Walking the labyrinth


Iona Weekend labyrinth at Dopersduin (NL), outlined in flour

 

The labyrinth may be a set path, but it does not offer a set experience. Instead, it offers a door that anyone may go through, to discover realities that meet each person where each most needs to be met.

​– An Altar in the world, Barbara Brown Taylor

 
The labyrinth in the photograph was created by Mineke during an Iona Weekend organised by the Dutch Iona regional groups in mid-September 2021.

Mineke is a pastoral worker at a psychiatric hospital in The Hague and is currently involved in establishing a labyrinth (maybe two) on hospital grounds. During the weekend Mineke led a labyrinth workshop, offering participants the experience of walking a labyrinth and getting their feedback on her design. Weather conditions were very favourable, and the labyrinth, outlined in flour, lasted till well after we all left Dopersduin.

I was leading a collage workshop at the time, so I couldn’t take part in Mineke’s workshop, but I was curious and later visited the labyrinth with Mineke and my friend, Margriet (seen here in the photo), and took some photographs.

Unique to Mineke’s design is the option to take the longer way round or move straight to the centre. It’s also easy to follow the longer route as many times as you like before exiting.
 


 
Here is a longer excerpt from Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, An Altar in the world, also on the subject of the labyrinth as a spiritual practice.
 

Not everyone is able to walk, but most people can, which makes walking one of the most easily available spiritual practices of all. All it takes is the decision to walk with some awareness, both of who you are and what you are doing. Where you are going is not as important, however counterintuitive that may seem. To detach the walking from the destination is in fact one of the best ways to recognize the altars you are passing right by all the time. Most of us spend so much time thinking about where we have been or where we are supposed to be going that we have a hard time recognizing where we actually are. When someone asks us where we want to be in our lives, the last thing that occurs to us is to look down at our feet and say. ‘Here, I guess, since this is where I am.’

This truth is borne out by the labyrinth – an ancient spiritual practice that is enjoying a renaissance in the present century. For those who have never seen one, a labyrinth is a kind of maze. Laid out in a perfect circle with a curling path inside, it rarely comes with walls. Instead, it trusts those who enter it to stay on the path voluntarily. This path may be outlined with hand-picked stones out-of-doors or painted right on the floor indoors. Either way, it includes switchbacks and detours, just like life. It has one entrance and it leads to one center.

The important thing to note is that the path goes nowhere. You can spend an hour on it and end up twelve feet from where you began. The journey is the point. The walking is the thing.

from p. 56

 


 
More on labyrinths

 

The Holy Other


 

 
Annie Dillard, writer of Holy the Firm and other books of non-fiction and poetry, said in an interview with Philip Yancey:

I often think of God as a fireball – friendly – who rolls by. If you’re lucky you get a slight glimpse of him.

 
from Open Windows by Philip Yancey, 1985, p. 30
 
 


Let us pray

Lord God Almighty, may we revere and serve you, forsaking all other would-be gods.

Loving God, you hear our prayers: You live among us.

Holy Trinity, one God, you are so powerful that the highest heaven cannot contain you. Neither can our churches, our hearts or our world hold you fast. Nevertheless, hear our prayers and pleas this day, for your love is far greater than our needs.

Loving God, you hear our prayers: You live among us.

Holy Spirit, comfort the brokenhearted among us with your promise of redemption and resurrection, for we believe we shall live forever in the house of the Lord.

Loving God, you hear our prayers: You live among us.

Arm us with your might, Lord God, else we will be defeated by evil. May your truth, peace, faith and holy Word guard us, inspire us and embolden us to be your people.

Loving God, you hear our prayers: You live among us.

Lord Jesus Christ, help us take no offense from your difficult teachings. You are the Holy One of God, and the Heavenly Father bids us come to you in faith.

Loving God, you hear our prayers: You live among us.

Lord God Almighty, this world delights in producing weapons of war. Forgive us our fear of one another, teach us to trust your Son, and bring peace to the hearts of all people.

Loving God, you hear our prayers: You live among us.

Among us are many counting on your goodness and mercy for hope and healing. Hear us as we name them _____.

Loving God, you hear our prayers: You live among us.

The love of God has won.
The new life has begun.
Amen.

 
~ written by Paul Sauer, and posted on re:worship
 

In the school of prayer with Michael Mayne


 

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! And that makes all the difference.

 
To quote Michael Mayne from Alleluia is our Song: Reflections on Eastertide, “Our struggles haven’t ended, nor has the world changed, because it is Easter Day. And yet because of Easter, everything has changed, all is different, because we have met Jesus and he has said ‘Peace be with you!'” (p. 13)
 
I first discovered Michael Mayne through his book, Learning to Dance. As with so many of his books, it is peppered with quotes from books that shaped him. This Sunrise of Wonder, written as a series of letters to his grandchildren, is no different.

 

Here are some extracts from This Sunrise of Wonder, from a chapter on prayer entitled “Prayer as giving attention to God”.

For the most part I let Michael Mayne speak in his own voice, with references to a mystic or two, for good measure. Check out the quotes in context to learn more about his influences.

 


I

“My value lies in the fact that I am my unique self, that no-one else who has ever lived, or who ever will, can be in exactly my relationship with God, or reflect his love back to him in exactly the same way. … ultimately that’s what life is about: it’s about learning to stand in your own space and discerning in its unfathomable depths a power greater than yourself who invites your attention; and not simply your attention but your love. And it is that kind of giving attention that we call prayer.” (p. 279)

II

“There is in each of us a Self that lies deeper than our conscious ego, that still point of your being where you are most truly you, so that the journey of prayer is largely a journey inwards. Not that prayer is self-analysis. Quite the reverse: it is a way of becoming detached, or escaping at least momentarily from the constant clamour of self. It is the way we begin to shift the centre of living from self-consciousness to self-surrender. … Prayer is about learning how to become still, open and receptive to the now, the present moment in which alone God is to be found.” (p. 280)

III

“St John of the Cross, a sixteenth-century Spanish mystic, said that the heart of prayer is giving ‘loving attention to God’; and certainly the starting point of prayer is to realize that it is not about words (or not much of the time); it’s about listening. It is about becoming still, remaining still, waiting, not being afraid of silence. … Birds, painting, music, books, people: we have to learn to go at their pace and tune to their wavelength. What we receive is related to what we give. Giving attention to God is no different, though much harder. For we are so used to doing that learning to be is like learning a foreign language. And we mustn’t expect to feel much. Feelings are not what count. What counts is simply being there.” (p. 282)

IV

“Jean-Pierre de Caussade was an obscure eighteenth-century French priest who wrote anonymously a book called Self-Abandonment to Divine Providence, and the heart of it lies in the phrase by which it is best known: ‘the sacrament of the present moment’. He begins with the New Testament assertion that God’s nature is unchangeable love, that he loves us at every moment of our lives and ‘can no more stop loving us than the sun can stop radiating heat.’ It follows, he says, that if God’s loves come to us at every single moment then he is with us in the moment that is now. If we don’t find God in the actual world around us, and in ourselves at this moment, then we can’t expect to find him in our so-called ‘spiritual’ times of prayer. Therefore it is to this moment, and to this moment alone in all its singular nowness, that we should give our attention, so ‘that every moment of our lives’ becomes ‘a sort of communion with the divine love’.” (p. 286-7)

V

“I have never seen this day, all it contains, before and I shall never see it again, nor will I ever again be exactly the self I am now. It is quite literally the only way we can know God, in the here and now and by living this moment fully. It is also, of course, the only hope we have of ever changing how we are, with the possibility of redeeming the past or affecting the future. ‘This is the day that the Lord has made,’ says the Psalmist, ‘let us rejoice and be glad in it.’ … If I am even to begin to live like this (and the kind of prayer I have spoken of is the most effective way of learning it), then two things are necessary. First, that I really do come to know at gut level that I do walk through the world as one who is loved, whatever may be happening to me, and that every moment, even the worst, can be used by God. And, secondly, that I learn to give attention to each moment as it comes – this person to be seen (repeat, seen), that tricky letter to be written, this humdrum task to be done … and that is difficult, and most of the time we forget. But that, and that alone, is how we are called to be. Not that we are called to do, but how we are called to be. Attention givers. For that, when you think about it, is not a bad definition of love.” (p. 288-9)
 

Some practical advice

“You can’t sit still if you are uncomfortable. … Only when the body is at ease is the mind at ease. … How you breathe is also important. Stillness is achieved by the stilling of our agitated restless minds and bodies. Most of us breathe much too shallowly most of the time, engaging only the upper part of the lungs. So it’s good to begin by very gently giving attention to our breathing for a few moments, until we are breathing in and out in a smooth unbroken rhythm and our body is calm and centred.” (p. 283-4)

“Because our mind is so full of thoughts and sensations the quiet repetition of a word or familiar phrase is one of the simplest and most effective ways of practicing the presence of God. Words like ‘Abba’, the word Jesus used to address the Father, or the words, ‘Come, Lord Jesus’, or the Psalmist’s ‘Be still, and know that I am God’. There is the Jesus Prayer which has been said for centuries and is one of the greatest treasures of the Orthodox Church, the words, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’. … It is repeated, quietly and slowly, over and over again as a way of bringing us to be in God’s presence with no other thought than the wonder of God being who he is and us being who we are. … To say such words, repeatedly, means that they gradually become part of you and may then well up from within you quite outside your formal times of prayer. … But perhaps best of all is to take the Lord’s Prayer. It does not really matter if occasionally you get no further than the opening two words, provided your understanding of the words ‘Our’ and “Father’ is a fraction deeper as a result.” (p. 285)
 

quotes from This Sunrise of Wonder by Michael Mayne, 2008 edition
 


 
From the blog
Sister moon
Ding! Dong! Curiosity
In the school of prayer with Ignatius of Loyola
 

Good grief


(Photo: Irene Bom)

 
Ken Cope writes,

Our traditional view of grief is that it should be reserved for funerals and tragedies. However, if we really want to encounter God and grow in our relationship with Him then our attitude toward grief must change from viewing it as an uncomfortable and unwanted drop-in visitor to seeing it as a dear and faithful companion that is an integral part of our daily journey with God. It is there to allow us to enter into the heart of Philippians 3:10, which is an invitation to share in the fellowship of His suffering.

When we allow ourselves to feel broken and alone, we gain a measure of understanding of the sacrifice that Christ made for us in going to the cross and being broken for us. Grief draws us to God Himself in ways that could not be accomplished through any other means.

 
source: A Sacred Sorrow: Experience Guide by Michael Card, p.11
 


Kyrie during Quarantine

Seeking peace in a broken world,
but also knowing God’s peace through God’s presence,
we pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

Seeking peace in suffering, illness, and pain,
but also feeling God’s peace through healing, prayer, and those who help,
we pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

Seeking peace through our distress, depression, isolation, and fear,
but also feeling God’s peace through the words of loved ones
and the hope we see in the world,
we pray to the Lord.
Lord, have mercy.

Seeking peace through the pain of worshipping separately,
longing for our holy community to be gathering,
but also feeling peace through God’s presence with each of us
as we worship together distantly,
we pray to the Lord.
Lord have mercy.

Help, save, comfort, and defend us, loving Lord.
We need you now, as we have needed you every day.
We cannot live without you.
Amen.

 
~ written by Pastor Nissa Peterson, posted on MightyNiss
 


 
Prayer poem for Lent 5B : You are right
 
This prayer poem is inspired by Psalm 51:1-12, in particular verse 4b: “… you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge.
 

Lament


Always speak the truth even if your voice shakes  (Photo: Irene Bom)

 

To introduce this month’s theme of SORROW, an excerpt from the Foreward by Eugene Peterson published in Michael Card’s book, A Sacred Sorrow.

And if you want to try writing your own psalm of lament, check out the links below.
 


On weeping

Eugene Peterson writes,

It’s an odd thing. Jesus wept. Job wept. David wept. Jeremiah wept. They did it openly. Their weeping became a matter of public record. Their weeping, sanctioned by inclusion in our Holy Scriptures, a continuing and reliable witness that weeping has an honored place in the life of faith.

But just try it yourself. Even, maybe especially, in church where these tear soaked Scriptures are provided to shape our souls and form our behaviour. Before you know it, a half dozen men and women surround you with handkerchiefs, murmuring reassurances, telling you that it is going to be alright, intent on helping you to “get over it.”

Why are Christians, of all people, embarrassed by tears, uneasy in the presence of sorrow, unpracticed in the language of lament? It certainly is not a biblical heritage, for virtually all our ancestors in the faith were thoroughly “acquainted with grief.” And our Savior was, as everyone knows, “a Man of Sorrows.”

 
source: A Sacred Sorrow by Michael Card, p.11
 


Compose your own Psalm of Lament

During a recent episode of The Habit Podcast, David O. Taylor describes how we might write our own psalm of lament.

To find out more, go to thehabit.co and/or listen to the podcast episode.
 


 
Prayer poem for Lent 3B : Sweet words
 
This prayer poem is inspired by Psalm 19, in particular verse 14: “May these words of my mouth and this meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.
 

To dance with God

 

For this fourth and final post on the theme of DANCE I’ve found a story that overlaps with my chosen theme for December: CHILD.

The story is taken from the opening chapter of Gertrud Mueller Nelson‘s book, To Dance with God (1986).

Some years ago, I spent an afternoon caught up in a piece of sewing I was doing. The waste basket near my sewing machine was filled with scraps of fabric cut away from my project. This basket of discards was a fascination to my daughter Annika, who, at the time, was not yet four years old. She rooted through the scraps searching out the long bright strips, collected them to herself, and went off. When I took a moment to check on her, I tracked her whereabouts to the back garden where I found her sitting in the grass with a long pole. She was affixing the scraps to the top of the pole with great sticky wads of tape. “I’m making a banner for a procession,” she said. “I need a procession so that God will come down and dance with us.” With that she solemnly lifted her banner to flutter in the wind and slowly began to dance.

My three year old was not a particularly precocious toddler. I think, rather, that she was doing what three year olds do when left to their natural and intuitive religious sense and I was simply fortunate to hear and see what she was about. Mothers are often anthropologists of sorts and their children the exotic primitives that also happen to be under foot. This little primitive allowed me to witness a holy moment and I learned all over again how strong and real is that sense of wonder that children have – how innate and easy their way with the sacred. Here, religion was child’s play. And of course I had to wonder what happens in our development that as adults we became a serious folk, uneasy in our relationship with God, out of touch with the mysteries we knew in childhood, restless, empty, searching to regain a sense of awe and a way to “dance with God.”

 


Call to worship

The people of God were made for worship:
To sing and to praise, to laugh and to dance.
The people of God were made for God’s presence:
For pleasure and praise, for joy and for song.
Come, holy people, God’s chosen disciples:
Gather for worship, come from all places!
We have come to God’s temple, gathered together,
We have come to praise God and enjoy him forever.

~ from jesusscribbles
 

More food for thought

 

According to euronews.com, there are multiple benefits to eating locally and in season. For example:

  • reducing our carbon foot print
  • protecting local land and wildlife from mass-scale agriculture
  • minimizing our exposure to preservatives
  • reconnecting our body with nature’s cycles
  • enjoying nutrient dense food

 

Another benefit is that we get to share in the joy of harvest on a regular basis.


From the blog
Food for thought
Environmentally water-wise
From parched to satisfied
 

Sister moon


Misty moon at tramstop in downtown Rotterdam  (Photo: Irene Bom)

Praise him, [brother] sun and [sister] moon;
praise him, all you shining stars.

 

Psalm 148:3 (NIVUK) / Francis of Assisi

 


Full Solar Spirituality vs Lunar Spirituality

In her book, Learning to Walk in the Dark, Barbara Brown Taylor makes a case for “lunar spirituality” and letting the darkness teach us what we need to know. She writes,

“Full solar spirituality … deals with darkness by denying its existence or at least depriving it of any meaningful attention … it focuses on staying in the light of God around the clock, both absorbing and reflecting the sunny side of faith.”

“… my spiritual gifts do no seem to include the gift of solar spirituality. Instead, I have been given the gift of lunar spirituality, in which the divine light available to me waxes and wanes with the season. When I go out on my porch at night, the moon never looks the same way twice. Some nights it is as round and bright as a headlight; other nights it is thinner than the sickle hanging in my garage. Some nights it is high in the sky, and other nights low over the mountains. Some nights it is altogether gone, leaving a vast web of stars that are brighter in its absence. All in all, the moon is a truer mirror of my soul than the sun that looks the same way every day.”

“Even when light fades and darkness falls — as it does every single day, in every single life — God does not turn the world over to some other deity. Even when you cannot see where you are going and no one answers when you call, this is not sufficient proof that you are alone. … darkness is not dark to God; the night is as bright as the day.”

(from Learning to Walk in the Dark by Barbara Brown Taylor, pp 7-9, 15-16)


Prayer

Creator God,
may we see You at work in the rising sun every day.
May we see You at work in the rolling fog or the cloudy skies.
May we see You at work in the rain that falls upon the earth.
May we see You at work in the setting sun and the rising moon,
the stars that shine, whether we can see them or not.
May we know always that You are doing something new,
every moment, every day, every year around the sun.
Great is Your Faithfulness, O God,
as You faithfully renew us every day.
Amen.

written by Rev Mindi, posted on her rev-o-lution.org blog


Digging deeper

See The Sun, the Moon, and Prayer where Vance Morgan explores solar vs lunar spirituality in more depth.

Quote: “If prayer is lunar rather than solar, then everything changes. Prayer becomes a matter of reflecting the divine light into the world in whatever way that light is shining on you and in you at the time. It is not up to me to generate the light; rather, it is up to me to reflect divine reality in ways that are unique to me and represent the seasons and cycles of my life.” (Vance Morgan)

Also check out this article by Moshe Benovitz on the Jewish ritual of blessing the new moon.

Revisit the blog post, In the school of prayer with St Francis.

(song by Donovan from the movie, Brother Sun, Sister Moon)