It was chapel time on Thursday October 22, and my attending classmates and I were invited to walk up to the prayer labyrinth to take communion. This time, the ritual would be practiced differently; instead of taking communion before or after walking the labyrinth, we would take the meal with us to the labyrinth, and we would partake of it throughout our journey.
We took up a candle, our bread (including a gluten-free option) and grape juice, and two pieces of wood that would construct a table. When we arrived at the labyrinth, we stood in a semi-circle as our leader constructed the unsturdy-looking table, broke the bread, and blessed the cup. He broke off larger than usual chunks of the bread to place in our cupped hands. He then gave us the instruction to dip our bread in and partake in communion each time we passed the rickety table on our labyrinth walk. As we dipped the bread, we were to reflect on a deep yearning with which we have been wrestling. When we finally reached the center, we were to reflect on those things for which we were grateful.
My feet were itching to move, so moments after our leader finished the instructions, I found myself moving into the labyrinth, my hands still cupping my morsel of bread. I stood in front of the small table at the labyrinth’s entrance, and I dipped my bread in the cup and thought of my first great yearning: intimacy.
I put the juice-soaked piece of bread on my tongue, and as I thought about my desire for intimacy, I felt a moment of intimate connection with God in the meeting of Christ’s body and blood with my own body. I began walking through the labyrinth, reflecting on my desires for intimacy and from where they came. I desire greater intimacy with Bryce, with my family, with my friends, and with God (although I don’t know what that means to me anymore). I thought about the ways in which I push others away when the excitement of new relationships wears off and the harsh realities of putting in effort to sustain them becomes apparent.
Eventually, I passed the table again. I broke off another piece of bread, and I dipped it into the cup. As I partook of the meal, I thought of another great yearning: direction.
As I walked and chewed, I thought about my need to understand from where I have come in order to know where I am going. I want to understand the family that raised me, my Pennsylvania born-and-bred independent mother with her family of farmers. I want to understand my Arabic father, an immigrant and a man who knows how national conflicts can literally tear families apart, and the impact that his former absence and current presence has on me. I want to know what it means for me to follow God without following a specific tradition. I grew up in one congregation and now feel homeless and rootless, which is disheartening in a community of so many seemingly rooted people.
Once again, I passed the rickety table with the cup standing steady on top of it. Once again, I dipped the bread, and as I began to chew, I thought of another great yearning: solidarity.
As a rootless wanderer in the Church, I want someone to know and understand me as I am, someone who shares my journey, my questions, my fears, and my hopes and dreams for the Church and the world. I want to feel less alone, less like an anomaly in this Church that I have loved yet feels so foreign to me at times. I want to know that despite my lack of a “home,” others will take me in and love me as if I have always been part of the family.
Finally, I found myself at the entrance to the labyrinth’s center. I took my last bite of bread, dipped it into the cup, and ate my final meal. And as I did, I thought of another great yearning: a sense of belonging.
I want to know that there are people out there who want me to lead their congregations AND challenge their traditions, who want to embrace the outsiders AND see their place in God’s larger story, who value the stories of the Bible AND the works of Joss Whedon as tales that can teach us about the world in which we live. Is there a place for me in this large, wide world, in this large, wide Church to which I felt called long ago? Will anyone accept, listen to, or follow me as I am, or is my perception of the world and Church as large and welcoming something I’m kidding myself into believing?
With these and all of the other questions I had carried with me, I walked to the center. I looked out at the mountains in the distance and those continuing their journey around me. And I said thanks.
I said “Thank you” for those who didn’t let me run away, for those who stayed with me through it all, for those who have kept me anchored on earth when my head wanted to soar above the clouds, and for those who left and then came back. I said “Thank you” for EMS. I said “Thank you” for the things that have, are, and will be. I even said “Thank you” for the fact that life is full of despair, hope, death, and life, and it will always be this way until Kingdom come, and if for some reason Kingdom come still isn’t good enough for us, we will be well, and we need the darkness and light together. I said “Thank you” to Buffy, the Doctor, Harry Potter, J.K. Rowling, Joss Whedon, Steven Moffat, Rachel Held Evans, Nadia Bolz-Weber, and all of the other storytellers who helped me make sense of my journey.
After I said my thanks, I began my walk back. And as I walked through the labyrinth again, I realized not many of my questions had been truly answered, but I did walk out with a sense of peace and even understanding. By acknowledging and inviting my yearnings and the questions that come with them into the labyrinth with me, I was able to take them to the center and give thanks. I don’t think I was able to give thanks in spite of my questions, but because I felt free to let them live in me without a forceful answer.
I realized that it is possible to be thankful for the smooth paths and the struggles, the light and the dark. I realize this is a paradox, but what kind of theology isn’t to an extent? I’m starting to accept that paradox can be a part of my life without me trying to make perfect sense of it. Somehow, taking a journey with the things I most desire can result in me getting to the center and telling God “Thank you.” I don’t really know how this works, but I no longer need to know. At least for today, I am simply content to express my gratitude and keep on walking.