In this world of increasing metals, plastics, and iClouds, I am finding it more important than ever to help surround my granddaughter with the warm and fuzzy elements of our lives that emphasize the organic sensibilities of a young human. What a lovely task!
Winnie’s parents are especially good at filling her world with soft blankets, squishy toys, and gentle fabrics. She is treated to long walks in the sunshine, rain, and snow. She has come to know the morning smell of a bagel shop and the aroma of brewing coffees at the local café. Screens are not a big part of her life but the sky over Brooklyn seems to fascinate her.
I am always on the lookout for toys that operate under their own steam, and was as delighted as Winnie with the little wooden elephant that walks down the wooden inclined plank quietly but determined to reach the end.
Much of the music Winnie hears is sung to her, and she responds to the human singing voice by joining in. It may be nineteen degrees on the other side of the window, but when her father picks up the guitar and sings with her mother, Winnie is treated to the coziest of afternoons. Her grin and rapt attention let us know she’s on board.
For the first five months of her life, Winnie has heard the sirens, horns, subway screeches, and elevator dings that urban kids come to know. Computer clicking and smart phone ring tones are ever present. But she sings when she is cozy. Now, more than ever, it’s all about the coze.
To become deeply involved in the spiritual practice of walking the labyrinth is a simple matter for people. The desire to walk comes first. Then predictably we experience ourselves as figures on the pathways. Then we recognize others, real or imagined who may be walking with us. Slowly as we walk over and over for a period of time we go beyond the limits of our personal outlook. We begin to perceive everything as a wonderful whole. We identify with as many people as possible. We seek and search for an imaginary point from which we can expand our vision as much as possible. The vistas of human spiritual life spontaneously present themselves.
These steps along the path into and out of the labyrinth don’t happen according to a predetermined schedule. Walks may number in the hundreds before a sense of meaningfulness emerges. Years may go by before time changes our usual outlook. Transformation won’t be hurried and it can’t be faked. Walking the labyrinth doesn’t leave room for posturing or pretending. Spiritual practice demands a space and time of its own.
As we practice, entering the center of the labyrinth encourages us to take the time we need to exercise our imaginations. What are our sensations? What do we perceive? What is happening to us in this particular surrounding? What do we see and hear? What in our thoughts and feelings is clarified? Is walking really a prayer?
Holy Scripture tells us many stories of the kind of expansion of spirit that occurs when human beings strive to encounter God. The stories recount that God is also searching for us. These experiences occur in a variety of settings, although the time and place is always made sacred. Perhaps the Labyrinth can be viewed as a space that humans and God have agreed upon as having the potential to be sacred. The labyrinth looks and feels unique, as it has for centuries. In churches, especially it shines forth as poetical, artistic and it draws people forward on to its pathways, into its center. It’s not an impossible idea to think of it as an imaginary vantage point where human spirit meets divine glory, is it?
Where do writers and painters find their inspiration? How are creative artists motivated to work? What’s behind the impulse to create something novel and artful? Perhaps many of us ask ourselves these and other questions about our own creativity.
I want to suggest that walking the labyrinth assists in manifesting creativity, especially when walking routinely happens. Matthew Fox, an Episcopal priest, says that creativity is the time and place “where the divine meets the human.” He suggests that “the most prayerful, most spiritually powerful act a person can undertake is to create, at his or her own level, with a consciousness of the place from which that gift arises.” Walking the labyrinth has an ambiance which encourages us to focus our attention on our personal creative impulses. It quiets the mind to make space for transformation of vague notions into potentials and beyond into actions. As the walk goes forward, the spirit of creativity can soar.
As this spirit shines, some of the time in spite of ourselves, there develops a sense that if we keep on the path maybe it’s possible to create something different from what we do in everyday living. Perhaps we contain within ourselves more and better talents than we acknowledge. We might perceive that being busy and productive isn’t the only goal in life. A realization may waft over us that other “contents” need to be worked out of ourselves. With these experiences our mood changes. We may accept that the divine, likely, is breathing on us. What a fantastic idea that is! Anything is possible. “All is well; and all manner of things shall be well” said Julian of Norwich. We may become, quite literally, part of God’s creation.
As we return along the labyrinth path, we may feel eager to share the gifts of insight the walk has facilitated. Yes, we respond, I will make beauty, I will give blessings, and I will bring my best self to my community. In thanksgiving for my creativity, I will grow my heart.
It’s the season to be jolly. It’s the season of joy that most of us look forward to all year. It’s also a time when the quiet of the labyrinth beckons us to reflection. Standing at the start of a walk, we pause to discern what purpose we might have that fits this time of year.
Reflection may include those things we need to let go of in order to find space within ourselves for the joy and jolliness of the season. Evelyn Underhill, mystic and author, suggests we pray, “O Lord, penetrate those murky corners where we hide memories and tendencies on which we do not care to look, but which we will not deter and yield freely up to you, that you may purify and transmute them; the persistent buried grudges, the half-acknowledged enmity which is still smoldering; the bitterness of that loss we have not turned into sacrifice; the private comfort we cling to; the secret fear of failure which saps our initiative and really is inverted pride; the pessimism which is an insult to your joy; Lord we bring all these to you, and we review them with shame and penitence in your steadfast light.”
Reflection may lift us above the ordinary to find a truer inspiration of the holidays. Reflection strengthens our resolve to express thanksgiving, gratitude and love. We take this opportunity to take the time that we need to feel and think our way into the spirit of the season. Contentment, wrote Francis de Sales in the sixteenth century, is feeling the providential care of God. God’s supreme gift feels as a child feels going out for a walk with her parents. Holding hands, picking fruit and delighting in the world might be the path to jolliness and joy for all of us.
These reflections and so many more come easily while walking the labyrinth.
Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator
We sixes and sevens are growing at an astounding rate in America. Currently 13% of our citizens are 65 or older. In thirty-five years, this number will increase to 22%. Politicians already pay more attention to us, because we vote. But younger generations will be forced to treat us more fairly, if not better because of our size.
Our life expectancy has ballooned. In the 1940’s the average American lived to 47. Now it’s 76. This is very good news. The tough part is navigating your later life years while having enough resources to enjoy a reasonable quality of living. Let’s be honest, our Government is not exactly flush. Soaring debt in the U.S.A. has been met with support from the Federal Reserve to keep our economy going. The Fed would like to get out of its quantitative easing policy, but it is in a bind. First, it has a new and very dovish Chairman due to take over next month. Her name is Janet Yellen. Ms. Yellen does not want to do anything to hurt the economy in 2014 when the mid-term elections are due to take place.
Fittingly, she cannot and will not risk causing a major hiccup to the stock market. on the other hand the data is neither improving nor collapsing, so the question is what purpose is now being served by this extraordinary policy. The answer is they simply are afraid to find out what a “tapering down” of fueling the economy might do.
Secondly, there are many programs firmly in the pocket of funds earmarked for our checking accounts. Vast sums of money are being paid out to sustain ballooning costs of welfare, disability, unemployment and illegal immigration. Toss in a new debate about doubling the minimum wage, and you could see further pressure on our already stressed economy.
The key, is to have a financial plan in place, or at least a household strategy to hold onto what you have earned over your lifetime, and try to grow it conservatively (if possible) at the same time.
My father turns 91 near Christmas day. He is part of what Tom Browkaw famously penned the “greatest generation”. A World War ll veteran, Charles is all set with a modest retirement account, monthly social security checks and reasonable outlook on his future. He earned those benefits, and can live comfortably on them. Many of us are not as lucky. Different times require a sharper pen to be sure we can enjoy the golden years as well. After all, we are growing!
Although they are separated by three thousand miles, my friend Jane is one of the most loved and trusted people in her young grandson’s life. Modern technology has made this possible. I know that Jane is appreciative of her ability to Skype on a daily basis as well as her good fortune to live in a time when she can climb aboard an airborne conveyance and, in a matter of hours, kiss her grandson goodnight. Because of these and other inventions, Jane is able to be a participating grandparent.
Born too soon for the computer and jet aircraft, my grandmother said good-by to her mother, boarded a ship for Ellis Island, and never saw her mother again. How different her life, her daughter’s, and mine would have been with the power and convenience available now! So many scenarios run through my mind. Face Time with her mother, or possibly an overseas flight, could have made the life of a young immigrant, soon to be a young wife and then mother, easier. My own mother might have known the richness and depth of a grandmother’s love. Many stories would have crossed the ocean, as well as answers to questions we could never ask.
How many of us travel to be a part of our grandchildren’s lives? Whether it’s crossing a bridge, an ocean, or an entire continent, every mile is worth the hugs and shared lives at the journey’s end.
The joy I feel when I walk in the labyrinth transcends age. I was uplifted when I was young. I was energized when I was a busy professional in mid- life. Now I am astounded by the appreciation I feel for this contemplative opportunity. I am a mature adult in the prime of my life and I realize how much I value this particular spiritual practice.
There is purpose and meaning that reveals itself as I walk the labyrinth. I have an increased awareness of aging and its importance. Walking guides me in adapting to changes that accompany my sense that time is more and more precious. I have thoughts of cherishing myself as I am right now. I feel the letting go of who I was in favor of who I am. I look forward to the challenges, struggles and the surprises that make my life unique. I believe God is with me as I walk. I feel heartened on each and every walk.
Most of what I know about the purpose of living a long, active life I learned from boating with my grandfather and praying with my grandmother. They were the ideal people I loved best as a child. One from my mother, the other from my father, they are still my guides. They both prized healthy bodies, satisfying relationships and most importantly earnest spiritual lives. I always knew I couldn’t go wrong if I followed their paths. The spiraling path of the labyrinth is more than a metaphor for me.
Walking the labyrinth raises my expectations not only of following my grandparents’ example but also developing my own spiritual goals. I know meditation is an essential part of mind, body and spiritual wellness. I think I need thoughtful moments, freedom to imagine, time to feel around inside my inner privacy. Truly, walking the labyrinth facilitates these experiences for me. I am grateful for it. My life is enriched because of my devotion to it.
Veriditas Certified Labyrinth Facilitator