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.
Today I went to Christ Lutheran Church in Hellertown, to find a relatively new labyrinth created there. It’s a 7-circuit classical labyrinth. The paths are the grass, and the walls are stone pavers. It’s a rather new labyrinth, published on the Labyrinth Locator in 2020, and it’s well-maintained.
The question I brought into this labyrinth was informed by a few things: first, there is my recent mental health crisis, and the healing I have received over the past two weeks at Lehigh Valley Hospital’s Alternatives Partial Hospitalization Program. Second, just this morning I re-read a paper I wrote about ten years ago for an advanced seminary class called “Spirituality, Prayer, Social Engagement.” In the paper, I used the labyrinth as a metaphor for the spiritual journey each of us walks. I wrote this:
For centuries, people have walked labyrinths seeking discernment, insight, and peace. Perhaps one reason labyrinths have proven to be helpful for this is because the physical journey of walking a labyrinth mirrors the soul’s spiritual journey. As in the labyrinth, we do not experience a direct line from sorrow to joy, from confusion to understanding, from despair to peace. The journey of faith is one that meanders, amid good times and bad, through quiet and storm, certainty and confusion; in Ignatius’ terms, through consolations and desolations. And, as in the labyrinth, there is a path marked before us. In the labyrinth, this path is clearly marked by walls, telling us when to turn. On the journey of faith, our guides may not be as obvious, yet we too have guideposts, arrows, markers, suggesting where to go next and when to stop. We have teachers and spiritual guides along the way. Words of wisdom and people of wisdom who tell us, “go here, but not there.” “Only go this far, and then turn back.” Some of these guides are helpful for a brief time, to get through one of life’s “switchbacks;” others may be helpful for a lifetime.
For the remainder of the paper, I wrote about how several of the church’s spiritual writers over the centuries could act as “walls in the labyrinth” for us. (I wrote about Kierkegaard, Luther, and Bonaventure, if you’re interested.) But certainly there are many people who fill these roles beyond writers from past centuries. We all have people in our lives today who act as guides, arrows, directors.
So, with that paper and my recent history in mind, the question I asked as I entered the labyrinth was this: Who or what are my guides right now, the walls of my labyrinth?
I really enjoyed the walk around this labyrinth. It felt very open, very broad, the turns very comfortable and wide. Yet there was some discomfort as well: the air was chilly and damp, and the grass was wet from last night’s rain. The reason I found that a bit uncomfortable, though, was probably due more to my clothing: the jeans I wore have huge holes in the knees, and the sneakers I wore have a habit of allowing water in through the top.
I thought about how this might be an image of my own spiritual journey right now – right now in my life, I’ve got some discomfort. Life isn’t perfect, and the troubles I have are partially because of some flaws in my own makeup, such as the ongoing struggle with depression. Yet, because of the goodness of the path laid before me, and because of the goodness of the walls that guide me along, I can continue to move forward, despite the discomfort. That’s kind of where I am in my journey right now.
So what are those walls that guide me? I thought of a few.
- There are the coping skills I learned these past two weeks, some of which were old skills that I have been rekindling. These skills are mostly from REBT (rational emotive behavior therapy), CBT (cognitive behavior therapy), and DBT (dialectical behavior therapy). Thanks to the excellent staff at Alternatives (and thanks to my own attention), I feel like many of those tools are now in my toolbelt, and they are helping to guide me onward.
- There are the people who will be helping to hold me accountable to the daily, weekly, and monthly “Rhythm of Resilience” I’ve been developing. First and foremost among these is my wife, and I am also hoping to enlist the help of a few others to keep me accountable for my own well-being.
- There is the church year. The new church year begins this coming Sunday with the First Sunday of Advent. That feels like a perfect time to come back to work, a perfect time to begin the next phase of my life. And this year is the year of Luke, when I will proclaim and preach on the gospel according to Luke most weeks, and Luke is a gospel that’s most concerned with healing. I think the upcoming year will be something of a guide for me.
- As far as people are concerned, there are all my erstwhile guides whom I “let go of” for too long this past year. I am rekindling relationships with my therapist and my spiritual director, and I will be trying to reach out to and connect with friends and family more than I have in some time. My mom always told me I have good taste in friends, and she was right – I have so many people I can rely on and grow with, if I just take the opportunity.
- There is my congregation, a group of people who have yet again embraced me when I fell down into depression. I’m ostensibly the one who teaches them about God’s grace, but they have shown it to me so many times.
I am truly blessed. I can walk forward, despite the holes in my knees. Despite my wet shoes. I can walk forward, and there is hope waiting for me in the center.