A Journey To and From the Center

To journey without being changed
is to be a nomad.
To change without journeying
is to be a chameleon.
To journey and to be transformed
by the journey
is to be a pilgrim.
-Mark Nepo, “Being a Pilgrim,” January 30, The Book of Awakening

Henri Nouwen writes:
When I taught academic courses on the spiritual life, I sometimes drew a long straight line from the left edge to the right on the blackboard, and I’d explain: “This is our eternal life in God. You belong to God from eternity to eternity. You were loved by God before you were born; you will be loved by God long after you die.” Then I would mark off a small segment of the line and say: “This is your human lifetime. It is only a part of your total life in God. You are here for just a short time—for twenty, forty, sixty, or eighty years—to discover and believe that you are a beloved child of God. The length of time doesn’t matter. Life is just a short opportunity for you during a few years to say to God: ‘I love you, too.’”

It turns out, for most of us, that small segment of the line isn’t exactly straight.

A labyrinth is a path that doubles back on itself several times and leads to a center. Walking a labyrinth is a tool that has been used by Christians for centuries as an aid to prayer and meditation.  

Labyrinths and mazes are often mixed up. The difference is that a maze is designed to confuse, but a labyrinth has only one path. The way in is the way out. A labyrinth is actually a good metaphor for the Christian life: a meandering but purposeful journey. 

The other day, a beautiful sunny day, I walked along that circuitous path. I stood in the center of the circle.   

I thought to myself that I have journeyed 49 years so far to stand at the center. As I looked back over my life I thought of 
the losses and failures,
the mistakes and brokenness  
that have been on my path. I thought also of  
the joys and the gifts,  
the treasures and blessings. 
of my life.   

And through it all, it turns out, the path led all along to the center. It hasn’t been a direct route, the shortest distance between two points, but it has led  
to the center,  
to a meeting place with God who has been there all  
[Thanks to Margaret B. Hess for comparing Job’s journey, and ours, to walking a labyrinth] 

I began to imagine a dream-like scene:  

It is dusk. And as my eyes adjust to the light I see people, lots of people, walking the ancient path of the labyrinth, and I join them.   

That meandering path leads me  
through sufferings,   
through the shadows of my worst fears.   

It also leads me through my most poignant joys. Heartbreakingly painful and heartbreakingly wonderful moments.   

I reach the center, the pulsing heart of it all. And suddenly a hand is on my shoulder. Two hands. And they are pulling me into an embrace. And I look up into the eyes of God. And all I can say is, “I love you, too.”

How was I to know, during all the days of my life,  
how was I to know, as I walked along this  
labyrinthian path,  
how was I to know, as I turned this way and that, 
that I was all along stumbling and fumbling toward the embrace of God who has always been there—from the laying of the foundations of the world— in the center of it all? 

How was I to know that I would end up where I began and that I began where I would end up and that the only distance I have travelled is either walking away from or returning to the center?

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