It looked and felt very silly, a group of teenagers sitting on this cobbled together wooden raft that was only floating on top of some dodgy styrofoam and by the grace of God. Yet our coach was convinced this was the safest, most effective way to teach us all rowing technique. Who knew the elegant sport of rowing could be reduced to something so inelegant?
Learning a new skill, sport or even a language often involves awkward baby steps. Standing in front of the mirror watching myself roll my r’s in preparation for Spanish class felt really dumb too, but it was crucial for me to learn how to properly pronounce certain words. Did you ever stop to think how goofy football players look running through tires? What about the stretches most athletes do to warm up? They’re vital but still awkward.
Yet those silly looking, awkward exercises are building blocks to the bigger task. We do these exercises so that we can perform the skill or task effortlessly when it counts. Practice is our safe space to learn, experiment and be able to make mistakes.
It stands to reason that practicing our faith requires the same drills and breaking down into smaller parts. We need to understand and internalize those smaller parts to help us get to the more cohesive bigger picture. Sure, most of us have a basic understanding of what it means to be contemplative … but do we know how to get to that place?
Last week I walked the labyrinth set up in our Gallery for the first time. By first time, I mean first time ever. I wasn’t even aware that walking a labyrinth was an ancient spiritual practice.
When I arrived, I was the only person in the Gallery. I felt a bit mystified as to what it was I was supposed to do. Then Tom came in and showed me a book of poems about labyrinths. I read a couple, took off my shoes and tentatively entered the labyrinth.
At first, it felt weird. The path was very narrow. I’m kind of clumsy. I got entirely too focused on pausing at each turn. Also, because I’m not a very patient person, I attempted to go through the exercise at a breakneck speed.
I felt much like I did in high school sitting on that cobbled together rowing raft. I was working on what I considered an elegant process in a very inelegant manner.
By the time I’d reached the center, another person was making his way into the labyrinth. I felt even more self-conscious as I made my way back out. As I watched him go through the twists and turns I realized that, as usual, I was over-thinking things. My fellow walker was just casually walking through, stopping to reflect here and there.
When I made my way out, I went back to Tom and got the book of labyrinth poetry again. I sat myself in a corner and read and reflected on several of the poems. I looked up from my reading to see the other labyrinth walker had made it to the center and was sitting, meditating quietly.
I went back up to the entrance and slowly made my way in. This time I was more conscious of my steps and less of my speed. As I paused at certain junctures in the labyrinth, I reflected on my own spiritual path. The twists and turns are an excellent metaphor for our own faith journeys.
When Pastor Laura mentioned we’d be walking the labyrinth during Lent, I must admit I was skeptical. What on earth would the practice of walking in circles do for my spiritual being other than make it dizzy? But then I remembered how skeptical I was about a clunky wooden raft being an effective tool for teaching me how to row in a lightweight racing shell. That practice worked beautifully.
As I walked the circles of the labyrinth, I noticed my breathing slowed and my mind was clear of its usual clutter. Many things occurred to me that I’d not ever thought of or hadn’t thought about in years. After a particularly difficult week, things that I’d been struggling with seemed so much more manageable. Never underestimate the power of the quieted mind.