(photo by iPete)
The last time I walked a labyrinth, it was in Camden, NJ with the crazy collection of radical neo-monastics who gather there for a weekend of reunion in the winter. And while I’ll always remember that labyrinth with fondness (Psalters provided the live background music), it was a grim affair. Wracked with a fresh reverberation of raw grief that had settled upon me that weekend, I only remember how painful it felt to metaphorically journey to the center of God’s presence. I would have preferred to avoid that painful presence, so I quickly wound my way to the middle, where I knelt down, clenched up, and expressed my unwillingness and my inability to accept the loss of my son.
The sun was shining a bit brighter yesterday as our church traveled to a monastery near our home to walk a new, permanent labyrinth. The monastery is an amazing oasis in the middle of encroaching suburbia: quiet, friendly, still and old. The labyrinth itself is in transition: the perfect circle of intricately laid pavers is flanked by twin silos that have been masterfully converted to places of prayer, but all of it is surrounded by bare dirt punctuated with rocks and weeds. We gathered to chat in the shade of some trees before being given a few thoughts to shape our journey, and a few quotes for our consideration. The one that jumped off the page to me was from Qoheleth:
Everything on earth has its own time and its own season.
There is a time for birth and death,
planting and reaping,
for killing and healing,
destroying and building,
for crying and laughing,
weeping and dancing,
for throwing stones and gathering stones,
embracing and parting.
There is a time for finding and losing,
keeping and giving,
for tearing and sewing,
listening and speaking.
There is also a time for love and hate,
for war and peace.
Which didn’t seem ominous at all, but still slightly burdensome. I didn’t read it as command or commission, but as a simple description of life. Life as it occurs, in all of its joys and pains, and which we can choose to accept or to avoid. Life, as a journey with God, experiencing all that occurs and trying to join with him in redeeming everything for good.
I was thinking about these words, trying to make my peace with the truth the point to as I slowly walked toward the labyrinth and heard similar sentiments coming from the stereo that was set up alongside:
To everything (turn, turn, turn)
There is a season (turn, turn, turn)
And a time for every purpose, under heaven
A time to be born, a time to die
A time to plant, a time to reap
A time to kill, a time to heal
A time to laugh, a time to weep…
And again, I thought, “well, I don’t want to move forward”. As the year anniversary of Will’s death approaches, I’d rather not walk ahead, rather not forget anything in any infinitesimal way, rather not do anything but sit here and preserve his memory. And it’s not that I’m angry, or blaming God for what happened, not at all. Indeed, I’m very aware that our collaborative relationship with our Creator means that the life and the death of my son happened as a result of the thousands of choices and earnest efforts of myself, others, and God. I can’t blame God, any more than I blame myself.
So when the song ended, I left the lyrics by the stereo and began to flank the labyrinth itself, avoiding it. I went into the silos to pray. I walked around. I pulled weeds. I stared off into the distance. Finally, very aware that I was taking my turn first while The Wife waited with our daughter, I took off my shoes and started the journey. The bricks were warm and the sun was hot on my shoulders as I put one foot in front of the other, unsure of how to feel or what I would experience.
Later, I noticed that my wife and daughter had entered the labyrinth behind me, quietly making their way toward the center. At one juncture where we passed by each other, The Girlie stretched out her arms in that universal gesture, “carry me!”. Which I did, and which surprised me. My journey suddenly had purpose, and meaning. Moreover, it was easier than before– in carrying her, my burden was reduced. She was uncharacteristically quiet and clingy and happy enough to watch me walk and to see all of our friends pass by again and again as they too wound their way into and out of the maze. At the center, Eleanor served bread to her mother and I, and we served one another wine. I lingered a little longer at the center, prostrate and praying for strength and trying to purge more of my remaining bitterness. But I finally made my circuitous way out of the labyrinth as a cool breeze snuck between the buttons of my shirt and I walked back to join my friends.
Posted in: labyrinth