My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope that I do not do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.
Thomas Merton, Thoughts in Solitude
Expectant, I approach the labyrinth, wondering how long it will take to complete. It isn’t what I imagined it would be. I envisioned tall, thick hedges trapping me in a maze where I am a mouse feeling its way to the cheese prize. Instead, a map stamped into the concrete courtyard of the retreat center is laid out in plain sight. Its concentric swirling rows remind me of a Celtic knot. Unable to untangle the pattern, I look down and plant one worn-out running shoe in front of the other. I begin: heel-toe, heel-toe, embarking on my quest to reach the center.
The morning air vibrates with pulsing crickets, punctuated by intermittent chirps from overhead birds. The surrounding woods provide a buffer, absorbing the angry grumbles of accelerating trucks on distant roads. Sunlight pierces through the trees, illuminating patches on the ground and leaving others covered by shadows. With each tick of the clock closer to mid-day, the sun continues its ascent. We seekers are increasingly exposed to its penetrating heat.
I am the obedient pencil, tracing this puzzle with each willed movement, staying inside the lines. I enter into the flow, picking up my pace on straight stretches, curious and eager. Then the winding footpaths bend, forcing me to change direction and return to the border of the circle. Momentarily disoriented, I grow restless, discouraged by illusions, uncertain of my coordinates, doubting my progress. These temporary setbacks slow and humble me. I’m relieved when the path reverses, pointing me back toward the goal.
Along the way, I encounter other travelers, fellow participants on this retreat. A sideways shift of my shoulders and a brief step out of bounds allow us both room to pass. Exchanging knowing looks, we remain silent, walking alone together on the journey.
Delicate leaves dangle above on weeping branches, then descend to join their fallen brothers crunching beneath my feet. I move through the tears of a changing season waiting to be wiped away. The other side of this winding path is clear, as if a custodian left the job half-done. The smooth portion is guarded by evergreens holding tight to their bristling needles. I traverse the divide, unwittingly wandering from one into the other and back again, as I follow the course.
I am free to exit the path at any time by breaking the ‘rules,’ stepping on cracks, and forging my own way. But the labyrinth whispers an invitation: Come. Follow. Seek. Find.
There is no way to get lost. I need only to take the next step and trust.
I keep my eyes fixed on the ground so when I arrive at the spacious center, I’m surprised. Admiring the intricate pattern, I grieve that it’s over too soon. “Teach me to number my days aright, that I might gain a heart of wisdom. “ Psalms echo in my quiet soul, wrapping words around my grateful heart. “All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.”