The Communion of Saints
I walked the labyrinth recently to remind myself that there is an anchoring pattern in the midst of turmoil. The winding and twisting that my feet and my body do to stay on the path echo the chaos in my mind when I cannot make sense of my circumstances. Eventually I will come to the center. I know that because the pattern is so familiar to me. Whatever my problem, though I cannot see the purpose in it or the solution for it right now, I will get to the center, if I put one foot in front of another and keep walking.
The promise of the labyrinth is that I am not lost or confused or going backwards at all, though living my life feels that way right now. I think I’ve licked the fear and then I wake up on a Monday and am paralyzed at the thought of being in the grocery store parking lot. I sleep all night for the first time in a few weeks, and then a second and third night of sleep, but then I start waking up at 2 a.m. again.
I want to do some yard work, but every barking dog or car driving by has me looking over my shoulder. I keep pepper spray in my pocket while I trim the hedges. I scan my whole yard while I take out the trash, twelve steps from my side door.
This is not rational at all. I live in a nice neighborhood. As I drag limbs to the curb, I am sad thinking of women who live in places much more dangerous than I, who live with men who aren’t safe either. I grieve what their wholes lives must be like.
Walking the labyrinth awakens me to the reality that I dwell inside the prayers of others. Those prayers become a sanctuary for me when I cannot construct my own. Romans 8:27 says the Spirit intercedes for the saints. How does that work? Is there some bilingual apparition translating between my feeble words and God’s ears? Or does the Spirit pray for me through other people? Most every Sunday, I recite The Apostles Creed, “I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy catholic church…the communion of saints.” This is that. I am sustained by a unified spiritual force I can’t explain. I’m held in a beautiful symmetry with a precise path, the borders of which are the prayers of the saints; though being the pilgrim walking it, I feel disoriented and confused at times.
Your prayers are the boundary lines, ushering me through the stretches and turns, keeping me from getting lost, from turning around and running back. They lead me to the center, to the one source of life and joy and truth.
The first few days after, in a state of shock, I couldn’t fully articulate the experience itself, much less make meaning of it or pray about it. I had an awareness of people about me, of a hand holding mine, someone rubbing my back, the sight and smell of food cooked for me. I received text and calls, people telling me they were praying for me and sending me words of comfort.
Later I would revisit each of those messages, copying the scriptures onto cards or into my journal with the names of the friends who sent them. I worked at remembering, even memorizing some of the verses and trying to comprehend their meaning to me. But at first, it was simply that they existed. What they said was almost irrelevant. It was the presence of the words, the knowledge of a person behind them, the gesture itself, that strengthened me.
I couldn’t pray, but I could believe in yours and it felt like a soft blanket someone spread over me as I drifted off to an unplanned nap. I just let myself be covered by it - the blanket of those prayers.
My body and my mind felt either numb or like gelatin. My soul seemed to be hiding. Slowly, I began to awaken, to notice the content of what was said to me, to realize I was confused, to be conscious of my emotions.
For the first week, I cried every single morning. I just did. Sleep, broken though it was, served as respite and denial, and then I would awaken to the reality that I had to again that day process this new experience. I had to walk another stretch and make another tight turn. My perspective of the world had shifted; and this new view, which I did not like, seemed permanent.
What I know to be true, because I’ve walked a labyrinth many times and asked for it to become part of me, is this: I will turn again to a long, easy stretch with a view in front of me that I enjoy. And just as surely as that is coming, another tight turn will come, with less pleasing scenery; and I’ll have to slow my pace and pay attention and step carefully. But all the while I will be traveling a path that has one destination, a path on which I cannot be lost not matter how lost I feel. And I’ll be cheered by a cloud of witnesses and escorted by the communion of saints.