By Tom Holmes
Labyrinth as a metaphor for the spiritual journey
In a feature I wrote for the Wednesday Journal about a month ago, I learned that Frank Lloyd Wright called the up and down, winding, twisting route from outside the building to the meeting area as a Pathway of Discovery. Unitarians like that image a lot.
Hmmm. Part of me also resonated with that metaphor, because my life has been an up and down, winding, twisting journey. That said, I could not relate to the discovery part of that image, because as I understand religion, the spiritual journey is about following the one to whom commit yourself. Or, to use another metaphor, religion is about getting married, not about playing the field.
Then I visited Grace Episcopal Church where the large baptismal font is right at the entry way and a long aisle extends from the font to the front of the church where a Resurrection Window looks over the high altar. The rector told me that the aisle is referred to as a symbol of life being a pilgrimage, i.e. a journey from baptism in which God welcomes me as a child to the ultimate goal of a heavenly home.
Hmmm. I could resonate with the pilgrimage image. My goal is not one of discovery. I know where I want to end up. The problem for me was that the aisle at Grace is as straight as an arrow.
So, not satisfied with either picture, I searched for a more adequate metaphor for my life. That's when I stumbled upon a book about the spiritual practice of walking a labyrinth called Walking a Sacred Path by Lauren Artress.
Labyrinths don't go up and down but they do wind and twist. Just when you think you've arrived at your goal, the path takes you away from it, and at the point where you're ready to give up, boom, you're there. What that metaphor does is retain the existence of a goal and a right path to get there, while at the same time acknowledging the ambiguities of life.
Let me just lay out some statements from the book, and see if you can resonate with them.
xii In surrendering to the winding path, the soul finds healing and wholeness.
7 As we find our meaning and purpose we also realize that some invisible form of guidance has been leading us.
8 We mistakenly thought that the intellect was the avenue to experiencing the Sacred, to nourishing the soul.
13 Mistrust of the imagination has been engendered through centuries of power politics that have little to do with nurturing the Spirit within.
13 Educated in scientific humanism at the end of the twentieth century, we are casualties of our history in both the personal and the collective sense.
15 To walk a sacred path is to discover our inner sacred space: that core of feeling that is waiting to have life breathed back into it through symbols, archetypal forms like the labyrinth, rituals, stories and myths.
29 Usually it is a surprise to reach the center because the long winding path seems so "illogical." We don't know we're there until we're there, which is often true in life.
40 When it comes to spiritual matters the ego must downshift. Once the tasks of the first half of life (career, marriage, and family) are accomplished, the ego must learn to relinquish control. This may be perceived as a threat to the ego, especially when it serves as a guardian against recognizing anger and fear. . . .This is where we meet God.
42 The labyrinth's path is narrow, but far from straight.
42 Losing our way in life is not only a possibility, it is an experience that is part of the spiritual path.
42 We often don't realize that the way to God is generous and error is part of the journey.
42 As soon as we become conscious that we are lost, we have found our way again.