Stepping into a walking labyrinth becomes a sacred experience when we connect it to our own personal journey, our walk in the desert, our meanderings through an unknown and sometimes bewildering wilderness. I recently walked the outdoor labyrinth at the Kanuga Conference and Retreat Center, in Hendersonville North Carolina, while attending Spiritual Direction training offered by the Haden Institute. The weather had been unusually cold. Snow and ice had taken its toll on the surface of the labyrinth, it was gritty, and stained, and not very warm and inviting.
As I stepped into the labyrinth, with reverence and a sense of journey, I walked slowly, gazing mostly at the path before each step. I carried my camera with me, photographing the pathway, the edges, the many twists and turns. At times, it seemed I was close to the center of the labyrinth, “the Center of Being,” only to find myself suddenly thrust to the “outer barren edges, shielded only by lunations.” As I photographed the journey, I became aware of shadows, and light, and the beautiful patterns these formed on the hard surface. The lunations encircling the labyrinth became a reminder to me that even as I walked on the edge of oblivion, I was shielded by the grasp of the Unknowable Mystery.
Seeing with the inner eye, the contemplative eye that guides my impulse to photograph, allowed me to be in touch with the beauty and peace of simply walking, and the realization that this journey had no final destination. I had walked labyrinths before (my previous parish where I served as its Rector had a walking labyrinth) and yet, I had never made this connection. As I enjoyed the feeling of refuge at the center, “the Center of Being,” I knew that soon I would be walking the pathway out, and the pathway in, would become the pathway out. Paradox!
After this experience, I became more convinced than ever, that our passage through the mystery of life is truly about the journey. Our yearning to see beyond the horizon leads us to new and endless vistas, mountain tops and valleys, in what seems a never-ending quest; and so, it is, and so what? Each pause on the way reveals a new universe, each step a new panorama, each turn a new perspective, and it never ends. I am reminded of God’s question to Job: “Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth? Tell me if you have understanding.“ (Job 38:4). This question points to the endless mystery of life and creation, and the promise that our human psyche is a bottomless well of endless discovery. The walking labyrinth is a reminder of that.
I look forward to future labyrinth walks, and as I continue to walk through the labyrinth of life, sometimes with a camera in hand, it is my prayer that I may deliberately slow down, and see the mystery unfolding around me, and that it may continue to inspire poems such as the one inspired by this occasion. The more in touch I become with the beauty of each step, the less agitated I feel about the length of the travel. This is one of the gifts that comes from walking the labyrinth; it is a slow and deliberate pilgrimage into endless eternity.
All photos here are © Wilfredo Benitez. Used by permission.
Guest Author Name
The Rev. Wilfredo Benitez hails from the Bronx, N.Y. He is a priest, artist, poet and activist. He was ordained to the priesthood in 1991. He is the current Rector of historic Saint George’s Church (Episcopal) in Flushing, New York, a multi-cultural parish that worships in English, Mandarin, and Spanish. He is also a Board Member of the Flushing Interfaith Council. Wilfredo has a Bachelor of Arts degree from La Universidad InterAmericana de Puerto Rico, where he majored in Sociology; a Master of Science in Education degree from the Bank Street College of Education, with a concentration on Multi-Cultural Counseling; and a Master of Divinity degree from the General Theological Seminary. His photography and poetry can be found on his webpage. He’s had numerous photography exhibitions, and his photographs have been published journals such as “Reflections” (Yale Divinity School) and” Image: Art — Faith — Mystery.” He is currently developing a practice as a Spiritual Director.