In the heart of the city stands a giant stone Anglican cathedral, built in the early 1900’s. We read about it in our Lonely Planet guide to the city, and thought it would be a nice place to see one afternoon, so we made our way there, thinking that we would perhaps stay an hour or so, see the space, and then make our way on to some bookstore or coffeeshop for a while. We ended up staying longer than we anticipated, largely because of an encounter with a prayer labyrinth embedded in the stone floor near the back of this beautiful sacred space.
After taking time to walk through the labyrinth, unsure of what to do or how to interact with the exercise, I sat and wrote some reflections on this simple yet powerful meditative experience… a silent contemplation in the midst of traffic sounds that insisted their way inside, the footsteps and hushed conversations of tourists, and even the distraction of wondering if we still had enough money to pay for the rest of our vacation.
The labyrinth, a large round maze-like shape, has darker grey lines to mark the stone colored corridors, maybe 14 inches wide, which lead the participant on a long, slow journey to the center and back out again.
I began, uncertain what my posture should be, hands in my pockets fingering the hotel key card in one and wishing it were a rosary or something of a more transcendent nature… but a Holiday Inn card it was, and a Holiday Inn card it remained. I was surprised to find myself quickly on a short section of corridor immediately next to the center. This, I’m sure, is by design – a quick glimpse of our destination, to sustain us through the rest of this journey.
Of course, the path of the labyrinth moved me alternately nearer and farther from the destination at the center, in what at times felt like a frustrating back and forth meandering. Certainly the point of the labyrinth, or in fact the journey it represents, is not to get from point A to point B in a quick or efficient manner. Curious, and another reminder to me of the strange, often abstruse nature of God’s kingdom.
As I came to one of the many 180 degree turns, I paused, looking around in an attempt to situate myself. Immediately I became aware that there was no way of knowing how close or how far I was to the start or the end of my journey. I am reminded of the many calls to trust, the steps of faith that we all take, often only knowing the next few steps of the path and trusting that in the end it will have led us anywhere at all.
Frequently as I traveled, I was tempted to simply step out of the labyrinth. Was there really a need to follow this path straight to the end? Haven’t I gotten the point already? Don’t we need to leave soon? For some reason, I didn’t… and I felt richer for having spent the time to slowly travel...
As lent began, I found myself wondering how I could observe this season in any meaningful way. My ideas all seemed so simple and somehow personally meaningless. (Should I stay off facebook? Should I avoid chips and snack foods, or drink only water? ) Encountering this labyrinth experience truly gave me a direction then at the start of the season. It’s difficult to explain and may sound silly, but I chose then to abstain from ‘speed’ for the season of lent – to travel more slowly, and perhaps with more purpose. To see the bits of meaning that God has planted through out our journeys, just as entering this labyrinth – a journey that is slow and inefficient – allowed me to see little bits of truth with every step.