Why not make your own labyrinth to walk, this week? It does not need to be complicated, a simple spiral is fine, and you can build it out of whatever you have to hand. Perhaps use twigs that you find on a walk or grass clippings when you cut the lawn. Scribe one into a sandy beach or chalk one on the drive. Make a path out of laundry or lego, hosepipe or hamster bedding, flour or flowers.
When you have made your labyrinth, pause at the entrance and consciously step inside. Lay your busynesses at the side of the path as you walk, until you reach the centre uncluttered by all the doings of the day. Breathe in the peace and love of God, and meditate for a few minutes on a favourite Bible passage. Then turn, and stride out, refreshed to face the world.
“I will follow”
Last weekend I visited Launde Abbey for their 900-year celebrations. (That’s a fair old while, even for England.) I often visit Launde for space to wind down and think, to listen and to still myself. And I almost always walk their large grass labyrinth, set at the edge of the Abbey gardens in the rolling English countryside.
I love labyrinths. Regular readers may have noticed that they crop up on this blog from time to time. I have a tendency to hurtle around at 100mph, and labyrinths are a very useful way of slowing myself down.
In case you didn’t know, a labyrinth is not a puzzle, like a maze. Instead it is one long, winding path that always leads to the centre. A maze confuses and frustrates. A labyrinth guides and calms. You can click on the image and print off a copy if you want to walk a finger labyrinth. This is the same design as the ones at Launde and at Chartres Cathedral.
Normally I enjoy a peaceful, prayerful walk amid the whisperings of nature.
This time was different.
Far from my usual solitary pilgrimage, I shared the labyrinth with dozens of tourists – teens loudly (and badly) reading out the ‘How to walk a labyrinth’ instructions to a gang of giggling siblings, an elderly couple dithering about and wondering if they had gone the wrong way (you can’t go ‘the wrong way’, a labyrinth has only one path), a stressed-looking parent with a strapped-on babe, and dozens of hurtling children madly mashing down the walls in their races to the drums in the middle. It was very … different.
Different good, or different bad?
Hmmn. Good question. Different bad was my first thought. How dare all these irritating visitors come and walk MY labyrinth on this open day? Didn’t they know I had reserved it and wanted peace and quiet to walk it on my own? Yeah. I’m an idiot sometimes. They had just as much right to be there as me, I grudgingly admitted. More in fact, because I had walked it many times, and for these folks, I’d guess it was their first.
So I made a bubble of serenity around myself and walked in my own private world of peace, letting the noisy grockles get on with their clumsy tramping. They were doing all wrong, of course, while I was doing it right.
Yeah, still an idiot. What makes my way the right way?
About halfway through I started listening. Not listening to God, listening to the people. Though maybe that’s not a different thing. The loud teen reading in a silly voice: perhaps that was armour against the embarrassment of doing something ‘spiritual’. The ‘lost’ elderly couple: lacking confidence in their abilities, but getting there all the same. The stressed-out parent: were they finding peace in the mayhem? The hurtling children: do I really think that God is a disapproving kill-joy being cross with them for bending over the tall grass between the paths? Yeah, I’m such an idiot.
So I walked the rest of the path with my fellow travellers. Not despite them, nor apart from them, but in the midst of them, stepping aside as we passed and only occasionally straightening up the grass walls so that other walkers would know where to turn.
The younger ones drummed enthusiastically on the upturned metal buckets in the middle and I worked hard on not being irritated by it. Were they engaging prayerfully in ‘protest drumming’ as suggested in the accompanying leaflet? I suspect it was more delight at being given permission to be loud, but who am I to judge another’s servant?
Following the path. It can be … different.
None of the followers in this week’s readings got quite what they expected. The disciples got a telling off for being over-enthusiastic. The one who volunteered to follow had a bucket of cold water poured over his eagerness. Then Jesus called a guy to join him and was really quite rude about his family (‘let the dead bury the dead’? – seriously bad recruitment ploy). And the final guy is told that if looks back he’s useless. Again with the bad marketing strategy! What are you doing Jesus?
I guess it was a heads-up for a the journey. It’s going to be … different.
This week I had a journal article accepted for publication in Practical Theology. I remembered about halfway round the labyrinth, the time that I stepped out of my artificial serenity-bubble and started listening, and I kicked myself. Practical Theology, the place where all the lofty ideas bang into real people’s real lives. Duh. I really am such an idiot.
Now it’s great to have the lofty ideas. If we don’t know where we’re aiming, we’re sure to miss. But theology is important because of how it trickles down to real life. The place where theology actually happens is the mums and tots group, the youth club, the workplace, the home.
I prefer to walk a labyrinth on my own, but that’s like keeping theology locked away in an ivory tower, smug and content in its own cleverness. In reality, that slightly irritating labyrinth walk, alongside noisy teens, dithering old folks, hassled parents and kids who break stuff, was probably the best one I’ve ever done.
So I suppose it was good.
It was certainly different.
Luke 9:51-62 Contemporary English Version
Not long before it was time for Jesus to be taken up to heaven, he made up his mind to go to Jerusalem. He sent some messengers on ahead to a Samaritan village to get things ready for him. But he was on his way to Jerusalem, so the people there refused to welcome him. When the disciples James and John saw what was happening, they asked, “Lord, do you want us to call down fire from heaven to destroy these people?”
But Jesus turned and corrected them for what they had said. Then they all went on to another village.
Along the way someone said to Jesus, “I’ll go anywhere with you!” Jesus said, “Foxes have dens, and birds have nests, but the Son of Man doesn’t have a place to call his own.”
Jesus told someone else to come with him. But the man said, “Lord, let me wait until I bury my father.” Jesus answered, “Let the dead take care of the dead, while you go and tell about God’s kingdom.”
Then someone said to Jesus, “I want to go with you, Lord, but first let me go back and take care of things at home.” Jesus answered, “Anyone who starts plowing and keeps looking back isn’t worth a thing to God’s kingdom!”
Contemporary English Version Copyright © 1995 by American Bible Society
Images, Fay Rowland: Launde Galaxy.