If you know about labyrinths, you might get this. People often ask me what a labyrinth is or what it’s for. Truth is, you can’t fully understand a labyrinth by definition, nor by reading about it. You won’t get the significance of a labyrinth by what I write here, no matter how eloquent my writing may be. To know a labyrinth, you have to walk one, or trace the circuits of a finger labyrinth, or trace the path on a sand labyrinth and feel the sand under your fingers.
As a part of spiritual direction, many folk tell me that a labyrinth looks like a maze to them, and they fear they’ll get hopelessly lost, unable to make it out. That sounds a lot like life to me. Isn’t there always fear that we’ll get lost on this journey we call life? After we’ve made a few wrong turns in life, we are often fearful of living it. Afraid our wrong turns will end badly. Afraid we’ll get lost.
The truth of the labyrinth is that it is a clearly marked path that will lead you in—to the center—and then lead you out by the same path. Perhaps that’s why it has been called “the sacred path.”
If you know me or follow my blog, you already know that my life has been made up of many curves, turns, twists, dead ends and crossroads. At times, it has felt unnavigable, a dangerous and unpredictable journey. Yours has probably felt much the same. I have learned a few good lessons along the way, though, lessons that I hope will stick with me.
The one overarching lesson is that I can neither predict, nor control my path. The twists and turns will appear before me, and I will walk through them. The curves will seem treacherous at times, and I will lean into them hoping to stay firmly on the road. I will stop in my tracks at the dead ends and simply turn around and start over. The crossroads? Well, they have their own precariousness, danger. The crossroads demand a decision. The road I choose could make a world of difference, good or bad.
It’s enough to make life frightening! And it does. Life is frightening, especially for those of us who need to control our pathways. Here’s where the labyrinth offers me so much comfort. It is a pre-created path in and then out, and when I follow it’s path, I am reminded of one of the core beliefs of my faith: that God has laid out a path uniquely for me. Whether I follow it or not is another part of my faith. I get to make that decision.
When I walk a labyrinth or even trace its circular pathways with my finger, I am aware of a guiding hand, a Comforter beside me, and the peace of knowing the path was created for me. I feel Spirit winds and hear the holy voices of thousands of years of Wisdom whispering into my ear.
And when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”
I was amazed today by this breathtaking image of a ranch in Oklahoma. Sometimes it doesn’t take a lot to amaze me, but today the object of amazement for me is quite stunning. It’s art, an image to contemplate and appreciate, an image in which one could find meaning. Finding meaning in it is exactly what happened for me.
I see a play of lightness and darkness and I see that to experience light is also to experience darkness. We cannot really embrace one without the other. The beauty of one enhances the beauty of the other. Light and darkness are inseparable. I have always been intrigued by the wisdom of this thought written by Gregory Maguire, “The eye is always caught by light, but shadows have more to say.” I find such truth in these words, and they are illustrated by the shadows — the times of darkness — in my life.
Oh, the stories I could tell about the many times when my reality has been lightness and darkness together. Both juxtaposed and moving, blending and coalescing, always showing me a kind of dance, a holy movement that makes both appear beautiful. But this “light and darkness together”thing came to me late in life. Emotional and spiritual maturity offered me this important insight that both darkness and light are in me and around me simultaneously. I experience them both together.
I also remember the past when I feared the darkness, wanting always to be in the middle of the light of things. During my illness and long hospitalization in 2014, I hated the nights. I had come to believe over the years that in hospitals, bad things happen at night. That thought was cemented in my mind when I was a hospital chaplain. In thinking of the many nights when I was on call, what I recall most were dark crises that happened at night — deaths, terrible accidents in the ER, patients on the psych unit having meltdowns.
What I’m recalling today is one particular night in the hospital. I was so sick for so long and so lonely at night. This particular night remains in my nightmares. It was actually in the middle of the night when I experienced an excruciating pain in my kidney area. I almost screamed in pain, but tried to stifle myself. The pain continued for several minutes, long enough that I felt as if I would pass out. I called for the nurse, who could hear panic in my voice and came immediately. The doctor followed within minutes. By that time, I had been given pain and anxiety medications, so I was in a kind of twilight. I knew that the room was now full of people doing things, but I had no idea what sort of things they were doing. The ultrasound people came and soon after that, the crisis team came to get me. I was moved to a hard stretcher and was quickly transported to . . . somewhere for some kind of procedure.
The only words I really understood were, “Call her husband and tell him to get here immediately!” Not such a calming message to hear, but in a medication-induced twilight, it really didn’t matter. The crisis team moved me into the inner sanctum of the hospital. They moved me through the cold halls so quickly that the wind felt cold and the ceilings of the corridors were a blur, one minute bright lights above, the next corridor completely dark. The speed of the ride made the corridors look as if they were one seamless movement of light and dark.
One repaired internal bleed later, the pain was eased and I was comfortable, back in my familiar hospital room full of cards and flowers, and with late night television still on. Obviously, I survived the darkness and lightness of my transport and the repair of my bleed. And I still survive, every day, the darkness and lightness that is my life. I did not know that night what I have learned since: that darkness and light always exist together.
Darkness and Light: Together
To be certain, I have experienced darknesses that seemed to smother me completely and leave me with only the darkest dark. I have felt the unrelenting darkness of the soul at times. My spirit has cohabited with the deepest darkness in life that seemed never-ending, with not a single source of light anywhere.
Thankfully, the great Teacher has taught me to see the darkness and the light all at once, moving together through my life. I have learned that light is almost always a welcomed force, but it is in the darkness that I find the most life-changing, cherished moments. in myself. The darkness is the place where my soul sees itself, where my spirit entertains its longings and urges and dreams. The darkness is where my heart can break into a million pieces in mourning and lament. In those dark moments, I can see the dance, the slow and soothing rhythms that enfold me in both — darkness and light — because the two exist together. Thanks be to God.
Darkness was and darkness was good. As with light. Light and darkness dancing together, born together, Born of each other, neither preceding, neither following, Both fully being, in joyful rhythm.
I wonder if you would be willing to stop what you’re doing right now and spend a quiet moment with me, just listening? Your time might well be a needed time for you and for your soul.
There is always so much to listen to — traffic, sirens, video game sounds, annoying household noise like the washing machine/dryer, food processor, mixer, fans, buzzers and alarms and the awful sound of the disposal trying to crush that inadvertent chicken bone. These, of course, are not our favorite sounds, but they are the myriad sounds and noises we hear in a typical day.
There are sweeter sounds, too, like the sound of a gentle, falling rain or the sound of rain when it hits hard on the roof; the sound of a gusty breeze as it rustles the leaves on a tree; the sound of a flowing stream, a rolling river and constant, ever-rushing ocean sounds; the flutter of a hummingbird’s wings; the sound of cicadas on a Southern summer night; the sound of a child’s laughter; the sweet, peaceful sound of a purring kitten; and birdsong, always birdsong.
Of course, listening as pure joy is listening to music — quiet music, lyrical melodies, rhythms that slow the pulse, the sound of a bow moving across a cello’s strings, the mesmerizing sound of a harp, the velvet sound of voices in harmony or the enthralling sound of a symphony orchestra.
Sounds fill the space that surrounds us, all the time. What is rarer for us is to hear the sound of silence. Some of us fear the silence or dread silent moments. Others of us avoid it at all costs because the silence tends to bring up whatever we are afraid to hear. So the noise that enfolds us fills the place that might otherwise hear the sighs of the soul — its cries and laments, its laughter, its sound of contentedness. It seems to me that this is the place we long to be, in the soul’s sound chamber where whatever we hear — if we’re listening carefully — is the song of the soul that tells us who we are and why we are.
There is a poem that many of you will remember (if you’re old enough) as a Simon and Garfunkel song from the 1960s. The poem was written by Paul Simon and it presents a frightening picture of the modern world doomed by the lack of spirituality and the people’s aversion to the true meaning of life. It is not so different in these days that spirituality and life meaning can be elusive, no matter how hard we may search for it and yearn for it.
The poem, entitledThe Sound of Silence, is written by the voice of a visionary asking people to be serious about the true meaning of life. The poem’s message is that people are moving further and further away from true happiness because they have ignored life’s true meaning. They debate and quarrel about worthless things. They listen to or watch meaningless things. The poet writes that the people “speak and hear without listening. Like we often do?
Throughout its five stanzas, the poem presents the conflict between spiritual and material values. The poetic persona is a person of vision who warns against the lack of spiritual seriousness. The poem begins with an address by the poet persona to the darkness, saying that he has come to talk with the darkness. When he awakens, he says that the vision still remains as the sound of silence.
Some of us fear the silence or dread silent moments. Others avoid it at all costs because the silence tends to bring up whatever they are afraid to hear. So the noise that enfolds us fills the place that might otherwise hear the sighs of the soul — its cries and laments, its laughter, its sounds of contentedness. It seems to me that this is the place we long to be, in the soul’s sound chamber where whatever we hear — if we’re listening carefully — is the song of the soul that tells us who we are and why we are.
The words of the poet . . .
And in the naked light, I saw Ten thousand people, maybe more People talking without speaking People hearing without listening People writing songs that voices never share And no one dared Disturb the sound of silence
And the people bowed and prayed To the neon god they made And the sign flashed out its warning In the words that it was forming And the sign said, “The words of the prophets are written on the subway walls And tenement halls” And whispered in the sound of silence
All of that trivia about the poem certainly moved us a little farther away from my point, which is that most, if not all, of us have a deep emotional and spiritual need to listen to our souls, really listen. Even if we don’t know it, we long to hear what the depth of our being wants to say to us. We want to find our true selves, a quest only our souls can accomplish. If we are honest, we would say that we want to do the soulwork that leads us out of the darkness of our own making and into a place of light.
When we do carve out a sacred pause, when we wait in the darkness of that silent space, and when we open ourselves to deep listening, we will likely hear God’s whisper. We will probably move slowly out of darkness and realize the promise that as “God’s own people” we will “proclaim the mighty acts of God who called us out of darkness into his marvelous light.” (1 Peter 2:9)
This is the place we long to be, in the soul’s sound chamber where whatever we hear — if we’re listening carefully — is the song of the soul that tells us who we are and why we are.
— Rev. Kathy Manis Findley
Hearing God’s voice moves us to a deeper experience of life, but hearing our soul’s sighs may take us deeper still, because we open ourselves to self-knowing. It’s not a surface knowing. It is a deep knowing of who it is that lives in our skin. Without hearing the sighs our souls are making, we might never enter into fullness of self. I suggest that only the fullness of who we are can stand before the God who knows us even better than we know ourselves.
In my own experience, I think that perhaps I cannot be in deep communion with God if I try to face God as my superficial self. Perhaps God seeks relationship with my soul, my deepest place of being. To find and define my soul for myself, to know myself fully, I must find the sound of silence and sit with it patiently and expectantly. Maybe that is the essence of spirituality.
So there are a few lessons in these words and these are the obvious lessons:
Limit the harsh sounds in your life.
Surround yourself with tender, gentle sounds.
Make sacred space and holy time to listen deeply for the sounds that speak to your soul.
Listen for God’s whispers. They are important to hear.
Always consider what is, for you, the true meaning of life.
Listen to your soul — its sighs, its cries, its songs.
Andwho knows? If you linger for a while in your sacred listening space, you might just find the very essence of grace by hearing what your soul whispers to you. It will be the most beautiful sound of all.
— Rev.Kathy Manis Findley
One day I listened — really listened. And I heard the whisper of God and the song of my soul. Thanks be to God.
I invite you to hear the poem, “The Sound of Silence,” through music. It can rightly be said that no group or person could ever sing this as well as Simon and Garfunkel, but I thought you might enjoy it covered by a very popular contemporary a cappella group, Pentatonix.
Today is the eleventh day of Lent and Lent always orders me to order my life — again. Isn’t that what we do, put order back into our lives over and over again?
That’s what I do, because I have learned the wisdom of ducks. Even ducklings sometimes step out of the line behind a Mama duck who bids them to walk a straight line, single file!
Or even to swim in an ordered line! Something ducks are very good at! For me, achieving a well-ordered life is a constant struggle, yet something I need and want. What do I mean by “ordered life?” I envision for myself a life that longs to move toward physical, emotional and spiritual well-being. Especially spiritual well-being.
Perhaps I will turn to ducks for an inspiration to order my life or, even more compelling, perhaps I will turn to one of the streams of spirituality that comes from very deep in the Christian tradition — the wisdom of Benedictine Monasticism.
Now, stay with me! I’m not going out on a shaky spiritual limb.
Saint Benedict wrote his rule of life in the 6th century and thus left us with its simple and stable legacy of “Ora et Labora”: “Prayer and Work.” Today’s monasteries and convents still function under a Rule of Life, the best-known of which is that of Saint Benedict. A spiritual rule of life offers a fundamental rhythm for the balancing and ordering of life. Several years ago while seeking a deeper spiritual life, I entered into the novitiate of the Order of Ecumenical Franciscans. In the process to full profession into the Order, I was asked to write a personal rule of life.
Rule of life? I had no idea where to start. Nor did I really know what a rule of life looked like! I found this definition from a very helpful website, “Sacred Ordinary Days.”
A rule of life is a commitment to live your life in a particular way. It is meant to be crafted with prayer and discernment, in partnership with God, as you consider the way God made you and the values God has inscribed upon your heart. Once written, it serves as a tool that can help you make decisions for your life and determine how best to order your days. A rule is different than the goals, intentions, or resolutions we tend to set for ourselves. Those methods are task-based and measurable, and they’re often focused on what we do. A rule of life, on the other hand, helps you become. It is comprised of several simple statements that guide the posture of your life and the living of your days. It is not lived perfectly but can be lived faithfully while fostering within you an integrated and embodied life of faith.
So, attentive to the lives of Saints Francis and Clare of Assisi, I began discovering and creating my rule of life. What I learned in that experience is that crafting a rule of life is a spiritual discipline, whether I am writing, drawing, designing or graphing it. If you know me, you know that mine was handwritten because, for me, writing becomes the sigh of my soul. Once I began writing, I sensed a pull drawing me inward. The writing called me to open up my spirit to God in a deeper way and, from that place, to write down the ways I desired and intended to follow Christ and order my Christian life. In a nutshell, that’s what I discovered about a rule of life.
Sister Joan D. Chittister, O.S.B., an American Benedictine nun, theologian, author and speaker, explains the idea of a rule of life more clearly in her writing about Saint Benedict’s Rule. She describes how the Rule of Benedict provides an opportunity for transformation for everyone who chooses to follow its wisdom.
All in all, the Rule of Benedict is designed for ordinary people who live ordinary lives. It was not written for priests or mystics or hermits or ascetics; it was written by a layman for laymen. It was written to provide a model of spiritual development for the average person who intends to live life beyond the superficial or the uncaring.
Benedict was quite precise about it all. Time was to be spent in prayer, in sacred reading, in work, and in community participation. In other words, it was to be spent on listening to the Word, on study, on making life better for others, and on community building. It was public as well as private; it was private as well as public. It was balanced. No one thing consumed the monastic’s life. No one thing got exaggerated out of all proportion to the other dimensions of life. No one thing absorbed the human spirit to the exclusion of every other. Life was made up of many facets and only together did they form a whole.
A rule of life is rooted in Scripture, pointing always to Christ; and, in the words of Saint Benedict, it is “simply a handbook to make the very radical demands of the gospel a practical reality in daily life.”
Lent is upon us. I don’t know about you, but I need to get my ducks in a row and, more importantly, I need to revisit the rule of life I wrote decades ago. I have a notion that, while my life has changed over the years, my rule of life hasn’t. But my need for genuine repentance is this: I don’t even remember my rule of life. What did I write? In what ways did I live it out? How many years or months or weeks did I live by it? Why is my rule of life now lost in a pile of old papers? I contritely confess that I remember (sort of) only this small part of it:
I will live my life and speak truth in the manner of love, for God is love and, in Christ, I live and move and have my being.
I vaguely remember those words, but I intend look through my archived treasures and scraps of paper to find my rule of life and to revisit it. Maybe I will even begin living it again. From now on, I want to remember to remember it, so that its expressions will become like the air I breathe. And I will remember what Saint Benedict wrote 1,500 years ago, “Your way of acting should be different from the world’s way. The love of Christ must come before all else.”
As for me, the one thing I do remember so strongly about the act of writing my rule of life is that I was on a spiritual retreat in Albuquerque, New Mexico, a sacred place that made me imagine the lives of the desert mothers and fathers, the monastics who sparked spirituality for centuries. I also remember that, as I was writing, I would continually relive my ordination and its deep meaning for me. I continued to think and write on the day I had to finish, while the prayer of my heart and the longing of my soul continually whispered the same words sung at my ordination many years before:
Here I am, Lord. It is I, Lord. I have heard you calling in the night. I will go, Lord, if you lead me. I will hold your people in my heart.
“Here I Am, Lord” Daniel L. Schutte (b.1947) Arranged by Ovid Young (1940-2014)
More Information on crafting your rule of life:
I found this website to be very helpful for people who want to craft a rule of life. Remember that your rule of life is for you, your way of enhancing your life and increasing your devotion to God. So every person’s rule will look different.
I am pleased to offer something new in hopes of communicating with you in new ways. “All Shall Be Well” is a video blog on spirituality — mine and yours. We will explore together ways to deepen our communion with God as we lean more into contemplative prayer, meditation, silence, centering prayer, listening for God, prayer of the hours and other ways of inviting the whispers of God to grace us.
I invite you to hear each video message, and I ask you to accept each message only if it feels good in your heart. Your spirit knows what you need. Listen to your spirit.
Please feel free to send your comments to let me know what kind of spiritual disciplines are most helpful and meaningful to you. Share a bit about your own spiritual journey and some of the ways you care for your soul and draw closer to God.
The following video message is an introduction to this video blog and offers a blessing for you as you move into a new year. I pray that 2021 will lead you into holy places and sacred pauses that enhance your spirituality. Though I do not personally know each person who follows my blog, I hold you in my heart, and as I prepare to send each blog post, I pray for each person who will watch or read it.
May God’s blessings be upon you and may the God of Hope walk beside you and fill you with all joy and peace that you may abound in confident hope by the power of the Spirit. Amen.