Walking the Labyrinth

 

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Years ago, my family went to a church that was a mix of liturgical and contemporary traditions. During Holy Week, one of the things they offered was a contemplative evening with a labyrinth walk. I borrowed my parents’ car and went on my own, walking the labyrinth spread out on the floor in the darkened sanctuary, deep in thought. I emerged feeling centered, refreshed, at peace.

A month or so later, I was telling a friend at the Christian retreat centre I once worked at about the experience. “Labyrinths?” she said. “Aren’t those New Age?”

Instantly, what had been a beautiful spiritual experience was tarnished, a source of shame and guilt that I had participated in it. In that world, anything New Age was probably of the devil, it was dangerous, and it opened the door to sin, possibly even to demonic possession.

A couple years later, I did a bit of research and ran across the tradition of medieval labyrinths. I pointed to that and went, “Hah!” The labyrinth walk I’d done was validated, no longer darkened by my friend’s assumptions. What I didn’t realize then was that I shouldn’t have needed to validate my experience to her.

In reality, labyrinths are ancient, occur in numerous cultures, and have spiritual significance in more than one tradition; they have been used in both pagan and Christian rituals. My friend’s take on it was a typical reaction for a conservative-leaning American Christian, one that she, at sixteen, had probably learned from her family or her church. It was unlikely that she had thought to investigate it further.

But I, at seventeen, didn’t think to immediately research what she said and process it critically. I let her assumptions and my own colour what had been a positive spiritual experience. At that age, I wasn’t ready to critically examine the religion I’d been raised with and see its inconsistencies (at least, not any more than I already had at that point).

I worry sometimes about what will happen when my family finds out that I’ve departed the tradition in which I was raised (worrying doesn’t help it, but that’s GAD for you). I know it will happen at some point, but I don’t know when, and I’m not ready to share that with them, because I know they’ll be unhappy about it. I honestly don’t know how they’ll respond. I’ve dropped hints here and there, but I haven’t said anything explicitly and neither have they. Recently my mom said something about she and I disagreeing on some things spiritually but that not screwing up our relationship, and I’m going to hold on to that.

What I don’t want to do is diminish the joy I’ve found in embracing a new way of understanding the world. The first time I took part in a circle, at Pagan Pride in September, it was wonderful. The delight I feel when I read books like The Spiral Dance is very real. The ancestor ritual I did at Samhain was deeply meaningful to me. I don’t want to allow myself to be so easily swayed by someone else’s opinions which may or may not be well-informed. I want to listen, yes, but I want to form my own take on the subject.

So next time I come across a labyrinth, I will admire its beauty, and remember the lesson it has taught me. To be myself. That all things in the end come back to their beginning. That the journey I walk was my journey when I was a teenager seeking the Spirit in the dark of the labyrinth, and it is still my journey when the labyrinth I roam is that path both ancient and new, and she who waits for me is one who encompasses the light and the dark.

“And thou who thinkest to seek for me, know thy seeking and yearning shall avail thee not, unless thou know this mystery: that if that which thou seekest thou findest not within thee, thou wilt never find it without thee.

“For behold, I have been with thee from the beginning; and I am that which is attained at the end of desire.” Doreen Valiente, The Charge of the Goddess.

 

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Turning

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Sometimes it feels like a deity grants me something to think about for the day, when a song or a story, or a few short words, or a picture come into my life and resonate deeply with me. It’s not always every day, but it often ends up being weekly. Here is what came to me this week, a blend of the religion of my birth and the religion that I’m slowly becoming a part of now.

While I was raised (to an extent, my music education also included liberal amounts of classical music and showtunes) on the folk music of the sixties and seventies (one of our regular lullabies was “Car Car” from Peter, Paul, and Mary), I either forgot about or somehow missed out on “Turn! Turn! Turn!” Someone gave us an illustrated children’s book version of it, and I still hadn’t gotten around to listening to the CD in the back when I listened to a children’s CD from the library (on my quest to introduce Eowyn to interesting music) that featured the song. That particular version has children’s lyrics, ones that aren’t based as much on the Ecclesiastes text, given that one of the lines is “a time for dirt, a time for soap.” After listening to it a few times, enchanted by the chorus, I pulled up The Byrds’ original version on YouTube and listened to that. You can find it here, if you care to hear it.

And now it’s not only stuck in my head, I’m musing on it (oh thinking…well, we all know where that leads). Ecclesiastes is one of those books in the Bible that I’ve always felt some connection to. I think it’s the fatalism. It appeals to my depressive side. Yet there’s a lot of substance in such a small, depressing book where the author continually bewails the lack of meaning in life. There’s wisdom there, and something about the “time for” section has always resonated with me. I was struck by it as a child when I first read the book, and I went back to it as a teenager, a young adult, and now I think about the words it offers yet again.

As I step into paganism, I’m struck by the importance of times for doing things: when is it best to do a ritual, what phase of the moon is best for what, and what season is it? In Wicca, is it the God or the Goddess dominating the current time, or is time for them to trade off again? There is a time for everything, and a season for all purposes under the heavens.

We’re not always so different. We humans like to draw lines between ourselves, to delineate our tribes so that we know who we are and who we are not. Yet we all face the same fact: our lives are short, and we will not always be here. No matter whether this is our only life, or whether we go on to a new adventure in an afterlife, or we are reborn anew, this is the time we have to be. The most important time is now, and that grants both a weighty burden, and a sense of freedom.

What time is it? It is time to turn. Turn and see that the lines that divide us are not worth fighting over. People of all faiths and no faith have been saying so for centuries. Maybe the time today is time to listen to the voices of those who came before us, and embrace our differences, for we are not so different from each other as we once thought.