On a sunny morning recently I was walking the labyrinth at the Sisters of Mercy retreat center in Madison. I was there to meet with my Spiritual Director; I arrived early enough for a meditative walk.
The labyrinth is an ancient archetypal symbol. Labyrinth images appeared on ancient Greek coins as early as 430 BCE. Similar imagery was found in ancient Egyptian and Native American cultures. The oldest known walking labyrinth path, believed to be around 4000 years old, is found on the Isle of Crete. In the Middle Ages the labyrinth was adapted by the Christian church.
To walk a labyrinth is to enter a sacred space in order to deepen one’s spiritual life. Today the labyrinth is used by practitioners of many faiths. A labyrinth is a ‘unicoursal’ path; there is only one way in and one way out. You cannot get lost or take a wrong turn, there are no tricks or traps. So why, then, did I have a moment of panic in my labyrinth walk and think that I was lost? Perhaps because that was the only way for me to receive the message I needed to receive from the universe: just stay on the path.
What a wonderful lesson for somebody whose job is to provide professional companionship to people on a journey! You have entered into this interim time with such energy and integrity. You are showing up, you are engaging, you are experimenting. You are on a path.
In a recent leadership training class we talked about adaptive work; that is, the kind of work that allows a congregation to bridge the gap between their aspirations for the future and the current reality. When you begin adaptive work, you can’t really know what changes will need to be made or what tools will be required. You simply set out, with your grand vision firmly before you, and trust that along the way you will discern the next stages of your journey. “Discernment,” writes Alban Institute consultants Gil Rendle and Alice Mann, “is said to function like the headlights of an automobile on a dark evening. They don’t show you where you will eventually end up. But they will illuminate the next part of the road.” Stay on the path.
One of the areas in your congregational life that I believe is in need of adaptive change is religious growth and learning. I met recently with a group of folks interested in re-visioning the adult religious education program known as Odyssey. They have decided to walk slowly enough to truly discern what the growth and learning needs of adults here are rather than just putting together programs without forethought. It takes courage to slow down and reflect instead of just doing something. Anything.
Your Director of Religious Education, Mary Collins, is also beginning a process of adaptive change in the Religious Education program for children and youth. Mary and I share a vision of a time in the near future when all of you will embrace life span faith development (religious education for all ages and all stages) as a shared ministry of the entire congregation. People will be clamoring for the privilege of teaching our children, guiding our youth, sharing wisdom with our elders. There will be a plethora of choices for all who wish to learn, grow, and be transformed.
How will we get there? I don’t know. But Mary and the Odyssey team each have some ideas about how to begin. The headlights are on; the next part of the road is illuminated. Let’s stay on the path together.
I wish for every one of you a December filled with illumination. Whether it is the Menorah or the Solstice fire or the Christmas Tree that brings most light to your spirit in this month of myriad festivals of light, may you have a blessed and peaceful holiday season.