The Way of the LabyrinthPosted: November 15, 2015
The Way of the Labyrinth
SLIDE 3: LABYRINTHS: JOURNEYS OF HEALING
Two years ago at the Sharing Table and the Monday Bible Study we read and discussed Zara Renader’s book, Labyrinths: Journeys of Healing Stories of Grace. This study helped to set us on our way to building our Healing Steps Labyrinth. Zara’s book contains dramatic stories of healings associated with Labyrinths, and at the time all we could say was that healings associated with Labyrinths happen and they are a mystery. On Saturday Turning Point Consultants presented the work of Dr. Peter Levine, a medical biophysicist, who is a consultant to NASA and teaches at UC Berkeley and is the author of the Walking Tiger.
SLIDE 4: PETER LEVINE: FIGHT, FLIGHT FREEZE RESPONSE
Levine has pioneered new research into the how the body deals with stress and trauma. Trauma does not reside in the initiating event. Trauma is the blocked energy that results from inhibited or frozen response to fear and trauma. Most of us have heard of the Fight – Flight Response. But there is a third response that can occur, when we are unable to fight against overwhelming power or flee from attack, and that is the Freeze response – the deer in the headlight, the opossum playing dead, the frozen voice or body in response to overwhelming threat from which there is no escape. This Freeze response can often be observed in victims of abuse, sexual abuse, or other forms of power abuse.
SLIDE 5: WALKING THE LABYRINTH RITUALIZED SHAKING IT OFF
The frozen response is not just a memory stored in the brain it takes of the form of stress stored in our bodily tissues. Animals cope with this frozenness by shaking. Sometimes the coach tells the injured player to shake it off. But what happens when the experience of abuse occurs over long periods of time and there is no understanding, or empathetic presence that encourages us to shake it off? When our stress becomes stored in our bodily tissues over long periods of time the experience of trauma cannot be addressed by the mind alone, we literally have to release the stress with our bodies. Walking the Labyrinth can offer a ritualized shaking of our bodies as we walk the back and forth paths of our healing steps. Symbolically walking the Labyrinth can help to release the blocked energy of the frozenness of abuse.
As an illustration of how the Labyrinth can help to heal frozenness, allow me to share one of Zara Renander’s stories about a Labyrinth Walk.
SLIDE 6: HIS BODY BEGAN TO SHAKE
A chill rain dampened that dark, cold November afternoon, and after the students left, I thought about closing the labyrinth and going home. That’s when he arrived, an old man bent over and walking in some pain, shuffling and dragging his feet. I’d never seen him before. He’d come in response to one of our advertisements. He asked for a few directions on how to walk a labyrinth and started out. As his feet followed the circular path, his body began to shake – it became obviously difficult for him to continue. I went to him to help him and said, “This is very hard for you, isn’t it?” He nodded by way of acknowledgement then opened his hand. In his palm he held a crumpled, tear stained piece of paper with the names of his World War II comrades. “All dead,” he murmured, “all dead.” Together we lit a candle for each of his friends and placed their names on a prayer list. Afterwards, he said, “I didn’t understand why I had come here this afternoon. Thank you, now I know.”
SLIDE 7: BOUNDARIES OF REALITY BECOME PERMEABLE
I never saw the old man again, Zara wrote, but I have often thought about him and his story. I thought about how he held all his friends in his heart over the long years, perhaps wondering why he was alive and they were not. A labyrinth is a place of connection, a place where the boundaries between realities are permeable: The living and the dead are close. In this walk the old man was not alone; he walked with the “great cloud of witnesses” (Hebrews 12:1) and in the communion of the saints. He must have attended countless Veterans Day parades and ceremonies in his long life yet it took the quiet intimacy, the heart space and prayer on the labyrinth for his tears to flow allowing him to lay down his grief, and be healed.
SLIDE 8: FRIDAY NIGHT TORCH LIGHT WALK
Last weekend we walked the Labyrinth three times. The first time was on Friday night after the rain had let up, and we walked by torch light, a very inspiring experience.
SLIDE 9: CELEBRATION DANCE
Our last walk was an expression of celebration as we danced the Labyrinth with ribbons of joy. And let me tell you Tommy Archer can dance like there is no tomorrow. He was an inspiration to an old man trying to painfully make his way with a cane.
SLIDE 10: WALKING THE LABYRINTH IN THE RAIN – THERE IS A REASON I HAVE NO CARTILAGE IN MY RIGHT HIP
On the second of our Labyrinth walks we made last weekend, we were encouraged to hold a fairly large heavy stone as we walked the Labyrinth in the rain. As I walked I became aware that my stone represented the burdens of forty years of ministry, and there is a reason I have no cartilage left in my right hip. Everything we do and experience in this life, especially our stressors, our fears our angers, and our frozen fears are written in our bodies. And while walking the Labyrinth will not change the need for hip replacement surgery, owning my burdens was wise and helpful.
SLIDE 11: NOW THAT YOU HAVE A LABYRINTH WHAT ARE YOU GOING TO DO WITH IT?
Now allow me to share with you the really good stuff from the Labyrinth training. On Saturday afternoon, the presenters had us sit together as churches. We had our own United Church table, where four of us were sitting. And they asked us, “Now that you have the Labyrinth, what are you going to do with it?”
SLIDE 12: A MONTHLY HEALING WALK
Our group began to brainstorm ideas for using the Labyrinth in ministry to our community, and allow me to share with you some of those ideas. Starting in the New Year Alan Burkett and Marianne Phillips would like to organize a monthly Healing walk. Maybe invite our neighbors from St. Stephen’s to join us. We have so few opportunities for healing prayer services, and I know some of our more secular folks may be nervous about our congregation offering a service of healing prayer. But I think the Labyrinth provides an opportunity for a very individualized spiritual experience at the same time offering communal support in the process. For as individuals walk the Labyrinth for healing other people will be present around the circle offering supportive prayer. And let me assure you, no one will be forced to walk the Labyrinth.
SLIDE 13: POST TRAUMATIC CHURCH DISORDER
Another way the Labyrinth can help to extend the church’s ministry is in addressing what our own Jim Norris calls Post Traumatic Church Disorder. I first became aware of this problem listening at the Sharing Table. Rebecca Wortham, Dakota Fox and Claire Woerner were discussing how they had all left fundamentalist, controlling churches, because of the spiritual abuse practiced in these communities. They also mentioned how hard it can be to leave an abusive community because of the shame, guilt and fear associated with those religious groups.
SLIDE 14: LEAVING BEHIND SHAME, GUILT & FEAR FOR FREEDOM
On Saturday as Kerry Holder Joffrion described the “Freeze Response” and the need to engage the body as well as the mind in healing, I had this image of William and Rebecca Wortham leading a Labyrinth walk for Post Traumatic Church Syndrome. We could encourage people to carry stones with them representing shame, guilt, and fear as they walk to the center of the Labyrinth, and when they lay those burdens down receiving a broken chain link to symbolize new spiritual freedom.
SLIDE 15: MARKING LIFE TRANSITIONS
Other ideas that emerged on Saturday were using the Labyrinth to create rituals for marking life transitions that presently have no ritual. For instance, divorce, or the loss of a job, even retirement, these are all transitions often associated with stress, trauma, shame or grief that presently receive little if any ritual attention. Even many retirements any more are forced, unhappy, angry, stressful occasions needing ministry, kindness and love.
SLIDE 17: EVEN THE HAPPIEST OCCASIONS INCLUDE SOME AMBIVALENCE
ven the happiest occasions often include some ambivalence. For instance a wedding is a joyous occasion, but there is also the grief of bride and groom and parents letting go of one another as the new couple forms their own independent household. Then I think we need a new ritual to mark, when the dog dies and the children leave home – the real beginning of life! All of these life transitions offer opportunities for ministry using the Labyrinth. Now some people will say, “Well I don’t believe in that stuff.” I would simply answer there are some things that are true whether you believe them or not. No one will force you to walk the Labyrinth.
SLIDE 17: OCCASIONS ON THE SECULAR CALENDAR
Besides life transitions there are presently important days on the secular calendar the church could develop rituals for celebrating. What about a New Year’s walk to recognize both the anticipation and the anxiety of a New Year. Or consider a Valentine’s Walk for people who need to mark a broken heart, or the pain of unrequited love. A Mother’s Day Walk to remember and heal the pain of grief or bad memories. A Father’s Day walk dedicated to all of the ambivalent feelings around our Fathers. We can even celebrate happy occasions like the Blessing of the Animals.
SLIDE 18: THANKSGIVING DEDICATION OF OUR LABYRINTH
Now that we have a Labyrinth, what are we going to do with it? We are only limited by our imaginations and our willingness to reach out into our community with love. Now allow me to mention a very special opportunity next Sunday November 22nd, Thanksgiving Sunday. Our sister church St. Stephens volunteered to host the Community Thanksgiving Service at 3:30 p.m. We are starting so early so that when the Service ends at 4:15 p.m. it will still be light enough to invite the whole congregation to come outside to dedicate and walk our Healing Steps Labyrinth as a community. This dedication will help everyone to know that they are welcome on our Labyrinth. No matter who you are or where you are on life’s journey you are welcome at our Healing Steps Labyrinth. Many people who would never step foot in a church, will be willing to walk our Labyrinth. So, let’s use our Labyrinth in ministry.