catapult magazine

catapult magazine

Vol 5, Num 19 :: 2006.10.20 — 2006.11.03


Walking the curved path

Four Aprils ago, in the midst of the most emotionally trying months of my life, I sat in a circular wooden shelter tucked away in a wood near Harpers Ferry, Virginia. Just outside the hut was a tall tree, from which radiated a nautilus of small rocks: a labyrinth. I had walked it earlier that day, an experience I found oddly calming. Inside the shelter, when I picked up a notecard resting on a window ledge, I realized why:

O God of many paths, I stand before this labyrinth today, metaphor of my journey to you. In the Western world I have been taught that "the shortest distance between two points is a straight line," and being an impatient person, I am uncomfortable with waiting. I have often modeled my journey to you on the straight line. But you, God of infinite patience, have shown me that there is another path: the curved path.

On this path, my anticipation is heightened as I approach the center, only to be led out again to the periphery. But this path more closely resembles life itself. On this path, if I just put one foot in front of the other, it may seem at times as if I am not approaching my goal, while in fact I am drawing closer all the time.

But you are a God of surprises and mystery, and I don't control the path. The labyrinth is a symbol of my surrender to mystery, trusting, not knowing for certain, that the path which curves in and out again ultimately leads to the Center, which is you.

Jean Sonnenberg, Bon Secours labyrinth, Marriottsville, MD

To my ear, this still sounds a bit corny, a bit high-drama, a bit new-agey. But it rang true at the time, and now, as I face a number of new, unexpected changes and challenges, it makes sense to look at life as a labyrinth.

If you've ever walked one yourself, you know exactly what Sonnenberg means. As you start on the path, you are only a few horizontal feet from the circle at the center, and it's tempting simply to leap over the rocks that separate you from it. You start walking, and it seems that you'll arrive at the center in no time—easy as pie. But the next thing you know, you're being led farther away than you thought possible, with no conceivable solution in sight.

Staying on the path is a discipline, and surrendering to its course in spite of the evidence, "b[eing] joyful though you have considered all the facts," as Wendell Berry puts it, is nothing but a grace. Together, discipline and grace bring you to the center, which is not a goal to be achieved or a success to be sought after, but a resting place, a home, at the end of a pilgrimage. Walking the curved path, putting one foot in front of the other and trusting in the process, is as much the point of a labyrinth as arriving in the middle. In fact, it may be the point entirely.

Many Christians are fond of the biblical proverb that assures us, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” It’s easy to see why this is appealing in a society that encourages getting from point A to point B as quickly as possible. But while that formula may be mathematically correct, it’s not necessarily the best way to find out who you are or what matters. Most people learn more from unforeseen detours than best-laid plans.

In that vein, I prefer a lesser-known saying from Ecclesiastes, a book that suits my disillusioned temperament: “Consider the work of God: Who can make straight what he has made crooked?” The labyrinth asks this question with a worldly-wise smirk. It embraces meandering, complexity, and contemplation. It gives the finger to speed, efficiency, and effectiveness. It tells us to take our time.

No one lives for long without the knowledge that life is seldom, if ever, the tidy and unfettered path seemingly promised by that often-cited proverb. And so why resist the jagged road, the unexpected twists and turns, the uncertainty that comes with not knowing what’s around the next corner? Why allow such things to make you jaded and distrusting of God—the very one who makes crooked and ambiguous that which we’d hoped would be straight and narrow? Why not follow the curved path? As if we have a choice.

Make a wrong turn. Take the long way around. “Be like the fox, who makes more tracks than necessary, some in the wrong direction,” as Berry advises. Put one foot in front of the other, listen to the crackle of the leaves beneath your shoes, and enjoy the scenery.

your comments

comments powered by Disqus