Apr 6th 2012
I grew up in the Baptist church. We didn’t call it Holy Week, though we did go to church a lot that week. But we always went to church a lot, at least compared with others in our New York suburb, Wednesday evenings and twice on Sunday. I gave up the church when I was in college, left the Baptists and didn’t go elsewhere, and for years Holy Week was something that happened around me. We did Easter, with bunnies and eggs. Now, during Holy Week, I walk the labyrinth.
A number of years ago my friend Jeanette, who runs the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South (RCWMS), decided she wanted a labyrinth. She had walked the famous one in Chartes Cathedral and wanted to be able to walk again and to share the experience. (You can find out more about this wonderful organization here – rcwms.org. Full disclosure, I am on their board.) So she recruited help and made a labyrinth out of huge pieces of canvas and purple paint. It is an exact replica of the labyrinth at Chartes.
I walked my first labyrinth in a small field by a tree in Ithaca, New York. It was much smaller than the Chartes labyrinth, just a grass path bordered by stones. I wasn’t sure what to expect, but was guided by a companion: bring a journal, sit in the middle, ask a question, walk with intention and reflection. I don’t remember exactly what happened that day, but it was enough to hook me. Since then I walk whenever I encounter a labyrinth, at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, at Avila Retreat Center in Durham, at Kanuga in the North Carolina Mountains.
They all speak to me, but Jeanette’s is my favorite. I walk it every winter when it spends a day inside the soaring vault of Duke Chapel. And I walk it for Holy Week during its sojourn at Binkley Baptist Church in Chapel Hill. This year I made it three times.
These days I don’t go to church but I do meditate, practice contemplative reading, occasionally go on retreat. But my favorite spiritual practice is the labyrinth. It is difficult to describe the power that it has for me. Maybe I love it because it defies language. And because it supports the integration of mind, body, and spirit. This is what I wrote before and after one of my walks this week:
Today I walk alone. I want to release my body and mind, to release control so that body can lead. To trust. That is what I will carry in the stone that I pick up from one of the small devotional tables arrayed around the labyrinth. I will carry a scarf of gratitude for my continuing liberation from the tyranny of parental expectations and from my own sustained perpetuation of those expectations. And I will ask for guidance with this question: how do I serve?
After. A clear message. More than once. This is how. And at the center I sit quietly and go through my list. I give thanks for for all of the wonderful people in my life, for my connection to the world, for life. I ask for help in my vow to release control, to follow body and trust it and the world, to trust my ability to remain present in this world. And I ask again, almost as an afterthought. Wasn’t there one more thing? Oh yes. How do I serve? And again the answer comes. This is how. Really?? Only this? As if I think this is easy. Yes, really. And a moment later I hear these words, “well, somebody’s got to do it.” I laugh. At that absurd thought. At that truth. Somebody’s got to do it. And it might as well be me. Even though I’m not sure what “it” is, I know I am in the presence of truth. Which is another word for mystery.