Saturday, August 25, 2007

The Labyrinth

Sheri and I arrived at the labyrinth at La Providencia in the rural Peutz Valley (northwest of Alpine) at nearly seven in the evening. After winding our way for two miles through a valley that had obviously been ravaged by the 2003 Cedar Fire, we spied the small sign to the left and drove up a steep driveway to park in front of a small manufactured home. Sheri had called the Catholic Sisters who have maintained this place of prayer for the past thirty years, and, according to Sheri, they were most happy to have us there although we only waved at one of them from afar. The labyrinth is made up of small rounded stones slightly to the east of the house; two cement benches flank the labyrinth entrance. I sat on one and Sheri took the other as silence fell between us and we settled into our solitary time with God.

Sitting on the cold grey bench, I opened my Book of Common Prayer and prayed Evening Prayer, all but the General Thanksgiving. As I prayed, Sheri moved to the entrance of the labyrinth and began tracing her way to the center, a process that takes ten minutes or so, depending on how quickly one walks. Sheri told me before we settled on the benches that the usual way a labyrinth works is that one prays as one follows the path, and then arriving at the center, one sits and meditates. Then as one traces the way back out of the labyrinth, one releases to God all the things prayed about on the way into the center.

I stood at the entrance to the labyrinth, watching Sheri for a moment as she paced the winding pathway, and then I started. I prayed over our future, Keith, the kids and their futures, my extended family, and my health issues, and it seemed that I arrived at the center of the labyrinth very quickly despite trying to slow my steps. I sat down crosslegged on the dirt next to Sheri, closed my eyes to the sunset world around me, rested my upturned hands on my knees, and meditated using the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." I matched my breathing to the prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ" (as I deeply inhale) "Son of God" (as I slowly exhale) "have mercy on me" (inhale) "a sinner" (exhale). I felt relaxed, unhurried, as I concentrated on God. I tried to ignore the loud music emanating from a home hidden in the dense underbrush across the street (although I think it was Christian music), and not concentrating on the noise was easier than I thought it would be. Sheri rose from the ground several minutes before I did and worked her way out of the labyrinth, tussling my hair as she walked the portion of the path I was facing as I sat in the center. I rose, too, feeling much refreshed by the meditation, and also began tracing my path outwards, releasing to God all whom I had prayed over on my way in.

Too soon I found myself outside the labyrinth again, and Sheri meanwhile had discovered the origin of the wide, stone-lined path that went up a nearby hill to a large wooden cross on its crest. Along the sides of the path were wooden poles, each topped with a small pitched roof protecting small copper plates about 4 inches by 4 inches each that portrayed the Stations of the Cross. Two of the Stations had been untouched by the fire, the ones that showed Jesus falling. Eleven poles had been burned but the copper plates had been found and remounted, although blackened and scarred by the fire. Only one Station had to be completely reworked from the copper. According to what I had read online and also according to a small sign at the bottom of the hill, the Stations had come to symbolize the devastation of the fires four years ago to many who had lost all to the blazes. After we climbed to the summit after contemplating and quietly discussing each of the fourteen Stations, we came to the tall roughly-hewn cross. Large stones were piled at its base as well as a charred chunk of wood that also represented the loss of the more than 3000 homes and 17 lives taken by the Cedar Fire. Sheri climbed onto a large rock and contemplated the sunset (see photo on my 365 blog) while I stood spellbound as the last vestiges of sunset color waned and night began to fall in earnest. After we walked down the hill, I prayed aloud the General Thanksgiving from the Book of Common Prayer, and then we drove back into Alpine as the sky darkened for a glass of pinot grigio and a shared chocolate bread pudding at the Meditteranean restaurant.

To come to this still place at sunset was so refreshing to my soul. To walk, pray, meditate, release, observe, contemplate, appreciate, climb, and wonder in silence and in a solitude mixed with easy companionship brought me to a space of inner stillness, a peace I've been craving all this hectic summer. God bless these dear elderly Sisters who watch over and care for this sacred place, and thanks be to God for the beauty of His Creation and for the gift of prayer and for the joy of release and for the peacefulness of my mind.

Peaceful for now, anyway, even if it will not remain so long....

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