Last year I wrote a column about a shooting that occurred at my church. For those who don’t know, the church I grew up in, Wedgwood Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas, was having a post See You at the Pole rally Sept. 15, 1999, when a man came in, found the rally and shot and killed 11 people.
After, many of us had the opportunity to participate in a prayer labyrinth. It was set up in our church’s gym and anyone could sign up for a time to go through it. My experience was beneficial and allowed me to create a strong spiritual memory as well as cultivate healing after such a traumatic event.
That was almost 12 years ago.
A few weekends ago, I covered a poetry reading for the New Era. I arrived with the intent to simply write about the event. I found myself captivated as a woman read a piece on her recent experience with a local prayer labyrinth. I wasn’t the only person moved by her writing and before long it was decided —we would all take part in the prayer labyrinth.
I arrived Wednesday night at Grace Episcopal Church unsure of what was going to happen. This experience was going to be different with so many people present in an outdoor setting, but I looked forward to it. After a few responsive readings and a few songs, the Rev. Alice Nichols, the rector at the church, invited us to enter the labyrinth. She explained there was no way to get lost, simply stay on the path and it will lead you to the center and then follow it back out to exit. We could walk at our own speed and we were encouraged to linger in the center of the labyrinth. As we walked, she instructed us to try and clear our minds.
But this time I didn’t have any extremely violent memories to work through. In fact, I didn’t have much to clear my mind about. If anything, the opposite happened, and my mind began to fill.
I couldn’t help but notice others around me as they moved quickly on their mission to reach the center. One lady entered after me and I was tempted to move faster for her, but the point of the labyrinth was to empty my mind of distractions so that I might be more receptive to what God may want to say to me. I resisted the urge to speed my walk. She could walk around me.
The first few steps made it appear you were moving inward, however before long you found yourself at the outside of the labyrinth. Then it was back in again, and then back out. Would I ever get to the center?
By the time I reached the center, most of the people were done. After reaching the center, many simply took the shortest route out and cut across the paths toward their seat instead of walking back through the labyrinth, which I didn’t understand. What’s the point in participating in an activity if you’re not going to follow it through?
It wasn’t long until I was the last person in the labyrinth.
I started to think about the people sitting just a few feet away from me in full view. Were they watching me? Were they wondering what was taking me so long? Were they hoping I would hurry up and finish? Did they think I was traveling slowly for attention? Was I being a distraction?
Again, I ignored the impulse to rush and join the rest of the service. This wasn’t about them. This was about me and my experience.
“Who cares what they thought?” I told myself. “That’s very egocentric of you to think they would care how fast you were walking anyway.”
I finished the labyrinth and the service and thought about my time in the labyrinth and wondered what I would share with you all today. I wasn’t overwhelmed with any groundbreaking insights on life or spirituality. It wasn’t the same experience I had from my first labyrinth, but all the same I did feel refreshed after taking a mental break from the world, which turns out to be a side affect of walking the labyrinth.
“What I’ve found is that I often come out with new thoughts, but I think we have that experience walking anyway, or a lot of us do,” said Nichols. “If we’re bogged down and we take a walk it kind of clears up. There’s something beyond that with the labyrinth. Not just in a mental way but involving our whole self.”
As I drove away, I decided I should try this again on my own. Or at least without so many present. I wasn’t impervious to being distracted by others. I’d try again and this time I’d only worry about myself.
MONICA K. SMITH writes an occasional column with an online blog where she discusses some serious and some not-so-serious business. You can follow her online at www.Facebook.com/KentuckyNewEra and reach her at 270-887-3243 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The poetry group will be meeting at 11 a.m. on Aug. 11 at the prayer labyrinth at Grace Episcopal Church on 216 E. sixth St.