This is the season when many urban and suburban families here in the US get out into the great outdoors at least for a brief time. They visit pumpkin patches and corn mazes as part of the harvest celebration. Kids delight in getting lost in the midst of corn stalks and straw bales – at least for a time. And then they want to get out. If their parents aren’t close at hand some of them panic looking for the exit. Of course the aim of a maze is to get lost and have fun finding the one true path.
The aim of a labyrinth on the other hand is to follow the path that is already mapped out for you. A couple of years ago our church installed a labyrinth and I enjoy the occasions, rare though they may be, when I have taken the time to walk the path. Each year at our Celtic retreat we set up a labyrinth too and this year we even made finger labyrinths on wooden blocks, using glue and sand.
For me, walking the labyrinth is a very relaxing and calming experience, a good time to meditate on God and the way that God is working in my life. In fact I often find myself reflecting on the experience for days afterwards wondering about how to align the experience with my daily activities and the struggle to understand God’s love and faithfulness in the midst of ongoing pressures and frustrations.
In the Middle Ages people who could not afford either the resources or the time to go on pilgrimage, walked the labyrinth instead. I suspect that many of them walked it on numerous occasions. It is I have discovered a wonderful mini pilgrimage.
The twists and turns of the labyrinth, at one moment walking straight towards the centre and then suddenly turning towards the perimeter, reminded me that there are times well into our Christian journey when we feel we are back to our starting point. These are the times when we feel far from God in spite of the fact that we have been followers of Christ for many years. All of us experience them. Part of what my labyrinth walk has taught me is that at times like this I don’t need to look back, I need to look forward to the next step, trusting that God has laid out the path I am walking. Hopefully the next turn will lead me back toward the centre.
Of course if I was building the path, I would make a straight line that moved me straight to the centre without any twists and turns, with no times of feel distant from God. That I realize is not God’s way. Standing back from a labyrinth or viewing it from above one cannot see the whole path but we trust that it is there and that it will not lead us astray. And so it is with God. We cannot always see the path that God has laid out for us. Sometimes it takes unexpected turns that seem to take us away from the centre just when we thought we were drawing close to God. But it is not really so. Every step we take is a step closer to the centre of the path God sets out for us and closer to a more intimate knowledge of the God we love and serve and in whom we live and move and have our being.