Before the name Christian stuck, the people who would make up the earliest church were called the People of the Way. Jesus had told them that he was “the way, the truth, and the life,” and they attempted to follow the way of Jesus.
As a metaphor for the spiritual life, the idea of walking a path, a pilgrimage, a journey, runs deep into our consciousness. We often talk about our spiritual walk. We ask newcomers to our church to tell us a bit about the journey that brought them to us. Wondering if this metaphor was overused, I once asked a spiritual reflection group if they could come up with a better one, and they had to admit after a bit that they were stumped.
Walking is one of the easiest things on earth for most of us. It’s one of the first big events we chronicle in a child’s life: first steps. It’s hard for the young ones: they have to work up to it, crawl, stand up with help, sway a bit, fall over and over and finally, totter into walking on their own. From that point, the world is open to their explorations.
Beyond that stage of life we rarely think of walking until we get old enough to once again be a bit unsteady on our feet. The spiritual practice of walking the labyrinth asks us to be mindful again of this very basic element of life, to walk with mindfulness and intention.
Labyrinths are simple paths laid out for this practice. There were labyrinth patterns laid on the floor of European cathedrals, where pilgrims would come to walk and pray. Some of the patterns are elaborate, some are simple. All of them ask the same thing of you: to follow the path, to think about where you put each foot in turn as you trace around a series of curves leading you deeper and deeper towards the center. It seems ridiculously simple, and yet can be decidedly difficult. Focusing on that one thing, the path seems to slow us down, clear out some of the clutter and the anxiety of our daily rush.
Westminster has a labyrinth in our lawn that uses native grasses and wildflowers instead of paving stones to mark the path. In the winter it is spare and somber; in the summer it is a riot of color. But the path remains. Take one step after the other and follow it to the heart of everything.