Thursday, September 5, 2013

Another First: Walking the Labyrinth

Dedicated to my friend RuthAnn.

Today was the second day of orientation for new students at Vancouver School of Theology (VST) — we had a spiritual retreat.

The morning started with a short worship service as we gathered together. We were then led through a couple of community building exercises designed to get us to know each other better, giving us the chance to share little things about our stories and how we have ended up at VST. 

Not surprising, all of our stories and the paths that have brought us here are uniquely different from the others, yet there is the sense of calling that resonates with each narrative. 

Due to my curious nature, but equally suspicious and reluctant to embrace things too quickly, I tend to ruminate and over-analyze; and It's usually after the fact that I finally make some sense of things. 

Which brings me to my next point. We ended the morning by meeting outside at VST's labyrinth. I won't attempt to explain what a labyrinth is all about, its history, its purpose, nor the practice of labyrinth walking.


Though a very good friend of mine has lots of experience with labyrinths, I have only had a cursory interest in them, akin to my interest in the mating rites of sloths, which is to say very little at all. I think, for me, it is my residual backlash to anything that smacks of ritualism for the sake of tradition. Even though I am curious by nature, I have an aversion to getting stuck in repetitive things and I'm therefore slow to make commitments. Perhaps I have a short attention span, or as I like to put it, a low satisfaction threshold and I get bored easily.



Needless to say, I was prejudiced by my predispostion to avoid prescribed rituals, such as walking a labyrinth. Today, I had no choice. All eighteen of us who are first year students were invited to walk the labyrinth. I was one of the few who did not raise a hand when the mentor asked who had walked a labyrinth before. Still somewhat skeptical and with very low expectations of a deep spiritual experience, I followed a fellow student into the path before us, the rest of the group followed in procession behind.

As with most spiritual disciplines I have attempted in my life, putting myself into a space that is repleat with prerequisites has always eluded me. My brain, instead of slowing down, seems to speed up and go into turbo mode. Pretty soon I become completely distracted by thoughts, ideas and imaginations that seem to come out of nowhere; it won't shut up! Instead of quieting myself, I'm now wondering what dogs think about as they ride in cars, for example.

Where are these tears coming from?! 

On about u-turn number four I found my eyes filling up with tears. Analyzing my emotions offered no help; I wasn't sad, I wasn't depressed, I wasn't sorrowful, I wasn't scared, I wasn't lost. But why was I crying? I decided not to worry about it — to just go with the flow and simply enjoy the cleansing and unplugging that seemed to be taking place. I looked down at the path before me and saw one of my tears land silently on the smooth cement. A few seconds later, a second drop made its contact with the ground, but it was not a tear, it was a small raindrop. Then another and another, and soon rain drops began to shower down gently on us. By the time I exited the labyrinth, the light rain had drenched the cement and it reflected light instead of absorbing it.

I had found the perfect distraction to occupy my mind — I was transfixed by the raindrops and spent the rest of the time walking the labyrinth witnessing the gradual soaking that was taking place. It was refreshing and I was mused by verses from different songs from my youth, "Love is Like the Rain," "Rraindrops Keep Falling on My Head," and "Oh, No, Don't Let the Rain Come Down." See? I told you, I am easily distracted. 

The tears, what brought them on? I think it had something to do with sensing that whenever I find myself going down a path that makes no sense to me at all, I am keenly aware that I am in God's presence. The Psalmist  said it best, "Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I hide from your presence?

Gratitude...tears of gratitude; that's what they were. I think.