I honestly don’t know the answer, so I’m going to think out loud and see where this takes me.
First, let me say that I don’t have any spiritual practices that I’ve adhered to my whole life, or anything like that. So for one spiritual practice just to reach out and grab me like our new labyrinth here at The Well did is rare.
My first time ever walking a labyrinth in my life started like this: Pastor Katie and I set it up in the sanctuary, and I think I said something like, “That actually looks kinda cool! What do you do, just start at the beginning and walk?”
And so that’s what I did.
I just walked along the path. It was surprising to me, because when I would think I was going somewhere, the path would take me somewhere else. I’d be expecting two quick turns, and then I’d end up taking the long way around to another quadrant. I knew where I was going, but I didn’t know how I’d get there. It was new to me, and it was fun. I was laughing, smiling, and talking to Katie while I walked and enjoying the experience. When I went to the center, I just stopped, looked around for a second, and walked the path back out. Then I said to Katie, “That was fun. I’m going to do it again.” I think I walked it like four or five times that day, and once I even walked backward.
Now, if you go to our worship and prayer page, you’ll see different ways to think about walking the labyrinth. This was definitely not that. This started as me having fun with a “new toy,” yet somehow it clicked with me. It did feel spiritual to me, even though I did nothing spiritual. It gave me a sense of ...something. After I was done, I felt more at peace with myself, less frenetic.
So how could something so simple give me such an unexpected experience? Or perhaps a better question is, what longing did it fill? One of the first things I can think of is that in a labyrinth, I can move at a consistent pace. Labyrinth walking for me has become one of the few places where I can establish a rhythm in my life.
I work two jobs, and am in graduate school. They all require different amounts of hours different days. I’m not actually overworked, but it’s very hard to establish a routine. If I have time to myself (which I need), I tend not to enjoy it, because I think of all things I could/should be doing. If I try to sit still and stay silent (which I have tried to do before), it creates anxiety in me. My heart rate goes up. I can’t pressure myself into relaxing.
But I have found that while I’m moving in the labyrinth, there’s just enough activity there for me to actually be able to quit thinking and just be. There’s something about the rhythm of walking the labyrinth that soothes me, and I see it as an embodied prayer. I actually don’t pray per se when I walk the labyrinth; I get to the center and I’m reminded of God’s presence, I take a moment to be still and to be present and then I make my way out, doing nothing in particular.
Another thing I like about the labyrinth is that it makes me feel like I’m in community with Christians of the past and Christians of the present. There’s something I like about doing something that Christians have been doing for a long, long, looooong time… especially since so many of traditional Christian practices don’t resonate with me. I get to the center of the labyrinth, and for whatever reason, I’m reminded that I’m a Christian, and maybe not as bad of one as I think.
Lastly, I think there’s also something that’s freeing about giving up control. In the labyrinth, there are no guidelines, no way I have to approach it , nothing I'm in charge of- I just show up and experience freedom. There’s something liberating about knowing I don’t have to do or say anything to have a spiritual moment.
Even the things I say in this post are just hypotheses. Tomorrow, I may have new or entirely different thoughts on why I like the labyrinth.
But here’s my dirty little secret: weeks after my first labyrinth walk, I still do it the same way. I just clear my mind and walk. I’m not sure if that’s “spiritual” or not, but it gives me comfort and joy; that’s good enough for me.