Sunday, August 2, 2020

Communion at the Labyrinth

My heart races with anticipation every time I drive to my favorite labyrinth. I keep the radio off. This time Ivy is with me. I have to scroll through my Instagram photos later to remember the last time I was at the labyrinth (turns out one year and fifteen days ago). I’ve been thinking about spending some time at the labyrinth, but it takes a few more weeks before I hit the road. 

I’ve remembered to bring a broom. The labyrinth is situated under two massive oak trees that shed their acorns like a game of darts. I prefer walking the circuit barefoot, so giving it a brushing over to clear the path makes for a smoother walk. Often I forget the broom, and so I have to watch my footsteps to avoid the sharp poke of acorns or their broken shells. The avoidance of obstacles on the path can make for a different kind of walk. Meaningful with a different sort of symbolism, but I prefer to remember the broom.

Walking a labyrinth’s intended purpose is a practice at being mindful, so I examine thoughts like they’re between slides under a microscope. With each first with Ivy, I wonder how she’ll react to the encounter. I clicked the leash to her collar and guided her down the path. I let go and watched what she’d do. Delighted that she declared a spot on the labyrinth and promptly sat taking in the new surroundings, I was transported back to church when my daughter was a baby and toddler.

Pandemic loneliness has nothing on those Sunday mornings. I was an exhausted working mom with a toddler who didn’t sleep through the night. When I couldn’t contain her boisterous baby noise, she and I sat in the nursery alone together. What is the point of this? I’d fume. I needed the community. A few quiet uninterrupted moments where I could think about my personhood and connection with the divine without that toddling sweetness balancing at my knee. I felt angry and invisible. On particularly hard mornings, I repacked her diaper bag, scooped up my baby, and silently labeled this Sunday a failure. I walked away from the communion I desperately needed in a burst of frustration. 

I hadn’t yet got the hang of sitting quietly in the discomfort. That would come later, like at that same girl’s softball games, when few players could hit the ball and the outfield were ill-prepared for the random ball that made it to them. My mindfulness practice expanded during those early games.

I also bring my love of weeding to the labyrinth. I don’t know how many people visit. I’ve never encountered anyone that didn’t come with me in my car, so each time I visit, it feels like my personal labyrinth. Since it is not, I feel a pull to do something to honor its availability to me whenever I want.

This morning the soil released the weeds with little struggle. I made my way around the circuit in no time. Ivy stayed put. I brushed the loose dirt from my hands, picked up the broom and started sweeping from the center toward the edges.

A new slide in the microscope came into focus. I thought of the various people I’ve brought to this very labyrinth. A writing friend. A first date after the divorce. My cousins and their boys. Each walk into the circle is different. I am drawn to the consistency of the place and the difference in mood, weather, and company to bring varied contemplations. I thought about other labyrinths I’ve visited and the people who accompanied me—some more willing than others.

At this time of morning, most of the labyrinth is covered in shade. Some bright spots are dappled by the sunshine that breaks through the tree’s canopies. A slight breeze blows across my bare arms and legs. I stop to inspect my progress and check on Ivy. I feel a building warmth as I find a rhythm to the brush strokes across what will soon be a sacred path. 

This morning on online church the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper will be offered in my faith tradition. When we’re not separated by pandemic distancing requirements, two ministers ‘prepare the emblems’ before communion is served. This phrase becomes my mantra as I continue sweeping the acorns and leaves off of the cement surface. I feel grateful for a free morning to spend as long as I feel compelled to dwell in this shady, pastoral spot yards from the speed and activity of the interstate. 

As I sweep, I hear cicadas performing an orchestral piece that weaves in and out of the low hum of the highway traffic. Prepare the emblems. Prepare the emblems. I hear myself repeat this phrase. An image of the communion table slides under the microscope. I see this labyrinth in a new light. My weeding and sweeping are a form of preparation. They stand as symbols pointing toward the sacred activity that I will soon engage in. Hmm. I haven’t been so thoughtful about that short ritual before communion is served before. I don’t know when I’ll be able to share in this sacrament in physical proximity with my church family, but I know that I’ll think of this moment preparing the labyrinth for my walk when I sit in the sanctuary again.

The broom comes close to Ivy’s front paws and swishes past her tail. I sweep around her until she moves out of the way. I finish sweeping, step out of my flip flops, take a deep breath and begin walking. What I notice on this trip to the center is how light I feel. Four and five years ago, I regularly felt a sense of anxiety as I followed the path, making the necessary turns toward the destination in the center. Walking labyrinths as a regular practice helps me chart my growth. 

I am lighter today because I take care of my emotional and spiritual health in more routine ways than I did before. I have grown comfortable with the present and what is occurring. Even when it is scary or uncomfortable. I have learned that worrying about a troubling situation does not improve it. In my most mindful moments, I no longer force my will on situations I cannot control. That has freed me up. Lightened the load.

For many years, this walk has been the closest I could come to meditation. Today I notice as I walk that I’m beginning to write this essay but with no angst about remembering what comes to mind or not having something to jot down notes. I understand that those thoughts will resurface when I come to the lap top and like clouds passing in seated meditation, I let essay structure and phrasing come and go. I arrive in the center and sit down. 

Ivy moves toward me. She lays on her back and presses her front paws into my torso and my arms. I document this trip to the center with some photos and then I settle into a quiet meditation. I pet Ivy. If I stop, she moves as if to say, Hey, Mom, don’t stop petting me. Her furry weight is a comfort against my thigh. 

I marvel at how grateful I am that she’s mine, and I have her companionship during the pandemic. I run my hand rhythmically across her coat like I had a few minutes earlier with the broom across the surface of the labyrinth. Moments pass. I feel the breeze again and find comfort in the chorus of cicadas. It dawns on me that I have sat quietly without an internal, running monologue for a space of time. I prop my chin on my bent knees in front of me, pet my dog, and enjoy the wordlessness for a little longer.

I sit up straight and realize I have a walk back out of the labyrinth. It’s funny to me that I temporarily forgot this. I take it as a good sign that I was really present for those few moments. I breathe deeply, walk around Ivy, and make my way out. I remain mostly wordless, and definitely in no way anxious. I retrace my way feeling the cool cement beneath my feet and thinking of only the steps a few feet ahead of me. 

When I see the opening of the labyrinth, which signals the walk is over, I feel a twinge of disappointment. It’s a good feeling for something nourishing to end and to be left wanting more.

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