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.

Hidden with Christ #6: The Leftovers

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.

So, I’m pretty much done writing about the retreat last weekend. But there are a few things that didn’t seem to fit into the other posts. I’ll mention them here, in no particular order:

Anxiety is a sign of good things to come. I was so anxious in the days and hours leading up to the retreat. I am very grateful that a good friend was available to meet me for lunch halfway, in Mahwah, New Jersey. That broke up my trip to the monastery, and also provided me with a chance to chill out for an hour and a half. But then, in the final stretch on I-87, I got really anxious. I started wishing that I’d never registered for this. I started hoping that something had gone wrong with my registration, and that when I got there, they’d tell me that I couldn’t stay. I felt like this wasn’t where I should be. I should be home, getting stuff done. I should be anywhere else. I didn’t know what was expected of me. I didn’t know if I’d fit in. I didn’t know what I’d get out of it. I often feel this way when trying new things. I often feel this way on my way to someplace unfamiliar. It shouldn’t have been a surprise that these feelings emerged. Frankly, it should have been the most familiar part of the experience. And what’s more, it seems to me that whenever these feelings arise, the thing I’m scared of ends up being amazing. Not that my feelings can somehow predict good things, but perhaps they’re a sign of knowing that there is something coming up that has the potential to touch me deeply, to get into my heart and make some necessary changes. I hope to remember that…anxiety (at least sometimes) is a sign of good things to come. And without a doubt, this was a Good Thing.

The image of the wave. About midway through the retreat, I attended diurnum on Saturday. It’s the noon-time worship opportunity. Diurnum (at least the way they observe it there) includes a ten-minute period of silence, a time for meditation. Meditation is something I’ve become much more familiar and comfortable with in the past few months, so I welcomed this opportunity. Every now and then, I have received a sort of “vision” during meditation, and it happened that day. As I sat in the chapel, I had a vivid image of an ocean wave. It was right in front of me, as if I were part of the ocean. As I inhaled, it rose, higher and higher. As I exhaled, it crashed over me. I was reminded of my favorite thing to do at the beach: go into the sea, and let the waves crash over me. I love to “challenge” them; to try to stay upright as bigger and bigger waves try to knock me down or pull me under. In this image, it wasn’t quite like that. As the wave crashed over me, I was not fighting to stay up; instead, it was completely natural and serene, just like breathing. This image continued for the entire meditation time. My breathing grew deeper, and the waves grew higher and higher, the crashing more and more peaceful and invigorating. I felt like this was an image of baptism, that I was being washed in the waters of baptism over and over, with each breath, like the Holy Spirit was coming into me, as deep as I was willing to go, and then crashing out into the world like a nourishing downpour.

Paul’s thorn. I thought a lot about the “thorn” of St. Paul while I was there. Paul mentions this in 2 Corinthians 12:7-9: Therefore, to keep me from being too elated, a thorn was given me in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me, to keep me from being too elated. Three times I appealed to the Lord about this, that it would leave me, but he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for power is made perfect in weakness.’ So, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may dwell in me” (NRSV). Paul does not describe what this “thorn” is…people have suggested various physical ailments over the centuries; certainly I have resonated with those who have suggested depression. But it doesn’t matter…the point is that Paul saw this thorn as something he wishes was gone, but which Christ has used for good. In fact, Christ was able to dwell in him more fully because of this thorn. Whatever Paul’s was, I suppose depression is indeed my thorn. And perhaps God was telling me over the weekend that it’s simply a thorn I must live with. Throughout these three months, I have found new ways to cope with it, new ways to calm it, new ways to deal with my triggers, but it will never go away. And Christ will use me, broken as I am. Christ will dwell in my hidden places, broken as I am. And I have seen that Christ has indeed used my illness for good. My openness about depression seems to have been a source of hope and indeed healing for some people around me. If that’s what it means for Christ’s power to be made perfect in weakness, I can accept and embrace it.

The deep with. As I was journaling, trying to figure out how to put all these feelings into words, especially when I was reflecting on my labyrinth experience, I came up with a set of words that seemed to resonate: the deep with. I felt like “with” was the right word to explain where Christ is. But “with” isn’t strong enough. It’s different than that…it’s much deeper than that. So I thought that the experience I had could be described as “the deep with.” I haven’t done any more with that phrase yet…but I think it may stay with me for a while. Perhaps I’ll figure out more later.

The two sides of my healing. In the week leading up to the retreat, and in the few days following it, I spent a lot of time working through an “e-Course” called Making Sense of Your Life, by psychologists Dan Siegel and Lisa Firestone. At the retreat, I reflected that during my medical leave, I’ve been seeking (and receiving) healing in two primary ways: psychological and spiritual. I also reflected on the fact that of all the things I’ve done in both arenas, this e-Course and this retreat were the most intense, the most concentrated, the most powerful instances of that healing. I don’t think I would have been ready for them earlier in the process…I think I had to get to the beginning of March before they would work. But both the course and the retreat were so powerful that I can’t imagine this process without them. I feel like I’ve done all I’m going to do in terms of trying new things. I think the remaining few weeks I have will be spent reflecting on and integrating all that I’ve experienced and learned. I think I’ll be ready to return to “normal” life.

 

Labyrinth of the Week #2: Trinity Lutheran Church

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

This morning, I set out on my daily routine a little early to have time to stop at the labyrinth at Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Hecktown, PA. I’ve been to this church before…my son’s godmother grew up here. My kids have been here several times to have “Breakfast with Santa.” I didn’t know they had a labyrinth…it’s a hidden treasure. When I pulled in this morning, I couldn’t see it anywhere. Thankfully, its location was explained very well on its entry on the Labyrinth Society’s labyrinth finder.

It’s a rather small, simple labyrinth, with four circuits. One thing that’s unique about 3- and 4-circuit labyrinths is that when walking them, you are always walking in. The more traditional 7-circuit labyrinth plays games with your mind, because as you walk the path, you can feel like you’re getting closer and closer to the center, only to find that you are suddenly heading back to the outermost ring. With this labyrinth, however, there are no such “switchbacks.” It’s more straightforward, which gives a sense of constant progress.

The walls of this labyrinth are made of bricks embedded in the grass. At each “terminus” of a wall, there is a stone with a word on it. They read: “2012”, “FAITH”, “HOPE”, and “LOVE.”

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These are likely a reference to 1 Corinthians 13:13: “And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.” And I would assume that 2012 reflects the year in which the labyrinth was constructed. At the center of the labyrinth is a 3/4 circle made of bricks surrounding a stone that reads “TRINITY.”

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This center stone, on one level, reflects the name of the congregation who constructed the labyrinth. It also represents the name of God in the Christian faith: God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

I walked this labyrinth this morning with my mind on some therapy work I’d done lately, in particular an insight I’d had regarding how I react to authority figures. I asked God for some further insight as I work on this issue. Because of the style of this labyrinth, the walk to the center was shorter than I was used to. I didn’t receive any great insights, but that’s when I first noticed the word in the center. TRINITY almost shouted out at me, as I stood in the empty quadrant of the radiant circle surrounding it. A thought occurred to me: “Do I react to God the same way I react to human authority figures?” And if so, what does that mean? It’s an unanswered question for me today…I have more work to do on it. I think it’s a question I will talk about with my spiritual director at our next meeting.

This simple labyrinth provided me with a simple question to enhance the work I’m doing right now. It feels like a symbol of the relationships I have with my therapist and my spiritual director. My therapist assists me in the work I’m doing right now to unearth some brainstuff, and figure out what it means for me going forward. My spiritual director asks me some simple, yet very powerful, questions that enhance that work, adding the God-dimension to it. I’m so grateful I have them both right now. And so grateful for this labyrinth.