Finding my path in the labyrinth

by April Gutierrez

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As someone who was actively involved with social justice, advocacy and action in college, I have struggled with how to engage in ministry as a new stay-at-home mother.

My step back from full-time ministry has been something I have longed and prayed for since giving birth to my daughter nearly two years ago. With careful planning and increased responsibility (and income) for my husband, my family decided to honor this desire. I knew that I would miss many parts of being active in full-time ministry, one of which has been how to continue to be contemplative in action.

With the present, tense political climate, violence and unrest in my current home city of Chicago, and having personally experienced injustice, I cling to the labyrinth. In times of uncertainty, this prayer practice allows me to connect with God, process my desires and honor the meandering that is inevitable in prayer.

Often described as a path of prayer or walking meditation, honoring the meandering is what I love most, since in many practices I find myself sitting in judgment when I become distracted. When walking, however, I have found that my meanderings often reveal what I need to be paying attention to most, but instead have been trying to bury or run from.

The practice of walking, praying and breathing in the quiet of nature sustains me as I move through the noise and busyness of raising a toddler and kindergartener. They benefit from this sacred carving of time, when I honor the needs and deep longing of my bodily self, my introversion.

The labyrinth is a practice that dates as far back as the Bronze Age that is shared with many faith traditions and secular individuals alike. When pilgrimages to the Holy Land became a more common and desired practice during the Middle Ages, most people could not make this pilgrimage. However, they might better be able to travel to cathedrals and labyrinths were often put into notable cathedrals for visitors to walk. If you are looking for a labyrinth, this website is helpful to locate one near you.

 I have found many labyrinths along the way, starting with my hometown of Adrian, Mich., and undergraduate studies at Siena Heights University, thanks to the Adrian Dominican Sisters. One of the most memorable moments was shared across generations with children from St. Joseph Academy, a Catholic primary school, leading an Earth Day celebration with all three campuses -- Dominican sisters, the academy and the college. Then, as I moved for graduate school at Boston College, I was able to walk in the memorial labyrinth honoring alums that died on September 11, 2001, and I currently live across the street from Benedictine sisters who have a labyrinth beside their community gardens.

Signs of spring mean I can return to this practice, as it is unburied from the winter snow. A mentor described an experience he had had of walking through a labyrinth after snowfall one winter. He too was concerned that he would not be able to find his way through the path and when he walked to the entrance, he found footprints to guide him. This made him even more aware that when we walk a labyrinth we are walking in another's footsteps, their prayers joining yours, taking a moment to honor the prayers shared on this path, praising God for companions on our journeys -- seen and unseen.

My Trinitarian nature appreciates the three movements of the prayer path that I tend to describe as intention, listening and gratitude. First, I might take a moment to breathe, clarify a question I want to take to prayer or intention. By entering with intention, I find I am able to freely walk, paying attention to my breathing with a relaxed pace. When I sit in the center, I am listening for what God desires and pray for the openness to receive. This is important since often I find that a burden creeps into my walk, veering me from the intention I entered with. I honor this "distraction" as a grace and give space for the wrestling with God or wisdom of God that might be needed at the time.

Then, when I am ready, my walk to the exit is with gratitude -- this time with God, for the graces provided and the many opportunities and people on my journey.  

[April Gutierrez is a graduate of Boston College's School of Theology and Ministry and was previously a campus minister for First-Year Experience at Loyola University Chicago.]

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