I almost didn’t get out of the car.
I sat there for a while, listening to the radio, watching people linger in the space that I’d been claiming as my own in my mind for a few months. It was a beautiful day. I’d waited for a gorgeous morning like this one to come to this place—I’d put it off, saved it until the time was right just like a little child saving a long-awaited dessert until just the right moment…
But I never imagined that there would be other people there. This was a definite problem.
A group of men in business suits sat on benches facing each other, enjoying a hearty conversation in the late summer sun. A couple of women traipsed out of the woods and circled around the wide paved area, tiny dogs in tow. A person talking on a cell phone walked through the courtyard to get to the building beyond, clearly in a rush.
None of them seemed to notice the central feature of that beautiful courtyard: a large prayer labyrinth, placed lovingly in the ground with red and black brick. It lay there unused and unacknowledged, as far as I could tell. The gentlemen had their backs to it, the ladies with the dogs walked far wide of the outer edges of the maze.
All the while, I sat it my car waiting for an opportunity to enter the labyrinth. I couldn’t really explain why, but I felt drawn to this place. It felt like something I needed to do—but not like this. Not publicly. So I got out of my car, slowly, and found a bench to wait on. I spent some time reading and staring off into space, waiting for the onlookers to leave so that I could finally begin my walk.
It was then that I realized that the world doesn’t stop so that you can wander in circles chasing after God. You just have to do it. You have to get out of your car. You have to find a spot to lay your bag. You have to muster up the nerve to give it a try, no matter who may watch you as you do it. No matter what kind of a spectacle you may make of yourself.
So there I went.
What became plain to me in the moment of action was the clunkiness of it all. I emerged from the shadows and walked up to the circle, following the circumference of the labyrinth around 180 degrees until I found the small pathway that opened into the swirl of lines inside. I turned right and headed down the path, which at the beginning was relatively long and straight and headed into the center of the large area. The moment I stepped over the brink I became suddenly, painfully, aware of my largeness. My stride felt too big. I felt wide and awkward. I didn’t know what to do with my hands, so I shoved them in my pockets, and I didn’t know what to do with my eyes, so I watched my feet tread the pathway. I felt or imagined strangers’ eyes on me, watching.
I didn’t know what I was doing. I wasn’t sure how one does this. This praying. This walking. This maze-going. I wasn’t even sure anymore why I was there.
And so rather than entering the circle in a prayerful, quiet state as I had imagined myself doing, I entered in with my old companions anxiety and insecurity, my mind babbling at me about all of the reasons why I was doing this wrong and assuring me that this was a dumb idea.
It was then that I realized that your mind and your thoughts and your worries don’t stop so that you can wander in circles chasing after God. You just have to do it. You have to put one foot in front of the other. You have to remind yourself once, twice, three times to slow down. You have to just keep going until the moment comes when you have out-walked the awkwardness and you no longer care that there is a woman walking by, talking on her cell phone to her husband while she stares at you wandering in circles on the pavement in the middle of the day.
It took longer than I expected. The path twisted and turned so many times. Long straightaways turned into sharp switchbacks. I’d tread very close to the center, thinking I was almost there, only to walk back out to the edge and realize how far I had yet to go. My thoughts turned to the path itself: to how hard it was to know where you were in the process; to how easy it was to veer off onto the neighboring path if you stopped paying attention; to how long it took to walk to the center of the circle in this inefficient manner.
I made it to the center, said a quick Lord’s prayer, and then headed back in to retrace my steps. I savored the trip back, walked more slowly. My mind was quiet and I felt free. Free from making this into something spiritual. Free from manufacturing a lesson, or a takeaway, and free, instead, just to walk the path on this beautiful day.
It was then that I realized that you don’t wander in circles to chase down a God who lives in the center, or to find a God who waits at the end. You walk the path to remind yourself that there is nothing special about the center—or the end, for that matter—because when you arrive at these places and there is just more walking to do. Soon, you will reach the end of this path, but then you will have the walk back to the car. And then you will have to journey into the rest of the day. And the path will stretch out, out, out into the mist. There is not a point at which you will arrive at your life. You are already there.
But what the path reminds you is that there is One who walks it with you. Through the straightaways and round the twists and turns that make you dizzy. Close to the center and far away. There is One who keeps you company as you go, who tells your feet to keep moving, who lays out the path before you.
I knew this, but I had just forgotten.
And this is what I thought about as I walked back to my car, drove out into the city, and headed back to my life.