(My faith is an important part of my life. I do not set up my life or my beliefs as anything other than my understanding of the Divine. If they shine some tiny light on your journey then I will be happy for us both. YMMV)
Earlier this year, I had the chance to help build a labyrinth at my new home congregation. Labyrinths have long history among spiritual folk. They are well known features at places like the Cathedral at Chartres in France. The one I helped create (in a very small way) is nothing quite so grand. But it is beautiful, and I’m looking forward to my first chance to walk it.
If you’re not familiar with walking labyrinths, there is one thing you need to know about them. They are different from a maze. A maze is designed to be complicated and confusing. The labyrinth that is used in the Christian tradition (I try to speak only for my own tribe in these posts), is simple in its complexity. Yes, the path winds back and forth, but there is only a single way in and a single way out. Follow the path and you will get to where you want to go.
One of the historic functions of these paths is to offer a chance to do a pilgrimage for folks without the time or financial means to travel to the holy places. This is why you will sometimes here the center referred to as “Jerusalem”.
The first time I walked a labyrinth was at a training event. A Presbyterian church in Buffalo had a seminar for people who were looking into using one as part of their personal faith practice or within their ministry. I was decidedly the latter. It was a tool that sounded interesting. That was all my motivation as I walked through the door.
In this case, it was a canvas labyrinth. Painted on an enormous piece of heavy canvas, it was portable. We went through our background training session on the history and practice, then were invited to walk the labyrinth ourselves. It was a large group, so we set off at intervals of several minutes. The goal was that we would not catch the person in front of us.
A fine idea. Unless the person behind, me, walked quickly, while the person in front, a very nice older lady if memory serves, chose to walk slowly. There is no passing lane on a labyrinth.
So I was stuck.
Until the thought ocurred – maybe this was the point.
It’s not about racing to the goal. The object of the exercise is in the exercise itself. I slowed, focused on what I was hearing, feeling, smelling. The experience of walking the labyrinth became my purpose. When I reached the center, I was at a level of calmness that is sadly unusual in my life. The center was large enough for four or five to stand comfortably for a moment before beginning the walk back out.
It was a profound moment for me.
Because it solidified a concept about the Life in Faith. It is a JOURNEY.
I hear lots of folk who spend all their time talking about the goal, the reward, the end. Over the years I have come to believe that without the journey, the end will mean nothing. If it’s only about getting to the end, then we should be looking for shortcuts. Let’s get there and it will all be well.
But like anything that isn’t earned, it won’t mean much.
I believe that I will only understand what is waiting after I finish my journey. I believe that we are pointed to the journey by the fact that our faith is based on “the way”. As I noted last month, for me it is about trying (and often failing) to live in the moment. Not in the future, but now. Ministry is done here and now. Love is shared, here and now. Now is the journey, one that will take every second of every minute of every hour of every day of my life.
Faith is a journey. May our paths cross or parallel along the way.