Man often seeks God through experience. At one time or another the warmth of welcome and undeniable love of Gods presence has found its way through my thick brain. As often as I have attempted to intellectualize what God is, words fall short. However, the moments when God has made an entrance in my life through experience are the richest of times.
One such experience occurred when I walked a local labyrinth, which is located at Prairiewoods just outside of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. The journey to locating the retreat center and subsequently the labyrinth is the start. I am somewhat directionally challenged and did not have exact directions to Prairiewoods nor where on the property the labyrinth may be located. As usual when driving to a place I have never been to before, I felt disoriented and a bit unsure of myself.
When I am at a loss, I pray. I pray for good to happen, I pray to help find my way, I pray for wiser days ahead. On this occasion I noticed a very unique pattern of clouds painted on the still blue skies ahead. The pattern appeared as two crosses laying horizontally and intentionally pointing east at an encroaching exit. As I approached the exit the clouds dispersed, seemingly right into the brilliant blue of the heavens.
I took the exit, and found that I felt more sure of my destination than I had minutes ago when all direction was merely a blur. Within a mile or so I saw the sign for: Prairiewoods Franciscan Spirituality Center. A sense of peace and gratitude rose in my chest as I approached the entrance drove in and parked. Since up to this point I had approached this journey in faith, I decided not to ask for directions to the labyrinth but to continue to allow the miracle of awareness take me there.
Prairiewoods offers an ecological as well as spiritual retreat center on 70 acres of rich green land where retreats, workshops and those looking for time away from it all can revere and relax. My destination on this trip was solely to walk the labyrinth, as I had felt guided to do since I had heard of it. I am not sure what the true draw to the labyrinth was? Perhaps just to say I had completed one. I held no expectation, nor did one seem to be needed.
I wandered the grounds looking for a physical directional sign, enjoying the view and scents of the lush green of the trees, abundant vegetable garden, and even a small cornfield. I don’t know how long I walked, a mile perhaps? It did not matter because I felt like I was in Gods country, on heavenly soil, on a mission prophetically unfolding before me.
Then, without warning, or great announcement there was the labyrinth. Marked and routed by smooth stones, laid upon a sandy perch. To the average eye, it looked ordinary, even disserted and in need of enhancement. To me it was a mysterious maze that would reveal answers to questions I didn’t know I had asked. So with one foot in front of the other I walked. The walk of faith, a physical experience of God.
After several minutes I felt increasingly frustrated with the many turns of the labyrinth. I was being forced, this way and that with redirections, which disturbed my peace of mind. I remember wanting to get out, to come to the center and then to hop right off the crazy trap of turns and twists. I thought, “Why am I here? All this for what?” Anger and helplessness took over, and then just as suddenly, I was at the center.
The center, the half way mark the place where I could escape. “I could just hop right out of this crazy maze. “ I thought. However, I had come to experience, not to quit, not to cop out, and not to run because I felt uncomfortable. I sat in the center of the labyrinth, looking back where I had come from and feeling a strange sense of completion. The day was warm, and I had built up a sweat from all the self-induced frustration, so to sit felt great.
In reflection of my experience with the first half of the labyrinth I realized how much a parallel of life it reflected. Currently, sporting half a century of experience on this journey of life there are many times when I have wondered why I am here. Even more times when I have run into difficulties, which seemed daunting at first. And of course, the feeling that I had lost control or even had no choice in some situation. Yet, I am here to experience and to go the distance to searching for God in the moments of life.
Finishing the labyrinth went so very quickly. Suddenly, I was at the end of the revealing maze and felt better for it. I am sure the time will come when I am at the end of life, realizing how very beautiful it is, even with the frustrating twists and turns which often come to remind me of my strength and direct me back to my faith in a higher power, in the direction of my heart.
Walk in faith my friends, see the light of your struggles, know that you are never alone and be grateful for the experience of God in your lives. Take time to walk, feel, touch, taste, breathe and really live the blessings of what it means to be alive. May your labyrinth of life guide you, as you hold faith by the hand.