Several months ago, my aunt recommended that I read three books by the author Paula D’Arcy that had really impacted her. The Gift of the Red Bird: Story of a Divine Encounter really spoke to me as I recently had what I believed was a divine encounter with some finches (see my previous blog). She described how she was able to feel closer to God by being alone in nature, and this made me think. How could I feel closer to God while living in the city? Where could I go?
I remembered a special place that my friend Sharon had taken me several years ago…a Benedictine monastery. It was so peaceful there, and it seemed like the perfect place to go for meditation and prayer in this busy area. At this particular monastery, there was a labyrinth. Sharon told me a little bit about the background of a labyrinth as I knew nothing about it. Basically, it is a place to go to spend some quiet time with God away from all the hustle and bustle of the day and to get clarity for any problems through prayer and meditation.
A labyrinth is a type of maze that only has a single track, so you can’t get lost in it. It has been around for thousands of years and is present in many churches around the world. The belief is that if you walk the labyrinth, you will go through three stages:
1. Purgation – you are released from all the worries of the world while walking through the winding paths
2. Illumination – a divine revelation as a result of meditation and prayer. This occurs at the center
3. Union – reflection on what you have learned as you make your way out of the labyrinth.
Well, I thought about the labyrinth while reading Paula’s book, but I didn’t go immediately as life got in the way. I was so busy writing and working on my house that I just couldn’t find the time. Then, one night, I started to read the next book by Paula D’Arcy – Seeking With All My Heart: Encountering God’s Presence Today. Amazingly, early in the book she had an entire chapter on the labyrinth! I knew at that moment that I had to make the time to visit the Benedictine Monastery.
Several days ago, I finally went and spent quite a bit of time by myself in that quiet place. No one else was around. There were many things on my mind at the time, but mostly I thought about how my life had changed since my divorce. Five years ago, I had this life of lab work, dance, and a twenty-year marriage. Now, all of that had been taken from me. Why did that happen? I had been plagued by that thought over the years.
As I started to walk the labyrinth, the first thing that I noticed was that my mind quieted. I felt God telling me to be quiet and just listen. Just listen to the birds and crickets. Just feel the slight breeze blowing on my face. Just be still and listen.
As I walked, I began to think about how the labyrinth mirrors life. We walk straight ahead in one direction, and then suddenly we are forced to turn in the opposite direction, just like what happened to me five years ago. Do the curves in the labyrinth represent our difficult/challenging times? Was this God telling me that sometimes the path we walked previously is no longer to our benefit? Is there something on that path that could hurt us, so He is taking us in a different direction?
“We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to His purpose.” Romans 8:28
As I continued to walk, I noticed that some of the bends in the labyrinth were hard to maneuver without falling a little off the path. I noticed that my momentum brought me one direction while the path directed me another way. This made me think about easy it is to lose our way in difficult times. It is easy to get discouraged, depressed, or fall into a sinful life when challenges arise. I was intrigued.
The next thing I noticed is that the stones around the curves are very small in relation to the stones in the straight areas. This made me think about how, in difficult times, we have to take “baby steps” to get through it. For example, during the divorce, my strength was sapped and I just couldn’t do as much as I did when I was married. We talked at length about this exact thing in my divorce support group. We were told that some days, we would find it hard to even get out of bed. For me, these small stones so accurately depicted what happens to us, physically and mentally, during difficult times. We have to be patient with ourselves and take “baby steps” until we eventually get back to our normal lives (the larger stones).
Other ideas came to me as I continued on the journey. Some areas of the labyrinth have longer areas without bends while other areas are shorter. This also mirrors life as some times we will have longer periods of peace and stability while at other times, it comes in short spurts. Also, some of the bends are a complete 180 degrees (lots of change) while other bends are 90 degrees (some small change). Finally, I realized that some of the bends could actually represent good times that are also stressful (marriage, a move, etc).
But the biggest lesson I learned that day is when I walked into the center of the labyrinth. I realized that no matter what we go through, if we stay on the path to God, it will lead us to salvation. The little bends in that labyrinth cannot even be compared to the beauty of walking into the center of the labyrinth. I realized that if I stay on that path, even through the difficult times, it will ultimately lead me to God. Straying off the path into a sinful life is not an option. I just have to trust in Him, keep my eyes on Him, and walk through that narrow door.
“But the one who endures to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22