The Essence of the Labyrinth

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On an overcast Sunday afternoon, filled with sporadically spitting rain, a friend and I explored a private labyrinth which was created from a metaphysical perspective. Labyrinths speak to me, as they have for countless people for numerous centuries. As to why, I normally can only answer with a favorite response from Divinity School – “It’s a mystery.” (And yes, that was a typical response when we had absolutely no idea as to the answer.)

Labyrinths aren’t a maze – they have a set path towards the center, and back out again. Normally circular in nature, these pre-Christian structures symbolize the universe, the womb, the heart of life. Christians co-opted these paths during the Medieval period in Europe, and recent years have seen a resurgence in interest, from both Christians and non-Christians alike. The primary manner of walking a labyrinth is to let go of whatever weighs on us as we journey to the center. The time in the core is one of illumination, and then the journey outward is one of union with the Divine or whatever guiding power is present in one’s life.

But really – one can walk, dance, skip, or crawl a labyrinth any way one pleases. What is important is connecting with the transformative energy. This particular labyrinth was built around the idea of connecting with the earth’s energy. Now, I am certainly not a scientist. When one mentions energy, I normally think “wish I had more,” or “equals mc squared.” But my friend is a scientist, and his thoughts were focused on the definition of energy. He suggested that “essence” might be a better word.

I think he might be right. While the power of walking a labyrinth is a mystical mystery, I know that I am connected with essence when I engage my body, heart, and mind with such a journey. It might be the essence of the Divine. It might be my own essence. It definitely incorporates the essence of creation and nature. And even though it is a solitary walk, it connects me with the essence of others, like my friend on the same path, or friends who have walked other labyrinths on other days.

The labyrinth certainly reflects our life journeys. We wander, weave, stumble, fall, run, and just when it seems like we won’t ever find our way – we have arrived in the heart of the walk. We touch base with the core of our lives, our essence, and then continue once again to place one foot in front of the other as the sojourn moves forward. And each time we connect with the essence, a new understanding is revealed to us, and empowers us to continue our pilgrimage. We might never comprehend the meaning of life, but a glimmer of this essence can guide us quite some way until the next glimmer reveals itself.

 

 

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The road to Hurt

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I have driven along Highway 29 in the heart of Virginia several times in recent years, but somehow that exit sign to a place named “Hurt” had eluded me. As I drove past in recent days, I tried to remember the circumstances of the times I would have driven by previously. The last time had been with a good friend and co-worker, and she and I were probably talking energetically. Before that, I had been in a van with my parents and family, so it makes sense that I would have missed the road sign. Yet, I couldn’t help but wonder if it were my state of mind, and not the fact of being by myself in the car, that allowed me to see and remember the exit clearly.

I was in the process of contemplating what it was like to be hurt when the sign suddenly loomed before me. I don’t mean physically hurt, but emotionally. As a college chaplain, I work with students continually who are hurting and in pain from what life has to offer. We all wish to avoid hurt, and I was wondering how I might do that myself, but it was a fruitless line of thought. Life would offer more hurt, and pain, and grief, and I would once again have to figure out how to meet it.

And I will, when it comes, and it inevitably will.

It doesn’t mean I will like it, or that I will calmly believe this is a part of life and look for the good that can always come out of our hurt. I will cry, have a drink, talk to my closest friends, watch a couple bad movies – and then put one foot in front of the other and keep walking.

I will say that the past few decades have given me more perspective on how to encounter Hurt. I vividly recall my mother stating – in the midst of my junior high pain – that the best laid plans of mice and men are often gone awry. (A phrase adapted from the beloved Scottish poet Robert Burns, and incorporated in the novel Of Mice and Men written by one of my favorite authors, John Steinbeck.) That didn’t keep me from trying to make plans to avoid hurt. If anything, it intensified my desire to arrange my life so that it would be the best life imaginable. I had already known great pain in the loss of my grandfather when I was age 10, a man who was essentially my spiritual father. Even while there were some things I knew I couldn’t avoid, I was ready to tackle life head on. I refused to make a pit stop in Hurt – I would barrel right past that exit as fast as I could.

But the best laid plans…

I have had great joy in life, especially with my children, my dear friends, my parents, and my vocation. Yet, there have also been many days when the hurt was so much that it physically made me ill, and close friends had to prop me up so I could go through the motions of life. Sometimes life had forced me off that exit, and sometimes I drove myself there.

One thing I have learned is that no one has to stay in Hurt permanently. It’s a stopping place. Sometimes the visit is longer than we would want, but we need to turn the key in the ignition and take the unknown path to a different town. It might be Joy, Peace, Fun, or just Good Enough. But that stay in Hurt will help us appreciate the next town all the more. No one ever wants to stay in Hurt (of if they do, then they really need to work with a good therapist), but good can always come out of the visit – even if it takes days or weeks of more driving.

Someone Else’s Baby

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One incident from my daughter’s childhood has stood out in my mind the past few days. I often took my children to parks and play areas. While my son was in kindergarten, I took my daughter to a nearby playground, and let her dig in the sandbox while I sat a couple feet away from her on the edge of the box. Other moms and children came and went, when one mom approached the area, and began to exclaim, “Where is this baby’s mother?” I gave her a confused look, because I was closer to my daughter physically than any other mom, and then responded “Right here beside her.” She looked surprised, muttered, “Oh,” and then went to another area of the park with her child in tow.

I immediately understood the issue. I am a blondish Caucasian, and my daughter is a petite Asian. It was just the first of many times people have assumed we could have no relationship because of our appearance and races. Ava was adopted from China as a baby, so naturally we do not favor each other. I always knew I wanted to adopt internationally and cross-racially. I took on this dream when I was in junior high. The dream originated with the understanding from the Bible that every single person is a child of God, and deserves to be loved and wanted. I knew there were lots of children in the world who needed homes, and I wanted to provide those. How that child looked was a non-issue. And if my dreams had really continued, I would have adopted many more from around the world. (I keep trying not to envy Angelina Jolie for being able to do just that.)

Yet, the world continues to be filled with people who think their “own” children are of more value than other children. The devastating refugee crisis in Syria is a perfect example. We turn our eyes, and try to wash the blood from our hands, ignoring the innocents who are living in pure hell, while spouting invalid information about protecting ourselves. We have elected officials who claim we have to have our “own babies” for a civilization to grow and thrive, and refuse to acknowledge the many cultures and skin colors which make up “America,” instead wanted to create a culture of exclusion. We live in a world where stats bear up the belief held by many that white children matter more than non-white children. We have a government keen to exclude millions of more children from health care and programs to help those in poverty, while beefing up the already largest military budget in the world.

Every baby is our baby. I come at that from a deep-seeded spiritual belief, grounded in the message displayed throughout the Bible. We are responsible for the children of the world. Even if someone does not agree with this theological statement, it is simple common sense to care for the children of our society and our world. We cannot completely remove ourselves from others. We are interconnected in more ways we can image – whether economically, socially, or scientifically. Labeling a baby as “someone else’s” is like saying our foot or hand does not belong to us.

We are all one body. Each child is our own. We are all in this together.