Today we are two weeks into the Christian season of Lent, and still there are more than four weeks until Easter. Here in the Pacific Northwest we have had three weeks straight of rain, twenty one days in a row, and mud is the main feature of my farm landscape. We are almost sixty days into a new administration in Washington, D.C. that seems determined to dismantle much of what I hold as basic to our common good. I feel like we are on a long and winding journey. The image of labyrinth has certainly been prominent in my mind.
A labyrinth is basically a path, but it is a complex path. The path twists and turns in surprising ways as it leads the pilgrim who is walking it into the center. People who design labyrinths, myself included, are fond of saying that a labyrinth is different from a maze. A maze has dead ends, and wrong turns. When one walks a maze, one often has to back track and take a different route before finding a way through. And a maze is indeed a passage through, designed purposely to mislead. A maze is meant to make “getting through” difficult.
A labyrinth, on the other hand, complex as it might be, has no dead ends. The complexity of the twists and turns may be surprising, and the one walking the labyrinth might feel lost, but if that pilgrim just keeps walking, the path will lead on to the center. And that’s another thing about a labyrinth. It is not designed as a puzzle to “get through.” It is a path that, despite the complicated and surprising twists and turns, eventually takes one to the center, to the heart. There the pilgrim is invited to rest and find renewal, before turning and walking that same complex path back out again into the wider world.
This is what I appreciate about walking a labyrinth. The process of walking, in itself, reminds me to trust the path. I might think I am almost at the center, and then the path takes a turn and I seem to be farther away than ever from where I hoped to be. But I trust the path. I keep walking. Because the reality, underneath whatever I am thinking, is that with every step I am getting closer to my heart.
Whenever I invite folks to walk a labyrinth for the first time, I try to tell them this. Trust the path. Trust it more than you trust what you think you see. Even though it seems this turn will take you farther from your center, the truth is it is taking you right there. Just keep walking.
But still I watch the novices stop half way in, and look around, and consider turning back, thinking they have lost their way. When children walk (or more likely, because they are children, run) a labyrinth, and reach that point of turning, when they fear they are not as close to the center as they thought they were, they will often step out of the path and take the one that seems more direct. This stepping out almost inevitably is what gets them lost.
Trust the path.
I can be like a novice in the labyrinth too. I have been in so many mazes in my life, on those dead-end roads where I have had to turn around and back track, that I can forget that the spiritual journey is a labyrinth path.
In the midst of Lent, I can trust the path to Easter. Under their muddy wool, the ewes are carrying lambs. Even as it seems that all is lost, I can take do the next kind thing. I can take the next compassionate step, right in front of me. On this labyrinthian journey I am not lost. I am only turning, for a moment, as I move toward my heart.