While at a pastors’ retreat not too long ago I had the opportunity to walk for a time in the footsteps of an ancient mystical tradition. I tried my hand (or rather feet) at experiencing a labyrinth. And no, it wasn’t the kind of Labyrinth with David Bowie and countless Jim Hensen puppets (I wish!)
For those of you who may not be familiar with with such a thing, a labyrinth is used for mediation. It is meant to represent the pilgrimage of the soul, be a metaphor for life’s journey. It is a swirling path that leads into the centre of the design and then back out again. According to the literature I read before embarking on my mystical pilgrimage it is meant to be walked in silence, with an open mind, an open heart, and a desire for union with God. The path to the centre is a path to “the very heart of God and the very centre of the self.” Thus one who treads the path should be ready to receive the insights and wisdom the Holy Spirit has for them.
“Keen,” I thought. I do some of my best thinking/praying/soul-searching while pacing around my office and the sanctuary. This could be interesting. Besides, I had some time before supper. So I respectfully doffed my shoes and began my journey into Christian mysticism. What did God reveal to me in the labyrinth?
ON the path inward, the “Purgation” I discovered that trying to follow a twisting path laid out on a giant floor mat seems pretty silly. Cast out the thought and keep going. Man, who knew you could get dizzy just by walking on a rug … cut it out … when is this thing going to get there? You know you could just step over that little line and be in the centre. If you don’t you know it’s going to swing way out to the edge again … OK just stop thinking … you’re not helping.
Finally, just when all the lines were beginning to blur together, there it is – the middle. Now to stop and wait for “Illumination”. All I could hear was the tick tock of a clock somewhere in the next room, the odd shuffle from me as I tried to steady my balance … and then it struck me … my feet were cold.
After a moment or two of revelling in the feeling of cold feet I began my reluctant outward journey, the stage of “Union”. Here is where God helps you integrate the divine secrets He has revealed. And boy did He. 350 paces back to the beginning and at about step four I also began to notice a slight pain in my big toe. By the time I reached the end it was clear … I should keep my shoes on. Baring my sole before God is too painful!
I tried. I really did. I like the idea of the labyrinth. But just like any other mystical practice, when you open your heart and mind to the working of the Spirit but you do it apart from God’s Word and the Holy Sacraments the only thing you will find is yourself. Sometimes finding yourself can be fun. But often, you won’t like what you see. As for me, I know what’s there, deep down in the middle (and I think it would scare even Mr. Bowie) … that’s why I try not to go there too often.
The Holy Spirit simply has not promised to work anywhere but in the Word and in the Sacraments. So don’t look for Him where He isn’t. Look for Him where He is. Take a journey into His Word, Let the Scriptures provide you with Illumination, for when you reach the centre you will find the heart of God – in His Son who died for you on the cross and rose again from the dead. In that centre, Jesus Christ, you will also find that Union you seek, His life for yours in Baptism, His Body and Blood for you in the Lord’s Supper. The scope of God’s revelation to us in the Word and Sacraments is truly dizzying, but the journey never is.