Labyrinths and Looking Forward and Expectations
“Not too long ago I walked a labyrinth for the first time in my life. I had flirted with labyrinths for years, but my expectations were so high that I kept finding reasons not to walk one. I did not want to hurry. I did not want to share the labyrinth with anyone who might distract me. I did not want to be disappointed. I looked forward to walking a labyrinth so much that looking forward to it kept me from doing it for years.”
Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World
With her usual honesty, Barbra Brown Taylor reminds us of how our expectations of a spiritual practice can keep us from the practice. We may have fears that we will not be able to do the practice that so many of our spiritual friends find helpful. The answer of course is that it is impossible for us to connect to God through all the spiritual practices. We try them out, give them some time, and may realize that this is not our best way to connect to God. God has provided a smorgasbord of ways to connect to God. Some practices may be helpful at one stage in our life and not in another. At one time in my life, Morning Prayer and Lectio Divina stabilized my body and soul. At other times a daily walk around my neighborhood centered me before I went to work at the hospital. Now it is writing. Writing has now become my best form of prayer.
I talk to spiritual friends about not giving up or never considering a spiritual practice again. Listen to the Spirit within. My experience is that we will have a nudge to try something again. What a blessing that we have so many ways to connect to God.
I have difficulty with centering prayer. I have difficulty just sitting still and calming the committee in my head, but I do not give up. Walking the labyrinth is a natural for me. Concentrating on walking the path gives my mind a much-needed rest. Walking a path makes me live in the presence again rather than the past or future. The surrender to the path, a metaphor for our spiritual journey, is a reminder of how we keep this connection to God within us as well as God in our neighbor. Early on the journey we come very close to the center. I think, “Aha, I have finished”, but immediately after that thought, I am back around the edge. I am close to the edge near the end and think I still have a long way to go, and then suddenly I am finished. I need a meditation with movement to connect me. The labyrinth, dance, yoga, walking meditations are ways to quietness for those of us who lives with the busyness of life and let it park in our minds constantly thinking about the past or future.
My experience is that I do not receive the gift of connection always in the labyrinth center. It may be anyway along the path. I remember one New Year’s Eve I walked the labyrinth at Christ Church. It was chilly and I wore a shawl with fringes that was like ones you saw over your grandmother’s piano. Half way out, I felt a new warmth. I felt the love of my grandmothers surrounding me like the long black shawl.
Often as I walk I meditate on to the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese spiritual leader in walking meditation, “People say that walking on water is a miracle, but to me walking on earth is a real miracle.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, The Long Road Turns to Joy, A Guide to Walking Meditation.