Lessons from the labyrinth

On Saturday, I walked a prayer labyrinth with two of my dearest friends.  Friends who know the good and bad of me, who hear my questions and do not judge and help me find my way. 

“What is a prayer labyrinth?” you may ask.

According to one website, “a labyrinth is a path which leads, via a circuitous route, to the center of an intricate design and back out again. A labyrinth’s route is unicursal; that is, it has only a single path. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth is designed for ease of navigation, and it is impossible to get lost within one.

A prayer labyrinth is a labyrinth used to facilitate prayer, meditation, spiritual transformation, and/or global unity. The most famous prayer labyrinths today include an ancient one in the cathedral of Chartres, France, another in the cathedral of Duomo di Siena, Tuscany; and two maintained by Grace Cathedral, an Episcopal church in San Francisco. While prayer labyrinths have been used in Catholic cathedrals for centuries, the past decade has seen resurgence in their popularity, especially within the Emergent Church.”

This weekend, I was at Ferncliff Camp and Conference Center outside of Little Rock, Arkansas. We held our annual women’s retreat there. 

This chapel is just behind the labyrinth.  I loved its simplicity.

The labyrinth itself was monochromatic.  Ground.  Fallen leaves.  Rocks.  Sticks.  Mushrooms.  Very brown.

As I walked, I had to focus on the ground in order to stay in the path.  When I looked closer, I saw the beauty.   From a distance, everything seems to be one color.  Up close, I saw the variety of colors and textures, and it was beautiful.  Things are not always what they seem.  Beauty is not always bright, colorful, and young.  Look closely to see the truth.


Notice the mushrooms.   They grow in decaying matter.  In the brown, sleeping nature of Autumn, we have a reminder of the truth that life comes from death.   Restoration and respite also come in the darker, quieter days of Autumn and Winter.  Spring may mean birth and newness, but Autumn and Winter mean rest and renewal.

The rock says what you think it does.  Columbine. A word that now means tragedy and horror and violence.  The Ferncliff Center has served a retreat and healing place for survivors of many mass shootings.  As I a saw the rocks they left behind, I was reminded that we can draw strength from the pain and experiences of others.  Their willingness to put one foot in front of another and carry on is inspiring.  Contrary to popular belief, we do not have to experience something to know about it.  We can learn from others.

When I reached the center of the labyrinth, I took a moment to stand, look up, and just be.  I saw the clear Fall sky, and the brilliant leaves, rejuvenated by recent rains and still clinging to the tree.  Beauty not only comes from similarity, but is also present in the stark contrasts of life.  This beauty is more familiar — more obvious — but even here, we must be careful not to overlook it.  We must take a moment to be where we are and open our eyes and truly see.

On the other side, I looked up and saw this path that led up the side of the hill.  It’s steeper than this picture shows.  After 20 minutes of walking and focusing on flat ground, it was surprising to remember I was this close to a hill.  Life is like that. It can be smooth going for quite a while and then you have to climb a huge mountain just to survive.  Type 1 Diabetes.  Car wreck.  Mental illness.  Unemployment.  Some days, just getting out of bed.  Things that seem insurmountable.  Faithful willingness to just put one foot in front of the other when life is smooth and flat gives us the strength to climb the mountain when it is in front of us. 

These are my labyrinth sisters.  We experienced this together, but separately.  At one point, I was walking one direction and they passed me on either side, walking the opposite way.  In life, we are all on the same journey, but we have to take our own trip.  Others will be with us, but they cannot walk for us.  We have a solitary journey, but we are never alone, and the experience is richer when we journey with others.  I treasure having this shared experience with them.

I met God in a labyrinth.  He brought me to tears, and encouraged me.  He showed me beauty in the mundane and in the brilliance.  He reminded me that life comes from death.  He reminded me that I can draw courage from the faith of others.  He taught me again that I must walk for myself, but never by myself. 

And it was very good.

Happy Fall, Y’all

 Autumn Storehouse
I’d like to take October days
And store them in my mind,
To warm me during Winter’s reign
When nature proves unkind.

Then I remember sunshine,
The Autumn rich with gold,
And tawny fields a-flower
With wonders quite untold.

My thoughts will ease the moments
When in reverie I dwell,
And linger for the present
In some bright majestic dell.
~Virginia Borman Grimmer~

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