"The Labyrinth Walk, Grace St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, Tucson, Arizona" (c) 1997, 2016 Stu Jenks
(From my hardbound book, Flame Spirals. Also available as an e-book, wherever they are sold.)
The sexton was nice enough to put up an extension ladder. I climbed onto the roof of the Parish Hall, that overlooks the maze. The Sun’s going down fast. Gordon and Judy, the two priests at Grace St. Paul's, have OK'd my shooting the Thursday Evening Labyrinth Walk. The parishioners have just arrived, about ten in all. From the roof, I tell the walkers I'm going to shoot their meditation this evening.
"And don't worry if you're shy and don't like your picture taken," I say. "I'm using real long shutter speeds so everyone will be a blur. That OK?"
"Sure that's fine," one woman says, others nodding their approval. But one woman walks to the side.
"Really, you can walk the Labyrinth. No one will know who you are," I say.
She doesn’t say anything, but she doesn’t return to the circle until much later.
Judy, the facilitator of the Walk, explains to the congregation how this works.
"One by one, we'll enter the labyrinth and begin to walk," she says. "You can have a prayer or a question in your mind, or you can just empty your mind. You can walk it fast or slow. There is no right or wrong way. I would just suggest that you stay as much in the moment as you can. Just be in the Labyrinth. And when you reach the center, stop for as long as you like, and then walk back out. And don't worry about bumping into each other or passing each other in the Labyrinth. It's really easy to pass and it’s OK to touch each other."
Some people chuckle.
"Also, I suggest you walk silently. All right, let's start."
Judy presses play on a nearby boom box and Gregorian Chants come from its small speakers. One at a time, the participants enter the labyrinth.
A little history about the Church and me:
I was born and raised in the Episcopal Church. Baptized, confirmed, the whole nine yards. My mother Mary is what I affectionately call a member of the Episcopal Mafia: A member of the Standing Committee of the Diocese of Virginia, music director and a vestry woman at her parish in Lively, Virginia, and active in the Church since she was a child. Dad was Senior Warden for a time and designed the Memorial Garden at his home church of St. Mary's Whitechapel. He rarely goes to church in his retirement years. He doesn’t believe in God, much less Jesus, but he is still a cradle to grave Episcopalian. My sister is a member of the choir at St. Mark's Episcopal in Raleigh, North Carolina, but by her own admission, she goes to church to cover my bets just in case there’s a heaven. My guess is her church and the St. Mark’s community mean much more to her than she willing to share.
I rarely go to church. Christmas. Maundy Thursday. Maybe Good Friday. Not Easter. Funerals, yes. Weddings, when they happen. That's about it. I'm not a Christian. I don't believe in the Risen Christ. I do believe they basically fucked up the faith after the Nicene Convention in the third century AD, when they took out the Gospels of Thomas and Mary Magdalene and minimized the Sacredness of Women in the Church. Plus I believe in Reincarnation, the validity of all of the world's religions and the sanctity of the mystic's individual journey to God. Some would say that shouldn't exclude me from attending Grace St. Paul's, a very progressive, liberal, reconciliation church, but it does. Not in the minds of the congregation or the clergy, but in my mind.
When I do, on those rare occasions, attend a service at Grace St. Paul's, I add and take out words from the liturgy so I don't feel like a hypocrite. You'll often hear me say, “Though Jesus Christ and others” instead of “Through Jesus Christ our Lord,” and when the congregation is reading the Nicene Creed, there are whole sections during which I stand mute.
But my roots, both ancestral and personal, are in the Anglican/Episcopal church and to deny that would be, for me, like a Jew who doesn't go to temple, denying that he is a Jew at all. And I do like the ceremony of Holy Communion, a good non-shaming sermon from the pulpit, and strong loud music from a big pipe organ. I go to midnight service on Christmas Eve, primarily to sing “Silent Night” and, on the outside chance, to sing “In the Bleak Midwinter.” And even though I don't go to Easter services, I can easily hum the refrains from “Hail Thee, Festival Day” and “Jesus Christ is Risen Today.”
The Church is in my DNA and in my muscle memory, whether I like it or not, and I believe it's important to honor the spiritual practices of my ancestors, living and dead, regardless of whether or not I practice them myself.
And even though I don’t believe that Jesus was the only Son of God, I do believe in a number of his teachings, most important in my mind: That we, as human beings, have a moral obligation to help those who are poor in body, mind and spirit; that God is Love and Love is God; that God is a mysteriously magical healing energy, and that He loves me, no matter what.
He loves me when I’m sober. He loved me when I was a drunk. He loves me when I eat too much. He loves me when I eat my vegetables. He loves me when I give a kind word to a friend. He loves me when I’m a judgmental asshole.
One of my jobs while I’m on the planet is to try and love myself a fraction as much as He loves me. By doing so, I’ll hopefully love others a whole lot more than if I was trying to do that alone.
The Labyrinth is full of people, perhaps a dozen now. Some are solemnly looking down as they walk. Others are joyously swinging their arms around the corners of the maze. A couple are sitting outside of the circle. Me? I'm on the roof grumbling about how I'm losing the last bit of sunlight. My exposures are up to 5 seconds now. It’s not the blurs I mind. I want them. I just need some light for a good dense negative. I'm a little flustered. Breathe, Stu, breathe. I relax and take a breath. I see my friend Beth make a sweeping move around a sharp corner of the labyrinth. I open and close the shutter. Nice. I watch the changing composition of people below in the ground glass of my twin lens reflex. I wait, then shoot again. Wait, then again.
After a few more minutes I'm done shooting, yet the parishioners are still walking the maze. I climb down the ladder and walk toward the entrance of the Labyrinth. I take a breath. Did I get the shot? I clear my head of that worry as best as I can and enter the maze, slowly passing someone who is coming out. I follow the path. I look at my feet as I walk. I take one of the hairpin curves a little fast, allow my arms to swing wide as I regain my balance. I smile. And for those few moments, I'm grateful to be a member of this Episcopalian Tribe.