October 18, 2007

Walking the Labyrinth

At the National Cathedral this week, there have been opportunities for interfaith prayer practices focusing on peace. There was a big concert with Graham Nash and David Crosby, Emily Saliers, Jackson Browne, and Keb’ Mo’. Tibetan monks have chanted and made a sacred sand Mandela. There have been prayers and songs and services. This afternoon I walked the labyrinth that has been put in place as part of this.

The piece of painted canvas is laid on the stone floor of a chapel with a large mural of Jesus after the crucifixion being carried to the tomb. There are candles on the altar and rows of chairs with kneelers. It is a very Christian space. Two people are chanting there, in a language I do not know, accompanied by harmonium and drums. When they pause between chants, there is the sound of a choir from somewhere else, singing a traditional hymn. Some people are walking, some are sitting in the chairs, some are kneeling.

I watch for a while, and the labyrinth seems crowded. I am reluctant to put myself in the midst of all those people, all bunching up together. One woman makes her own path, skipping over parts of the labyrinth, going her own way. I am a little amazed by this, and then amazed that I am so rule-bound that it would not occur to me to do that myself. I wonder if she missed something, or if it was an act of courage to break off in her own direction. I know that when I walk, I will stay within the lines.

I begin to walk, and I am in a hurry. It is hard, so hard, to slow myself down. But bit by bit, I absorb the rhythm of those who are more patient, more prayerful than I am. As I wind around the circles, I feel my soul unwinding. There is a middle-aged man ahead of me in khakis and a green polo shirt, a little wobbly in his sock-feet. Going that slowly puts me off balance at first, too. And then I feel my feet on the canvas, and I feel the solid stone underneath, and I somehow get my grounding. I can feel my feet slowing, my breathing slowing, my mind quieting.

There are children and teens walking, too. Two brothers enter the chapel. They are maybe nine and twelve. They take off their tennis shoes and begin. They are followed by two girls roughly the same ages. They walk, too, while their mother sits on the side and watches them. When I pass the man in the green polo shirt, I smell his cologne. When I pass the boys, they smell like clean laundry. We all follow the path, around and in and out.

In the center, I find a deep prayer within myself. And even when I leave the labyrinth, leave the chapel, leave the cathedral, the prayer stays with me, and so does the quiet and the unhurried feeling.

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