Faces on Faith: Come to me all you who are weary
At a social event a few weeks ago, the topic of labyrinths arose in a conversation. Some in the group knew what a labyrinth was and one person had actually walked the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France. Two people in the group thought it was simply some sort of maze that one could get lost in and likened it to those frightening mazes made with high hedges in which people became completely disoriented. One man in the group said it was a “Christian thing” and was corrected by someone who knew that the roots of the labyrinth go back far before the birth of Christ and have ancient traces dating to 5,000-6,000 years ago. They also exist in other faiths and belief systems – like the sacred hoops and circles of the Native Americans, or the labyrinth remains found in pre-colonial Africa.
We have two beautiful outdoor labyrinths on the island – one at St. Isobel Catholic Church and one at the Congregational Church/United Church of Christ. St. Michael’s also plans to build a labyrinth this summer. There are people on the island who have created labyrinths in their yards and use them in their private prayer life each day. And many of you reading this piece are very familiar with labyrinths from your places of worship up north, from walking these sacred circles on your travels around the world, or even from tracing your finger with your eyes closed on a tiny labyrinth made to sit in your lap.
Sometimes walking the labyrinth is done simply to find some solitude and peace of mind, a time that allows for silence from the busyness of the day. Prayers may or may not be said and the slow steps just work to quiet the soul. Some people walk the labyrinth in thanksgiving and others walk it through their grief. Some find that a threefold way of walking the labyrinth acts as a way to clear the heart and mind and to renew and reenergize the soul. I was taught many years ago in a labyrinth in the Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco that as I walk slowly and purposefully to the center of the labyrinth, I try and see this time as a way of release. How can I take off the things heavy on my heart, or of others, and begin to offer them to God? How can the walk to the center, and my inner core, be a journey of “letting go?” How can I take deep breaths along the path and with each expulsion of breath see one more burden lifted?
Upon arriving at the large circle in the center of the labyrinth, called the place of receiving, one is encouraged to stand still for a moment or two, to stop the walking, and to close one’s eyes. I was also encouraged to see and feel the love that God has for me, as well as the love extended to me from so many others in my life. Again, I was asked to breath deeply and evenly.
The walk out of the center and back on the path toward exiting the labyrinth is often referred to as a return to the world. It is a time to think about what needed to be left behind and how the circular twists and turns of the labyrinth are really just like life’s journeys of ups and downs, surprises, opportunities, and stumbling blocks. Many people discover deep calmness and peace as they walk the path back to the world. Some even feel transformed and more ready to tackle what needs to be done. I often feel walking the labyrinth to be a way of coming closer to knowing Jesus Christ and the struggles and burdens he carried for us, and to feel so reenergized by his continued presence in my life that the walk back into the world becomes easier because of him.
“Come to me, all you that are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11: 28-30)
-Ellen M. Sloan; St. Michael and All Angels Episcopal Church