How Christians Can Use a Labyrinth For Self-Examination
Everyone benefits now and then from looking deep inside at the truth about oneself. However, conducted in a vacuum, self-examination can be quite destructive Exciting, happy memories inspire gratitude, but remembering bad decisions and poorly-managed choices may induce hopelessness.
Unfortunately, we cannot really see ourselves the way we see other people. We cannot step out of our daily obligations and meditate for very long. Fortunately, there are ways to achieve a modicum of separation, and there is a Helper, the indwelling Holy Spirit, who can shine the light of truth on our lives in the midst of the realities.
A labyrinth can be a very useful tool for achieving a degree of separation and promoting the focus necessary for self-examination. The design of a labyrinth takes the walker from the outside world to a quiet place at the center of the pattern. The outer boundary line creates a mental separation from the world outside the labyrinth. Walking within the beautiful, wandering pattern is peaceful. It promotes relaxation and openness to discovery. Some walkers say that this experience helps them to see some things in their lives more clearly. It isn’t magic, but it may encourage a willingness to be surprised by truths we otherwise overlook in our daily busyness recommended quiz.
The conventions of the labyrinth lend themselves to precisely this sort of meditation. When walking a labyrinth, it is common to think of the inward path as a time of letting go, the center as a time of rest and refreshing, the outward path as a time of receiving, and the exit as a time of commitment. At the entrance, a walker might invite the Holy Spirit to search her heart. Along the meandering path toward the center, she could lay aside the barriers to facing truth about herself. In the center she might pray for understanding of the truth and for courage to give all the truths to God. Walking outward, the comfort and guidance of the Holy Spirit may lead her to accept new understanding of herself. At the exit she might commit herself to some new action or attitude that represents her growth.
A labyrinth could be a tool for secular self-help analysis, but as a Christian, I am very grateful that I don’t need to do it all myself. When we are marked in baptism by the cross of Christ, we also receive the indwelling Holy Spirit who becomes our wonderful Counselor and the Spirit of Truth who helps us to see ourselves honestly. This counselor also comforts and sustains us when the truth hurts. When I walk the labyrinth in the company of the Holy Spirit, I often recall the image of the two disciples who met Jesus on the road to Emmaus. They, too, walked with the Wonderful Counselor, who encouraged and comforted them with the truth.
Each of us can benefit by taking time to look at our lives from a different perspective. Even greater blessing can arise from inviting the Lord to search our hearts to the depths. This is a dangerous invitation, because God is Light and Truth. When God ventures into the dark corners of the heart, nothing is hidden. If we engage in ruthless self-examination without the Holy Spirit, it can produce complete despair. Each of us buries weakness, failure, fear, and even malice in our hearts where other people cannot see. However, if we invite God to help us see the truth, then we need not face discouraging truth alone. The truth we find may be frightening or humiliating, but in the presence of the Holy Spirit, it also sets us free. God’s grace enables us to face our personal, sinful truths, because God is ready to forgive those truths. If God has seen the worst, bad as it is, there is nothing more to fear. If God has forgiven the past that haunts us, we are liberated from the self-imposed barriers that keep us from becoming what we were created to be. Walking the inward path of a labyrinth provides a physical cue to the spiritual process of letting go of the past.
Commitment to grow is clearly the reason we examine ourselves. What would be the point of exposing our faults to ourselves and to God if we have no intent to take action? Looking at ugly truth is discouraging. All our enthusiasm for spiritual growth can collapse when we see our sinful selves without makeup. If we had to face our dark truths with no hope of cleansing, it would lead us to despair. In fact, that is one of Satan’s most potent weapons. Just as he invited Eve to doubt God’s instruction in order to lead her to willful disobedience, he nags all of us with the enormity of our failures and invites us to doubt God’s promise of forgiveness. Satan weighs us down with recognition of our sin while tormenting us with the lie that the sin is too grievous for God to forgive. Our shame and fear make us turn away from God, and we don’t serve God, because we feel so unworthy. Only the presence and the power of the Holy Spirit can protect us from such an assault. Without the Holy Spirit we dare not undertake the revelation of our real truths. In the center of a labyrinth, the sensation of walking into protected space helps to buffer the intensity of such a revelation.
In the company of the Holy Spirit, self-examination sets us free. If we do not examine ourselves in the presence of the Holy Spirit with some frequency, we risk trying to perform our service for God as an act of will. None of us can continue such an act forever. However, if we are able to be honest with God, then we can be honest with everyone. Receiving God’s forgiveness of the past and his vision for our future is life-changing. St. Peter and St. Paul show us the power of obedient service to God kick-started by the experience of forgiveness. As a person walks toward the exit of a labyrinth, the physical act reinforces a need to make a choice and take some action in response to the refreshing release of God’s forgiveness. The exit itself reminds the walker that life is not lived in isolation, but rather in the midst of challenges to faithful commitment. It is a good place to internalize and affirm a decision to take God’s next step in personal growth.