Walking the Labyrinth (and trying not to think about baseball)
Tonight was my second experience walking the labyrinth. We went to St. Peter's Anglican Church (Winnipeg) where they had a lovely canvas labyrinth unrolled on the floor of their hall. They began with a liturgy called "Ceremony for the Autumn Equinox" - a very nice responsive reading with themes including the turning of the seasons, endings and beginnings, and thankfulness. Then after a few words of introduction and instruction, we were invited to enter the labyrinth at our own time and pace.
I have had quite a bit of experience with the labyrinth game - the wooden tilting labyrinth with the silver marble and the holes that you have to avoid by tilting the top board in different directions and keeping the marble safely atop the board until the end. It's pretty much the polar opposite experience of walking the labyrinth. Some of the major differences are that walking the labyrinth is a peaceful, spiritual, sometimes emotional, introspective time (not always, but it can be) while playing the labyrinth game is nerve-wracking, frustrating and stressful. Another major difference is that when you're walking the labyrinth, the floor isn't tilting back and forth and there aren't any holes to fall through (although I think that if someone came up with one like that it would be wildly popular).
My only other experience of walking the labyrinth was in another church hall, where the lines of the labyrinth were painted permanently on the floor. The labyrinth at St. Peter's was slightly larger, apparently an 11-circuit labyrinth in the Chartres style (I had to look that up). What I liked most about it was that instead of the usual lines that separate the pathways, this labyrinth had hundreds of colourful dots (about the size of tennis balls) sponge painted onto the canvas. Some were reddish in colour and others blue, but every dot seemed different from the next, a different pattern created by the changing amount of paint on the sponge and perhaps a different amount of pressure applied. Some were lighter and some darker; some almost completely solid and many with varying shades of colour and patches of colour missing. It reminded me of how no two snowflakes are alike, and no two human beings either.
After a few unfocused moments (I sometimes have that problem - first I wondered and worried whether or not there was enough room to get past people as they walked a parallel path, then my mind wandered to baseball for a few moments, but I eventually regained my focus) I starting thinking about each of the dots as a different moment in my life - each moment or stage or event as different as the dots were different. Then I wondered whether the actual number of dots that made up the lines of the labyrinth might correspond mathematically to the number of weeks of the average lifespan of a human being. I decided that it might be close. So from then on I saw each passing dot as representing a week of my life, and although I wasn't walking slow enough to really focus on each dot as I passed by, it gave me the sense of the passage of time. I also considered that at about the half-way point, in this case the center of the labyrinth, the rest of the dots on my path could represent future weeks of life yet to be lived out. Deep stuff, right? I know.
It was a meaningful walk. When I neared the end of the labyrinth, the obvious thought came to me - the end of the dots would mean the end of my earthly life. I paused for a few moments before stepping off the canvas, considering what it would be like to step through the veil after this life has ended - what it would be like to journey into the next life. It was a powerful moment. I then turned around, feeling thankful about the journey that life has been so far, and even thankful for whatever God has left in store for my life, all of those yet-to-be-lived-out dots (or weeks, or moments, or choices), both the joy-filled ones as well as those that will be difficult and challenging and painful. The optimist in me saw more joy than pain in the dots yet to be lived out. That's my plan anyway. I believe that it's God's plan too.
After I had finished and took a seat in the chairs that were set up around the perimeter, my mathematical mind nudged me to try counting a few rows of dots and doing a rough estimate of the total number, just to see if my one-dot-equals-one-week-of-life theory was close to accurate. It was! After counting a few rows and doing some rough multiplication, my estimate for the total number of dots in St. Peter's labyrinth is somewhere between 4000 and 5000 dots. That's a lot of dots! In comparison, a human being on their 90th birthday will have lived 4680 weeks. Before I left, I discovered that one of the leaders had been present when the canvas labyrinth was created - she'd even helped sponge paint the dots on the canvas! I asked her if she knew how many dots there were in total. She didn't. She said I could come back again and count them one by one. Ha! I think my estimating will have to do.
There are a lot of labyrinths out there. Perhaps you've walked some of them. I looked up images of labyrinths on the web but couldn't find any with dots on them and I didn't think to take a picture of the one at St. Peter's while I was there. Maybe next time. I would encourage you to check it out. They have a regularly scheduled open walk once a month and everyone is welcome. There were probably about a dozen of us there tonight - just enough to feel like you were surrounded by a community of other travelers but not enough to feel too crowded (although one woman did elbow me about half way through - well, some weeks are like that, aren't they?)
After a good hour of contemplating life and death, the changing of the seasons, thankfulness, and who might start at 3rd Base for the Twins next year, I left feeling both reflective and refreshed, ready to face another week in this blessing that we call life.
If you're interested, Spirit Path will be having a "Walking the Labyrinth" event of our own coming up on Sunday afternoon, 2pm, October 2nd at the outdoor labyrinth at King's Park, just south of the University of Manitoba in St. Vital. There won't be any dots there, but I hear from others that it's a beautiful setting. I hope you'll join us.
In the meantime, I'd love to hear about any experiences that you have had walking the labyrinth. Feel free to make a comment here on this page or send me an email. Also, please consider "liking" our Spirit Path Facebook page. It's a great way to keep connected with what's coming up at our "church without walls".
Blessings to all. And keep on walking the Spirit's Path.