While visiting New Harmony, Indiana for our 15 year anniversary trip, we visited the town’s two labyrinths. I am deeply attracted to labyrinths. Maybe it’s the beauty of the repeating form or maybe it’s the ancient history that surrounds them. I think it’s those reasons plus this: I am
not very good horrible at sitting still and meditating or doing anything that requires stillness. My mind races from topic to topic, and I find it hard to quiet myself enough to just “be.” The three or four times in my life that I’ve walked a labyrinth, an almost magical clarity has descended on me and I have been able to quiet my soul by occupying my body with the singular task of following a trail.
This makes sense to me; back in the day when I was a TV news producer and worked the overnight shift, I had to force myself to sleep during the day. The most difficult part of this schedule was trying to fall asleep after just walking in the door from work, pumped up from an adrenaline-filled newscast. I developed tricks to occupy my brain so my body could fall asleep. One of those tricks was writing the Lord’s Prayer in my head, in cursive. Or sometimes typing on a mental keyboard.
When I walked the Cathedral Labyrinth in New Harmony, a light rain had just started falling. I dropped my umbrella and decided to walk in the rain. The labyrinth pattern was carved into stone, with the path being a rough pattern and the sides of the path being a smooth surface. The falling rain wasn’t enough to drench me, but it was enough to make the lines between the rough and smooth surfaces blur a bit. After a few steps in the labyrinth, I realized I couldn’t stay on the path unless I kept my eyes straight down. The second I looked more than a foot in front of me, the glare of the daylight erased the path on the wet stone. I couldn’t see where I was going anymore, and was in danger of stepping off the path and getting myself looped onto another track of the labyrinth.
I concentrated on keeping my eyes strictly on the path I was walking, not the path three feet ahead or one foot to either side. That’s when I felt God speaking to my soul, telling me to live my life – not just this moment in a labyrinth – like this. He said, “Let me lead you. When you look ahead, you get caught up thinking you know where the path is going. You’re not watching your feet and you misstep and get off course. Let me do the thinking for you, and I promise you I’ll tell you when to turn. I won’t let you wander aimlessly; there IS a purpose to this winding path you’re on. Trust me. Walk with me, not ahead of me. I will take care of you and lead you.” I relaxed into the moment, let tears spill down my cheeks, and trusted God to get me where He needs me to go. Stepping into the center of the labyrinth (the “end”) was a surrendering of myself to Him, and an acknowledgement that He knows what’s best for me.
Later that day, we walked to the Harmonist Labyrinth on the edge of town. Truly, I can’t begin to describe the way this place felt to me. Picture this huge winding hedge of bushes with a path carved into it, and a little stone hut in the middle. I was immediately drawn to the hedge and not the hut. I stepped in the entrance and started curving along the path. Dan took the one straight trail directly to the hut, and waited for me there. I wound around a bit, then realized this was one BIG labyrinth and it might take me a really long time to walk the entire thing. And since the rain was still drizzling, I opted to head to the hut instead. I cut through a thinner hedge, and walked to the rough hewn wood door of the hut.
This little hut was barely ten feet across. The walls had three windows cut into them, which gave a view of the hedge labyrinth from all sides. The walls were painted a terra cotta brownish orange, with inset panels painted Wedgwood blue and white. But when I looked up, I was stunned; the ceiling was painted in the same blue and white, and inscribed with Harmonist and Biblical quotes: “We endure and suffer, labor and toil, sow and reap, with and for each other.” And “A harmonious and unified society of man may be said to be a kingdom of God.” And “The Creator of the Universe has always in view the happiness of all the human race.” And “Let not the sun go down upon your wrath.”
Dan said while he waited for me in that little hut, he stood and listened to the silence and watched me circle through the hedge as I drew closer and closer to the center of the labyrinth journey. He prayed out loud, “Thank You for not giving up on me.” God was right there with him, and then I joined them both inside the hut. As I write this now, I wonder if maybe that’s what heaven is like: Jesus waiting for us to finish the journey, watching while we walk the winding road toward him.
The next day was our last day in New Harmony. Before we drove out of town, we stopped one more time at the Harmonist Labyrinth. I walked directly to the stone hut and entered it, then shut the door behind me. I stood alone in that little building, which looks barren and cold on the outside but masks amazing beauty inside. I closed my eyes and listened to the silence one last time. I imagined taking my hands, grabbing some of the stillness and wrapping it up in a little package. I even visualized tying it with a bow. Then I mentally tucked it into my heart, knowing as I returned to my “regular” life that I would need to pull that tiny bit of silence out and nibble on it once in a while to feed my soul.