Thursday, 15 March 2012

Strawberry Blonde Epiphany

“epiphany: any moment of sudden revelation
or the manifestation of a divine reality”

It was not a good day; joy had disappeared. I didn’t feel like praying and everything seemed annoying. In an effort to regain perspective I decided to drive to High Park’s labyrinth and see if walking it could work its usual magic. Every time I have followed a labyrinth’s circling path I have felt the Spirit’s presence and exited with a better attitude and new insight.

The park is a fifteen minute drive from my house and with every mile I got crankier. 
“There are too many cars in this city! How can it be taking so long just to get to the darn park?!” 
Every driver ahead of me was slow and stupid; every traffic light was red. I figured that probably the parking lots would be filled because it was school break week. Why had I bothered? Should I turn around? Crank-ee!

When I parked the car in one of the (many) empty spaces at the park’s only restaurant I noticed folks sitting outside the restaurant, a phenomenon for March in Toronto. 
The cynic in my head muttered, “Yeah, that’s nice but this winter’s weather has been stupid, too, with its lack of snow and erratic temperatures. How can anyone be so stupid as to doubt global warming? My grandkids hardly know what tobogganing is. We’re destroying the earth!” Crank, crank.

What should I take with me from the car, a sweater? My spring jacket? Will the wind pick up? A scarf? Gloves? If I wear my sweater will I be too hot or too cold? Stupid weather. I picked up everything except the gloves and started the trudge up the hill between the parking lot and the labyrinth. I began to realise that I needed … well… did I need to go badly enough that I had to walk back to the restaurant bathroom or could I wait? Oh, I’d better go. Crank! I headed down the hill, unlocked the car to leave my paraphernalia and walked inside. The water in every toilet looked yellow! Ugh. A friendly woman assured me that it was just the colour of the water today. What? The first booth I entered had no toilet paper! Luckily the next one did. I washed my hands and turned to dry them. The only electric dryer was broken. CRANK!
After asking a waitress for some napkins and informing her about the bathroom situation, I returned to the car. I gathered up my wallet, journal, pen, sweater, scarf and jacket to start again.

At the labyrinth I dropped everything and, without pause or prayer, I started stomping along the labyrinth’s path. Although the setting is pretty with old trees and patches of bush, the labyrinth at Toronto’s High Park is nothing like some beautiful ones I’ve walked elsewhere. 
In the desert of Borrego Springs an Episcopal church offers a labyrinth where the clean sandy path is marked by lines of white stones, surrounded by palms and whitewashed adobe benches. Dramatic and sacred. 
Near San Francisco at a Roman Catholic convent the labyrinth sits in a lovely flower garden and centres on a rough-cut standing stone, just the height for leaning on as one prays. Luscious.
In High Park, however, the labyrinth path is delineated by worn orange lines painted on asphalt, surrounded by a puzzling ring of an extended wooden tabletop with its attached bench along the outer edge.

I strode along the marked path feeling nothing but dull frustration with this stupid life and my stupid mood. I didn’t feel like talking to God. I berated myself with a favourite slur, “Lazy loser.” For a few steps I pronounced this curse on my own head, “lazy loser, lazy loser” – it has a gratifying ring to it. Halfway to the centre I remembered that my wallet was in the jacket I’d left on the table at the labyrinth’s entrance. 
“Stupid selfish thieves! Why should I have to worry about your stealing my money and ID’s!” 
I broke a cardinal rule of spiritual practice and headed straight across the orange lines, yanked my wallet out of my jacket and tried to stuff it into my jeans’ pocket. It was too big to really fit and as I wrestled with my waistband my temper rose further. I can’t stop my addiction to sugar and salt and seem to get fatter every day. There’s no one to blame but myself. STUPID! 

I started the path all over again to see if I could walk more thoughtfully but still reached the centre faster than usual. Although there was no meditating along the way, the rhythm of following a narrow, circling path brought some soothing. At the centre one normally stands in each of the five petals by turn, praying, perhaps, for the various circles of one’s life: family, friends, the church, the world, etc. But when I arrived there this time I was in no mood to care about other people… I felt ashamed of my ingratitude.

Standing still, I lifted my face to the sky and enjoyed the sensation of wind and sun on my skin. Nature so often refreshes even the crankiest soul. I stood for a while, and then remembered the wise whisper I’d heard before, “Let it be”. Years ago in San Francisco, at a painful crisis, the Beatles’ song had been a word from God. It never helps to beat yourself up or to get into a frenzy trying to fix things. When you can’t do anything helpful, let it be.

Without any intentional prayer I started the path back. I made myself thank God for the endless good gifts in my life. My pace became a bit freer, alternating baby steps with arm-swinging strides and slow strolling.  Amidst my feelings of uselessness another song came to mind. I sang the words that I could remember; words that come from a bible verse where God says “I will change your name. “ (Isaiah 62)
I hum and whisper the contemporary lyrics,
 “You shall no longer be called wounded, outcast…Your new name shall be… friend of God, one who seeks My face”. 
(by D.J. Butler)
Feeling outcast and small, nonetheless I was able to agree with the Spirit that on this cranky day I was yet a friend of God, and someone who seeks God’s face.
When I got to the end I felt restored enough to at least turn toward the labyrinth with a bow of gratitude before I walked out.

Here’s the best part of the story.
I picked up my journal and sat at the circling table to write, still far from happy or hopeful, but more peaceful.
A few minutes later I was startled by the clear high voice of a young child. 
“I LOVE it here!”
I looked over to see a little girl with straight strawberry-blonde hair approaching the labyrinth, followed by two women with a toddler.
“I LOVE it here”, she chirped again.”
She walked into the entrance, calling to her mom and grandmother,
 “Come! Come! LOOK at it here!”
I couldn’t help but grin at her delight. Little Mia, as she was named, started walking the labyrinth in her own free-spirited way. She walked on the orange lines instead of between them. She stopped, turned around and then walked straight across several lines until she spied another part of the path she wanted to follow. She played for about ten solid minutes happily exploring, jumping, twirling. 
At one point she squealed, "I figured it out!"
And another time, “Yeah! I made it to the centre!” 
No one pointed out that she’d made it by breaking all the rules. 
She wandered some more, singing a wordless song, "La, la, la", as content as can be. 

I watched this sweet child with joyful awe. 
As beautiful as the sunshine and breeze, more precious than the huge old trees, was four year old Mia, playing on a spiritual tool designed for adult mystics. Was she a picture of God's own Self? Was she an image of the human soul set free? I don’t know. Somehow little Mia served as God’s gracious solace to my cranky heart. This is God’s world. We are not alone.