Last week, just before flying to New Zealand for my vacation, I wrote a meditation for this week about labyrinths. At the time, I didn’t realize how rapidly our life in the time of COVID-19 would change (and I certainly didn’t realize that my NZ trip would be cut in half, forcing my return to New York early this week!). But the concept of the labyrinth seems even more apt today than it did a week or two ago.
Labyrinths are ancient and rich symbols that are often used to evoke the spiritual journey. The name comes from the Greek story of the Minotaur in the palace of King Minos, though ancient labyrinths have been found from as early as the Neolithic period, and they occur in many cultures. They began to be incorporated into Christianity relatively early – one of the oldest Christian labyrinths, in a church in North Africa, dates to the 4th century. At first, Christian labyrinths might have been used as a way to make a symbolic pilgrimage to the Holy Land if physical travel was not possible. They also came to be used for births, weddings, celebrations, and repentance (when a penitent might walk the path on their knees). Many were placed near the front of churches, near the baptismal fonts, representing the beginning of the spiritual journey. The classic four-quadrant shape also represents the four corners of the cross. And so for us today, the convoluted path of the labyrinth can be used for meditating on almost any theme including new beginnings, healing and transformation, epic treks and the ordinary journey of life – and even the uncharted territory of a pandemic.
As we muddle along on our current journey, trying to get used to the new “normal” of social distancing and sheltering in place, we might imagine that we are in a labyrinth. Sometimes it seems that we are moving smoothly along with great purpose, but then we might find ourselves doubling back or even seeming to go the wrong way. We might be entering areas we never imagined we would travel through, and some corners of the path may feel especially isolating and lonely. Moving through the labyrinth is surely a spiritual journey, but also a concrete one, and we walk it together even if we aren’t physically with each other. And with perseverance, humility, and God’s inspiration and presence, we continue to move through even the most difficult and destabilizing parts of the path, getting closer and closer to our goal – becoming the loving people and the Beloved Community that that God created us to be!
PS If you are interested in going deeper into labyrinths, you might peruse a book that Patrizia and Peter Martin helpfully passed on to me: The Idea of the Labyrinth: from Classical Antiquity through the Middle Ages, by Penelope Reed Doob. Even though it may be hard to actually walk a labyrinth at the moment, you can also Google images of labyrinths, and use them as a spiritual practice – prayerfully tracing the path or even coloring it in.
And here are photos of the labyrinth I walked at Holy Trinity Cathedral in Auckland, along with a friend (the Holy Spirit?), who joined me!