Labyrinth #8: Green Pond United Methodist Church, Easton, PA

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 have started the habit of trying to visit them, perhaps once a week. For more information on labyrinths, check out The Labyrinth Society.

Today’s labyrinth is at a Methodist church in Easton. It was built as an Eagle scout project, and it’s a rather simple four-circuit classical labyrinth. The labyrinth is constructed on a base of small stones, and the walls are lines of roughly fist-sized rocks. At the center is a large rock with a few smaller stones on and around it.

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The labyrinth is not very large, and the journey within the labyrinth itself doesn’t take very long, but that is made up for by the journey there.

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There is a very nice and long path that leads from the middle of a field to the labyrinth itself. This path was made as an Eagle scout project by a different scout. I have this idea that every so often, another scout will add something onto this project, and that one day the church building will be surrounded by labyrinth add-ons. Might be fun.

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After you walk the path, there is a lovely little wooden bridge that leads to the labyrinth itself. When I reached the labyrinth, I had to do a little spring cleanup to get some sticks off the path. It reminds me of when I used to letterbox out in the woods: we all work together to keep the labyrinths in good shape.

So I entered the labyrinth with a different sort of question on my mind: “Is there a project I should be working on right now?” I have some ideas of projects I could be working on, including an idea for a book. Since my medical leave ended, I haven’t felt like I have a particular direction — I’m just kind of going day by day. I was looking in this labyrinth for some guidance about whether it’s time to focus on a particular project.

Like I said, the labyrinth was a short walk, so by the time I reached the center, I had barely gotten into a meditative state of mind. So I started walking around the rock in the center, and then closed my eyes and looked toward the sun, so I could see the bright patterns inside my eyelids. At some point, I opened my eyes, and realized that I had completely zoned out; I guess I had really hit that meditative state. And I felt with some confidence that now is not the time to work on a new project — just keep doing what I’m doing for now. And that’s okay. This blog, my job, and my family are enough. Plus my marathon of Classic Doctor Who, of course. I’m on Season Nine, if anybody is interested.

 

Labyrinth #7: Unity Spiritual Center, Asbury, NJ

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 have started the habit of trying to visit them, perhaps once a week. For more information on labyrinths, check out The Labyrinth Society.

It was an absolutely gorgeous day today, so I traveled back to Warren County for a labyrinth. This labyrinth is on the grounds of Unity Spiritual Center; they call it “Circle of Grace.” It’s a classical seven-circuit labyrinth, with walls made of bricks flush with the ground. The path is wide and comfortable, on lush grass. The center of the labyrinth has two stone benches, and there is a similar bench around the outside.

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I walked into the labyrinth without a clear idea of a question. I just stood there in the warm breeze, wondering what I might want to ask. I thought about silly meta-questions like, “What should my question be?” Eventually, I stumbled onto, “What should my focus be this week?” Seemed perhaps fitting, since it’s the beginning of Holy Week, and I will be presiding and preaching at five distinct services next weekend. Plus, tomorrow evening I have my first congregation council meeting since coming back from leave, my first big chance to try to be a different sort of leader. As soon as I pondered this question, the breeze picked up, the hood of my windbreaker flew on my head, and I felt as though I was being pushed into the labyrinth. Okay then. I suppose that’s my question.

The funny thing about this labyrinth is that it looked small to me from the outside. Standing at the entrance, I wondered if it was worth the drive. It just seemed so common, so typical. Perhaps I’ve overdone it with labyrinths, and I need a break. But the moment I started walking, that feeling changed. I felt like I was really moving, like this was a nice long walk, like I was on a long broad path that just happened to be bent. I felt like I could see the path of the labyrinth unwrap itself before me, and it felt huge instead of small.

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When I reached the center, I didn’t have any great revelations. I sat on one of the benches, and meditated for a few minutes. I felt the time stretch out in front of me in the same way the labyrinth’s path had, and I felt peace and wholeness. I walked out, feeling calm and ready for the week ahead.

I wondered if this might have been a sign of how I might view Holy Week this year. It’s a week like any other, 168 hours. I’ll be spending some of them sleeping, others working, others playing, others reading, etc. But it also contains an intricate pattern of meaning. Perhaps by simply walking through the week in a mindful fashion, I might see the week’s meaning and path open up in front of me. I can follow wherever it leads, because God has laid the walls out for me. Perhaps every week is this way, really.

Labyrinth of the Week #6: St. John Neumann, Califon, NJ

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 have started the habit of trying to visit them, perhaps once a week. For more information on labyrinths, check out The Labyrinth Society.

Today’s labyrinth was at the Catholic Community of St. John Neumann, a Roman Catholic church in Califon, New Jersey. It’s a medieval 8-circuit labyrinth, the first medieval labyrinth I’ve walked this year. The neat thing about medieval labyrinths is that they are divided into quadrants, and I find them more intricate than the more common classical-style labyrinths. (Possibly the most famous medieval labyrinth is the 11-circuit labyrinth at Chartres cathedral.) This labyrinth is made of two colors of paving stones, and it is clearly a work of love, professionally constructed. I was very impressed. It also contained two of the distinctive features of the Chartres labyrinth: the “lunations” around the edges, and the “cloverleaf” in the center.

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The traditional “Chartres cloverleaf.”

Driving to St. John Neumann was wonderful. My GPS took me through many back roads through beautiful woods. New Jersey has some beautiful country. When I arrived at the church, I had trouble finding the labyrinth in the vast grounds. Fortunately, a kind gentleman was outside – perhaps the groundskeeper – and he pointed me to where the labyrinth was.

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I stood at the entrance of the labyrinth, and the question on my mind was this: “What does it mean to have a Ministry of Depth, and how can I live it out?” This question arose from something that’s been on my mind since the retreat at the monastery a few weeks ago. As you may recall, the theme dealt with discovering and listening for the “hidden Christ” within each of us. One implication which the leader drew out was that we are all called to a “ministry of depth” in our own places, in our own ways. I haven’t fully figured out what that means for me, but it’s been dwelling on my heart since then.

As I walked, I felt a sense that a ministry of depth must begin with myself. I am called to continue to explore my own depths, to nurture a sense of holiness there and to seek and listen for God’s Spirit living deep within. And then, through that, I can be a source of depth for other people at church. It’s freeing, indeed. Instead of trying to be the local expert on scripture or church administration or interpersonal relationships (all of which I’ve fancied myself), I can see myself as a journeyman in those areas along with the others around me. Instead, I can see myself as the local “expert” on spiritual depth. I can model and encourage people to look deeper at what we’re doing, to look deeper at what their feelings and beliefs might mean, to look deeper for where there is grace in a situation. I truly believe that if I focus on this, I can be good at it. And I truly believe that it could be a benefit to a church community. It doesn’t mean that I can’t offer some advice and counsel on scripture, administration, or relationships – it means that my focus can be on depth, spiritual depth, depth of faith, depth of relationships. Sounds like a fun new journey.

Labyrinth of the Week #5: Kirkridge Retreat Center

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 have started the habit of trying to visit them, perhaps once a week. For more information on labyrinths, check out The Labyrinth Society

There’s a big snowstorm coming tonight. It’s supposed to drop 1,347 inches of snow on us, so I figured I’d better get this week’s labyrinth in today. It might be a few months before I can walk a labyrinth again, or even go out my front door. So today I went to the nearest public labyrinth to my house, the one at Kirkridge Retreat Center. If you’re interested in going, please know that Kirkridge is private property, and unless you’re a retreatant there, you’d be trespassing to walk through Kirkridge’s property to get there. However, the labyrinth is very close to the property line with Columcille Megalith Park, and that is publically accessible. Kirkridge allows visitors to Columcille to come onto their property as far as the labyrinth. I’ve walked this labyrinth at least a dozen times or more, and that’s how I always do it. Besides, Columcille is amazing. If you live in the Lehigh Valley or the southern Poconos, and you haven’t been there, go!

The labyrinth at Kirkridge is very much like the one I walked at Holy Cross Monastery. It’s a 7-circuit classical design, with walls made of rocks. (Fits very nicely in the neighborhood with Columcille, which is basically an enormous collection of creatively placed stones.) It has a central stone at the middle, which seems to attract junk. (Again, like the one at the monastery.) You can’t see it in the picture below, but there was a Starbucks Gift Card on it today. Sheesh. To each his own, I suppose.

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So, I walked into the slightly snowy labyrinth today with the question: “What is the most important learning I received on my medical leave?” I’ve just started to go through my old journal entries and blog posts, to get an overview of the work I’ve done these past few months. As I walked in, I found myself going through the reflections I’ve already done…was the most important learning that I don’t have to feel stuck and follow patterns that are already laid out for me? Was the most important learning that I can say “no” to the dark voice inside me? Was it that Christ lives within me?

Inside the center, I continued to ponder, and I didn’t really receive any sort of answer. I wondered if perhaps the most important learning was that I can’t really see how rich my own past and present are until I have taken the time to reflect upon them. Therefore, maybe as I walk out, I’ll get it…

As I walked back out, nothing. Just a pleasant walk. No insights or wisdom. But then I stood outside the labyrinth, looking in, and I felt…peaceful. I looked at the center, and wondered what it might have been that gave me this peace. I looked at the whole of the labyrinth, and noticed how it vaguely resembles the contours of the human brain. I wondered if I might be looking into the hidden depths of myself, deeper than thinking can think, deeper than feeling can feel. The insight I received from the retreat…the insight that there are depths hidden inside us that we can never truly reach, depths where the hidden Christ lives with us. And I wondered…could that be the answer? Could the most important learning I’ve received be that there is such a hidden place? Or…could the most important learning be something else…something I just received an intimation of…something that exists in that hidden place…and therefore something that I can’t actually touch with my mind? Is the greatest learning of these few months something I can’t even see? Is it something deep inside that will give me peace in moments when I didn’t expect it? And does that mean it’s…grace?

I’ve sometimes compared snow to grace…snow falls everywhere, covering everything, changing everything into a glistening white wonderland. It falls on the good and the bad equally, the beautiful and the ugly. It slows everything down and brings a sublime peace to the world. We’re getting quite a pile of grace tonight and tomorrow. Bring it on.

Hidden with Christ #5 / Labyrinth #3

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 have started the habit of trying to visit them, perhaps once a week. For more information on labyrinths, check out The Labyrinth Society

…and…

This is one of a series of posts I’m writing this week about a retreat I attended at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, NY on March 3-5, 2017. The theme of the retreat was “Living Hidden in Christ with God,” a reference to Colossians 3:1-4. I can’t talk about it all in a single blog post, because there was just so much. It was an incredibly powerful weekend for me, and it is taking several blog posts to unpack it.

There was a labyrinth at the monastery, and of course I had to walk it. It was an interesting labyrinth…I saw no mention of it at the monastery or on the website. I honestly can’t remember how I stumbled upon to its existence. It’s near the visitor parking lot, so it would be quite easy for locals to drive there and walk it without worrying about registering for a retreat, or even seeing anyone. That may have been deliberate…I don’t know. It’s a pretty standard 7-circuit classical design, with walls made from rocks. The paths are rather rutted. All in all, it feels like an old, well-worn labyrinth. In the center sits a large rock, and on that rock was a lot of “stuff.” I have seen this in some other labyrinths. Some people seem to see the importance of leaving something there…as a thank you, perhaps? To me, it just looks junky. But to each his own.

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Either way, I walked the labyrinth twice while I was there. The first time was early Saturday morning, and the retreat had just begun. I was so overwhelmed by everything at that point that I really didn’t get much out of it. But the second time was different. It was Sunday morning, and I had just packed up my car to go home in a few hours. I went to the labyrinth straight from the car, and asked my question: “What do I do with what I’ve learned here? Not at church, but today and this week?”

As I walked in, I got the sense that I could have built this labyrinth…rocks and a bumpy, rutted path. Nothing beautiful, but just fine.

In the center, I had a strong feeling that Christ is with me. I had no further words for that feeling. Perhaps a great deal of it was below the surface.

On the walk out, I perceived Christ walking with me. Not next to me, not beside or in front of or behind me, not even inside me, but with me, as though we were one. I thought, “he is walking with my legs,” but that wasn’t quite right; yet it was. I think “with” is the most accurate English preposition for it, but it’s a deep “with.” I got the feeling (intimation?) that the way I go home with this is to keep walking, keep seeking, keep on, aware that I bear the light of Christ within me, in a subtle deep way. Know that we are together, unified, mystically united. I heard a call to continue with mindfulness and awareness, and to also be aware that there is so much more beneath the surface, so much more beyond my thoughts and feelings, so much more that I can only ever glimpse. I may have heard a promise that I will continue to receive these things, these intimations, if only I continue being aware, keeping awake.

Labyrinth of the Week #1: Allamuchy Elementary School

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I enjoy walking labyrinths. If you’re not familiar with labyrinths, they are a sort of curved path to follow, usually in concentric circles. At first, they look kind of like a maze, but if you look closer, you see that there are no intersections, no decisions to make. It’s a single path that weaves from the outside in, and then usually back out again on the same path. They have been used for centuries as a spiritual tool. Christians have often used them as a way to connect with the Holy Spirit in a unique way. There is something about walking this path that brings things into focus. There is something about this path that gives discernment and insight. For more information about labyrinths, you can check out The Labyrinth Society.

I have been walking them for years, and I thought that perhaps I would try to find a labyrinth once a week, at least for the remainder of my medical leave. I’m not sure I will continue at the same pace once I’m back to work, but hopefully I will be able to still go regularly.

When I walk a labyrinth, I like to enter it with a particular question or topic in mind. I walk hopeful that I will receive some insight into that question. The question I walked with today was, “What do I do with my past?” This was on my mind because so much of what I’ve been doing the past few weeks involves my past…revisiting old thoughts and feelings and wounds, reconnecting with old friends, delving into thousands of old emails. I wanted to explore what it is I can do with my past, what I should do with what I’m learning (or re-learning) right now.

Today’s labyrinth is located on the grounds of Allamuchy Elementary School in Allamuchy Township, New Jersey. It was created in memory of a young girl named Claudia.

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One thing that struck me immediately about this labyrinth is that the walls were not clearly marked. The “walls” of the labyrinth are like the borders of the maze, so to speak. You always walk within the walls, and they help you know where you’re going. Outdoor labyrinths like this often have walls made of stones or bricks…they’re often just markers on the ground, not any sort of actual barrier. This labyrinth was planted…the walls are boxwood plants. These small shrubs do a good job of marking the circles in the labyrinth, but because they were “dots” rather than solid “lines,” I found it very unclear where the path actually turned.

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Here’s how a 7-circuit classical labyrinth looks. You walk in the white path. The black is the walls.
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Here’s that same labyrinth pattern with only “dots” for walls, instead of “lines.” (Or a really quick and shabby imitation of that, anyway.) You can still see the pattern, but it’s harder to see the details like where to turn.

I don’t know if they designed it to be different like this, or if it’s just turned into this in the years since it was planted. But either way, I found myself asking questions as I looked out over the labyrinth. Am I supposed to turn here between these two bushes, or continue straight? That kind of thing. I asked those kind of questions as I looked out at the labyrinth. So I used my experience of walking labyrinths as an asset. I figured, “I’ve walked these enough times, I’ll know where to turn.” Well, it turns out I didn’t. I got “lost” in the labyrinth. My past experience was not enough to set me straight on the path.

Now, here’s the thing…I was still walking it. I was walking it the way I always do, slowly and meditatively. And I was walking in the concentric circles like you do. I just wasn’t always heading where I thought I was. And I basically made it to the center not at the preordained time, but when I decided I’d walked enough, and just put myself there. My past experience partially prepared me for this journey, but it wasn’t enough. It was a different sort of journey. Whether by design or by accident, this labyrinth took me on a different journey. My past was a tool, an asset, but I could not expect the future to repeat the past. It was different, and I had to keep my eyes and my options open.

So this indeed gave me insights into my question: What do I do with my past? I honor it. I recognize it as a helpful and educational tool. Without it, I’m blind. But I also keep it in perspective. It is not the future. The future will bear some resemblance to the past, but some things will be different, and I can’t predict beforehand what those differences will be. But with a sense of humor and a sense of curiosity, my past and I can go exploring the future together…and make an even richer past for next time.

Or something like that.