Today was one for the books.
Emily and I celebrated Eucharist at St. Gregory of Nyssa then walked the labyrinth at Lands End in the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. It was sunny and almost windless. On the trail out to the point, the cypress trees spread their windswept canopy over us. On the way back, we took Natalie Goldberg’s advice—she hikes a lot with friends, and has a pattern of hiking in silently and not talking until the way back. We reversed the order.
The labyrinth was full of happy people—friends and lovers getting their photos taken in the center, children picking up the stones and moving them around. Emily and I, like the liturgical geeks we are, actually walked it meditatively. In the middle, she pulled out anointing balm from her traveling chaplain’s kit (yes, she has that) and we anointed one another with the surf as our backdrop.
Walking a labyrinth is a kind of body prayer, and they are hidden in sacred places all over the world. You don’t need a physical labyrinth to receive the blessings of one, though. Advent, a time of waiting and opening the door to possibility, is a perfect time to settle into a refuge moment and walk your self through the three R’s. You can also print out an icon and use your finger to trace the path:
Release: On the pathway in, ask yourself, What needs releasing? What am I holding too tightly? What fear, control, worry, or tension, anger, or apathy do I want to say goodbye to? Alternatively, ask yourself nothing and just feel a release in your body—a progressive lightening up as you move toward the center, enjoying a break from thinking about every damn thing.
Receive: This is my favorite part, probably because I have a much easier time giving than receiving. One you reach the center, stubbornly stand there and wait for a gift from the universe—some wish of the heart. Maybe you know exactly what you want, and you can say, Thank you for the gift of healing or I want to receive clarity about graduate school. Or maybe you have no idea what you need, and you just want to stand there, empty-handed or broken-hearted or bursting with joy, waiting for water to come pouring from the spring. Maybe you’ll stand there for a minute, maybe an hour.
Renew: The way out is as important as the way in. It’s not about rushing out to do whatever is next. The gift continues, one foot in front of another. After you’ve released what you don’t want anymore and accepted the gift at the center, the return is about renewal, about being invigorated, called again, or enlivened to keep doing your work in the world, whatever it is. Maybe it’s loving your narcissistic brother or finding the good in your boss. Maybe it’s loving YOURSELF, since no other love is possible without that. Whatever it is, feel a gradual tide of aliveness as you retrace your steps out.