Labyrinth #37: Unity of Sussex County, New Jersey

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.

I walked this labyrinth yesterday, shortly after walking #36 at St. Mary’s Church. This labyrinth is in a beautiful spot, liminal, in the corner of a large field on the very edge of the woods. It is surrounded on two sides by garden plots, and on the other two by the edge of a meadow that stretches on through the horizon. My only complaint about this labyrinth is that there is no shade. It’s early afternoon in the summer, and the sun is beating down. Even though it’s not that hot today, I hate being out in the sun. The evil burning day-moon burns me. But I put on my hat, and prepared to enter the labyrinth anyway.

It’s a seven-circuit classical design, with small stones for a path and large (fist-sized or larger) rocks for the walls. The rocks are very diverse — on Unity’s website it says that the church’s members all brought them from their own homes. A beautiful idea.

Again, I had trouble coming up with a question to ask. After a few minutes of standing in the sun, I settled on asking this question of God: Will you go with me? While walking this morning’s labyrinth, I felt so strongly that I had a path to follow, and that I was indeed on that path. But now I really wanted some assurance that God would go with me on this journey. Sometimes I feel like I know all about God, but I don’t know God. Sometimes I feel like I can preach and teach all about God’s grace and love, but that it’s not for me – I’m just on the payroll. I want to know if I can trust that God is with me throughout the journey. To know if I’m just a hired hand, or if I’m loved too. I closed my eyes to prepare and pray and focus on the question.

I opened my eyes and set foot into the labyrinth. Surprise: my eyesight seemed different, clearer somehow, everything with crisper edges. It was like getting a new eyeglass prescription, or like those particular days in autumn when the amber afternoon sun crystallizes everything. Surprise: I could hear an echo as my feet crunched on the stones beneath them. There was something more real about this moment, something more tangible, more effable.

As I walked, I noticed the amazing variety of the rocks marking the walls. There was a cornucopia of color, size, hardness, texture, shape. I felt like they were marking everywhere I’d ever been, and everywhere I’d ever go.

I heard a voice say: I am the Way. I am the path you walk. I am the rocks that guide you. I am the stones that hold you up. Of course I go with you. I am the journey.

When I reached the center, there were a few small shiny stones left there, an inch or two wide, with a magic marker left next to them. One said, “Peace.” One said, “Love.” One said, “All Lives Matter.” I sighed. Even here? Even in this place of such intense spirituality, someone had to write that? I pondered: what should I do? Just ignore it? Throw it in the woods? Cross out “All” and write “Black”? I looked out across the meadow. Maybe I should just leave it. This isn’t my home. The folks who walk this labyrinth aren’t my responsibility.

Finally, I decided that I would flip the stone over, and write “Black Lives Matter” on the other side. I reached down and picked it up. As I turned it over, I saw written on the other side: “Black Lives Matter.” Ah. Well then, I’ll just leave it this side up and call it a day. I did so, and started to walk back.

I heard the unmistakeable call of a red-tailed hawk. I looked up, and far up, way too far to get a good photo or video on my phone, flew the raptor. I thought immediately of my Dad, who would love to be here now and see it. I thought of how he too has been walking a path throughout his life. Perhaps not the same way. Where I walk concentric circles, he follows the cry of the hawk. But the same God guides us along paths made of the same material.

I thought of how God is not merely the Way for me, but for countless others who came before me, and for countless others who will come later. I can’t count them, but God can.

As I exited the labyrinth, my eyes were drawn to another small shiny stone, much like the ones in the center. But this one was at the entrance. I hadn’t noticed it going in, but now I saw that it said: “Grace.”

Yeah, God said. I’m here.

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