other contexts. I was not familiar with that format, and was unclear on the terminology they used.

One woman, J,  had recently changed her email protocol, and was difficult to contact for coordination. So I primarily coordinated with the other woman, K. A third person was responsible for sending progress updates on our plans, but she was unfamiliar with the Lectio Divina format they were using, and transposed a couple of elements.

I’ll confess, this was confusing and frustrating.

Ultimately, J called me, and we talked out some details on the phone. I wish one of us had thought of this earlier.

The theme of the event was the Christian season of Advent. I was asked to serve three functions: guide people into the labyrinth; lead the group in “Light One Candle” by Paul Yarrow of Peter, Paul and Mary; and offer a reflection. As it happened, our event was the morning prior to the Jewish festival of Hanukkah, which is referenced in the song.  Included with this packet is that presentation, which incorporated a reading from Genesis and a reading from the Gospel of John.

All the participants in this experience were women.  I watched at the entrance to the labyrinth as they walked the path. A sense of calm came over me. All frustrations were forgotten.

This taught me the value, once again, of placing the needs of the community above my own ego needs (e.g., that the process follow my sense of order).

Tuesday, June 04, 2019

My Labyrinth Year III: 2.Feb.2019

My involvement with this event was unofficial, so I have not included support materials for it. Yet, my experience in assisting with the event reinforces what I have learned this past year.

C was the point person for this event. She had gone to the same training as J, K, and I. I was in the process of preparing a different presentation, which I will discuss in the next section. But, as part of that preparation, I had found wooden labyrinths about the size of a half dollar on Etsy. I had already ordered 50 for my presentation, and offered to donate some for hers.

I may have been awkward in my offer, because she heard it as my imposing on her plans. Although she was clearly upset, she still accepted my offer.  Yet, I sensed an uncomfortable energy between us.
I thought it best to support C to the best of my ability while keeping additional ideas to myself.  When the participants walked the labyrinth, I walked the boundary to maintain the energy. As the walk was ending, I prayed for all participants, using a set of Anglican Prayer Beads.  About that time,
C came next to me and asked if I thought a reflection was needed.

I was taken aback that she’d asked - perhaps I had mistaken that uncomfortable energy — but I said I thought it would be useful. She then asked if I would mind leading that.

I reflected on the experience of praying with the prayer beads while the participants prayed on the labyrinth path. I was praying especially for Jo, the last person walking the circuits. She was recently widowed, and walking a canvas her family had donated in her late husband’s name.

After sharing this story, I invited the participants to share their own reflections with each other in small groups. This generated positive energy among all the participants.

I hope I was able to suppress my ego in all this. I do wish I had found a better way to offer the wooden labyrinths, so there would have been no misunderstandings or hurt feelings.  But I put the needs of the community above any hurt feelings or awkwardness; and I believe I grew from it.

My Labyrinth Year IV: 14.Feb.2019

This presentation was for a professional organization, the Midtown Chapter of the American Academy of Professional Coders (AAPC); it would take place on a state college campus; and most of the audience would likely be Southern Baptist, and thus unfamiliar with the labyrinth (and might be suspicious of “Roman influence”). Wishing to be sensitive to these factors, I chose to downplay spiritual benefits, and reference the Roman Catholic Church as little as possible.

To accomplish this, I focused on health benefits, which are similar to the benefits claimed for mindfulness meditation. As I was researching the benefits of mindfulness meditation, I became aware of contrarian views - interestingly, from Tricycle: The Buddhist Review

Since this was an academic setting, I included these critiques, and offered my own responses.

As you’ll see in the presentation, I also incorporated the health benefits of walking, which are less controversial.

The room the Midtown Chapter uses for their meetings would not accommodate the labyrinth I had available (60 x 60), so I made arrangements to place the labyrinth in an atrium on the same floor, several yards away from the meeting room. The meeting takes place at lunch, and most members are expected to be back at their jobs in a little over an hour, so only a handful walked the labyrinth.
I compensated for this by bringing the wooden labyrinths and sheets of paper with labyrinth patterns and instructions for making your own labyrinth.  I talked the participants through a simple meditation using the wooden labyrinths.

I had planned my presentation while considering  the needs of this unique community, and “The Health Benefits of Walking Around in Circles” was warmly received.

My Labyrinth Year: V. A Poetic Reflection

The way we tell our story tends to set our fate:
I have shared my story with my community;
I have heard others share their story.
We share our story as we share our path;
we make a new story as we circle into
the divine center which unites us all.
The space between us is holy;
the circle is holy;
the time is holy.
Do not our hearts burn?

The Holy One is here.
She whispers, but we do not listen.
He walks beside us, but we do not recognize him.
The Holy One speaks the name
we had before we were born.
The High Holy One is a circle;
in the center of a Venn Diagram
which overlaps the circle of you & the circle of me.
The Holy One brings us together;
She unites us at the center of the labyrinth.
He speaks counsel at the center of the center.
Do not our hearts burn?

You and I, we judge people from the outside in;
But Mr. God judges people from inside out —
Thus spake the young prophet. And I believe —
I believe it’s true:
the heart is weighed on the scale of love.
Each heart that has loved,
even in small measure,
is welcome.
Your heart is blessed, as is mine.
Even my enemy’s heart may be blessed –
For only the Creator of 10,000 things
is qualified to judge.
So let us walk in love
as the Holy One loves us.
Do not our hearts burn?