The Labyrinth as Parable

“Pathways” is the name of an emerging Ministry Team here at the Strawbridge Church — a team focused on developing worship/devotional experiences outside the Sunday morning time and paradigm. As I view their work, their mission in “worship/devotion” is more individual and contemplative in focus and nature than it is corporate and traditional/conventional.

This last week, they hosted a labyrinth at the church. “Not a maze,” they publicized, “but a sacred path used as a prayer tool.”

Not everyone in the church family was happy about the offering, though. One [more evangelical] Soul took such exception to it all that s/he called my “boss,” the District Superintendent. For this person, the labyrinth was one more sign that the Strawbridge congregation was forgetting and forsaking Methodism – one more way it’s being hijacked by New Agers and other extremists. Forget, for a moment, that our Texas [Methodist] Conference “owns” a Labyrinth that churches can schedule for use in their local settings. Set aside the fact that the members of the “Pathways” team are made up of Spiritual Directors – the majority of whom have been trained and certified through a Conference-sponsored program called “Karis.” Set these considerations aside for a minute and allow me to share the ways I see Christ in this ancient “means of grace.”

Admittedly, I am no real veteran of the Labyrinth. (Books on the phenomena and subject line a section of my library shelf, practically untouched. I’ll get to them “one of these days.”)  Still, I am not entirely unversed about about it.  What’s more, I am certainly not as cynical about it as some.  I am mindful of one fellow clergyperson, for example, who teases a labyrinth “fan” in his congregation: “Hey, I made my best time yet!  I got to the center in 13 seconds!”  Mind you, for those of you not familiar with it, a key in the labyrinth experience is to take is slowly and contemplatively.  Some folks have a harder time than others with that concept.  It’s one of the things that will “preach” in and through the experience.

In fact, it’s along these kind of lines (i.e., that the labyrinth will “preach”) that I, personally, find its greatest value. For, while I am not an aficionado when it comes to its more mystical qualities, I can speak to the ways it is, for me, at least, a great analogy of the Christian Life. Here is a journey… to God. Here are some of the frustrations of that journey: one moment so close to the center… the next, so far away, going in the seeming wrong direction. And, when done in the company of others, this latter principle gives rise to that fact that, at one moment, a friend is facing you or walking nearly beside you, within feet… and the next moment they are across the room, with their back to you – symbolic of a physical move, a shift in affections or devotion, or even death. While I may grow in my experience and understanding, at the very least, the labyrinth is an analogy or allegory of the Christian life to which I am awakening: a journey, a pilgrimage to the heart of God… never alone, but with companions, fellow pilgrims – and chief among them, Jesus.

Which brings me back to my upset parishioner.  Clearly, we don’t see eye to eye on this matter — not to mention a whole host of matters.  (Hey, Kathy and I don’t see eye to eye on a lot of things!)  Clearly, we’re at different points in the journey’s path.   But, here, Jesus preaches — even through the labyrinth:  be patient, hang in there!  For one day, twists and turns and, yes, time will see us together, face to face.  And, what is more, all of this in the presence of Christ in whom all things hold together and find their meaning!

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