I had the chance to walk my first spiritual labyrinth yesterday at St. Paul’s UMC in Houston. If you aren’t familiar with this practice, let me explain. A labyrinth is a space like the photo above. It is designed for meditation, spiritual formation, worship, contemplation, or relaxation purposes. They can be indoors or outdoors. They can be walked alone or with a group of people. They can be made out of stone, granite, grass, or any number of things. There is no right or wrong way to walk a labyrinth and every time you walk, you might have a completely different experience. The path leads to the center which is shaped like a tree or flower where you can spend a moment, and then you follow the path back out.
My walk was outdoors, in a busy part of the city, with a group of people. St. Paul’s labyrinth is built out of stone in a courtyard surrounded on one side by the church and busy streets on the other. Since this was my first time, I really didn’t know what to expect. I knew I wanted to walk barefoot so that I could feel the stones and try to connect to the ground in a different way. I took a moment to pray before entering and then started. Here are a few things I perceived and how someone might connect them to spiritual disciplines or practices in their own faith journey.
- Like the photo above, I was walking on light-colored stones with gray stones in between. Several times my mind would start to question whether I was supposed to be on the light or dark stones. After collecting my thoughts, I was quickly able to determine that I was on the right path and I kept moving forward. At times I think we all question, “What the hell am I doing? Am I even on the right path?” But if we pause to collect our thoughts, remember our original mission, and think about what God has called us to, we can continue in confidence on the path He has laid out before us.
- Because of the way the path moves and winds, sometimes I was very close to the center and I would think, “Oh I’m almost there!” But then just as quickly, I would be moving away from the center. I quickly realized that I had no idea how long it would take to reach the center and that I could not use what I perceived as my location on the path to determine where I was in the overall journey. Our faith journey may have similar goals, a center to reach. But truly, you never quite know how far you have to go. At times you may seem close, at other times very far away. But if you trust in God and the path He has you on, your perception doesn’t matter. There are other things to learn along the way. Just relax! You’ll get there in due time.
- I found that some stones were slightly damp, others dry. Some were cool from being in shade, others were warm from the sun. Some were smooth and yet at other times, I stepped on smaller painful rocks that had found their way onto the labyrinth. God never promises the journey to be free from pain, but He does promises variety and adventure! Don’t get mad at the inconveniences and set backs. If anything, they help remind you that you are alive and moving forward.
- Because we were walking in a group, I felt pressure to keep moving. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to walk a labyrinth. Some people like to pause throughout to contemplate. I didn’t feel like I had the liberty to do that. I’m sure it was self-imposed, but I knew there were people behind me wanting to move forward. So rather than being in the moment, I was trying to get to the center. Don’t let people bully you. Or rather, don’t feel self-imposed pressure to perform one way or another. Your journey is between you and God. He set you on your path and He is the one guiding you. It’s ok to stop and collect yourself occasionally. Chances are, the people around you are watching and taking cues from how you live out your faith journey. Who knows, they might appreciate a break too.
- At one point my friend Katie got off the path. Because of the way the labyrinth is built, it’s impossible to tell which direction goes to the center and which direction goes out. Katie and I were both headed out and she was able to see what line I was on and which direction I was going. This enabled her to get back on track and walk the rest of the way. Continuing the thought from above – People are paying attention. Not to put pressure on you, but you might be just the person that someone else needs to get back on track. We are all journeying together yet each experience is unique. Support your brother or sister if they need it. Identify those around you who might help should you lose your way. Let’s help each other grow in faith and finish the course.
- Because we were in an urban setting, there was a lot of traffic and noise. At one point, an ambulance went by. At another time, a vehicle with a loud radio drove past. I quickly found that if I looked up at the source of the noise, I was disoriented when I looked back down at the path. There is a tremendous amount of noise in the world. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and the path set before you. Taking your eyes off Him might cause momentary confusion. It’s ok to acknowledge life happening around you, it can even be beautiful. But don’t let it derail what you know you are supposed to be doing.
All in all, I was quite pleased with my first experience. I hope to walk some different labyrinths in the future. I might try alone or in a quieter setting if I get the chance. If you haven’t tried, I encourage you to find a labyrinth near you. Here is a link to a worldwide labyrinth locator. http://labyrinthlocator.com/home. God bless and may God give you the grace to journey with Him and others!