Monday, December 19, 2011

Ladybugs and Labyrinths

I sat at the entrance of the labyrinth for a few minutes before I started to walk. I had brought books and my journal with me but as I sat there in the drafty second floor of a quiet building that smelled of old books, I just looked at the swirling path before me. It was one I knew well.

The first time I encountered a labyrinth was when I was in about the 7th grade.  One painted on canvas was traveling around our diocese and was making a stop at my childhood parish where it was splayed out on the parish center's linoleum floor.  I can't quite remember what it was about the labyrinth that caught my attention.  Maybe it was its shape- smooth, concentric, intricately simple, and symmetric- or maybe it was because it was a treat for the youth group to be able to walk. No matter the reason, I can remember being ushered onto the canvas in my socks, being given a brief explanation of what the purpose of this experience was, and set loose to walk it with my peers.

Being the overtly intentional preteen that I was, I took my time as I was told, meandering through the twists and turns of the maze.  There was no rush after all. This was prayer and contemplation. There was no way to get lost; simply follow the path and you would be lead to the center.  There was something magical and mysterious about it.  The journey enticed me. It was my own and yet it was so many people's.  It is a path that has acted as a metaphor for life and it is a path that has met me on all different places on my journey, quite literally.

In Ireland, I would walk it on a hillside over looking Galway Bay.  In Connecticut, I would walk it in the wilderness of a retreat house.  At my home parish it would permanently be installed in paving stones, allowing me to walk it day and night. In Philadelphia, I would conveniently come to one at Sister of St. Joseph Motherhouse. In Sydney, it would greet me as a pilgrim. Each morning it greets me as I get ready for the day and pick up my rings and necklaces off a miniature version of the Chartres Labyrinth that I have come to love.

Friday I found myself again at the Labyrinth at the Lutheran Theological Seminary here in Philadelphia.  In its own room on the second floor of the school's library, the labyrinth is a smaller version of the Chartres Labyrinth that is open to the public whenever the library is open.  I've found myself there a few times, Friday it was a stop after a morning meeting about my Formation and a good time to just sit in prayer.

Certainly, my journey has led me places I never would have imagined, but like the labyrinth, you can only follow the path ahead of you sensing what might be ahead but never knowing more that a few steps ahead of yourself and a few steps behind.  There are times to pause and times to look up and see where you are in relation to the center.  For me, that is where God dwells.  If this path you follows is a journey or a metaphor for life- it is the constant pursuit of God.

You enter moving straight ahead, directly towards the God you desire, but, as is so often the case, that path soon turns.  You trace the Divine.  In and out you weave, knowing always where you are headed but not always knowing the exact route you're going to take to get there.

No matter how many times I walk it, I never remember the exact turns.  Each journey inward is its own. My feet fall softly and slowly.  I reflect and like my preteen self I travel slowly. In time I've learned to stop. To pause where necessary... to wait in the Spirit.

Friday, Jesus sat at the center of the labyrinth, sitting cross legged in prayer.  I knew I needed to move towards him, why else would I have stopped off at the labyrinth on a morning when I could be doing anything else.  Before I took my first step, a movement caught my eye- a lady bug dawdling over the tight wound fibers of the carpet.  This bug would be walking with me.  I paused and let her cross the entrance before I moved inward.  As I walked, more lady bugs made their way through the maze. They made me stop, cutting my thoughts short as I witnessed their slow movement.  Some would stop completely and I'd nudge them along- no need to stop moving little fellow, let your little legs carry you where they may.

In time, Christ, who remained at the center, came to lead me by the hand, pulling me faster than I might usually move along.  Gentle nudging, inward and outward, toward a place of contentment with my faithful companion.

Making the final ninety degree turn, I entered the sanctuary of the labyrinth. The journey takes time and yet when I make that final turn I always seem to be surprised that I am there already.  Aren't there more steps to be taken?  How could I already be here? Yet I am. The journey leads me here- as it always does, whether I'm ready or not- to God.

In Chartres Cathedral, the Labyrinth lies in the nave, as if it were a womb. There the Cathedral's famous rose window can cast a light that perfectly encompasses it. Recently I heard it said, "this blessed light reminds us that in the quest for the Divine, we must always remember that in Christ the Divine becomes man within Mary and within our own journeys we are invited to bring the Divine to life in us."

How fitting that new life come through divine light in this journey, especially in this season of Advent.  The Annunciation propels us into this last week of Advent. We look towards Christmas with the yes on our lips that will bring Christ to life in this world and in our lives.  The last four weeks we have prayed for that coming, as we have navigated the twists and turns of the season, of prayer, and of ourselves. Now we make that final faithful turn, the one that always seems to be a surprise. And trusting in the Word, we stand face to face with our God, the God who leads us on our journey, nudges us along, sits at our center, and asks simply in humility and trust that we give birth to him each and every day.  

Sunday, December 18, 2011

An Advent Prayer

A prayer for all of you as we enter this last week of Advent and move towards the joy of Christmas. May God illuminate your lives with grace and meet you in the manger of your hearts, transforming you in ways truthful & ever unexpected.

O God, most high and most near,
you send glad tidings to the lowly,
you hide not your face from the poor;
those who dwell in darkness you call into the light.
Take away our blindness,
remove the hardness of our hearts,
and form us into a humble people,
that, at the advent of your Son,
we may recognize him in our midst
and find joy in his saving presence.
We ask this through him whose coming is certain,
whose day draws near:
Jesus, your Son and our brother.

Taken from the Daily Prayer, Daily Bread, CSJ/SSJ Prayer Book, Advent/Christmas Edition. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

Maybe it will be clearer...

I had never met anyone named Ita before Ita Ford.  In fact, I don't know if I can say that I ever actually met Ita  Ford but at some point in my life, her words, which are in fact older than I am, entered into my life. And as is the case with words, with them came herself and so, we met. We met and the words she had written in 1980 to her niece on her sixteenth birthday spoke directly to me.

Brooklyn is not passing through the drama of El Salvador, but some things hold true wherever one is, and at whatever age. What I'm saying is, I hope you come to find that which gives life a deep meaning for you...something worth living for, maybe even worth dying for...something that energizes you, enthuses you, enables you to keep moving ahead. I can't tell you what it might be -- that's for you to find, to choose, to love. I can just encourage you to start looking, and support you in the search. Maybe this sounds weird and off-the-wall, and maybe, no one else will talk to you like this, but then, too, I'm seeing and living things that others around you aren't...

I want to say to you: don't waste the gifts and opportunities you have to make yourself and other people happy... I hope this doesn't sound like some kind of a sermon because I don't mean it that way. Rather, it's something you learn here, and I want to share it with you. In fact, it's my birthday present to you. If it doesn't make sense right at this moment, keep this and read it sometime from now. Maybe it will be clearer...

Each year I re-read those words on the second of December, the anniversary of Ita Ford, Maura Clark, Jean Donovan, and Dorothy Kozol's deaths.  In a way it is kind of like a birthday present. Reading them is like seeing candles burning brightly in the midst of the darkness.  Each time I read, there is something else that strikes me;  there is a new understanding to what I thought I understood.  Like the candles of a cake that illuminate your face and bring the hope of a new year.  Maybe this year it will be clearer...

Wherever one is... 
whatever age...
find that which...energizes...enthuses...enables... 
don't waste the gifts you have to make yourself and other people happy...
Maybe this year it will be clearer...

In the same way, the four American church women martyred in El Salvador offer hope and light in the darkness.  Yet rather than candles in a cake, I wonder if their lives and witness aren't better suited to the candles of the Advent wreath. As one blogger put it, "In El Salvador, a country named for the savior, they lived an Advent life, waiting for Christ to arrive amidst grave suffering, injustice and violence."  

The thing that drove them was a deep love of Christ and that is what shines forth in who they were.  There is a reason that Ita, Maura, Jean, and Dorothy have not been forgotten... that their light has not been extinguished.  It is because they embodied the light of Christ that gave them life and like Advent their lives call us to a new awareness of the work that is being done in us and all around us.  Christ is being born. We wait for him and hope for the day when he will come.  That day is coming and that day is already here. Today. Right now.

I talked to a dear friend this week and we struck on this same sentiment.  We want to give birth to God today.  Christ's love is dwelling deep within us and we can only wait for it to spring forth.  Waiting is not what my heart wants to do.  I want to keep moving. I want it to spring forth. Why can't it just be?!?  But that's the thing, most of the time it can't and I can't make it.  I want to want. But all I can do is recognize that desire and the simple waiting such a want requires.

We don't wait because we want to, we wait because we have to. We wait because God is nurturing His love in us. Advent is a time of waiting and in this time we live our lives awaiting the God we are invited to meet every day.  Along the way we encounter those who are sure to show us God's grace and love. Some we will know by name, some not. Some we will encounter in person, others in their affect on those we meet. Wherever and whatever.  We wait with them and as the weeks wear on, the light within us will grow brighter.  In our expectant waiting, our desire grows and our hearts find newness in this hope-filled season.  Coming again into Advent in a spirit of waiting, hoping that as the light grows, maybe this year it (God's Love & Our Desires) will be clearer.

Artist: Lewis Williams, SFO