Last week I spent four days at the Crieff Hills Conference Centre, near Guelph, Ontario. I was there for the Guidance Conference of The Presbyterian Church in Canada – an event held as a part of the discernment process for ministry candidates in the denomination. It was, as always, a rich and meaningful time with women and men exploring their call to ministry, and with other counsellors and staff participating in that vital work.
During my time there, I discovered that Crieff HIlls has a rough and lovely (it matches the feel of the place) labyrinth, marked out with the ancient stones that are plentiful there. At the centre of the labyrinth is a large stone that symbolizes Christ, the Rock (1 Corinthians 10:4, perhaps?). The labyrinth is lovely and rugged and rustic and an open invitation to explore the spiritual life.
This was my first experience walking a labyrinth, and in fact I did not have time to walk its full path. I was out catching a few moments of quiet before returning to yet another meeting when I happened upon it. Yet even the few small moments that I spent at the labyrinth were revealing for me.
As I walked the path I found the central rock persistent in my peripheral vision. As I curved around the centre, the rock remained there, steady and certain. Yet there were also moments when the labyrinth path turned me suddenly and momentarily away from the centre, and for just a short instance I would lose sight of that the large central rock. In fact, if I had continued further along the path there would have been some moments when it would have taken me, for a longer duration, directly away from the centre. Christ would have been out of sight.
I think of Jonah, carried into Sheol (into the silence and nothingness of death) for three days and three nights. I think of these moments in so many of our lives when anxiety or grief or doubt or simple worldliness keep Christ out of sight and out of mind. Sometimes they are the briefest of moments. Sometimes they feel like, or are, very long seasons.
I was not walking the labyrinth in the midst of such a season in my own life – yet in following that path I was struck by, and assured of, the presence of Christ in those moments when my back is to him, whatever the reason and whatever the duration. The gift of such a spiritual exercise (walking the labyrinth), perhaps, is the imprint it has made on my mind and soul. That brief walk in the labyrinth was an assurance of who I am in this moment (one embraced in Christ’s strong love) and, I hope, a memory imprinted for those future moments when assurance is lost and needed.
Walking the labyrinth. Perhaps I’ll make a habit of it.