I’m walking a labyrinth—feeling slightly guilty about tiptoeing into mysticism—but mostly enjoying the sunshine.
I’m at a journal-writing certification course near Denver. It’s not a Christian event, but the participants—women all—are open-hearted and friendly. A group of us have bonded, and we are taking a break to walk the on-site labyrinth.
We feel like we need it. The world is still angry. TV news can still sounds ridiculous. Many politicians, too. But the weather is great. Walking a labyrinth seems an ordinary way to turn from the digital noise.
Writing that, I know folks who disagree are already pounding their keyboards in the comments section. Apostasy.
Outside, however, it’s a sunny day and God is calling me outdoors. Moreover, we’re in Colorado, where I was raised and still live—and where such woo-woo elements such as walking a spiritual path, literally, aren’t so unusual. Still, I’d never actually seen a labyrinth, let alone walked one. I’m surprised, therefore, to find it so simple and, well, pedestrian.
Set on the grass at the Loretto Spirituality Center, former site of a Catholic women’s college, this labyrinth is an underwhelming flat circle of paved concentric flagstones. The whole thing is barely 20 feet across and we, as new friends, chat and laugh as we enter the labyrinth and walk the path.
Later, I find myself asking: Was walking that labyrinth orthodox? A Christian thing to do? I listen to my question. It reminds me of worried inquiries I see on some Christian websites. Is yoga okay for Christians? Or feng shui? Or even Christmas trees?
Sure enough, I find such a site tackling my question, asking it this way: Are prayer labyrinths biblical? As I read, the light feeling I’d enjoyed while walking the stones in the sunshine quickly evaporated. This writer’s disapproval is strong. “Are prayer labyrinths biblical? No, they are not. Not only are labyrinths never mentioned in the Bible, but they also conflict with several biblical principles of worship and prayer.”
I groan—yet another Christian saying no, even if I understand why. Besides the biblical caution against any focus that’s not Christ (see Col. 2:8), some labyrinth fans act truly cultist—rhapsodizing about the ancient circles more than they celebrate God. Opponents act panicked. Is a labyrinth “a walk to life or a walk to death?,” raged some bloggers, going for the dramatic.
But I wonder: Are we drowning in the stress of our culture’s lifestyle soup, so panicked about our changing world and its many “foreign” choices we forget to ask God how to live in it? Such issues follow me into the labyrinth, which surprises me by being not mystical, but mundane.
I’d expected a maze, like the high-walled hedgerows in grade-B mystery movies—with spooky dead ends and false starts. But this one, like all walking labyrinths, is flat on the ground with one way in and one way out. No tricks or mind games.
Looking beyond it, I can see the Front Range of the Colorado Rockies, recently dusted by snow. The whole scene is open and welcoming—so my first reaction is relief. This would just be a walk. I could do that. And I did, enjoying it totally.
Still, I sought God to ask: Was this okay? In reply, I see Jesus. Did he walk in ancient circles seeking God? No. He is God. Was he frantic about anything, foreign or familiar? Never.
To know how to walk like him, the Bible says to test the spirits we encounter. Reading all of 1 John 4, I carefully consider the caution “that there are many false prophets in the world.”Still, writes this Apostle, you’ve already defeated them, “because the Spirit who lives in you is greater than the spirit who lives in the world” (v. 4). No panic. No dramatics. Moreover, a few more verses down comes the reminders to love. “For love comes from God” (v. 7).
I consider the families on my block in suburban Denver. Two are unchurched, one Mormon, one ex-church millennial, one Middle Eastern and Muslim, one Asian and non-committal—and my husband and I are African American and Christian. Needing love? Every last one of us.
This is the picture of America now, a vast swath of difference, so often dismayed about each other we stayed locked up behind closed doors. Rather than Google questions about our differences—is yoga okay, indeed—might we instead go outside and take a walk? Maybe even meet the difference we so fear?
Is this a slippery apostate slope? Or a way to walk confidently in the world, while showing God’s love? When we wait and walk with him, says the Psalmist, he takes our feet out of miry clay, setting them on a rock, making our feet secure. (Ps. 40: 2)
Therefore I can say, no, I don’t choose to see a labyrinth built at my church, as some churches and other sites have. Instead, I’ll just pray on my knees. On the floor next to our bed with my husband. While I’m outside sweeping the porch. Or inside cooking the dinner. Or at my desk writing these words.
More important, however, will I love? Not just the people who decry labyrinths but also people who don’t? There’s only one way to find out. I’ll open the door, go next door and talk to my neighbor. Now there’s a spiritual path worth taking.
Patricia Raybon is an award-winning author. Her latest book is Undivided: A Muslim Daughter, Her Christian Mother, Their Path to Peace. She is a regular contributor to Today's Christian Woman.
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