The people of Israel spent 40 years in the wilderness, to prepare them to enter the promised land. Jesus spent 40 days in the wilderness to prepare him for his ministry. This week’s reading from Mark recounts three swift moves: Jesus’ Baptism, his time in the wilderness, and his arrival in Galilee proclaiming God’s kingdom. That is fast, even for Mark!
When Jesus was driven into the wilderness by the Spirit, he encountered Satan, wild beasts, and angels. It sounds like a spiritual journey, and it makes me think of walking a labyrinth. A labyrinth is a spiritual tool; it is not the same thing as a maze, which tricks the walker with false starts and dead ends. A maze has many paths, a labyrinth only one. When you walk a labyrinth, you walk slowly, and pray or observe what happens within yourself. Labyrinths are a way to journey to the inner self, observe or realize spiritual reality, and then return to ordinary life.
The Labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral, built in the early 13th century, is a clear visual example of the path. The actual labyrinth is 40 feet in diameter, they can be smaller. A labyrinth can be used as a meditative tool even if you only have a picture and follow it with your finger.
My own experience walking the labyrinth involves lessons of trust and patience, and usually yields insight into some issue that is current in my life. I start off a few steps heading directly to the goal, and suddenly veer off in another direction that folds back on itself taking me further from my destination. I can’t find a rhythm because the turns come irregularly, and even when I go for a distance without turning, I am moving in a direction I cannot forsee. I grapple with impatience, a desire to break out, despair and certainty that I will never get “there.” And then I am surprised to have found the way to my center. I rest and consider my new understanding of journey, of preparation and persistence. I wonder if I missed something along the way. I center myself and make ready to walk out. As I retrace my path, I wonder why it seemed such an unattainably long journey in. I reflect and follow my thoughts to see what else I can connect with this experience, what insight I can gain.
My wilderness experience of walking the labyrinth seems a good modern-day way to connect with the spiritual journey Jesus made in the wilderness. We can picture his time in prayer, his need to face the wild beasts that snapped at his heels, the temptation of Satan, and finally receiving the blessing of the ministry of angels. When Jesus came out of the wilderness, he spoke from his spiritual center; he called people to become aware of the presence of the Kingdom of God, as he was. His time in the wilderness–a time of testing, reflecting and wrestling–prepared him to walk fearlessly through the trials that were to come.
Questions to think about:
- Have you ever been changed by a travel experience or journey?
- Do you ever pray when you walk?
Activities with children: print out this Labyrinth, and invite children follow the path with finger, pen or crayon. Encourage them to do it slowly. Read a prayer or a psalm (23? 91?) or ask them to recite the Lord’s prayer. Ask them if it is easier to quiet their minds to pray while they are moving on the labyrinth. Explore this.
As age appropriate, think about seeking out a labyrinth locally. This Labyrinth locator may be helpful.