Listening in the Labyrinth
Walking a labyrinth can allow entry to the unknown if we are willing to listen.
The prayer labyrinth featured three circles of stone steps pressed into the grass, initially by the hands of its builders and then over time by the feet of visitors like me. Entering the first circle, I tried to quiet my mind and pray. But even as I concentrated on my footsteps, my mind turned to worries about work: things unfinished and things forgotten. Distracted and frustrated, I chased those thoughts away as best I could, but all throughout the first circle, work filled my mind.
I shook off my disappointment and entered the second circle, committed to silencing my inner person and to praying. Predictably, my mind wandered again, turning to future plans: things I was working on, things I wanted to do, and things I was inspired by. Once more I chased those thoughts away, shaking them out of my head as best I could. I ended the second circle feeling somewhat defeated.
I waited until my pulse slowed, took several deep breaths, and with a new resolve began slowly walking the third circle. This time my mind buzzed with the noise of relational strife: broken friendships and distances filled with miscommunication or misunderstanding. I slowed my steps again, having noticed that my pace had quickened with my heartbeat. I stopped, tilting my head back and sighing toward the sky in frustration. Looking down, I saw I had only three stone steps from the end of the third circle to the center of the labyrinth.
I stepped on each stone, saying, “I’m so sorry. I can’t focus.”
Finally, I stood in the middle of the labyrinth, believing I had failed to hear. Come to find out, I had failed to listen.
Just as I was about to leave the center of the labyrinth, a thought fell into my mind like a stone into water. Though the thought held substance and weight, all I could really see of it were the ripples it caused. It was more like listening to the echo of a voice than listening to the voice itself, or like noticing someone had already passed by and seeing only the person’s back. The thought went something like this:
First I tried to talk with you about your worries, and you chased me out of your mind. I tried to talk with you about your hopes and dreams, and again you chased me away. Finally, I tried to talk with you about those you love and those you’ve lost, and you wouldn’t listen. I am in all these things and I am with you in all these things.
So I started the first circle again.
Truth is, we don’t always know what’s important in our own minds. This week, let your mind wander wherever it wants, and write down what’s going on in you. Frederick Buechner encourages, “Listen to your life.” Journaling provides a way to do that. By writing down the seemingly random thoughts, images, names, faces, and daydreams you come across, you’ll have a place to return to them and pay closer attention. Is something coming up regularly that you hadn’t noticed before? Why? Does a particular thought or name or image get your heart rate up? Why? As thoughts come to you and you begin to gain clarity, ask for wisdom and guidance to act where you need to or to wait if the time is not ripe for action.
Excerpted from Prayer: Forty Days of Practice by Justin McRoberts and Scott Erickson Copyright © 2019 by Justin McRoberts and Scott Erickson. Published by WaterBrook, an imprint of Random House, a division of Penguin Random House LLC.