I enjoy walking labyrinths. Labyrinths are maze-like structures that have been used as spiritual tools for centuries. There are many of them around, and I am in the habit of trying to visit a lot of them. For more information about labyrinths, check out The Labyrinth Society. Find where labyrinths are in your area at the Worldwide Labyrinth Locator.
This was the first labyrinth I’ve walked since the COVID-19 Pandemic began. I have a week off from work, and I decided that a good plan for today would be to drive into New Jersey (alone, with a mask), and seek out some good walking wisdom. The first one I reached was at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church in Sparta. It has my favorite layout: an 11-circuit Chartres. The path is crushed stones, and the walls are inlaid bricks. It was very well-maintained, no weeds or grass growing over the walls.
I always walk into a labyrinth with a question on my heart, and I’ve found that while I don’t always receive an answer, I always gain insight and wisdom in some way connected to the question.
I had a very hard time discerning a question today. I stood at the entrance for several minutes thinking and praying. So much has happened over the last few months, between the pandemic and lockdown and Black Lives Matter and so forth. I hadn’t walked a labyrinth in this whole time, perhaps since New Year’s. Or at least it feels that way. Actually, now that I think of it, I did walk the labyrinth closest to my house (at Kirkridge), but I never journaled that walk.
I realized while I was standing there that I have, like perhaps all of us, been through a trauma over the last few months. And I suddenly wished that I had made the time to walk labyrinths throughout, and journaling about them. Because I hadn’t, it felt like I was trying to take on too much at once. Such a big question, such big changes. Such decisions I’ve made in the past few months. I finally decided the question would be: How have I changed?
It was a joy to start walking. I had forgotten how much I loved finding new labyrinths and walking them. And this one was well-maintained and in a nice quiet spot. One thing that confused me, though, was a mess of sod in the center. What was that there for? Why was it here?
As I walked, I got a response to my question: “How have I changed?” The response was: I haven’t really changed. I’ve been, as always, walking the labyrinth of my life. The terrain has certainly changed. The direction has changed. I reached a big old switchback. But I have just kept walking. It occurred to me that the big decisions I’ve had to make in the past few months have been remarkably simple, actually, at least in retrospect. The question of how to be a pastor in the pandemic really just answered itself over time, and while I had lots of moments of self-doubt at first, there really didn’t seem to be any options except the ones I took. Same with how I’ve become so much more aware of Black Lives Matter, and involved in reading and encouraging the congregation to read. There’s no other way I could have reacted to that. It had to be by reading, and humbly offering to lead a reading group, and just making no bones about the fact that I support the idea of Black Lives Matter.
These decisions may have been hard, but they haven’t been complicated. At least they don’t look so from this end. They look like what I had to do, given the path I was walking at the time. So maybe if I’ve changed, it’s that I’m a little less distracted from the path than before. Maybe all this has given me clearer vision to see the path where it is.
When I reached the center, I didn’t even care about the sod pile. I just thought, well, that’s life. I don’t understand it, but I don’t have to either. I just need to keep walking the path. Some things in life are weird. Some things in life I’ll never understand. Just keep walking. And I began to walk back out.
I sat on a bench next to the labyrinth, and began to type this document. While I was typing, a woman from the church came and cleaned up the sod, putting it in a bucket, and walked off. A few minutes later, she returned and said to me, “I want to thank you for walking this today. I’m a gardener, and I’ve spent the last few days cleaning up the labyrinth. It makes me so happy to see you here today enjoying it.” I smiled (though she couldn’t see that behind my mask) and said, “Thank you for maintaining it so well.” She said, “It’s a passion of mine,” and walked away. I couldn’t see her face behind the mask either, but I’m pretty sure she was smiling.
So that’s what the sod meant, and that’s why the labyrinth seemed so well-maintained today. And it’s also a nice reminder that by walking my walk, just by doing it and being myself, God can affect others for the better.