Ben White's Adventures with softened hearts

Tag: labyrinth

Turning to Before and Behind — A Friday Sonnet

Proper Labyrinth Care

On my parents’ property in the Pocono Mountains of Pennsylvania, we built a labyrinth with demarcating stones in a clearing by the gravel road that encircles the lake called Hallowood above which the house sits. I use the possessive personal generously to include myself, for I only helped a little. It was definitely a group project, even if my mom and dad were the main contributors of sweat. There is no sweat contribution needed now, but the project is ongoing. The labyrinth needs to be walked. The labyrinth needs to be prayed. The labyrinth needs to be physically tended by grass-treading feet, stone-replacing hands and stick-removing eyes. The labyrinth will be swallowed by the woods if it is not walked, prayed and tended — all of which are simply done by doing.

The added attention the walking requires in early Spring amplified my prayer as I walked it yesterday. The moss had covered a rock or two. Something had displaced or shifted several of the line stones from their guidance. It was most likely the grandchildren of the labyrinth who walked the way with me, trouncing over the lines as if it didn’t matter (It doesn’t, really; it’s the walking that matters). But it seemed that Winter might have been the culprit somehow, or maybe even emerging Spring. I crouched to uncover hidden stones, and nudged as many drifting ones back into place as I could, placing my feet between their glistening faces on the carpet of moss that was sponging up the Spring snow shower in which I walked. I crouched less often to remove the many sticks that had fallen along the path. I only stooped for the most obnoxious trespassers because there were many and my plodding progress was required for this meditation.

There was power in the walking and the making. Maintaining the physical space added a concreteness to my prayer. This is the main feature of walking a labyrinth in the first place, but it was even better to make the way for future me and future loved ones to walk it, especially for the grandchildren of the labyrinth (my children) who mostly miss what I am doing when I take this journey to the center. One day, I pray they know the power that can be met person-to-person using this walking tool along with many others. Until that day, and for that future — and toward it — in me and them, — I’ll walk it every time I’m here.

I wrote a poem from this moment. I took the photo above in anticipation of what might be said in this sonnet.

Turning Before and Behind

for Ernest Hilbert, a Philly/South Jersey boy like me

Walking the labyrinth and tending the stones,
Tossing the sticks to the side in a crouch.
A bend here, careful mossy step there,
Turning corners with my real flesh and bones —
Making way for making ways to vouch
Safe for Thee my heart. For I’ve none to spare.
Wending in, then unwinding out around —
Deeper, further; wider, nearer; then and now,
Watching step and stone, caring not to miss
A moment or a misplaced line I’ve found,
And knowing as I do it’s walking how
We make the way upon our Way. It’s this:
This wending and tending. Winding to find
In the turning You’re before and behind.

 

As always, you can listen to me read it here

Holy Mischief at Philadelphia University

It’s the first week of school!  Everyone’s got their new sneakers on and they’re trying to figure out where they fit in at a lot of the university campuses.  I’m hoping that some of them will fit in with us at Circle of Hope so I went to University of the Sciences and Philadelphia University on their first day of school to see what was up and let people know we were looking for them and they had a place with us and with Jesus.

labyrinthAt Philadelphia University I was surprised to find a beautiful stone labyrinth on a path between the main campus where a lot of the classes are held and the Ravenhill campus where a lot of the freshman live.  I had to walk it right then and there and as I did I was inspired to share this opportunity with the people who were there.  I wanted to say “Look what you have here!  Do you know how great this is?”  I suspected not for many, so I decided to make a sign to install there the next day.

I made a sign that said this:

“A labyrinth is an ancient form of meditation famously appropriated by Celtic Christians to symbolize the spiritual journey.  Follow the path and follow the twists and turns of the journey to the center.  It’s an active way to slow down and reflect, to get your body involved in prayer.  It’s an opportunity to be led by God.  It’s meant to be repeated.  It’s the same coming out as it was going in and yet also different.  Taking an intentional walk on this labyrinth every day could be a discipline for your spiritual growth.

Circle of Hope is a church community in Philadelphia that is committed to preserving the old ways of worship and inventing the new.  One of our proverbs says, “We stretch ourselves to worship with diverse styles. God is transnational, transcultural, even transhistorical.”–  learn more at www.circleofhope.net”

labyrinth signI had it laminated and I put it on a stick to plant in the ground by the labyrinth pointing to this great resource.  Someone told me it was weird that it had our info on it- like I was taking credit for Circle of Hope that was not ours to take.  It did feel a little mischievous, and that was half the fun, but I don’t think it is wrong to follow the path that was laid for me.  I was taking advantage of what God was already doing on campus.  This labyrinth had been done.  I claimed it for Jesus and His mission among us.

I was very encouraged to spy on the sign after I placed it and see people stop to read, and to see security guards walk right by it without a second glance.  It was for all the time that I was at Philadelphia University yesterday.  I hope it’s still there now.  I hope that people are intrigued about their own spiritual growth and about us.  With prayer, fun little seeds like this will bear fruit, either remotely or in person as we continue to frequent these campuses and make relationships.  I’m on Penn’s campus today looking for friends and softened hearts.  Thanks for being with me in prayer.