Debris on the Labyrinth
By JIM NICHOLS
At first glance or encounter, a labyrinth seems to be a maze; it is a path with twists and turns seeming to go nowhere. On closer attention, however, one realizes it is a path leading eventually to the center. Their meditative value is that they mimic the varying positions of life, eventually leading to a center of value and hope. I have found them to be effective at quieting my mind and allowing me an opportunity to pray and consider aspects of my current life.
Labyrinths appear worldwide and vary in size and construction but have basic similarities. The city where I live now contains three known public labyrinths. The internet has a search tool that states there are nine in the large Midwest city of my younger days. Spiritofabilene.com a few years ago had a brief description of the concept and history. Common uses these days are sites for prayer and meditation.
I saw a moving video once about a counseling program for women with breast cancer. One small part of the multi-day event was a trip to a labyrinth for the women and their husbands. Each couple started at separate times and the video showed a trail of people walking the path. Because of the construction of the labyrinth, occasionally spouses would pass one another. When that occurred, they would spontaneously touch hands and then continue walking on past. Even now I am tearful about those scenes.
I do not remember my first labyrinth trip, but the closest accessible now is on a university campus near my house. It is constructed of various decorative stones and concrete. Positioned in a well-considered landscaped area, it is often quiet and calm, depending on the number of people (and their dogs) on a nearby walking trail. The labyrinth itself includes single words etched in concrete along the path. Some of the words are “sanctification,” “holy,” and “temptation.” Since the labyrinth is designed to loop and double back on itself, one frequently finds oneself passing by a position from just a minute ago. I like the whole concept a lot.
While I walk the labyrinth, I look down carefully so I make sure I am staying on the path. There is no penalty, of course, for stepping off, but I am doing my best to follow the way. The other day I was startled to come upon what appeared to be dog excrement on the path. With disgust, I stepped over the debris and continued through the loops and sharp turns heading eventually to the center. Upon reaching there and stopping momentarily, I raised my eyes to see the whole pathway I had traveled.
It was only then that I saw the debris again and realized that the black-brown blob was moving. Crossing back to that spot, I saw it was an immature bird floundering. Basically featherless, its neck was long and skinny, and the head was swiveling right and left. The legs were just stubs and the wings, such as they were, were bald appendages. They would push against the rock base and spin the body to each side, accomplishing nothing. There was no way it was going to get upright.
I presumed it had escaped from its nest somehow, likely falling. However, there were no trees nearby. Several bird songs could be heard, but I could not hear any sounds of alarms from parent birds. No adult birds were swooping at me to scare me away.
Not only did I not have an explanation for its presence here, but also did not know what to do. I could not return it to its nest because I did not know where it was. There were no obvious predators nearby, but I suspected there would be soon. Death in some form was close. What would you have done?
I picked it up from the labyrinth and carried it to the side and placed it in the grass. I considered that an unsatisfactory action, but felt it was the only one available.
Matthew 10:29-31 speaks of God knowing when sparrows fall to the ground. If they fall on a labyrinth where people are praying, God must surely see that.
Jim Nichols is a retired Abilene Christian University biology professor and current hospice chaplain
My husband Mike built a lovely labyrinth in our backyard a couple of years ago. We enjoy it and the solemnity it can bring when we walk it.