Friday, 30 March 2012

Walking the Labyrinth at Edgware Abbey

pausing for prayer at the centre

  Last week the Urban Quiet travelling rainbow labyrinth was greeted with Benedictine hospitality at Edgware Abbey, out at the end of the Northern Line, and I spent a day walking it with a group of Oblates. For most participants this was a new experience: I was struck again, as I so often am, by the power of this simple, incarnational prayer. Despite knowing that there is only one path, the walk can still feel risky. How far is it? Will I really find the way out? What will be waiting for me at the centre, and what if there seems to be nothing there? But all took the risk, and a beautiful "dance" was woven as we walked in company. It was good to hear connections with the Benedictine way: here were Oblates living Benedict's Rule in the world spending time in this sacred space to reconnect with the community before returning, refreshed, from one "home" to another. The in-and-out path of the labyrinth with its historical associations with pilgrimage felt like a good image for that, as did the rhythm of walking at our own pace and stepping aside for others, and then sitting still in a circle together for the psalmody and prayer of the midday office.

the holy one to be born will be called the Son of God

It was almost the feast of the Annunciation, so we prayed with the gospel story before walking. We imagined God's loving gaze on the world and his choice to "empty himself, taking the form of a servant" and make his home among us; we imagined Mary walking first to visit Elizabeth, then to Bethlehem, carrying the incarnate Word at her very centre. Afterwards, Sister Barbara brought in a polished piece of wood, the cross-section of an old tree from the garden, and we all traced the rings with our fingers marvelling at the tree's growth from a tiny sapling to old age. So Christ is rooted in our humanity.

During the afternoon I invited everyone to write one word on a post-it note summing up what they had received or felt led to pray for and place it on the labyrinth - a bit like the distillation of a Benedictine Lectio Divina, a sacred reading of all that God had spoken to us during the day. Then we ended the day by walking the labyrinth again together to the echo of words the incarnate God might well be addressing to us:

 Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams. (W B Yeats)