Building a Labyrinth #2: The Boulder Field

So, I’ve begun the process of trying to build a labyrinth in the woods behind my home. If you missed my first post about this, check it out here.

I got back out in the woods today, and continued the work of ripping rocks out of the ground. It was very pleasant weather while I was out there, not too hot or humid. Yet, I was dripping with sweat. I guess this must be hard work. It’s fun, though, and rather cathartic. Here’s a picture of the pile of stones I’ve accrued so far.

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These are all rocks that I’ve dug out of the ground in the area I’ve cleared for the labyrinth. I don’t want to have to step on them or trip on them as I walk it. Plus, I plan to use these rocks to eventually create the labyrinth itself. It’s a wonderful system, and perhaps a metaphor for life – by working hard on something that’s in your way, something that is a stumbling block, you find a new resource for going forward. Sounds like therapy.

Anyway, these are big rocks, most of them bigger than my head. And you can see in the bottom left of the picture some of the holes that are left behind. I’m going to have to fill them in with something eventually.

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As I was working on this today, I noticed just how many rocks there were, and how many of those rocks were wedged in among other rocks. I got the sense that these woods are really nothing but a boulder field, with a sprinkling of soil on top. I started to wonder if you could somehow see through the soil, this is what you’d see:

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Well, minus the cute kid and her dad.

But then it occurred to me: that’s stupid, because there are trees all over the place. Lots of trees, tall trees. So there must be a decent amount of soil here, or the trees wouldn’t have enough nutrients.

But then it occurred to me: I’m building this labyrinth here, because this is a spot in the woods without a lot of trees. This is a mini-clearing. So…umm…maybe the boulder field analogy isn’t far off. Sheesh. I’ve got a lot of work ahead of me. And I’m totally going to break my shovel.

 

Labyrinths # 10 and #11: Two churches in coastal Delaware

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

Last week, I was on vacation in Delaware. While there, I found a few labyrinths to walk. Today’s labyrinths are both at churches in seaside towns. These two labyrinths were built very differently, and have very distinctive feels.

Continue reading “Labyrinths # 10 and #11: Two churches in coastal Delaware”

Labyrinth #9: Community United Methodist Church, Ocean Pines, MD

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.  

I’m currently on vacation in Ocean View, Delaware. I thought I’d try to find a labyrinth or two around here. Today I walked the labyrinth at Community United Methodist Church across the state line in Ocean Pines, Maryland. It’s a really nice one.  It’s a typical 7-circuit classical design, professionally installed with two colors of pavers. 


The grounds surrounding it are also beautiful. Adjacent to the labyrinth is a cemetery, as well as a frog pond, and some woods. It was a perfect day, overcast and 75 degrees. I decided to take my shoes off for this walk. 

The question I entered the labyrinth with was this: “How can I enjoy life?” Lately I’ve found enjoyment to be something foreign to me. I just haven’t been having fun lately. I’ve been getting things done, and found meaning and hope here and there, but I haven’t really been happy for any length of time. I’ve been using a lot of my free time to either nap or play video games, because I just find I just can’t think of anything I’d rather do. I don’t like this. I’d like to be able to find joy again. 

As I walked around, I looked at the richness of the grounds around me, and I saw the richness of the colors in the pavers beneath me. And it struck me that that is precisely what I’m missing — the richness of life. I felt connected and happy, and thought I heard a voice telling me to look for this richness wherever I am, whatever I’m doing. Not to keep looking for meaning, because that way lies confusion and disappointment. It’s so hard to pick out what the meaning of something is, but richness is different. Richness is just there — you don’t have to figure it out, you don’t have to interpret it. Perhaps what I mean is something like beauty. It’s ineffable, but truly there. 

So now that’s what I’ll try to do — look for richness. 

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.