(Isaiah 35:8-9, Luke 1:76-79, Matthew 7:12-14, John 14:2-6)
The feeling of being lost – that’s a powerful feeling, a powerfully bad feeling – when our compass just spins and we have that dizzy disoriented sense of, “Oh no, I don’t know where I am. I don’t know where this is. I don’t know which way to go.” Everything around us begins to look strange and threatening, and we get on our guard or can even start to get panicky. It’s a very powerful feeling.
We rely so much on having a kind of map on which we place ourselves, having a sense of the path that we’re on, or a compass we can follow for making the choices that come up of which way to go as we move through this world. And when that all gets stripped away that can be a crisis. Either we lose the map or we lose the path or lose the compass or we come to territory where our map and path and compass don’t work anymore and there aren’t any familiar landmarks, and the sense of adventure and discovery is long gone and we’re left with confusion or fear.
The experience of being lost can be so unsettling –scary or humiliating – that we can avoid it at all costs, even when that means not admitting to ourselves that we’re lost when we are lost. We can cling to our map even when it doesn’t fit the territory anymore. Now, if you yourself are not that kind of traveler, you probably know what it’s like to travel with someone like that.
We’ve probably all had those times in our lives, or maybe we’re currently at a time in our lives, when we realize that we’ve been wandering, when we’ve had to admit to ourselves that we’ve lost our way. We’ve strayed from the path, the map doesn’t line up, we’ve dropped our compass, we’re become strangers in a strange land, and we don’t know where we’re headed or why we’re even here or even who it is we are.
Who am I? Why am I here? Where do I come from? Where am I going? As religious people, as spiritual people, we’ve all had to ask those questions, or we are still asking those question in the deepest kind of way.
Now, the feeling of being lost can be such a bad feeling we can be susceptible when we’re feeling lost to follow the first thing that comes along that can take away that feeling.
That’s how people can get caught up in some strong charismatic personality – that can be the story of getting sucked in a poisonous relationship or of getting caught up in a cult or of paving the way for the rise of a dictator. Or this can be story of addiction, of becoming addicted to things that make us forget for a little bit of time that lost feeling inside. A habit we keep on coming back to. Go around a vicious circle enough times and we wear ourselves into a rut … and that can be kind of comfortable, actually, until we realize that we’re not going anyplace but around and around and down and down, and we need some help to get pulled out of it.
But also there are less dramatic ways of losing our way and ignoring that fact or finding an easy fix. It can be really easy to ignore our moral compass or to wander off from our path as children of God. A man who was very good at getting people to do what he wanted them to do once said, “Everyone has their price, and you’d be surprised by how low it can be.” The man who said that was Adolf Hitler. Social pressure, fear, strong authority, sweet rewards, these are the kinds of things that can easily get us to ignore that little voice inside us that tells us what’s the right way to go.
A different man, who was all about going the right way regardless of the consequences, he said, “Broad and easy is the way that leads to destruction, and those who travel on it are many.” That man was Jesus.
He said this right after teaching the Golden Rule, “Act towards others the way you would want them to act towards you.” Here is a moral compass. It’s a good way of deciding which way is a good way – it’s the way that leads to life. But, as Jesus is saying, this way is not necessarily the easy way, and it’s not the way that most people are going are going most of the time.
It’s important to remember our true compass. It’s important to remember our true guide and who it is that we truly are, as children of God. No, it’s not just important – it’s a matter of life or death. It’s a matter of being lost or being found.
That’s why we pray. That’s why we do the things we do to reach out our hand to the One who can guide us through. That’s why we return to the Word that is wise and true and good, the Way, the Truth, and the Life.
This is about religious practice, spiritual practice that keeps us oriented, that reorients us when we become disoriented.
And now this sermon takes a turn, and you discover that all along we have been winding our way … to the labyrinth.
Our church now has a wonderful tool for prayer and for spiritual practice to help us on our journeys, especially when we’re feeling lost.
In the overflow parking lot there is now a walking labyrinth. This is an ancient tool for prayer, meditation, reflection, for reorienting us when we get disoriented.
There is the center, the true center. To get to the center we must wind our way. It’s a single path, there aren’t any crossroads or any deadends. And yet as we walk through the labyrinth we can feel disoriented, we can lose track of how we got where we are or how we’ll get to where we’re going. So as we walk the labyrinth we are forced to trust that path. “No travelers, not even fools, will go astray,” as the prophet Isaiah said. This is faith embodied, in the labyrinth, we go forward, trusting in the Way that has been set before us, the Way of Truth and Life.
We wind our way to the center, and we wind our way back out again. We remember or rediscover what is true, who we are, how we’re connected to God, and we bring that back out, a compass to carry with us.
Some people see the labyrinth as a process of death and rebirth. It’s a kind of cosmic womb.
As the Apostle Paul wrote, with Christ we die and with Christ we are reborn. We die to our old being that’s enslaved to what is false and destructive, and we are born again with new being, in the new being we call Christ, that is free and full of truth and abiding, eternal life.
So this labyrinth can be the real deal. But it can also be fun, you can dance through it, be playful, it’s physical and it’s simple, you walk in and you walk out. This makes it a helpful way to pray or reflect.
So here’s some guidance about how to use the labyrinth, if you’re interested. And I should say, it’s out there on the overflow parking lot, and anybody can use it at any time – and our neighbors have been happy to report that that’s what’s been happening. Anyway, here’s some guidance:
Pause before you enter the labyrinth to collect yourself, set your intention, acknowledge that this could be a sacred thing.
Some people like to take off their shoes if that’s comfortable.
When you get to the center, take a moment or however long to just be there.
And then you you’ve walked back out, pause again to reflect on what happened and to give gratitude to God.
So what do you do when you walk?
One approach is to walk with total openness to what may come. Maybe keep your attention lightly on your breath and just allow whatever comes to your awareness to just come and pass on its way.
Another approach is to have a simple prayer to repeat, or a little song or hymn, or to just repeat a single word that expresses your intention, like “Peace … peace” or “Holy … holy” or “Jesus … Jesus” or “Here I am God.”
Sometimes people like walking the labyrinth to reflect on an important questions, or to listen for the Spirit for guidance with something. I know people have found walking the labyrinth to be really helpful with grief, with remembering someone who’s died and feeling the loss of them. Sometimes these sorts of things just come up on their own when we walk the labyrinth.
The important thing is to trust your intuiting. And trust the Spirit.
Like with any religious tool, any prayer, it may always be that something extraordinary happens, or that if you don’t get a revelation something’s wrong with us or wrong with God. This is a practice, a spiritual practice, that germinates and sprouts and bears fruit in its own time, as we keep coming back to it.
Who are you? Why are you here? Where are you coming from? Where are you going?
Who are we – together, as a community of faith? Why are we here? Where are we coming from? Where are we going?
Oh, beloved, beloved children of God, it is a great blessing to be walking on this Way together. Though the Way may be winding, we may trust that we are on a good way, a true way, the way of life.
Thanks be to God.
Delivered May 1, 2016
First Congregational Church of Walla Walla
Rev. Nathaniel Mahlberg