by Dr. Becky Towne
Several times each academic year, I invite students to travel to a nearby retreat center to spend from two to twenty-four hours in silence, depending on the course and requirements. For some, the opportunity is both exciting and anticipated. For others, it is somewhat frightening, but the result is normally rest, renewal, and desire to develop the discipline of silence even further, no matter how the adventure begins. Some classes visit the retreat center during the daytime hours, but, for others, the journey into silence takes us to dusk and beyond.
One of the spiritual practices provided by the retreat center I like to frequent is the labyrinth. A labyrinth is not a maze; rather, a winding, circular pathway that leads to a center point. The labyrinth provides opportunity for reflection, prayer, and simply thinking with God while following the path. I usually remain in one central location at the retreat center so students can find me, in case any issue arises. One night, however, I walked the labyrinth. It was almost dark.
I walked the labyrinth at night. The vapor light high in the pine tree cast a moon-like glow on the path. But there were shadows around the circumference where the nearly blooming ligustrum blocked the light.
I approached the path with mild trepidation, wondering if I could complete the journey and make the correct turns in the dim light. I walked. I found that if I paused to pay careful attention I could distinguish the red guide bricks from the charcoal grey bricks of the path. The greater the shadow, the more attention was required.
I wondered if the journey of life more closely resembles walking the labyrinth at night than during the day. There are benefits during the day–guarding against distractions and being focused on the path before me rather than wondering whether it would be easier to figure this thing out and skip a few segments to finish faster. But at night, the journey was more like faith–knowing there were turns in the road but not sure where.
When I reached the center, I experienced a rush of joy and accomplishment, soon to remember that the journey was only half over and that the way back would hold similar precarious near misses. Yes, I think life’s journey is more like the labyrinth at night, except that I don’t have to walk it alone.
I am often amazed when God uses ordinary things like a circular pathway to speak volumes. It’s not actually the pathway though—it is the time taken in silence that allows the word of God that is going forth to connect with me—even while taking a walk in the dark.
Becky Towne (DMin) is Associate Academic Dean, Professor of Christian Spirituality, and Director of the DMin program at HGST.