The occasion - yesterday evening - was the closing session of my Wednesday "Men's Room Bible study". We've been talking about the spiritual disciplines, and it made perfect sense to wind up for the summer on a practical note, with a field trip to Camp CedarKirk in Lithia to break in their new labyrinth with an inaugural run by eleven men from First Presbyterian Church.
A newly renovated labyrinth, yes - but a truly ancient practice, a discipline that's been followed by faithful followers of The Way for centuries, walking the same path via an ancient pattern older than the Cathedrals of Europe.
How providential that one of our young people, Shelby Dale, had chosen this as her Girl Scout service project, and was in the process of completing construction just as we were talking about prayer and meditation! We had confidence in Shelby, but we weren't prepared for the well thought out, professional job she had accomplished.
The labyrinth, modeled after the classic Chartres Cathedral (France) standard, is beautifully laid out in a wooded glade. The carefully constructed path is delineated with sea-shells and the prayer stations marked with wooden posts, each topped with a different aspect of the Presbyterian Cross.
Shelby also prepared a leaflet with instructions, scripture references, and a history of the labyrinth and its story in the practice of faith.
I experienced the labyrinth, but also watched my group move carefully through. We set aside the time as a deliberate worship/meditation experience, with absolutely no talking. Little by little a palpable sense of spiritual gravitas settled in on the scene. Without exception, and quite simply, God showed up.
Afterwards, we debriefed. We each acknowledged that the thirty minutes it took to transcribe the 2,000 ft. path (1,000 in, 1,000 out) was not enough time, and that the labyrinth should ideally be walked alone.
However, it was also a powerful moment of spiritual unity. We were all affected by the "crunch, crunch" of footfall, the listening in on a cumulative journey. Then, later, I noted a point at which each man was walking in a different direction - yet we were all headed the same way on the same path.
I wasn't the only one to pray for the others as they passed me by. I picked up a shell for each of my friends, prayed for them while it was in my left hand, then transferred it into my right to join the others. I passed out the shells when I told them what I had done.Most poignant of all, though, was the emotional impact of the short exercise on men who do not cry easily.
There is power in deliberately practiced spiritual discipline. I pray that my friends continue to walk, one tentative footfall at a time - crunch, crunch - through the hot summer months, and that they walk, always, in the presence of Jesus.