I don't remember the first time I learned about labyrinths but I'm pretty sure I was in the presence of Jamie Brame as he taught North Carolina high schoolers about spiritual practices for a week each summer.
Since then, they have soaked into my being. Every time I encounter a new labyrinth, I experience a different layer, a different aspect of their many metaphorical gifts.
A labyrinth is not a maze, is not a puzzle to be solved. It is a winding path that takes you from the outside to the inside and back out again. No dead ends. No decisions to make about what direction to go. A path - indirect, meandering, disorienting - but not misleading.
During my time in Bethany Fellows, it became part of my day of silence practice to spend time walking the labyrinth at the retreat center. Over time I settled into an approach that works for me - where ever I find myself. I walk the labyrinth to the center with a prayer for God, a longing, a request, a hope. I pause in the center and listen. Walking out of the labyrinth I keep listening for God's response, God's nudging in response to my prayer.
Sometimes I find what resonates is the going in and the coming out, the journey to something and back again.
Other times it is the fact that you have to pay attention to stay on the path and not get off track, going in the wrong direction.
A path that at times does not make sense as it takes you away from the center before curving and turning back. A path that requires trust, believing it will not lead you to a dead end or a wrong turn. You will find your way to the center, will find your way back out.
A time or two I found myself sharing the labyrinth path and there is something to learn about making space for others.
Occasionally, I have to remind myself to honor the fullness of the labyrinth and resist the temptation to take a shortcut or ignore the path in favor of a straight line.
Pre-pandemic, I scheduled myself a week retreat towards the end of my sabbatical. Time to reflect on the past few months and to start turning back towards to active ministry.
Luckily, the retreat center has made adjustments to allow a few private retreatants at a time so I have been able to have that time and space.
And as I do at every retreat center, I sought out their labyrinth.
It is one of the biggest, if not the biggest walking labyrinth I've encountered - 11 circuits marked by rocks curving around a tree.
The entrance of the labyrinth is marked by a trellis and a basket of stones. A sign invites you to take a stone and set your intention for your time of prayer walking the labyrinth. At the center, you are invited to leave your stone by the tree and take a few moments in prayer.
I chose a smooth dark stone with a nice spot to rub my thumb as I walked. I had not come to the labyrinth knowing what I was going to pray, what I was listening for. But as I held my stone, the intention came - Guide me, O God.
Guide me back to my home, my church, my job.
Guide me to authenticity, to who you are calling me to be. Guide me as I seek to share my gifts, myself, lovingly with others.
Guide me as I seek to remember and hold on to the gifts these three months of sabbatical time have given me.
The walk was long and winding and I would be lying if I said my mind did not wander. I started drafting this blog post at one point. But I would come back to the intention, to my prayer.
When the path came to the center, to the tree whose branches hung over the path, I left my stone at the base of the tree, in a divot in the roots. I bore witness to the stones and signs of others who had walked the same path in the past.
I sat on a log stool and listened to the wind blow through the branches and the windchimes someone had hung on the tree.
And when the time came, I started walking the slow path as it winded its way away from the center and out into the world. And I listened, with imperfect attention, for God's word for me as I journey out of this time of sabbatical and back into the work to which I am called.