May 19, 2012 my second baby was still in this world, but I had just learned his continued earthly existence was in mortal danger. My emotions that weekend may be best described as in total and utter turmoil. It is beyond my writing ability to convey the state of my entire being at this time last year.
Cold rain would’ve suited my mood that Saturday. Instead, there was not a cloud in a beautiful blue sky, and the temperature was a pleasant 75° F (22° C). The day couldn’t have been more perfect for a visit to "my" labyrinth*, which lay in the newly dedicated SmalePark. As someone who’d walked labyrinths occasionally for several years, I'd been excited to discover this new one situated less than two miles from my home, making it a brisk walk or an easy bicycle ride across the Ohio River.
That Saturday I chose to hop on my bicycle and pedal rather than walk. After crossing the Purple People Bridge, weaving along the Serpentine, and avoiding children playing in the new Smale fountain, I reached the labyrinth. I parked my bike in the shade, hung my helmet on the handlebars and approached the entry to the labyrinth. (The manner in which pavers and plants were used to create this labyrinth is so unique I am again including a photo.)
|"My" labyrinth at Smale Park|
As always I paused before entering the labyrinth and placed my hands together with palms touching. I then touched my index fingers to my forehead and my thumbs to my lips, seeking the Divine to help open my mind and gain enlightenment. “Be still,” I heard, “And know.” With my hands in front of me, palms facing downward in a gesture of release or letting go, I began to walk. At some point along the path toward the labyrinth’s center, I began to appeal to the Divine. My thoughts were churning. My emotions were raw. Tears rolled down my cheeks from eyes still covered by sunglasses.
“Please, God, no,” my mind cried out. “Please do not let my baby die.”
If you’re like me, your head has claimed repeatedly since each baby’s birth, “I would gladly give my life to save my baby/child,” but your heart has doubted if you could really do it. It has wondered if this proclamation was true or whether survival and fear of death was stronger than the love that would allow a parent to give her life for her baby/child. I learned that day on the labyrinth that it was true. There was no doubt. I felt no fear. I would gladly sacrifice my earthly existence if it meant one of my babies/adult children might live another day.
As I neared the center of the labyrinth, I begged, “Please don’t let my Brandon die. Please, please, dear God, take me. Please take me instead.” I kept walking forward, tears streaming down my cheeks. “I’ve had my life. He deserves his. Please let him stay to grow old with his Christina. Please let him stay so Morgan can know her daddy. Please, God, please take me.”
I reached the center and stepped inside. Slowly circling its outer circumference, I brought my hands together and stopped several times to look more closely, listen more acutely, and smell more intensely as I prayed for each of my children, but especially for Brandon that day. Finally, I tailor-sat on the stone in the center, absorbing its warmth, and lowered my head to my hands and wept.
When it felt as if I’d run out of tears, I began to walk back into and out of the labyrinth with hands again in front of me but now with palms facing upward to take in, although I had not yet truly let go. I continued to plead that I be allowed to die instead of Brandon.
“I don’t think I can do this,” I cried inside. “Please, I really don’t know how to do this. Don’t ask it of me. I can’t do it. Please take me.”
Suddenly, I felt a line of heat slash across and through the palm of each of my upturned hands. It didn’t burn or feel painful. Rather it was an intense, localized sensation of warmth.
Simultaneously, a clear, calm voice – not the usual in-my-mind voice – said, “That is his cross. This is yours.” The tears fell again.
*Labyrinth Walking – Epilogue
Walking the labyrinth is both meditative and spiritual metaphor for me, but I don’t want to taint your experience of walking the labyrinth by going into detail of what this exercise has come to mean to me. Labyrinths are ancient constructs, dating back millennia. Many confuse a labyrinth with a maze, but the two have different connotations, at least they do in the English language. To paraphrase what was once said, “One enters a maze to lose one’s self but a labyrinth to find it.”
Whether invited or not, I’ve explained this difference between labyrinth and maze to numerous adults and older children in the past year when they’ve had the nerve to jump on and off “my” labyrinth while I was walking. (Sharing the labyrinth with other walkers is lovely, but it is sometimes difficult for me when others don’t recognize the space they’ve entered.) Invariably, one of these “intruders” asks another, “What is this thing?” And the other generally responds, “It’s a maze.”
If my meditative powers were stronger, I’d probably find it easy to ignore such interlopers and their uninformed notions about labyrinths. Sometimes I can, but too often the need (compulsion?) to teach completely sidetracks my labyrinth walk. I feel sure that being unaware of others while walking is one of the lessons I’m to learn on the labyrinth!
I’ve had people ask how to walk the labyrinth, and the answer is easy. Follow the path in and out, and do what feels right. Walk (frontward or backward) when the spirit moves, run or dance if the spirit moves, and stop if/when the spirit moves. There is no “right” way to walk a labyrinth except, perhaps, to walk it in its entirety. If you choose to walk, commit to walking to the center and back out again to the end without crossing any lines. The pace and when to pause should come from within.
There are no particular rituals and it isn’t necessary to turn palms down when entering or up when in the center or returning. I’m usually not one for outward gestures, yet using my hands during labyrinth walking seems natural and helps me focus. I must’ve read an article or two about labyrinth walking when I first started and the hand gestures “fit” for me!
I now check the WorldwideLabyrinth Locater when I travel. It has led me to labyrinths in spots where I’d never have imagined a labyrinth to be and allowed me to walk different designs or variations on familiar designs. My walks on nearby labyrinths and those in other locales have ranged from the amazing to the mundane, but all have touched on the spiritual for me. Consider giving it a try or two. You may find labyrinth walking allows you, as it does me, to “pray as I can.”
“First: pray as you can, and don’t try to pray as you can’t.” John Chapman, Spiritual Letters, 25.