When you were a kid, do you remember doing mazes? Maybe they were in the Sunday paper, or the latest issue of “Highlights Magazine” or maybe just an activity book you got for Christmas or your birthday. I loved doing mazes, and saw each one as a challenge to help some cartoon character find their way through to their desired destination without having to backtrack or lift up my pencil. Some I found easy, and some, not so easy.
I certainly didn’t know it then as a kid, and really I don’t suppose any of us thought that finding our way through a kid’s activity book maze would be a metaphor for our adult life, because I don’t know about you, but I have come to find that life, everyday life and even my spiritual life, can often feel like a maze – a puzzle that requires me to search out the right path through to the place I, and God, wants me to get to. There are often dead ends and barriers, and often I feel lost and even overwhelmed. The maze of life, every day and spiritual, are rarely as easy as the ones I did as a kid. They feel like what Paul talks about to the Corinthians—great endurances, afflictions, hardships, calamities, beatings, imprisonments, riots, sleepless nights. Life can feel like a maze filled with these things. I was blessed, however, to find a spiritual tool that would serve to help me find my way through such trials, tribulations, and mazes. It is a tool that looks very much like a maze, and is often mistaken as one, but it is actually quite the opposite. It’s called a Labyrinth!
There is a difference between a labyrinth and a maze. A maze is designed with choices in the pathway—choices of serpentine and twisting paths that can often lead to dead ends. A labyrinth, however, has only one pathway in and one pathway out. It sounds easy, but it is a path that still requires any who walk it to be intentional about finding their way through.
The labyrinth first intrigued me as a leisurely curiosity. But there came the questions: What is a labyrinth? Why walk a labyrinth? And, what am I supposed to do as I walk?
Labyrinths have been around for 5,000 years, and while they look like mazes with their serpentine and twisting paths, they always take you where you need to go.
Labyrinths have among them three distinct aspects. First the inward walk. Second, the center. And third, the outward walk. Within these three aspects Labyrinths are meant to be a place to pray ~ for healing, spiritual growth, patience and seeking God~ which is why a person can walk the same labyrinth time and time again and still find the path new. For me, what began as a leisure walk has now turned into a discipline, which has been nurtured by our church Prayer Team. And the path is always new because, as a spiritual discipline, the labyrinth is a path of reflection, prayer, speaking to God, and perhaps most importantly—listening to God.
But how does the labyrinth become a personal story? How did it become my story?
Move 1: The Inward Walk
First the inward walk.
I needed to find peace, understanding and patience and I wanted and needed to grow more spiritually in my faith and to listen to God. As I have used this tool, God has impressed upon me my need to develop patience and, as we all know, I need a lot of work in this area!
When I start, I clear my head and heart of stress ~ anxiety ~ fear ~ and worry, and turn it over to the Lord God. Then on my inward walk I meditate on a scripture passage, Hebrews 13:5, “I will never leave you or forsake you.” This scripture has helped me through a lot of difficult times. When I got divorced, I was hurt, lost, alone and had two small children to raise on my own but, with the help of my God, my mom and my faith I survived. The inward walk of the Labyrinth made me increasingly mindful that I was never alone.
Move 2: The Center
When I arrive at the center, I rest and rejoice in the Lord’s presence and pray the Lord’s Prayer. I pray this prayer because I feel this is my strength.
In the center there is a peace, a relaxed feeling, and a closeness with God that I don’t find in other places because there is so much hustle and bustle and pressure for our focus to be anywhere but on God. There is, as Paul points out to the Corinthians, afflictions, hardships, calamites, sleepless nights, and so on.
And as much as I would like to stay in this place, this center, with God, I know He wants me to go back. But I know I go back a better person—because of my time with God in the labyrinth.
God longs to be the center of our lives. This is hard to do with everything that goes on in our lives but the labyrinth gives me a tool to literally and spiritually put God at the center of my life.
Move 3: Outward Walk
On my walk outward, I think about how I will take what God is saying to me back into my daily life. I process and reflect on my experience in the labyrinth during this walk. I thank God that He will be with me, even after this time of retreat. I thank God for returning me to my life with a new awareness and renewed faith.
Afterward I feel so hopeful and refocused and joyful about the future and my spiritual life and a closeness with God. I feel I have learned a lot and will try to put it to work in my life. Sometimes I will write down my thoughts and thanksgiving. Sometimes I simply keep them close in my heart. But no matter what, I always know this process never ends ~ there is always more to learn, always new opportunity to live out more faithfully, always God’s call and invitation to live more like Jesus. This outward walk reminds me of this truth.
The labyrinth has become very important to me. Sometimes I walk the labyrinth in Chestnut Cemetery where my family is buried. It has one entrance and one exit. I look at the roads, and the path they follow, and realized I had found my labyrinth in a very special place. I can’t always walk there so I “walk” the labyrinth that I carry with me—tracing it with my fingers. I may not be walking with my legs, but the walk is the same for my spirit.
The labyrinth is important to me because in our modern world, we have lost touch with our origins, our roots, even our true identity. We get bogged down with stress, worry and anxiety—the afflictions, hardships, calamites, and sleepless nights.
The labyrinth is a symbol of the journey of faith in a sinful, broken world and it can be the bridge that connects us to the life Paul speaks about to the Colossians—so that we may lead lives worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing Him as WE bear fruit in every good work and as WE grow in the knowledge of God.
For a long-forgotten part of ourselves the labyrinth is a place of prayer, repentance, renewal. It signals the unknowable center of life, it’s mystery unseen and unheard in the babble and hustle of our everyday existence. The labyrinth can prepare us to endure everything with patience, while joyfully giving thanks to the Father.
If we read the Gospels and were to plot out Jesus’ travels, we would see that he walked a serpentine path and speaks in twisting parables, always winding in circles, never a straight line but it was always a faithful path that leads to God and God’s way. The labyrinth reminds us of this path while also revealing a faithful purpose and direction.
The labyrinth is a physical reminder, a sign that prayer is also a place in which life – new life – is lived. We enter into it willing to be guided. We arrive at the center ready to encounter God in a unique way. We walk outward having been prepared for what God would have us do and be. The labyrinth is a symbol of the living of life; one step at a time, one day at a time. Amen.