The Labyrinth’s Invitation

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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.”  

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The beautiful ordinary

While wandering through a farmer’s market in Quebec City this summer, my husband and I stumbled upon a jewelry vendor. His display case housed earrings of various sizes, patterns and colors, arranged in pairs like insects pinned on an entomologist’s corkboard. A short, weathered man with a dark ponytail rose to greet us warmly, introducing himself as the artist. In a conversation where we danced clumsy steps in and out of two languages, we learned that he’d crafted them using the wings of actual butterflies from a local farm. By collecting their bodies shortly after they died, he was able to preserve and recycle them into unique accessories.

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I was intrigued. But it’s not like me to make an impulsive purchase, even for a mild indulgence. My husband and I continued browsing, but I couldn’t shoo them out of my thoughts. We soon made our way back through the crowd for another look.

I agonized over my selection. My eyes were drawn to one pair in vibrant blues and greens, but I knew their large size and irregular shape would prevent me from wearing them. Too clunky. The sharp contrast of red-orange and black in the design of another wouldn’t match anything I own. Too flashy. Through the process of elimination, I narrowed the field, landing on a modest teardrop-shaped pair the size of dimes.

It took me a while to notice them. With quiet colors and simple lines, they were easy to overlook. But their understated pattern appealed to me: clean concentric ovals and tiny dots on an off-white background reminded me of ink on paper,  the hand-drawn doodles of a child. I tapped the glass and pointed to them. The vendor pulled them out so I could try them on.

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Close inspection revealed tiny fissures like the delicate fibers  in a sheet of antique parchment. Slender scarlet streaks like blood from a papercut tinged one edge of each,  framing the space where the creature’s core used to be attached. The perfect mirror of their design would allow their lines to kiss when folded.

This was not mass-produced jewelry. These were shaped by human hands using raw materials from this specific spot on earth: a perfect memento of our trip, proof that I was here and breathed the very same air that flew beneath these wings.

 

Flipping them over revealed insect’s dark side, which allowed it to hide, blending in to the environment for its own protection. Textured tree-bark brown camouflaged the iridescent strand of squares curving along their base. Like a row of smiling teeth or modern-cut pearls, they shimmered when they caught the light, only to disappear again into the shadows. These beings were more complicated than they appeared.

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They reminded me of me.

I marveled at this opportunity to hold this brittle beauty. Unprotected, a single touch of my finger would cause them to disintegrate into dust and powder. But encased in their smooth glass bubbles, I could study their intricate details without destroying them.

It occurred to me that I would probably never have noticed this particular insect during the short window we were both alive on this planet. Its tiny size, constant motion, and higher plane would have been barriers preventing our worlds from intersecting. But because of one artist’s careful attention, this winged creature’s purpose will now exceed the limitations of its brief lifespan.

At first glance, this butterfly was unremarkable. But a closer look reminded me that the beautiful ordinary is enough. Worthy of reflection. Inherently valuable.

Satisfied, I handed over my credit card and completed the transaction. The artist carefully wrapped them in cottony cushion and laid them in a small white box. Zipped into a pocket of my backpack, they flew home with me and reemerged as still-life art that dangles from my earlobes as I go about my pedestrian life.