Day 22: Labyrinth Walking

December 19, 2021

A friend walking the labyrinth, February 2018

Day 22: Labyrinth Walking

Have you ever walked a labyrinth? Or, seen a labyrinth? If you check out “labyrinth” on your laptop or smartphone, chances are you will find the labyrinth set in the floor of the Gothic cathedral in Chartres, France. (I would love to make a pilgrimage to that cathedral and walk that labyrinth. But, that is another branch on the Tree of Contemplative Practices.) This particular labyrinth (similar to a maze, with a circuitous path) is based on a circle with a winding path to the center.

I was introduced to labyrinth walking by a professor at my seminary. In my second year, I took a spiritual formation course on prayer and several other spiritual exercises. All of us class members gathered together at a retreat center to immerse ourselves into prayer practices.

Our professor had a canvas labyrinth laid out in one of the large rooms at the retreat center. He had the lights down low, and some electronic candles lit at intervals around the circumference. He had our class read an article on the historical use of labyrinths in meditation and prayer before we arrived at the center, so we all had a basic introduction. We walked both in small groups and alone, during that weekend. I immediately took to this practice of prayer walking and prayer in motion. It is a different kind of praying and contemplation, and I cannot do the same thing the same way all the time. I appreciate having some variety, so I relished learning many different ways to encounter God in prayer.

As I said before, I can’t exactly explain how or why the time in that retreat center was especially graced, but it was. I felt our time away was particularly blessed by God.

When I returned home, I found an outdoor labyrinth nearby my house, at a Catholic property in Chicago. I would walk it occasionally, and it was almost always a breath of fresh air for my spirit. A few times I had more difficulty connecting to the Holy, but I was obedient and continued in the spiritual practice, even though I did not “feel” such a direct connection to God that time. And, as my professor let us know, that was okay. It is okay to be at different places in the spiritual path at different times. Sometimes nearer, sometimes further away.

Several years ago, I had the opportunity to make my own canvas labyrinth. Perhaps I will talk more about that in some other post. (The process of making it was greatly satisfying, and great fun, too!) It was about two thirds the size of my professor’s labyrinth, so a little more transportable.

Labyrinths make a wonderful change of prayer and contemplation. People can be so inventive – just look at all the contemplative practices here. Thank God for creativity.

Thank You, God, for labyrinths. Thank You for the opportunities I have had to walk them. Encourage those who read this post to walk them, too.

 @chaplaineliza

Thanks to the website www.contemplativemind.org for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: www.pastorpreacherprayer.com, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )

Day 14: Contemplative Arts

December 11, 2021

Day 14: Contemplative Arts

This creative entry on the Tree of Contemplative Practices brings me back to a gentle, bittersweet memory of a Saturday morning Lenten retreat planned by my then-spiritual director (may she rest in peace!).

Such a kind, compassionate woman of God. Always had her ears and heart open. Always had abundant and directed wisdom to share. Wonderful, loving presence.

She was an elder in a Presbyterian church where I used to attend, as well as serving on the national staff for a Christian organization. This was a periodic spiritual offering she made to her directees as well as the women of the PC(USA) church. I would attend when I could.

I remember the Bible passage she chose for this particular retreat: Psalm 23. As the women dispersed to go to various corners and rooms of the church education wing, I took the several sheets with the printed psalm, a photo of a lamb on a hillside, and some direction of what steps to take for the morning. As I followed the different steps and prayer prompts, I felt myself internally letting go of the rush-rush, hurry-hurry that had been gripping my insides.

What a relief! What a blessing, too.

One of the last things on the agenda for the morning was an open invitation: a suggestion to create an art project of some kind. My spiritual director had several different art stations. Crayons, art pencils, colored tissue paper, scissors, glue, cardboard, and other supplies available. Yes, I am artistic. And, yes, I felt drawn to some coloring sheets. I picked up colored pencils, and started to draw and color.

I still have that particular coloring sheet. It was a design of a Tiffany glass window – or rather, two windows, side by side. I colored one window in muted gray and brown tones, looking quite like the weather and the view outside on that gray, February day. The other window on that sheet? I colored it in warm, soft, welcoming pastels. The sun shone in the blue sky in the second picture, instead of the sky having all dull grey-toned clouds in the first window.   

This hope-filled portrait of the two different sides of my life and spirit seemed to be a natural outgrowth of my morning’s prayer, meditation and contemplation. Yes, I was still in a gray place, even at the end of that morning. However, I could see my way to approaching the place of color, of vibrancy, and warmth.

I am so glad I had the opportunity to create that drawing. I felt that picture so deeply. I appreciate my spiritual director. And, I pray that I might be able to provide opportunities for others to reflect, pray and contemplate, just as I did.

Dear Lord, thank You for my dear spiritual director. She walked with so many people during her life. She touched even more lives through her work and ministry. Help me to remember the abundant gifts she blessed me with. Help me – help us  to listen to You and to be creative, when offered the opportunity. In Jesus’ name we pray, amen.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the website www.contemplativemind.org for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: www.pastorpreacherprayer.com, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )

Day 8: Beholding

December 5, 2021

Icon – Jesus and children. Photo credit: Elizabeth Jones

Day 8: Beholding

When I took the course Introduction to Prayer my first year of seminary, I was introduced to many different types of prayer. Some of these I was familiar with. Others, not at all. Including, beholding. Or, as some who practice this type of prayer say, gazing.

I learned about this type of prayer while gazing at icons. In class, we took the opportunity to go down the hall to the chapel, where there was space to spread out and take the time to enter fully into the gazing (or beholding) experience. But, I am getting ahead of myself.

Marjorie Thompson in her oh-so-helpful book Soul Feast gives some direction on contemplative prayer. She only introduces gazing or beholding, but what she says is a good starting point. “Simple objects or images can also be the focus of contemplative prayer. A single flower, leaf, or candle may become a pointer to divine presence. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, icons (images of Christ, Mary, and the saints) are a focus of contemplation.” [1] Thompson suggests Fr. Henri Nouwen’s book Behold the Beauty of the Lord as a helpful introduction to praying with icons.

I had an immersion experience with Nouwen’s book. (Seriously, that is what it felt like – being immersed in warm, gentle prayer.) I had never prayed with icons before, and our professor had several large icons of different types.  As the class was instructed, and as we read through Nouwen’s short book, we approached our chosen icon with reverence and gentleness. (At least, that is what I totally felt.) Out of several icons, I felt an openness, almost a beckoning from Andrew Rublev’s icon of Christ, the Savior of Zvenigorod. What an experience.

As I beheld this icon, I felt the damaged portions of the figure of Christ so deeply. Repeatedly, I thought of how our Lord Jesus can feel-with, can not only sympathize, but empathize with me (with us!), as imperfect, hurting, wounded humans. He comes alongside of us, sits with us as we behold the icon. Gazing, feeling His loving, caring, reaching-out presence.

And, all this I experienced from beholding. Amazing experience. I have also prayed in this way with a single flower floating in a simple glass bowl of water, and with a burning candle in a darkened room. But, none of these experiences were quite as moving as my several times of prayer with the Savior of Zvenigorod.

I even have a small icon. When I bought it at a Christian bookstore, I saw quite a number of different icons. At least twenty, most small, and a few larger. The icon of our Lord with children drew me, ad so I bought it. This icon has a special place in my apartment. I pray that you may consider praying in this way, or perhaps read Fr. Nouwen’s book Behold the Beauty of the Lord, to get an appreciation for beholding – gazing – in prayer.

Dear Lord, thank You for the marvelous ways individuals have found to come before You. So many different ways, from so many varied cultures and points of view. Dear Lord Jesus, thank You for Your nearness, Your gentleness, and Your approach-ability. Help us to seek You and find You, in all Your wondrous beauty. It’s in the marvelous name of our Savior we pray, amen.

@chaplaineliza

Thanks to the website www.contemplativemind.org for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.

(Suggestion: visit me at my other blogs: www.pastorpreacherprayer.com, matterofprayer: A Year of Everyday Prayers. and  A Year of Being Kind . Thanks! )


[1] Thompson, Marjorie, Soul Feast (Westminster John Knox Press: Louisville, KY, 1995), 48-49.