(Walking a labyrinth, for the uninitiated, is a meditative experience where one follows a path without being able to see clearly how one gets from the point of entry to the center - the presumed destination. However, unlike with mazes, there is only one path to take and so one only has to follow...)
One of the first experiences of my stay at the hermitage last week was to walk the labyrinth. As is often the case when I take a contemplative walk, my camera went with me to receive any images that might be given. However, it was most definitely not a picture-taking expedition but a time for heart-opening, that I might learn to see more deeply.
When I planned this retreat, I was very conscious of beginning on the feast of St. Matthew. Matthew was a tax collector at the time that Jesus had started to publicly teach about the kingdom of God. Tax collectors were considered sinners and despised by most of the Jewish people of their day, as they enriched themselves by collecting taxes for Herod from their own people.
Here is Matthew's own account of how he came to one of the twelve closest followers of Jesus:
As Jesus passed on from there, he saw a man named Matthew sitting at the customs post. He said to him, “Follow me.” And he got up and followed him. (Matthew 9: 9-13)
A very simple account. And yet not so simple. After this, Matthew invited Jesus to dine with him which caused quite a scandal as this holy Person was associating with a sinner. Matthew's choice to follow meant that he had to leave his job, not just on that particular day but forever, and in "following" had to begin whole new way of life that many would not understand.
It is curious that Matthew tells his story as though it were obvious why he would leave everything behind to "follow" but it is not obvious to the casual reader. Matthew would certainly not make any money by following Jesus. There were no indicators that Matthew was won over by a persuasive argument or special favor by Jesus.
Although we cannot know with any certainty, it is likely that there was something in the way that Jesus looked at him that went straight to Matthew's heart. Something that opened his heart to first know that he was loved and then to want to be close to this Jesus and learn His Way of Love. Once his heart connected with Jesus', there was no other alternative that made sense but to follow.
After I walked the labyrinth, I wrote a few notes to myself that I would like to share with you now:
Walking the labyrinth…I follow and follow. It is such a calm and trusting experience – to follow and keep walking without being able to see where it all leads. And yet somehow knowing that it all leads to the center, the heart, even when it appears to be the opposite.
Why am I walking further from the heart of what is my destination? I trust and walk on. I notice that where I am does not really matter nor does it matter now much time it takes. I may walk slowly and I may pause. I may pick up a normal pace and then stop to receive an image.
What is most important is the following, the being present to the path.
My body notices its fatigue and little aches. The sun hides behind dark masses of clouds – only to emerge again sparkling its light off the grass and trees. A bird calls somewhere. Then a squirrel.
As I walk back out from the heart, I am still following. I am carrying something inside that will be lived and shared. I do not have a name for it, though it cannot be anything but love.
No, it cannot be anything but love. For I have felt His gaze upon me and there is nothing else I could conceivably do but get up, leave everything and follow Him in Love.
(If the notion of walking a labyrinth intrigues you, you may be surprised to find labyrinths not far from you - I was surprised the first time I did a search. If you wish to locate one, this website is helpful - just enter your zip code: http://labyrinthlocator.com/locate-a-labyrinth. If walking is difficult for you, you might trace a path on the labyrinth below that I made for you from a classic labyrinth design. If you you would like to be able to view it as a larger image, right-click on the image and select "open link in a new window". Remember, it is not a puzzle to be rushed through but an experience to be savored.)