Sunday, December 8, 2013

A Quaker labyrinth?

A few years ago, North Valley Friends Church constructed a labyrinth on its property, part of the Peace Trail project. It’s located in a field, bordered by an oak grove, with a view of the Chehalem Mountains. It’s become a well-used venue for meditation walks.
In some senses a labyrinth seems antithetical to Quakerism, with its formal path to the center and its high symbolism of pilgrimage to Jerusalem. (The drawing is of the Chartres Cathedral in France, about 1750.) It makes me think of Anglican or Catholic spirituality, or, more lately, of New Age practices. But here sits a classical labyrinth on Quaker ground. And I’m one Quaker who uses it regularly.
As I draw on the Quaker conviction of the light of Christ in every person or culture, the adaptation and use of other spiritualities, when appropriate, seems entirely a Quaker thing to do. It certainly fits in with another conviction, that Christ is here among us and speaks to us in the gathered meeting and through any medium the Spirit chooses.
What I love about the practice of walking the labyrinth is that it engages my whole person. The physicality of walking, the sensuality of the beautiful setting, the spiritual focus on drawing near to God, these all combine to help me worship and pray.
Last Saturday the Spirit spoke to me as I waited in the center of the labyrinth. The background of the message is the struggle I’ve faced throughout my life with feelings of being on the outside, of not belonging. These last few years especially, as I find myself on the threshold of that dark forest called Growing Old, it sometimes feels like I’m losing the connections that tell me who I am and to whom I belong.
I’ve always pictured circles of belonging, and I’ve known that the borders are porous. Communities change, people come and go, kids grow up and get married, and the circles change. The changes can be painful, but the pattern is beautiful if Jesus is the artist.
I continually remind myself that Jesus is the center of my life. The most basic circle shifts and pulsates to the rhythms of our Lord as He sings the ongoing creation song.
I continually remind myself because I so easily forget. My losses scream so loudly I often can’t hear the real song. I actually imagine myself in the middle, unable to hold it together, wondering where they’ve gone—my children, my grandchildren, my friends, my country, my idealism, my dreams.
On Saturday Jesus gave me a new picture of the reality of belonging in his kingdom. It’s a picture of circles, but with a different configuration.
Not unsurprisingly, it came to me as I walked the labyrinth at North Valley. It was a beautiful cold November morning, with mist lying on the surrounding hills. Most of the leaves of the oaks have fallen, and I could see long distances through the grove.
As I slowly walked around toward the center, I felt Jesus drawing me, and I responded simply, “I come. I come. O, my Lord, I come.”
When I reached the center, I entered one of the smaller circles, the one that lets me face the hills. I stood in an attitude of being with Jesus and waiting for his voice. And as I waited he spoke to me from the visual of the inner labyrinth. I saw that the center of the inner circle is Jesus. The six smaller circles that surround the center are other places of belonging, with different centers. My basic human circle of belonging is simply Hal and me. I saw my children and their families in the other smaller circles. The extended Thomas family occupied a circle, as did my North Valley Friends community. All these smaller circles are open to the central circle. I am free to enter the other circles, and others are free to enter ours. But all the going and coming is through the Center. It’s through Jesus that we belong to one another. And all the circles find their ultimate Center in Jesus.
My vision changed and the smaller circles put on rainbow colors and began to dance around the Center. While the Center held steady and bright, the other patterns shifted, like a living abstract painting, orderly and wild all at once.
Sometimes I find myself alone with Jesus in the Center. His embrace tells me I belong to him. I’m at home in the deepest sense possible.
Other times I find myself sharing the Center with another person as our relationship is mediated and deepened by Jesus.
And other times I sense the whole body of Christ, the church, gathered in the Center as we worship the One who holds it all together.

After my time in the center, I slowly walked the path back out, aware that Jesus was walking with me and that we were on a mission, a mission to find those who are still outside. We are on a mission of invitation. There is a belonging place. There is Someone in the Center. There is family.
And the doors are open.

1 comment:

  1. It's already December 22 and I'm just now reading this message from your heart to mine. I know I'm in one of your circles and I know I'm sometimes with you in the center. Thank you.