Our weekly series continues with a wonderfully autumn-themed idea: Walking an outdoor labyrinth with friends, especially friends of another faith or culture. The photo above was taken in springtime of the beautiful new labyrinth described in today’s story. But imagine the autumn colors emerging around outdoor labyrinths in October. Envision taking a bracing fall walk on a crisp morning—with friends.
This story was written by Gail Katz, a co-founder and the current head of WISDOM, the women’s group behind our book, “Friendship and Faith,” and this ongoing series of weekly stories. (Please, scroll down on this page to enjoy more stories!)
This is Gail’s story …
Three WISDOM women came together to walk the interfaith Labyrinth behind the Northminster Presbyterian Church in Troy, Michigan. This labyrinth first came onto my radar screen when I was a student in the annual World Views Seminar at the University of Michigan-Dearborn during the summer of 2008. My class of 40-some students was brought by bus to the Labyrinth, and, after learning the history of this interfaith endeavor, we walked the circular patterns together.
Walking around in circles with 40 other people at the same time was less than ideal. I was mostly concerned with not bumping into the person on the path close to me. But the following October my friends Gigi (a Muslim), Judy (a Christian) and I (a Jew), came together at the site to share this outdoor adventure. We wanted to find out whether we were able to listen to our own intuition and stretch our souls to rise to the level of a spiritual experience.
The pastor of the Northminster Presbyterian Church, the Rev. Charlotte Sommers, spent about 20 minutes with us, explaining the meaning of the Labyrinth. It’s an ancient pattern, dating back thousands of years. Later, labyrinths were built into the floors of great European cathedrals. We learned how this pattern is not a puzzle to be solved, like a maze, but a continuous, winding path destined to help clarify one’s thoughts.
Charlotte explained three stages of walking:
- Release: As you enter and walk toward the center, you should release all that you need to let go of—to try to get rid of the baggage you might be carrying around within you.
- Receive: When you reach the center, you should be fully aware of the present moment and receive what the Divine wants to give you as you meditate, pray, and seek clarity.
- Reunite: As you leave the center, you need to reunite with the world and capture what you discovered in the center of your journey.
Judy, Gigi and I were about to see if walking the Northminster Labyrinth was going to feel more like a solitary experience or a community one—as the three of us followed the brick path around and around behind the church. The day was crisp and chilly. The sun alternated with clouds, and when the sun disappeared at times, I shivered inside my coat, seeking warmth.
On the way into the Labyrinth, I was initially focused on my two other companions and where they were physically in relation to myself. Was I going to get to the center first? Would I pass them as we circled around together? Would I focus on their facial expressions and try to discern what they were experiencing?
But as I began to walk and take deep breaths of cold air, I forgot about my friends and focused on my own life and the baggage that I carried inside. How could I use this experience to lighten my load? How could I make peace with the fact that I don’t have the power to fix my problems, that I need to learn to let go? I began to think of all the problems in my life that I couldn’t fix! And, beyond my own life, how can I hope to fix our broken economy—and all those who are suffering anxiety because of that enormous problem?
Breathing in and breathing out, I focused on my journey, one step at a time—and slowly I felt some of the heaviness begin to lift from my shoulders. When I got to the center of the Labyrinth, I stood there with my eyes closed, and let the sun fall on my face.
Suddenly, I heard the twittering of the birds in the trees all around me, and the voices of the children in the church’s pre-school laughing and crying and calling out to one another. I felt a sense of peace—my tense muscles eased, and my breathing slowed down.The center of this Labyrinth became more than just a destination, but a new beginning.
As I left the center and wound my way back out again, I thought less about my anxiety, my tension, my burdens. What was prominent in my thoughts was reuniting with the outside world to make some difference—to bring about an ounce of peace, a drop of sunshine, a grain of respect and understanding between people who might harbor fears of “the other.”
I was so lucky to have a roof over my head and food on my table during these very difficult times. I gave thanks for all of the goodness, and felt re-energized to tackle the challenges. Gigi, Judy and I hugged each other at the end of our journey. We quietly walked back into the church and opened our bag lunches while we compared the thoughts that we harbored going into the Labyrinth, the epiphanies we had upon reaching the center, and the feelings that occurred as we found our way out again.
Our journey became a treasured opportunity of interfaith sharing and reinforcement of the bonds that we three women have developed as part of the women’s organization known as WISDOM.
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(Originally published at www.FriendshipAndFaith.com)