New Paths

So, I tried something totally different for Sunday’s worship service, and I feel really good about how it went. There were a couple of people who didn’t like it, but they weren’t going to like anything that came under the heading of trying something different, let alone this particular something different. The rest, well, they loved it.

So we moved all the chairs to the perimeter of the room, and placed on the floor a 36’x36′ canvas labyrinth. Off to one side, I placed a prayer station, with a list of people in need of prayers, some note cards, and candles, all on a table before a cross. In the foyer (for the simple reason that we ran out of room in the sanctuary) I had a craft table, where people could make hand-labyrinths, a variant used for those who don’t walk so well, and prefer to trace the route with their fingertips. Here, they (and kids!) could make a labyrinth by tracing a pattern and gluing yarn, beads, or shells onto the lines. In these ways, I hoped to give non-walkers other ways of participating, and invite everyone to experience prayer and contemplation in new ways.

We opened the service relatively normally (amid grumbling about the chairs being moved), and took prayer requests right away to add to the list. Then I gave a brief description/background on the labyrinth and the other prayer stations I’d set up, and for the next half and hour, the congregation was turned loose in the sanctuary to pray and contemplate and watch others do so as they felt moved/comfortable/able. I’d say a little fewer than half the 50 people present walked the labyrinth, while the others used the prayer table, a couple made hand labyrinths, and several just sat and watched others participate. The people walking the labyrinth went at different speeds, some going hand-in-hand or in family groups. At the center, some sat down or held hands in a circle or stayed for a long time. There were many sniffles and tears. One woman was a visitor, who came to our church looking for my mother-in-law (not far off!), but she was deeply moved by the experience of the labyrinth, which she had never tried before.

My personal experience was odd. I really wanted to walk the labyrinth, but first had to finish the prayer list so others could use that. This meant that I was the last person on the labyrinth, and for the last five minutes or so, I was walking it by myself while my whole congregation watched. Not easy to ignore that and get into the mood. At the same time, I was very aware that I could not speed up or ‘cheat,’ because I was modeling for some the importance and use of this meditative tool, and there would be something just wrong if I let my discomfort and my need to hurry up and wrap up the service curtail my own prayer experience at the moment, which happens quite often and which I was tempted to do again. But I held fast and finished at my own pace, leading right into a closing prayer and hymn, before I dismissed my somewhat-teary-eyed congregants. Sometimes, the spirit just moves, and she did this past week. Cool!


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