Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Breathing Space: Walking the Labyrinth

Ever since I arrived in Coventry last year, I've wanted to bring a labyrinth into the Cathedral, and when I was given responsibility for the informal 6.30 service which we have re-launched as "Later", it was only a matter of time....
Some years ago, #1S and I spent an anxious few days drawing out and then spray painting a simple Chartres design on a large piece of theatrical canvas - and it has been amazingly well-used since, going out to all sorts of churches across Gloucester diocese and even getting involved in curate training there. And on Sunday it finally got unrolled in Coventry.

With the choir year ending that morning, the theme of holiday, holy-day, rest and re-creation was an obvious one. I'd found a rather lovely outline for a prayer walk based on psalm 23 here, so I grabbed some colouring sheets, a finger labyrinth and my CD of Preisner Requiem for my Friend and we were off. 

"Later" has a smaller congregation - so there is ample opportunity to befriend the building, and experience time out with God in any number of quiet corners. However, we still aren't very experienced in the ways of creative worship - until January, this service was a straightforward prayer & praise mix every week, under the "Cathedral Praise" banner...Now, that format alternates with the contemplative "Breathing Space", which seems to hit the spot for many - but I still feel I need to provide a fair amount of guidance, and often something vaguely resembling a preach too. 

So we started with a prayer, read our psalm slowly together, and then this:

Tonight’s theme, looking towards our summer break, is based on probably the best-loved of all the psalms.
Psalm 23 is, of course, a reminder of God’s presence with us throughout the whole of life, whatever our inner and outer landscapes. It may be that we find ourselves led along the gentle, peaceful paths where we are nurtured and sustained, where it is easy to recognise God’s care for us as we enjoy green pastures and still waters. That’s the kind of place in which we long to linger – and indeed, there are times when we really need to linger there, whether we know this or not. In an increasingly driven society, where 24/7 access is available for everything from health-care to groceries, it can be hard to stop, to breathe in the peace that God longs to share with us. 
We neglect the principle of Sabbath – time out to BE, and not to DO…
We seek to dam the still waters to generate electricity and calculate just how much more profitable those green pastures might be if they were sold off for development….

But we have a God who rested when he had made the world, and who invites us to take time out to rest with him, to luxuriate in his care for us, to run barefoot amid the green pastures and drink deep, refreshing draughts of those still waters. The Lord who is our shepherd leads us there and protects us while we rest, for he knows that we need those quiet times in which His Spirit can be at work restoring our soul.
Holidays – HOLY days – are part of God’s plan for us, and though we don’t have to have ££££s to spend on jetting off across the world, we are foolish and self-destructive if we ignore our need to come aside for a while and rest.
Follow the shepherd.

But that shepherd is there with us, too, during the hard times…the times when illness, unemployment, and the struggles of family life tax us and exhaust us…The times when wherever we turn there seems to be trouble and sadness….when each step that we take is hard, hard work – as if we were struggling through the darkness, heading towards our own death. These times too are foreseen by the shepherd – and he will never ever leave us to face them alone. He lends us his strength (for comfort means “with strength”)…and reminds us that he has a special purpose for each one of us, for which we are set aside as surely as any monarch anointed at their coronation, or priest at their ordination.
We are invited to feast in the wilderness, even in the valley of the shadow, surrounded by those who wish us harm. We are given blessing upon blessing, so that our cup overflows – and then we have the promise that this is just the beginning…that when we’ve completed this life’s journey, we will live in the house of the Lord forever.

So now we have time to savour these words and to rest on the promises they point to.
You are invited to take a phrase with you as you walk the labyrinth, or to ponder it as you find your own path around the Cathedral.
If you wish, there are activities for you to explore on the table…a paper labyrinth that you could trace prayerfully with a pen, a text from the psalm to colour and make your own, a way of praying for yourself and for one another.
We will end this time of prayer walking by ringing the peace bell and returning to the prayer circle for our closing prayer.

Walk gently, knowing that God walks with you.

And so we began.
Some people spent almost the entire hour prayerfully colouring in the text, others departed, armed with a colouring sheet and some pens, to far flung corners of the Cathedral, while there was a steady stream of barefoot pilgrims making their way round the labyrinth.
Some carried knotted string...Here's why

Tied in Knots
Life is complicated. Relationships are complicated, and we take so much time worrying...Take a piece of string from the table, sit down and spend some time bringing to God all those things that worry you.
For each worry, tie a loose knot in your piece of string and pray, telling God about each concern and asking God to help you to trust Him with it.
When you are ready, take this string with you on your walk into the labyrinth....When you reach the centre, exchange it for one of the pieces of string you'll find there, that represents another's worries. Pray, thanking God that he cares for the person who tied those knots, and that he will answer their prayers.
Pray that they will receive God's peace.
It's often easier to believe that God will deal with another's problems, rather than our own so as you pray, try to acknowledge that God will do for you what you pray he will do for others. Keep the unknotted string with you, in your purse or pocket, and when you come across it, let it remind you to pray for the person whose problems you offered to God - and to give thanks that God cares for you.

The labyrinth is quite small, and I fully expected people to return to their seats having exhausted the resources I'd provided well before an hour was up, but in the event we all sank gratefully into the silence, and it was only out of care for the verger, who can't go home til we've all departed, that I brought myself to ring the peace bell, our signal to regroup when our time out with God was over.
And, the space and stillness spoke to many.
We had some unexpected visitors: a couple passing through Coventry and just wondering what might be on at the Cathedral, a bypasser who thought it looked interesting and just happened in, a visitor from the "Holy Ground" congregation at Exeter Cathedral, who was intrigued to find us exploring similar ways of worship here. For some of our regulars it seemed to hit the spot, providing what they needed in ways that I couldn't predict. One way and another, it was all very lovely - and exactly what I needed after a particularly busy weekend.
I'm so glad that we waited - but so glad that, when the time was ripe, we could spend such a fruitful evening exploring God together.

1 comment:

jante said...

Would love to know more about the dimensions, and detail of the labyrinth ad I'd like to make my own for future ministry use