Editor’s note: This Lent season, Bread Blog is running a series of devotionals written by staff, alumni, and friends of the San Francisco Theological Seminary, which is affiliated with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A).
By Rev. Scott Clark
Over Spring Break, I walked three labyrinths in one day – the outdoor one at San Francisco’s Land’s End (with the Golden Gate Bridge in the distance), and the two at Grace Cathedral, indoors and out. For the week, I had assigned myself the task of thinking about walking as spiritual practice – and walking. What I can report is this: After walking two labyrinths in one day, the third labyrinth can be (and may my spirituality sisters and brothers forgive me) – that third labyrinth can be – well – boring. Step here. Turn here. Turn again. And again. And again. And again. Perhaps I was just labyrinthed out. Done, I stepped out, sat down on a bench next to the labyrinth, and pulled out my composition book to write – because after the action, comes reflection.
As I was still writing, and as the cathedral bell rang 6 p.m., I registered that someone else had entered the labyrinth – an older woman, in a hat. I didn’t notice much else – her turning path, a rhythmic background for my writing. We were amiably present together in the same space.
And then I noticed more. The woman was indeed walking a curving path – but her path had absolutely nothing to do with the path of the labyrinth. Not one thing. She walked with steady intention, turned here and there, swirling and swerving over the ancient pattern, without regard to line or custom. It was as if she had watched folks walk the labyrinth, got the general idea, but hadn’t seen the pattern laid out on the ground. It was as if she was walking a path I couldn’t see. Or, better yet, it was as if she was walking a path only she could see. It was a fully embodied coloring outside the lines. Then, she abruptly walked off the labyrinth and was gone.
“Well,” I thought, “that was transgressive.”
Followed by, “I could never do that.”
And then, I had what my friend Babs would call an unction. Never? Something inside me triple-dog dared me to. So, I got up, and for the fourth time of the day, entered a labyrinth – at the entrance, as one should. And began to walk. Step after step. Turn after turn. Every step within the ancient path – within the lines. I can’t just start walking all over the place. But, really, whoever will know? And so I did. As best I could emulate my momentary companion, I just started walking. With intention. Across the lines. I walked some path. But not the path. Turning and turning, whether the path was lined or not. And then I stopped and laughed out loud.
And then I looked up. And there, at the edge of the labyrinth, were three teenagers standing stock still, watching. I smiled, as if to say, yes, I just did that. Collected my notebook and pen, and walked away just as fast as I could.
Friends, today, as you walk into this new day, into whatever struggle or joy may come your way, here is my prayer for you:
May you walk your own path, whether anyone else sees it or not.
May you feel the freedom to color outside or inside the lines.
And may you bring healing on the Sabbath in every way you can.
Rev. Scott Clark is a chaplain and associate dean of student life at the San Francisco Theological Seminary.