I have been asked to pray for a lot of people in this past week. People grieving loss. People dealing with serious illness. People facing paralyzing fears that come with major life transitions. People who are scared, overwhelmed, in pain, and fresh out of hope.
Then there have been names like Irma and Maria.
Places like Las Vegas.
How do you hold all of it? How do you pray for all of it?
As spiritual directors, we encourage our directees to seek out forms of prayer that call them into a more intimate relationship with God. Usually these are not the prayers found in a prayer book. Oftentimes we talk about body prayer. The labyrinth is one such form of body prayer.
This morning I attended a business networking function to promote my acupuncture practice. I don’t even think about the hat I wear as a Spiritual Director at these meetings.
And then a spirited woman sat across from me. We had a conversation about our respective professions. She complimented me on the Brigid’s cross that I wear. It opened a conversation and we talked about church, community, and serving others in need. She, like me, was an Episcopalian, and a former Roman Catholic. The odds of sitting across from this woman and having this conversation in this moment at a professional networking group were slim. And I suspected the movement of God was involved.
I am not a natural at networking events. I can do them. But I am an introvert. And after such extroverted activity, I find myself wanting to decompress, usually alone and in nature. But I had things to do at the office, and other appointments to get to later on.
On the way to my office though, I took a wrong turn. And I passed the Unity Church that is less than a quarter mile from my clinic. It houses a breathtaking labyrinth that I promised myself I’d visit once the triple digit summer temperatures dropped. I turned into the parking lot, expecting to spend maybe ten minutes there. The word “turn, ” by the way, is significant.
I spent a half hour there.
That half hour held the power of a weekend retreat. Alone, against the backdrop of an Autumn desert blue sky, with the warm sun on my back, I was in awe of the hummingbirds, butterflies, and honey bees at work all around me. I stood at the entrance to the labyrinth and thanked these creatures for allowing me to share this holy space with them. Desert flowers of orange, yellow, fuchsia and purple, framed in shades of sage green, framed the circular path. The sound of water from the large fountain behind me filled the space.
My heart was overwhelmed.
God was everywhere.
I began to walk. I usually walk a labyrinth at a medium pace. I like an even rhythm. On a walk. And in life.
The turns were hard today though. They seemed narrow. I was wearing a low heel. My balance felt off. The long spans were easy. But the turns threw it all off. I slowed my pace.
Slowing down was not enough though. I still bobbled at the turns.
I don’t like to bobble and I was uncomfortable.
On the next long pass, I knew I had to navigate the approaching turn differently. I stepped. And paused.
I waited longer. And I listened. To the sounds of the fountain, the honey bees, the birds. Even the train whistling in the distance.
In the Benedictine tradition that I am trained in, we are taught to listen with the Ear of the Heart. And so I listened in this way too. And I heard, “Step again. Then wait. Again.”
And then I pivoted slowly to continue in the other direction.
I did not bobble.
I stepped again, two feet landing side by side. I paused again.
I still did not bobble.
And then slowly and mindfully, I continued on in this way.
The labyrinth is a metaphor for life. I like predictability. When I strike a pace, on the physical path, or the spiritual path, I like to keep that pace. I appreciate patterns and rhythms. They comfort me. And they have always been where I’ve found God. But nothing about these past weeks has been predictable. Or comforting. And I’ve felt a little disconnected from God.
In moments like these, when the old ways no longer work, you can either keep walking as you always have, or you can seek a new way.
I have not been able to pray easily this week because of the monumental sorrow of so many people around me. As I prayed for these people as I walked today, the labyrinth taught me a new way to be with sorrow, and how to make space for hope and the movement of God in what might feel like hopeless and spiritually vacant times.
When I became an Episcopalian, the Bishop spoke of the importance of turning. Turning away from the things that were not in alignment with the flow of God. The questions beg: what do we turn away from? What do we turn toward? How do we navigate those turns? How mindful are we in making those turns? How slow? How fast? How willing? How unwilling? How patient?
In my walk today and in the hours that followed, I thought about the Bishop’s words and how significant the idea of turning really is on the spiritual path.
We are living in new times. We are all figuring things out, day by day, and often hour by hour. If your usual ways of prayer feel limiting, try a form of body prayer. While moving and praying, listen. Listen with your feet. Listen with your legs. Listen with your lungs. Listen with your heart. Listen for the voice on the wind. Stand there as long as it takes. Take off your shoes. Wait a few seconds. Maybe a minute, or ten. Then wait a little longer still. Step again. Pivot, with your feet, with your mind, with your heart. God is working in all those movements, in the stepping, in the standing, in the turning.
Blessings and peace on your journey,
Maria Grace Mandarino
Sacred Space Spiritual Direction