Thinking Out Loud

June 23, 2016

The Labyrinth

LabyrinthOne of the Anglican churches in the town where I live has a labyrinth in the field behind the building. I remember the first time I saw it, probably well over a decade ago, and thinking it a rather odd sight for a Christian place of worship. Wikipedia (linked above) offers this origin:

In Greek mythology, the labyrinth (Greek: λαβύρινθος labyrinthos) was an elaborate structure designed and built by the legendary artificer Daedalus for King Minos of Crete at Knossos. Its function was to hold the Minotaur eventually killed by the hero Theseus. Daedalus had so cunningly made the Labyrinth that he could barely escape it after he built it.

Later on the article states

Prehistoric labyrinths are believed to have served as traps for malevolent spirits or as defined paths for ritual dances. In medieval times, the labyrinth symbolized a hard path to God with a clearly defined center (God) and one entrance (birth). In their cross-cultural study of signs and symbols, Patterns that Connect, Carl Schuster and Edmund Carpenter present various forms of the labyrinth and suggest various possible meanings, including not only a sacred path to the home of a sacred ancestor, but also, perhaps, a representation of the ancestor him/herself: “…many [New World] Indians who make the labyrinth regard it as a sacred symbol, a beneficial ancestor, a deity. In this they may be preserving its original meaning: the ultimate ancestor, here evoked by two continuous lines joining its twelve primary joints.”

Almost as a postscript, the article ends with a section headed “Christian use”

Labyrinths have on various occasions been used in Christian tradition as a part of worship. The earliest known example is from a fourth-century pavement at the Basilica of St Reparatus, at Orleansville, Algeria, with the words “Sancta Eclesia” at the center, though it is unclear how it might have been used in worship.

In medieval times, labyrinths began to appear on church walls and floors around 1000 C.E.. The most famous medieval labyrinth, with great influence on later practice, was created in Chartres Cathedral.  The purpose of the labyrinths is not clear, though there are surviving descriptions of French clerics performing a ritual Easter dance along the path on Easter Sunday.  Some books (guidebooks in particular) suggest that mazes on cathedral floors originated in the medieval period as alternatives to pilgrimage to the Holy Land…

I’m sure my Baptist friends, if I had some, would be more strongly shocked and possibly even repulsed at the idea of such a very non-Biblical thing being part of the structure of the church. Nowhere do the scriptures suggest the construction or use of such. It’s very foreign to our experience…

300px-Labyrinth_at_Chartres_CathedralIn the bookstore where I work a couple of days a week there are two aisles at the front, three in the middle and one at the back. Occasionally, when there are no customers (which is an increasingly common problem) I will pick up a book, kick off my shoes, and start walking up and down the aisles forming a somewhat random pattern of circles. I’m able to read and walk at the same time without serious injury; although this practice of pounding bare feet on a thin carpet supported by a concrete floor may have led to my current symptoms of plantar fasciitis. For some reason, I find I make great progress reading this way, not unlike the times as a teen I would play improvisations on the piano while studying the geography or chemistry textbook for an exam. Either the rhythm of this type of activity, or the built-in distraction helps me focus.

I wonder if there’s any real difference between what I do at the store and the Anglicans who walk the labyrinth?

We can be so quick to criticize; so hasty in our judgment that we don’t realize we are often doing the same things only differently; or with different terminology. I could just as easily pace the floor and meditate on a passage of scripture or even pray (keeping my eyes open of course so I don’t crash into a display of coffee mugs.)

I’m sure the focus of the labyrinth at an Anglican or Episcopalian church is prayer and meditation. Those are good things, right?

Still…this is clearly an extra-Biblical practice. I also wonder if the more things we add on to the elements of church life, instead of creating forms and devices that aid people in spiritual disciplines, we simply have layered on another disciplines, and thereby robbed people of the more basic approach to prayer and meditation. (Heck, my imaginary Baptist friends really don’t like that last word, either.)

The other challenge is the possibility that a few people make some of these practices which lie on the fringes of the Christian life more central than they need to be. It can be for some an obsession, or a ritual which obscures more important things we ought to be doing.

I’m quite sure there are Evangelical equivalents.


Top image: St. John the Evangelist Church in South Lancaster, Ontario. I tried to find one for the church where I live, but this one is similar.

Bottom image: Wikipedia

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October 26, 2010

Spiritual Attention Deficit Disorder

I’m the kind of person who walks through the supermarket picking things up and then setting them down again in order to pick up something else.   I’m sure I keep stock clerks busy replacing all the stuff I’ve grabbed and then absent-mindedly deposited in the next aisle.   (You’d think they’d offer baskets or carts or something…)

So when Perry Noble posted today on the topic of distraction I knew I had to re-post this one here.    As someone once said… … …okay, I forgot what it was.   See what I mean?



Getting distracted is DANGEROUS!  (I remember taking my eyes off the road for just a few seconds the other day…and when I looked up I was about to take out a row of mailboxes!  I immediately jerked the car back into the road…and if there had been another car coming I would have NAILED them!)

In ministry we can’t allow ourselves to become distracted (which is SO MUCH more of a challenge than it was 10 years ago because of the “advancement” of social media.)

So…what are four distractions that we are constantly going to have to resist as leader?

#1 – Pleasure – We are going to have to fight doing what is easy rather than what is right!

#2 – Pride – There WILL come the temptation to begin to think, “Look at all of this great work I have done!”  I can think of two leaders in the Scripture who had simular thoughts…it didn’t go well for them!  (See Daniel 4:28-33 and Acts 12:19-23)

#3 – Procrastination – Many times we KNOW what the right decision that needs to be made…but because it may be tough to do so we delay it, hoping that maybe God either just “work it out” or change His mind!

#4 – People – Someone is always going to not like what you do, who you are and what you stand for…always!  When you get in the people pleasing business you get out of the business of pleasing God!  (See Galatians 1:10)

#5 – Performance – One of the greatest problems with success is that leaders can actually begin to believe that they are the ones that caused success to happen…and in order to keep/maintain it they have to work harder and harder…thus establishing a pace that literally sends them into a wall at 100 mph.

#6 – Problems – We can’t view problems as God’s punishment…but rather we must view them as God’s preparation!  David didn’t see the lion and the bear as a problem…but rather he viewed them as opportunities to prepare him for the greater problems in life he knew that were sure to come.  (See I Samuel 17:33-37)

#7 – Passion – Passion can be a distraction when we use it to run over people rather than lead them!  God did NOT give us the Spirit of timidity…but of power, LOVE and self discipline!  (II Timothy 1:7)  Power without love always leads to legalism and domination.  We MUST be passionate about what God has called us to…but we must also learn how to use that passion to lead others to where they need to be…not drive them there!

~Perry Noble

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