Monday, February 2, 2015

Laby-rinth, and repeat as desired

A year or so ago, I was teaching a class on prayer, and we agreed to meet in the park to visit a prayer labyrinth that was laid out there.  

The day could not have been any more beautiful.  It was one of those cool, sunny spring days that we all love New Orleans for.  And….

And, the day could not have been any more aggravating.  And it was getting worse.  It was a rough day at work, with bureaucratic frustrations building all day long.  I was running late, and the traffic on Magazine St. is always tough during rush hour.  Even as near as my workplace is to the park, there was just no way I was going to make it to the labyrinth by 5 pm.  I took the ‘short cut’ on the Fly, and promptly got stuck behind some... ahem, child of God, who had trouble with his multitasking - talking on the cell phone, driving, and beating his kid who had probably struck out in the baseball game.  For good measure, he stopped in the middle of the road to focus on the other things, rather than driving.

I continued to practice my Jesus prayer, trying to center myself on my relationship with my Creator, rather than his OBVIOUSLY flawed creation in front of me. 

It didn’t work.  When I arrived, I was mad at the entirety of creation.  Beyond mad.  Furious. 

My wife Kathe had arrived before I did, and in greeting her, I did not even make eye contact.  I am going to walk this maze, I am going to check this off of my list of things to do, and then move back to my life. 

I stopped to read the plaque.  Yes, it was a gift post Katrina.  Yes, there is no wrong way to walk the maze.  Sure, long history of gardens and mazes and labyrinths as part of
worship and prayer.  Whatever.  I have a checklist.  And I am feeling VERY self conscious.

Miniature maze just past the entrance.  It is not clear how to approach it.  I finally figure out that I was looking at the bricks of the wrong color, and the negative space now shows a path.  OK.  I’m walking the path.  Jesus prayer while doing it?  Hmm.  Maybe not.  OK.  Too fast?  Is my walk pious?  What in the world does that even mean?  AGHH!

Even though the plaque told me that there is no wrong way to do it, I am still feeling a bit off, and looking around to see what other people are doing.  Are they watching me?  Look down to make sure that I am following the path…. My shoes need polishing.  What did Miles say about not wearing black shoes with khakis? Now I’ve walked it, now what?  What should I do?  Walk through the ‘walls’? 

OK, I’ll walk it backwards.  That seems right, somehow.

Nope.  More self conscious.

But it is done. 

Now the big one.  This is just weird. A woman is sitting there on the bench, reading her book, and I know she’s looking to see what kind of moron I am for walking.  Deep breaths. I walk around the entire labyrinth once to see the layout and to focus on the maze, rather than the people.  To focus on my prayer, rather than my self consciousness.  To focus on God, rather than me.

There are numbered chalk marks on the south-north axis, I presume to help people figure out how many turns there are.  Or maybe it is hop-scotch markers, completely unrelated to the maze.  I need to focus.

But I can’t.  I just start walking.

That comment about the black shoes is still bugging me.  And he’ll be here any moment.  What do I do? What kind of turn do I make?  Dangit, this is like watching a Monty Python sketch from the Ministry of Silly Walks.

Turn, go back.  Breathe.  Breathe again. Step, step, pause.  Step.  Breathe.

Have I done that lane right next to me?  Wait, which way am I turned?  I always orient myself by my shadow, but I never make this many turns.  If I couldn’t see the horizon, I’d be sunk.  

Step, step, breathe, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.

Tight turn.

Broad arc.

Tight turn.





Not me.  Not my will, but thine. 

When I was a kid, I got really violently sick when I rode one of those playground deathtraps designed to whirl you around as fast as possible. I rode it, just couldn’t stop because I loved the sensation, but it really messed me up. I got more than just dizzy, I got ill. 

Kids love the feeling; we all used to.  It challenges you to see the world from a different perspective.  Everything spins, keeps spinning, and sometimes, you fall down.  And you see the world spinning around you – you made the world do it.  You have control over the way you see the world.

Tight turn, lose my focus on the horizon.  Lose my grip on my control.  Step, breathe, pray. 

The world began to spin in a different way.  It was not spinning around me. I was dizzy, but for reasons unrelated to the ego-centric focus I had brought to the maze. 

After Miles arrived, he looked like I felt when I arrived.  A little tightly wound. We shook hands, but did not make eye contact.  I was near the end of the maze, and he was at the start.  I made it to the center.  And I thought for a moment – just a moment - about reversing my path and walking out the way I came in.

But that would be more about accomplishment.  That would be more about me. As it was, I had started out wondering whether I would feel an elation when I entered the final circle.  I wondered whether there was a feeling of enlightenment that would come. 

See, I am looking for that, a little.  I can try and call it something different – a closer relationship with God, or nirvana, or mystical experience, but I am looking for something sublime in my life.
And that is not what I got.  No opening of the heavens, and no light shining down on me.  No rainbow, no sign.

But peace.

I sat down with Kathe and spoke quietly while Miles walked the maze.  Gwen came and spoke, too.  But the conversation I had with her was very different than the one I would have had thirty minutes earlier.

I was changed.

We spoke together about how we need more of this in our lives.  How we should take this time, and spend the time necessary to re-center.  We talked in general terms about it, but what we need is more prayer. 

Because, as Miles has said from the beginning of our class, prayer has the power to change the one doing the praying. 

Five minutes later, calm in the Broadway traffic snarl that would have infuriated me earlier in the day, I realized that I need more of that kind of change in my life.

I need to pray more.

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