by Michelle McLemore
First published 5/27/2022 by Crazy Wisdom Bi-Weekly, Issue 87
I just happened to see the white word “labyrinth” against the bright blue sign on the way to a doctor’s appointment. It stood out against the gray of the trees in the still beleaguered shades of Michigan in March. Note to self—a labyrinth on my literal path. I knew what I was going to do when I finished my appointment.
Ironically, I was headed to an appointment to find answers. I had tried Googling but got nowhere. I was embarrassed to need assistance, felt vulnerable, almost talked myself out of the appointment. And yet, there I was in the car, big girl panties pulled up, working on the deep breathing, and dabbing at the occasional nervous tears when they arose. The appointment went fine—anticlimactic really. Still, I would soon find parallels in the morning’s emotional path and my next literal and spiritual walk.
I watched for the blue sign again and turned into the drive for Saint Barnabas Episcopal Church. A penned potential community vegetable garden was out front, children’s play area in back, and gardens waiting to blossom around the perimeter. A man was busy in back transferring mulch from a great mound to various garden spots on the property. He didn’t seem bothered by my presence, so I simply called out a greeting and proceeded to the garden paths.
I was intrigued to see so many signs denoting various plants, shrub, and tree varieties. (The gardener, Allan Jensen, one of the parishioner volunteers, excitedly told me their gardens were home to roughly 200 native species. Momentarily bypassing the cement sidewalk to the point of the visit, I wandered freshly mulched paths to see various bird feeders and eclectic art pieces, absorbing the flowing walkways. (Curves always seem gentler on one’s tired spirit and magpie mind than sharp angles and constricting straight lines.) It seemed everything flowed gently among these light woods. Then, the path I was on veered toward the stone labyrinth.
Modeled after the pattern used in the 12th century Chartres Cathedral in France, this labyrinth is 40 feet in diameter, an 11 circuit with the path three pavers wide outlined in red block. I stood at the entrance noting the quiet hum of vehicles going by on Old US Highway 12 countered by birds softly chirping nearby. I felt a moment of being overwhelmed by the immensity of the pattern. Was there a right way to enter? Was there a penalty if I quit early or broke the path? (I had foregone reading the lovely pamphlet provided at the entrance to the labyrinth.) I took a breath and began.
Within a few short moments, I realized I had to slow down. The frequent turns required a different approach to avoid dizziness. A flush of anxiety reared, had I messed up my steps and got off on the wrong path already? I kept walking and the path led me to a different section of the larger picture. Then a new panic—I wasn’t even halfway (to the center/goal), and it dawned on me, I couldn’t predict how long the walk would take. It was a weightier commitment than I had known when I casually decided to engage. The air was growing colder, and the indifferent wind was rising. (In hindsight I don’t know why I didn’t stand and trace the path with my eyes. It seemed impossible but to walk, breathe, and focus on my steps.) I noted spongy moss growing between the rocks, seemingly perfect and offering gentle healing support to temper the stone walk.
I was amused that just as I thought I was getting closer to the center, another turn would surprise me. My thoughts had moved away from the morning’s panic and doubt about the right way to proceed and were replaced by more even breathing and observing. Then, my mind asked, “Is there something I’m supposed to be doing with my free time? Am I supposed to keep serving others? (I’d retired from teaching January 2020 and was holding a few parttime jobs.) BAM. The center was suddenly right in front of my toes!
I hesitated. I took a breath, stepped in (my inner child imagined jumping in) to the center of the six-petal design. My eyes began scanning the central design. Then, before I could take another breath, my cell phone rang. I looked at it, sighing, not recognizing the number. After a scant second contemplating not answering, I said, “Hello?”
“Michelle? This is Carla. Is there any way you’d make a dish for a funeral this Saturday?”
Did I mention I don’t believe in coincidences or chance?
I chuckled, assented, and hung up. I turned and began winding my way out. Along the walk more wisdom came through: You can have fun and serve. Yet…visions of dour martyrs and innocents suffering intolerable “chance” injustice rose to mind. Do we have to suffer and be miserable in our service? No. We have choice. Maybe not choice in all of life’s circumstances, but choice in our reactions.
Is it easier to choose misery? Well, I know it’s easier to choose not to exercise, my smart-aleck side mused. Then, what does it mean to choose joy? This answer was direct and objective: to make conscious decisions and know you don’t owe anything to anyone else—you don’t have to live to please others. BAM. Living in kindness is not the same thing as living to please others.
I was back to the start. Following the path back to the entrance seemed shockingly shorter. One step and I’d be out of the labyrinth. I don’t have to please others in words or deed and yet I should continue practicing unconditional kindness? Had I confused the two ideas somewhere along the way? Others may choose peace or to be offended—but that is their choice on their walk. My quest is to be watchful and charitable for when people need assistance…not to please them nor to pacify them. Not to help when they want someone to do the work for them, but when they need help or support.
I took a breath and stepped back into this world. Then I read the lovely informative pamphlet: “In surrendering to the winding path, the soul finds healing and wholeness.”
This labyrinth was a collaboration by Baptized for Life, a discipleship initiative, and the small but dedicated congregation of St. Barnabas. Thirty parishioners committed to an approximate $50,000 project as a leap of faith to support spirituality for anyone of any creed. Visit Stbarnabaschelsea.org to learn more or contact Kathy O’Connel at 734-358-0345 or email@example.com.