People have a tendency to contrast contemplative spirituality with more “practical” or “active” forms of spirituality. But in fact, all forms of spirituality have their practical and material side, even the most contemplative.
Today, after the Sunday school hour, there were four or five people busy in the multi-purpose room setting up the labyrinth.
The labyrinth is about as contemplative as it gets. Walking the labyrinth is a meditative or prayer practice; the idea is that the person walking around the concentric circles to the center will be laying aside all the distractions and shedding all the impediments to encountering God; that process leaves the person free for focused prayer in the center of the labyrinth; and then, on the return path, for meditating on what God is calling or sending the traveler to do in the world.
The practice is contemplative, but also physical – it’s a walking meditation or prayer practice. It involves physical movement as well as mental focus and spiritual attention.
But the labyrinth itself is a seriously physical, material object.
The labyrinth our congregation has been using for almost 20 years now is a facsimile of the labyrinth on the floor of Chartres cathedral in France, painted in purple latex flat paint on three pieces of heavy duty canvas that attach to each other with Velcro to make a walkable surface that’s close to as wide as the multi-purpose room.
We made it when there were more of us, and one of our members was a seamstress who could do the stitching, and we could get down on our hands and knees and paint labyrinth lines in purple latex flat on canvas.
It weighs … a lot. When it’s rolled up and stored, it takes up most of a closet in one of the Christian education rooms. It takes time and effort to wrangle it in and out of its storage containers and set it up.
We used to set it up a lot more regularly – almost once a month, at first. Then, we dropped down to setting it up for Advent and Holy Week. Then, just Holy Week. The last couple of years we haven’t set it up at all.
This year our pastor and the Worship Committee decided to get it out, set it up, have it available for people to walk for a week or so, and pay some real attention to what it takes us to do all that. Then we can do some serious thinking about how wise it is for us to have this size labyrinth.
Because contemplation has its practical, material, active side. And sometimes the spirit is willing, but the flesh would like to find a lighter, slightly more compact labyrinth that would be easier to set up and take down.