by Josie Smith.
There was an opportunity to walk a labyrinth in a local church building recently. I have done this many times before, but this time I embarked on the journey with no idea what I was going to do inside my head as my unshod feet moved softly forward, in a big room empty except for one other silent pilgrim. I am deaf, so wasn’t even aware of the gentle background music until I was half way round. We were invited to pick up a pebble at the start, carry it with us, and add it to the cairn when we reached the middle of the labyrinth. There were suggestions for using the time in the labyrinth, but what happened to me wasn’t triggered by any of them.
Entirely unasked, what came into my mind and heart, and what I found myself doing, was retracing my entire life during the next forty minutes. I found myself at the start in the church in which I was baptised, surrounded by the happy shadows of the people (saints, if you like) who had surrounded me then. My immediate family (long dead) materialised in my mind, and then – as the child I was at the time began to develop and become more aware – my wider family, people at church and in Sunday school. I found myself again remembering Jean Fisher at my first primary school – a pretty little thing with blue eyes and golden curls, all the things I wasn’t and would have liked to be. Another step, a corner turned – and there were the neighbours around my first home. I could see them all, and name them all, and commend them all to God, wherever they are now. All dead. Step followed step, and memory followed memory, except that I didn’t experience it as memory because in some strange way I had become that little girl who was relating to life as it was then.
Another corner of the labyrinth turned – another home, a new school, other friends, other influences, other pleasures, but also painful and sometimes tragic experiences. At each stage I recalled individual people and groups who had been important to me, and held them for a moment before God. Many of them will be dead too, but I am still in touch with a few people from those far-off days. Teachers I knew, ministers I recall (though no detail of what they said, except for one whose children’s addresses were all built round a little boy called Bob), places I loved and people who shared them with me – all these things unwound in silent procession through my mind as I moved slowly forward with the help of my stick.
At each corner there was a little candle (electric, for safety) and as I turned to face in a new direction, a new scene revealed itself. I lost count of how many people had been involved in the making of me, and reflected that perhaps I had been involved in the making of them in ways that I could not be aware of. I do know that the longer I live the more aware I am of the oneness of all God’s creation.
Then growing up, marriage – God-given, beautiful, and enabling us to use our home once or twice a week for the local teenagers (it wouldn’t be allowed now, but Safeguarding hadn’t been invented then!) while bringing up our own children in love and safety. I’m still in touch with some of those youngsters, now grandparents. More moves, more friends, new opportunities and challenges.
Then more people came to mind – I recalled all the jobs I have done and the colleagues I have worked with. All the ministers I have known, congregations I have worshipped with, groups I’ve belonged to – such riches! And now, living alone and with the river of my life widening as it approaches the sea, what more?
All this happened without my volition – I went with the flow of my thoughts, and at the end of the journey back into the here and now I felt a profound sense of gratitude for the opportunity to walk that path into and out of the labyrinth. There was no Minotaur waiting to consume me in the middle – just God, and the Communion of Saints, and my own inner self.
(Thank you, Judith, for that hour.)