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.
You should probably read the post about Labyrinth #39 before reading this one.
Walking the labyrinth at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church didn’t give me any great answers. I was still feeling very empty, like there wasn’t much meaning in my life. Perhaps that was true — perhaps walking the labyrinths like I do was just one more distraction from that. Nonetheless, I went on to another one that day — this one was just a few miles away.
This labyrinth was at a crossroads, near the church building but not right next to it. I had the sense that they considered this not a ministry for their own folks so much as a community gift. Hard to know, of course.
The labyrinth itself is a seven-circuit, Chartres-style labyrinth. The path is grass, and the walls are bricks inlaid into the grass. It seems to me that this sort of labyrinth requires very simple maintenance — just mowing. Yet if the grass grows too much, it can be hard sometimes to see the walls. These can be challenging to walk, which is no criticism — it requires paying attention.
The question on my mind was this: How do I deal with the monstrosity?
I should define what I mean by the monstrosity. It’s the force of evil that I experience all around me, a force that manifests itself in so many ways. When I read stories about how people are tortured or killed, when I hear jokes made at the expense of people who are different than others, when I see Facebook posts of people filled with contempt and anger and smugness. The monstrosity is the cause of all the dehumanization in the world, all the attempts to tell people they’re not good people, not good Christians, not good Americans, not good etc. etc. etc. just because they don’t conform to something you believe.
I see the monstrosity at work when I’m afraid to speak up in church about issues like racism and LGBTQ rights, when I’m scared to talk about climate change, out of fear that the monstrosity will rear up and tell me how wrong I am, and how evil I am.
I see the monstrosity whenever people care more about their own comfort and happiness than the lives and dignity of others. And I see it an awful lot. It’s everywhere. I just can’t understand how people can hate each other so much. It makes me not want to even live in a world where it exists. I don’t know what it is — is it the power of Satan? Is it human nature? Is it desperation? I don’t know. But I hate it. I absolutely hate it.
So I walked into this labyrinth with the question: How do I deal with the monstrosity?
As I walked inward, I couldn’t see any way to deal with it, other than distracting myself. There’s nothing I can do about it. It’s always been here, and it always will. Trying to defeat it would be like trying to drain the ocean with a teaspoon.
I reached the center of the labyrinth, and found a bench there that said, “LIVE WELL, LAUGH OFTEN, LOVE MUCH.’
My first reaction to this was to roll my eyes. “Eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die?” Indeed. Pablum, I thought. Nothing but pablum. How can I laugh often when people are tortured and dying every day?
But then I thought about it. Maybe if I can’t laugh often, I can still live well and love much. And maybe those activities are something that can lead, eventually, to laughter — but only in practice. I don’t know. But maybe that can be a way to build a life, despite the monstrosity. Maybe I can focus on living well (and by that I mean living with integrity according to my own ethical code), and loving much (and by that I mean paying attention to the needs of others above my own). Not because I think it’ll make a difference, not because I think there’s a reward or some other reason for acting that way. Certainly not because I believe that doing so will in any way impact the monstrosity. But just because…because I’m alive, and there’s no reason to live any other way.
And maybe the monstrosity is just going to have to take care of itself.