As a child, my son loved mazes. His logical, visual, analytical mind could see the paths through the convoluted twists and turns as if there were flashing neon arrows pointing a straight path, detouring past the turnings that would eventually lead to cul-de-sacs and dead ends. For me, mazes were an exercise in patience. And I do admit to, occasionally, starting at the exit in order to find the right path through to the starting point.
If you look in the dictionary, a maze and a labyrinth are synonyms; however, in spiritual practice, they are quite different. The Labyrinth in this context has only a single way in. It has many twists and turns. But the twists and turns always lead you forward. They always lead you to the center. You can’t get lost in the Labyrinth. And the center is representative of the very heart of God. Once you reach the center, you can rest in that moment of love, peace, and acceptance, before returning to the entrance, which is also the exit. A part of the experience of walking the Labyrinth is contemplating the variety of meanings and symbols inherent in this imagery. Entrances that are exits. Rest at the center. Twists and turns that, just when you think you are almost there, take you back along the edges. Some people have trepidation about entering the Labyrinth. Some don’t want to leave the comfort of the center. Some don’t want to take that last step back into the world. Some race through the paths. Some move slowly, carefully placing their feet on the ground, inch by inch. Just like our journeys in life, each experience of the Labyrinth is unique.
One pattern for walking the Labyrinth is
Remember that which needs remembering as you enter;
Release that which needs to be released on the inward path;
Receive that which is from the Ground of All Being in the center;
Return holding what you have received, free from what was released; and
Reflect on your journey as you exit back into the world.
As I journeyed with others walking the Labyrinth recently, two more “Re” words came to my mind, words that we take into the world with us: Relate and Reconcile.
Because the journey into the Labyrinth and back again changes us, the way we relate to others changes, too. This can be an intentional shift in how we approach our relationships; however, the more radical shift may be in how others perceive our very being in the world. My experience of late is that when we allow ourselves to connect with the Ground of All Being, we ourselves become grounded and become open to others in a way that is palpable. The world is a place of conflict and struggle. We have a dire need for community, for someone else in this world to whom we may relate. Other people notice when we are filled to the brim with God’s love and acceptance. All ground becomes holy ground. I’ve learned to be open to holy conversations in some of the most unexpected places from people I have never met before. Holy moments of communion can take place standing at a grocery checkout line or in the bustling lobby of an office building.
This refocusing for our relationships often leads toward reconciliation. John Paul Lederach in Building Peace: Sustainable Reconciliation in Divided Societies asserts that relationship is the root of both our conflicts and the long-term solutions to those conflicts. He writes that reconciliation is not best “pursued by seeking innovative ways to disengage or minimize the conflicting groups’ affiliations.” In other words, we don’t get reconciliation by hiding away in our like-minded groups or by carving out territory with rigid boundaries as ideological or physical enclaves. Instead, reconciliation happens as both sides in a conflict share and hear stories, acknowledging the pain (and I would add the fears) experienced within the stories of the past, and then each actor determines to use imagination to envision an interdependent future. Lederach, through his efforts at building peace around the world, has found that reconciliation is, in the words of the Psalmist, the place where truth and mercy meet, where peace and justice kiss. Without truth, conflicts are not resolved; without mercy, healthy relationships are not possible; without justice, brokenness continues; without peace for all involved, true harmony and unity cannot be achieved.
The journey through the Labyrinth is a journey of reconciliation. It is a journey to find and accept our truths and to wrestle with the truths of our neighbor. It is a journey to accept and share mercy. It is a journey toward justice, where wrongs may be truly rectified. And finally, the Labyrinth is a journey toward an interdependent peace.
Maybe what our society needs these days is a giant Labyrinth that our communities could enter together. A place where we communally Remember, Release, Receive, Return, Reflect, Relate, and Reconcile. And, from a community perspective, I will add one more…Respect. The word respect literally means “to look again.” Re – again; Spect – to look or see. If we are to journey in the communal Labyrinth together, this both begins and ends with Respect. In the beginning, we commit to truly looking and seeing those in our communities. Then we listen to stories, share our own stories, acknowledge hurt and fear, commit to stepping outside of our own need for security or control to build bridges toward a more just future for all people where truth and mercy live, and where peace and justice kiss. And when we do this, our eyes may open wide, re-spectacled if you will, to see a vision, and to build the reality, of the kingdom of God in front of us, around us, and within us.