CANOES IN THE MORNING AND THE PRAYER LABYRINTH
“Jesus took with Him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain to be by themselves. There in their presence Jesus was transfigured; His face shone like the sun and His clothing became as dazzling as light. And suddenly Moses and Elijah appeared before their eyes and they were conversing with Jesus. …suddenly a luminous cloud enveloped them, and from the cloud a voice cried out, ‘This is my Son, the Beloved; He enjoys my blessing. Listen to Him.’ When the disciples heard this voice, they fell prostrate on the ground. But Jesus went over to them and touched them, saying, ‘Stand. Do not be afraid.’ And when the disciples lifted their eyes they saw no one but Jesus. As they came down from the mountain, Jesus spoke to them …” – Matthew 17:1-3, 5-9a
At Greyfriars’ Abbey, tucked away in one of the prayer gardens is a winding path. This path is known as a prayer labyrinth. It is a path shaped in a tightly woven maze, a path inward to the center and a path outward to the world. Often, in the entryways of cathedrals, you can find such a prayer labyrinth etched on the floor. In ancient times, devout pilgrims would first walk the path of the labyrinth before continuing on into the sanctuary and then repeating the same path when they left. As you walk inward into the labyrinth, you pray prayers of confession on your inward journey, then at the center you pause then turn as a symbol of the turning around of your life, before then following the path outward while saying prayers of thanksgiving and personal commitment.
Most of us today, even the most devout of our number, probably feel rather awkward, self-conscious about taking this slow, winding walk of prayer. But I do believe that the image of that prayer practice teaches us about the “flow” of our spiritual discipline. Through a variety of helps, we journey into the deeper parts of God’s Presence – like Jesus taking His disciples to pray on the mountain. We journey into the Center … as much as human souls are able to make such a journey. There … one on one with the Lord and the Lord one on one with us… we experience another life-changing moment … abiding there for the necessary time for the moment to become a part of us … and then we make our return journey back into the world. Prayer, Bible Study, Meditation, Reflection, all our spiritual disciplines are the means of helping us to journey into the Divine Center and then to help us journey back into the world.
The other morning came with a cooling of the air, causing a misty fog to settle upon the lake. From my campsite, I could not see the distant shore or all that much of the hills hiding beyond. My fellow camper chose to take his canoe and take an early morning paddle across the lake. This is often his way of slipping off with the Lord, out there on the early morning waters, there for some very private time I could hear the ripples of his canoe as he traveled from the shore. Soon my fellow camper paddled off into the foggy mist, no longer to be seen by me. I then went about my morning’s devotion, and after that, readying the breakfast campfire. Not long after this, my friend and his canoe re-emerged from the fog. “How were the waters this morning?” I asked. He then began to share with me what he had come upon while out there in the mist. “…a creek where a family of deer were seen taking a morning drink… and a pair of eagles tending to the demands of their young in an aerie built high in the tree…”
Such does appear to us the life of a prayerful soul … one who has found a way to journey into the unseen, only then to return to tell us of the journey.
We journey further in and there we are changed … and then being changed, we return to the world so the world might see the wonders of God.
Brother Anthony of the Cross