I am on the wait list at the library to get Barbara Brown Taylor’s new book Learning to Walk in the Dark. I have been reading quotations on her Facebook page and I even listened to an interview about her new book on the CBC. As I was browsing her books on the library website, I realized that I had not yet read An Altar in the World: A Geography of Faith, so I put a hold on it and have been reading it this week.
Just reading her introduction made me realize that I had made the right decision: “In a world where faith is often construed as a way of thinking, bodily practices remind the willing that faith is a way of life” (xvi). Some of the examples she uses in her book made me turn my head to the side, raise my eyebrows and say, “really?!”. Yet for the most part, I felt encouraged and challenged by what Brown Taylor had to say about experiencing God in the world.
Almost every Thursday I can be found at my Church as a guide for the labyrinth that is open to the Church and to the public. I am always surprised at how quickly the time passes as I sit quietly and act as a guide, participate as a seeker, and mediate as a follower. I often bring a book to read and this week I brought at along An Altar in the World by Brown Taylor.
I know that labyrinths are becoming popular again, and I am excited about that! What a unique way to meditate and for me, to pray. As every book or ‘how-to’ guide will say, every experience in a labyrinth is different. Even though the shape and the space is the same, each time I walk the labyrinth at my Church I have a completely different experience. Barbara Brown Taylor writes in her section “The Practice of Walking on the Earth,” “Most of us spend so much time thinking about where we have been or where we are supposed to be going that we have a hard time recognizing where we actually are. When someone asks us where we want to be in our lives, the last thing that occurs to us is to look down at our feet and say, ‘Here, I guess, since this is where I am'” (56). That is what I appreciate about my experiences walking labyrinths. I am present and I don’t have to think about where I’m going because in reality, I am going nowhere (except in circles around the floor). I find that walking on a labyrinth creates raw moments of being very present and very aware.
Over the years, I have had some great experiences on labyrinths. I have felt loved, I have felt held, I have felt comforted, I have felt peace, I have felt like my questions were answered.
Tonight my labyrinth walking experience was interesting. I was getting angry and annoyed at having to make so many turns, especially the turns that were close together. Walking the long straight sections seemed to calm me down and every time I came to a turn I resented the turn and had such an overwhelmed sense that the labyrinth was making the corners tricky on purpose. Wow. What a state to be in. Angry on a labyrinth. Yet I made it to the centre. I felt closed in and confined until I reached the centre. As always, I feel loved and supported in the centre, which I think is very womb-like. Then, on the walk out, I felt that same resentment toward the turns. Near the end of the path, I finally let go of the anger. I ended the walk smiling at myself for the anger a 12×12 area had caused. But really, I’m angry at life for bending and winding in ways that are confining me and constraining me. Yet I need to realize that life isn’t doing this on purpose. It is just life and I am just walking it.
This has been a particularly dark summer for me. The last three months have been extremely hard, emotionally draining, and just painful. I told my family that they were lucky I showed up to my cousin’s wedding wearing a nice dress and fancy shoes because honestly, I wanted to show up wearing a hoody with the hood up and sunglasses on. That is why I am interested in reading Brown Taylor’s new book about living in the darkness, yet I needed what she says in An Alar in the World. That anger I felt as I walked the labyrinth tonight fits with how I have been feeling the last few months. So it was wonderful to have this experience and then to read these words:
Popular religion focuses so hard on spiritual success that most of us do not know the first thing about the spiritual fruits of failure. When we fall ill, lose our job, wreck our marriages, or alienate our children, most of us are left alone to pick up the pieces. Even those of us who are ministered to by brave friends can find it hard to shake the shame of getting lost in our lives. And yet if someone asked us to pinpoint the times in our lives that changed us for the better, a lot of those times would be wilderness times.
When the safety net has split, when the resources are gone, when the way ahead is not clear, the sudden exposure can be both frightening and revealing. We spend so much of our time protecting ourselves from this exposure that a weird kind of relief can result when we fail. To lie flat on the ground with the breath knocked out of you is to find a solid resting place. This is as low as you can go. You told yourself you would die if it ever came to this, but here you are. You cannot help yourself and yet you live. (Pg. 78)
I truly feel like I have been living in the wilderness and fighting for my survival. I am exhausted. I am tired. I am angry at those turns that force me to take smaller steps and to change direction. I have been living in the wilderness. I’m sure that I am growing and that looking back, I will see the growth in myself having survived this darkness and this time in the wilderness. Yet in the moment, I think I just need to be content that I am where I am. This is where I am. That anger that built up while I walked the labyrinth scared me and surprised me. I haven’t had a raw moment in a safe place in a long time. I was with God in the quiet and I couldn’t escape (well, I guess I could have by walking off the labyrinth); I was reminded that faith is a way of life. It is not just a way of thinking. This time in the wilderness will end. But in the meantime, I am here and God is with me.
I know I’m still reading An Altar in the World (and I am enjoying it because it is challenging me in a positive way), but I have been keeping my eye on interviews, reviews, and comments about Learning to Walk in the Dark. I believe the quotation below is perfect for where I am right now.
“People encounter God under shady oak trees, on riverbanks, at the tops of mountains, and in long stretches of barren wilderness.” (Barbara Brown Taylor, An Altar in the World)
“The nights of crying your eyes out give way to days of laughter.” (Psalm 30:5)