My Julia is the big beautiful one walking the labyrinth on the far left; the photo is by our priest, Rev. Randy.
This morning we attended the Lenten Morning of Meditation at our church, Episcopal Church of the Ascension.
It was organized and led by our priest, Rev. Randy, who required a minimum of ten participants to RSVP (yes, a minyan, and we were the last two) but also welcomed drop-ins, and we were joined by a few people after we began. We began at nine with some social time and refreshments, then sat and more formally introduced ourselves. Randy explained the plan for the day and gave us two brochures about labyrinths, Ascension’s and the Hallowood Retreat & Conference Center's (Comus MD) – the text of the former appears here and draws on Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress’ Walking A Sacred Path : Rediscovering The Labyrinth As A Spiritual Tool. Our labyrinth was custom-made for us by The Labyrinth Company of Baltimore; it's canvas and can also be used outdoors, and is based on Chartres Cathedral's floor one (France).
We remained in our chairs to meditate in whatever sense we wished until we were ready to enter the labyrinth, though we needn’t enter it at all. We were welcome to walk in the way(s) best for us – in relationship with our fellow walkers – and however many times we were willing and able in the allotted time.
We also had the option of a lap-size labyrinth, about a foot and a half in diameter and an inch thick in something like resin made to seem like wood, which one usually "walks" with one's finger(s); we both walked this too.
Now, although I appreciate labyrinths and our church's ability to possess our own, today reminded me of how they are problematic, especially in their physical accessibility issues -- that is, they can be difficult or impossible for those with disabled, fat, and other non-normative bodies and mobilities. Particularly when they are the small size and narrow design of ours. It would be good if this was acknowledged before and at programming that includes labyrinth use -- indeed, this could be a valuable part of the program. The lap labyrinth does help with this problem, though it also needs help to be most helpful.
At the same time, we had good experiences of the labyrinth and the rest of the day -- and I don't think I'll surprise anyone by saying I was primarily using the labyrinth and the rest as a tool in my discernment process around my new life here in MD (I've always lived in Boston MA, and moved here at the end of January to begin living with Julia, who's always lived here). We haven't taken much advantage of our past labyrinth access, and now we are inspired for the future. I want to add more about the specifics of my experience of today's walks and the rest, but there is also something about that being private.
On a related note, today also reminded me that we don't have any labyrinths of our own and would like to. I'll probably begin by making myself some jewelry (always a good way to start, don't you think? ; > ), and begin that with labyrinth charms from TierraCast (page 21; they come in silver, copper and gold in two sizes) -- they're wholesale only, but here's an Etsy search I've been doing that includes them (as well as a lot of things inspired by the movie, which I couldn't get all the way through when I tried to watch it for the first time a few years ago, sorry). I can also include labyrinths in my more out-going artwork, which is primarily stationery. Perhaps something to include if I participate in Ascension's holiday bazaar.
When we were each ready, we walked from the chapel building to the sanctuary of the main building and gathered in the pews to process the first half of the day with Randy.
We then counted ourselves off by ones and twos, and the two groups went to two rooms on two floors for the same activity. My group of Twos was led by Randy; we used the African / Lambeth Bible study method (given by the African delegation at the Lambeth Conference in 2008) to experience the Common English Bible version of John 4:5-42, the story of Jesus' encounter with the Samaritan woman at the well.
"He came to a Samaritan city called Sychar, which was near the land Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there. Jesus was tired from his journey, so he sat down at the well. It was about noon. A Samaritan woman came to the well to draw water. Jesus said to her, 'Give me some water to drink.'"
This study was especially helpful to me as I reflected on my and Julia's workday at the Maryland statehouse this past Thursday -- while lobbying for the Fairness For All Marylanders Act, MD's trans equal rights bill, we had some very challenging conversations with legislators. I'd heard about this Bible study method but hadn't participated in it; Ascension has been using it for vestry meetings and otherwise to great effect. The instruction side of the handout read:
"This Bible study method was introduced at the Lambeth Conference, a gathering of bishops of the Anglican Communion.
Opening Prayer: O Blessed Lord, who caused all Holy Scripture to be written for our learning. Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
- One person reads passage slowly.
- Each person identifies the word or phrase that catches their attention (1 minute).
- Each shares the word or phrase around the group (3-5 minutes, NO DISCUSSION).
- Another person reads the passage slowly (from a different translation if possible).
- Each person identifies where this passage touches their life today (1 minute).
- Each shares (3-5 minutes, NO DISCUSSION).
- Passage is read a third time (another reader and translation if possible).
- Each person names or writes ”From what I’ve heard and shared, what do I believe God wants me to do or be? Is God inviting me to change in any way?” (5 minutes)
- Each person shares their answer (5-10 minutes, NO DISCUSSION).
- Each prays for the person on their right, naming what was shared in the other steps (5 minutes).
As planned, we ended at noon, and regrouped in the chapel for some optional final socializing and refreshmenting as we collected our things and left.
The most interesting thing about the breakout room my group was in – which I hadn’t seen before and is one of those used for our Sunday school – was a poster of Bohdan Piasecki's "Last Supper" painting. Commissioned in 1998 by Brothers And Sisters In Christ (BASIC), which merged with We Are Church Ireland in 2012, it restores the Jewishness, women and children, and other significant aspects to the scene.