My third solo journey was to the Sea of Peace House of Prayer, a center for contemplation at Edisto Island, South Carolina. I was searching for pastoral support to examine my life. Sharon, the spiritual director, described the tools available including one-to-one sessions and walking the labyrinth. When I saw that sandy path edged in stones and shells, I was skeptical that walking it would produce anything of value. I was wrong.
Sharon introduced that seven circuit path with only one way to the center. At first, I walked it too quickly, but gradually I began to slow down. After several mornings, I saw a brown oak leaf in the center of the path. For a moment, it appeared as if the word pride was written across the center vein of the leaf.
What has pride got to do with anything, I thought.
That evening in my one-to-one session with Sharon, I told her how hard it was to let go of striving to accomplish. I described my busy, overbooked life as a wife, mother, school nurse, and volunteer with my church. I told her about my walk around the labyrinth.
“There was a leaf in my path, and in my mind’s eye, I saw the word pride written on it. I’m not sure why.”
Sharon waited while both of us sat in silence. Then she said, “Sometimes it’s the ego, the false self that tells us we have to be in charge, that we have to accomplish more. If we let go of the control then God can show us how to rest.”
I felt the startle of recognition in what she was saying. I’d shared with her about my breast cancer but not about being fired from a job. It had been five years and I’d told only a few people.
Now, I read another female spiritual leader’s words, Christine Valters Painter’s description of how we walk a pilgrim path. In The Soul of a Pilgrim, she describes the inner pilgrimage descending into our depths to the places where “wounds and shame dwell.”
Looking back to that session with Sharon, I saw how my pride was underneath the need to feel competent. Being fired had wounded my confidence and left me feeling ashamed. Paintner points out that we need to “retrieve these lost parts and welcome them back into the wholeness of our being.”
Years after that retreat at Edisto Island, I finally recognized how deeply I’d buried my shame. Last summer in the quiet of the kitchen at Artcroft in Kentucky, I worked on my memoir, Saved by Sedona. It occurred to me, that I’d written about cancer but not about my toxic job. I’d been submerged in it a year before I was diagnosed and at times the job was worse than cancer.
That still small voice of God within me said, “You need to go back and tell the whole truth.”
While I rewrote the chapters, I experienced the painful cleaning out of that festered wound, writing through tears of anger and sadness. Gradually, I was able to forgive myself for my part of the problem and be thankful for the good that came from that job.
Now, I go back and mentally trace my steps to the center of the labyrinth and remember the leaf. I marvel at what a simple path of stones and shells, along with the intention of traveling to the depths of those inner hidden places, can do to bring light to my journey.
How about you?
Have you found walking a labyrinth or another spiritual practice that has helped you travel to the depths on an internal pilgrimage?
How have you used what was revealed to you?
Is there a spiritual practice that you would like to incorporate into your life?