This month our spiritual practice focus is on labyrinth's. Many people may get confused thinking a labyrinth is a maze however in this context labyrinths are an ancient symbol relating to wholeness. It combines the imagery of a circle and spiral into a journey from outside to in and back out again. Usually there is only one entry into the path and people choose how fast, slow, or way to walk it. The practice provides a direct experience of walking a path as a metaphor for life's journey.
The first labyrinth I walked was 15 years ago. It was a movable cloth which could be transported and used anywhere. Headphones and a recorded CD was provided which lead you through the path. The journey took roughly one hour as the meditation stopped at various points along the journey where you interacted with materials previously set up. There were moments for reflection to dwell on your personal life and your internal thought processes. There were specific movements and actions asked of me which opened up my heart. The journey came to the end and I remember feeling completely relaxed and present in the moment. The journey was nothing I had ever encountered because it intentionally made me take time and focus my attention on the state of my heart.
Labyrinths can be incredible experiences combining movement and action with meditation. Let's look closer at labyrinth's and how they may fit your spiritual needs.
The History Of Labyrinth's
The Labyrinth Builders indicate the first examples of labyrinths come from neolithic and bronze age with images carved on rocks. Coins from Crete appear with the symbols around 1 BC. The design later became popular with the Romans who would put them on the floors of their homes and would use the design for horseman to practice riding. The imagery eventually developed and led to churches using them in their construction.
The first evidence of a religious use of labyrinths is from the 4th century where Basilica of Reparatus in Orleansville, Algeria was built. The most famous one is the Chartes Cathedral in France which was built in 13th century. Chartes Cathedral is widely known to have individuals pilgrimage there to partake in the labyrinth. Here is a picture below of the cathedral floor.
The blog Sacred Ordinary Days indicates labyrinths became a symbol for pilgrimages when those could not leave for various reasons. It was a spiritual journey they could take when the road to the Holy Land was not accessible or too dangerous for those to travel.
Meaning Behind Labyrinth's
Veriditas is a non-profit focusing on connecting individuals to labyrinths. If you click on their name it will take you to their website which has a great video about labyrinths. I encourage you to watch it.
There are many different ways and various reasons to walk a labyrinth. It may be for stress reduction, spiritual transformation, or just for fun. Whatever the reason its a good one as there is no wrong way to walk one.
Some people break up the journey into three stages which I have listed below.
Stage 1: Releasing - The journey inward is about letting go of your thoughts and concerns. It's about giving them up to be present on the journey.
Stage 2: Receiving - Reaching the middle of the labyrinth is a time of reflection. What have you received from your journey? What answers are you searching for? It's a time to sit, pray, quiet the mind, and be present in the sacred space. Spend as much time as you need in this sacred space.
Stage 3: Returning - The journey back outward is one of preparation for the world yet to come. You have journeyed to the center, opened yourself up to receive, and are ready to return to the world, possibly transformed or changed from who you were previously.
Many individuals have found amazing benefits and meaning from walking a labyrinth. I encourage you to find your own meaning and reasons as you walk your own. If you are interested in finding a labyrinth close to you. Go to the worldwide labyrinth locator.
Community Of Christ & Labyrinths
Community of Christ is always supportive ways people can connect and reflect with God in their lives. Labyrinths is just one of a myriad of ways. The Community of Christ Temple in Kansas City, MO, which is dedicated to the pursuit of peace, has a labyrinth on their outside platform open to the public just as the temple is. Here is a picture below of the labyrinth.
They have also have various resources giving direction on how to use labyrinths. First is this PDF called Introducing the Labyrinth which describes labyrinths, why people walk them, and how they connect to symbols and concepts of faith. There is also a webpage Walking the Labyrinth further describing the practice.
So go out there and try the spiritual practice of labyrinth walking!
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This week find a labyrinth near you and give it a try.
Many churches make bold claims about God, Jesus, heaven, hell, and various other Christian terms. It's awesome to have a belief system that helps you navigate the roadways of life. However when those belief systems cause division, point fingers or break down relationships then maybe its time they are questioned.
One thing my family and this faith community, have taught me that its ok to say “I’m not for sure” or “I don’t have it all figured out.” It's a freedom in knowing I do not have to have all the answers. The notion throws away rigidity and rightness and declares questions and lack of knowing as a natural process of our faith. With this sigh of relief people are allowed to lean into the divine being a mystery to which we are all discovering. Knowing any encounter can be the spirit breathing further understanding of God in our lives.
So why do some of us feel the need to be right and believe we have all the answers? How can our faith grow with the openness of not knowing?
Much of peoples need to be right comes from our own personal biases. A bias is a prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another, usually in a way considered to be unfair. When we specifically look at faith much of our beliefs come from what we have grown up knowing. We hold biases based on the belief system that has been engrained in us. Now this is not bad, its just important to be aware that how we see the world and what we believe about the world may not be the entirety of what there is.
Chaehan So talks specifically about selective perception in regards to confirmation bias, self-serving bias, and hindsight bias. The ones he goes over is just a few of the 50 cognitive biases he states there are. It's a great Tedtalk informing us about our own internal processes and how many times we are wrong. Take the time to check it out as I promise he is entertaining and has good information.
So what does this information about biases mean for our unique faith journeys? Well we all might use this information differently. It informs me that I need to continually be open to listening and hearing ideas that are contrary to my prior judgements or beliefs. For others it may mean that exploring faith and other denominations is ok because its about figuring out what is right for you instead of holding onto potential bias.
Faith Growing By Not Knowing
Now many of us hate not knowing. I mean google is at our fingertips and with a few strokes we calm our fears by finding the answer. Uncertainty can be a beast in our lives. Researchers have found uncertainty is correlated with stress. The article "Why We Hate Not Knowing For Sure" indicates the more someone knows what will happen the less stressed they are even it if is a horrible outcome. Its calming for us to know, and we seek out that feeling.
However on the other hand, in some situations we can feel like we are the only ones that do not know causing added stress. Think about new experiences you have had, or walking into a church for the first time. We put stress on ourselves because we do not know how it will be or what to do. The article "The Wisdom of Not Knowing" talks about the freedom associated with not knowing everything. Many times others have been in the exact same situation or don't know either. But it seems like it takes so much time to figure that out. That's why being vulnerable is so important because it allows us to be free.
With faith there is great benefits of knowing your beliefs. It becomes an internal and external moral compass for how we live. However knowing your beliefs can also create lines causing what is not on that side or challenges it, to be wrong. When we take on an attitude of not having it all figured out we open up the freedom of finding God in new ways. Now I'm not saying throw everything away. That would be demolishing and send us into a crisis. Your past faith experiences should be lifted up and held valuable. But just as there are two sides to every story we must figure out the rest of it for ourselves and what is right for us individually.
It is perfectly ok to be set in what you believe if that works for you. Just be aware of how those beliefs inform your actions and dialogue with others. Ask yourself if it hinders in anyway relationships from being formed or good deeds from being done? If we are to live like Jesus we need to eliminate the biases from our lives by being open to the spirit that leads us. We must see outside of our own perceptual lenses. It is in this task of opening ourselves up that we may actually begin to figure things out.
Our blog is continuing to see great growth. If you feel like you have something to contribute and would like to be a guest blogger please submit your information at our contact us page and we will consider it.
This week reflect on your own interactions. Identify biases you have and how you can make changes.
Wow this summer has been crazy! One thing after the other. We have just been going, going, and going. It seems life has a tendency to do that as we get preoccupied with sports, kids, family, work, and friends. All of those are good and important for our lives. However it leaves us with making decisions on our time and where we are going to be.
It seems for many people church often loses out. I understand completely! In this day and age where too many times churches are sitting in pews instead of living the message of peace and justice in Christ, or so we think. I also know getting your family up and around to go, managing and keeping them somewhat quiet during the service, and rushing around for lunch before nap time creates a tense, chaotic Sunday morning. Somedays you ask yourself wouldn't it be easier to just cut that out of our lives and use it for whatever else we need to get done. I mean what would we really miss?
Immediately after thinking a thought like this I see the faces of those who I know and consider my church family. I think about the love and prayers given for my family that I will never even know about. I hear the precious comments made by my children as they learn about radiating kindness to others and allowing everyone a place at the table. It is in these relationships where God is put first, where we can share openly about our struggles, that my family is formed with compassion, love, and kindness.
The blessings we receive from this community is beyond measure. The Community of Christ I know goes even further beyond just the city I live in because of the connections made throughout the world.
So let's look further at how we prioritize our lives with what's important and how being a part of a church community brings blessings on our faith journey.
Prioritizing Our Life
How do you prioritize your life? What's important for you? What currently rules your life? What do you need to put in or cut out? It seems too often we allow our lives to get out of control with us doing things that may be good but may not match our values or desire to do them. So how do we live our values with the events in our lives?
Mary Morrissey speaks below on how she has learned to prioritize her calendar to fit in the things that match her values and desires. Check it out as I found it very helpful.
Here are some value worksheets that you might find beneficial if you need to hone in and discover what you really value in life. The first one is one created by Stephanie Frank and can be accessed by clicking here. It specifically breaks down principles and qualities to help you figure out exactly what decides your life. This PDF from The Happiness Trap also has various value worksheets you can put to use. I like page 3 and 5. One other option is this personal values assessment worksheet which helps you narrow down your 5 main core values.
Many times figuring out our priorities also means we have to make tough decisions. We have to decide what is most important for us, our families, and others. There are a few techniques that you can use to help you with this.
1. 10-10-10 Rule - When you have to make a decision is it important to think into the future a little. How will you feel about this decision 10 minutes from now, 10 months from now, and 10 years from now.
2. Be Less Certain - Most of the time we are confident in our decisions which is good however its important to revisit your logic to make sure you are looking at every angle. Being less certain of the decision helps us reevaluate every angle to know all the perspectives. It makes us obtain information to expand our knowledge instead of just jumping in.
3. How Often Does This Typically Happen? - When looking at potential alternatives its important to also think about likelihood. Has this happened often in the past? What is most likely to happen? This extends our perspective to understand probability.
4. Post Mortem - Especially with new ideas, projects, etc. its important to look at what circumstances might stop, kill, or end this endeavor. This helps you understand the pitfalls or things that may come up through the process so you can work to avoid them.
Taking Time For Our Spiritual Life
Everyones values and priorities are different. This means some will have more emphasis on securing time for their spiritual life and others will not. I think the added benefits of taking time to develop our faith magnifies the other areas in our lives. Every month we have a post about spiritual practices in hopes people will take the time to find out what works for them. Spiritual practices enhance our connectedness to the divine. But our faith is so much more than just our personal time spent with God.
I believe faith is to be lived out with others. Its the relationships we have with others that creates sacred community where we uphold compassion, belonging, and worth of all people. This is why scrambling around on Sunday morning or setting aside time to be with others in a faith community is vitally important.
One of our past posts "Extending Our Faith" specifically talks about how church is more than just a building. If we are to truly grasp the hands of Jesus than we must be in the community with others. Sometimes this is serving meals, listening to a friend, or worshipping with people that are intertwined with your faith journey. Having a group that helps you ask questions and forms your faith is imperative if we are truly live the gospel message. Jesus traveled with others! He could have went alone however he distinctively chose to be with people!
Community of Christ has an enduring principle of Blessings of Community. This principle emphasizes that the gospel of Jesus Christ is best lived in community life with others. This may be in solidarity with the poor, marginalized, or oppressed or creating communities of Christ's peace wherever we find ourselves. It is an understanding that we are in this together and even though I may have never met you, you and what you bring are a blessing. I love it because the concept changes who we are and how we interact with the world. It makes us throw away judgments and listen to the spirit that is ever present in the person right there with you.
Difficult decisions will always be in our midst however blessings of community await whichever way you go. You just have to decide. Where do you want to spend your time? What values do you hold? I pray that you may find balance and peace with the decisions before you and experience the great depth and awesomeness of living your faith with others.
I appreciate all the positive comments given about our blog!
This week take one of the value worksheets above to figure out your personal values.
This week we have the privilege of hearing from Dakota Matthes as our guest blogger. Dakota is a first year seminary student at Graceland University which is associated with Community of Christ. Dakota loves animals and especially his dog Bowser who he takes everywhere. Recently he moved to Falmouth, Maine taking a job as an LPN at a retirement community. We wish him the best of luck on this new adventure as Dakota and Bowser get acquainted with their new patients and friends. Big thanks to Dakota for being vulnerable and sharing his story with us!
Thinking about my faith journey through the 50 years of my life thus far, I have so much gratitude for where I am right now! I am currently in my first year of Seminary in the Community of Christ Seminary through Graceland University Online. I have reconnected with the fellowship of disciples in the Community of Christ, and my cup runneth over with love and peace as I journey on. It hasn’t always been this way, however.
I started my life out in the Catholic tradition, being christened as an infant in 1969 at St. Mark’s Catholic Church in Boynton Beach, Florida. My maternal grandmother was Catholic, and so my mother and her siblings and all of us kids/cousins started out that way too. Unbeknownst to me then, but as I would much later realize, the presence of addiction, alcoholism, mental illness and dysfunction plagued my family-of-origin. I suppose like most children I thought my childhood was normal, and that everyone else’s lives were the same. I began to see in adolescence though, that my home was anything but normal.
Suspected in adolescence, but really discovered in my adult years, I learned that Mother had many symptoms of bipolar 1 disorder, dissociative identity disorder, and covert, gaslighting narcissism. Suffice it to say, there was a lot of neglect, confusion, and abuse as the years went by. We converted to Lutheran when I was 5 years old. Then at age 9 we converted to RLDS (after hearing about the church through my Aunt Anne). As it turns out, the RLDS—now Community of Christ—was my saving grace through adolescence and early adulthood.
The only escape I had from my home of chaos and insanity was in my mind. From about 14 on I would get up before dawn, when the house was quiet, and read my 3-in-1 (Inspired Version of the Bible, Book of Mormon, and Doctrine & Covenants). I calculated what I needed to read each day in order to complete the three books in a year. I read them each year of high school. These quiet, priceless moments with my God and Higher Power/Higher Self were the source of my thread of hope to survive. I desperately wanted to serve God during these years and had dreams of being in the priesthood one day.
At 15 years old in 1984, women in the priesthood passed the World Conference vote and I was elated! Our church was joining other Christians in leading the way toward egalitarianism. The big fear for me, even after this historical passage, was that I would still be rejected because of my identity and orientation. Having been born and assigned female at birth, I felt excluded from my dreams of serving in the priesthood when I was 14 years old. And even though I was elated the following year, when women were accepted to be a part of the priesthood of the church, I was carrying a big secret that I was sure would continue to exclude me—I was LGBT. Not sure of the words to describe myself I struggled with my identity, my gender dysphoria, my transgenderism, and my romantic attractions.
I had been hiding my feelings for several years already. I knew it was not okay to talk about it at home. Feelings of any kind were mocked and shamed, but worse than that was anything to do with homosexuality. That was vehemently made known to be evil, disgusting, and perverse. Anyone with feelings of this nature was going to hell, was spawn of Satan, and did not deserve to live freely among the righteous, as was told/taught by Mother herself. I heard no positive reviews of people like me in church, school, or community either, so I assumed my mother was right. Although I felt like a loving, decent person that did good in the world, I believed I was judged as disgusting and unlovable, doomed to hell and disfavor in the sight of God. This made me inexorably sad, and I fell into a deep depression. I wanted to die, even wished for it to put me out of my misery of complete and utter loneliness and despair. I lived every day of my life inauthentically and carried huge guilt for lying so much. So were my days until I reached college.
My freshman year at Graceland College I fell in love with another woman who was a senior and a leader on campus. I now found joy in my life amidst the fear and shame. Still very difficult to manage such conflicting emotions to do with my self-worth, I was unable to reconcile being a lesbian with being a faithful servant of God. So, at 22 years old, after coming out and being disowned by my mother, I dropped out of church too. Not officially, as in renouncing my baptism or anything like that--I just fell by the wayside and became like the prodigal son for the next 25 years.
During those years I fell into alcohol and drugs, unprotected sex and many unhealthy relationships in which I accepted emotional abuse because of my low self-esteem. I became angry and rebellious. I decided God didn’t exist, because I didn’t believe in a God who would judge me. I fell into atheism, eventually coming back toward agnosticism, then eventually realizing I had a huge, gaping, spiritual hole in my soul. I had thrown the baby out with the bathwater when I left church and denounced God. I had lost spiritual connection and was more unhappy than ever. It was then I began slowly, seeking out spiritual food for my life. I did meditation and some chanting. I read books on Buddhism and Hinduism. I did yoga and qigong. I discovered what my gender dysphoria really meant and that it could be treated. I began to see doctors and started the process of transitioning to male.
I sporadically attended churches like the Unitarian/Universalist one, the Unity ones, and an occasional Catholic mass or two (I liked the ritual). Then I found myself slowly drawn, stronger and stronger, back to the church of my youth. Before I returned, I desired to get healthier and so I quit the vices I had started after college. I sought out 12-step programs to help me, and the spiritual guidance I received there put me on a path to self-love. I believe it is this that finally led me to follow my urgings to enter the doors again of my beloved church, now called the Community of Christ. I was not sure I would be well received. What I didn’t know before I entered was that the church officially accepted the LGBTQ community in 2013 through the World Conference proceedings and we could now be called to priesthood and be united in civil unions.
What joy was mine in 2017, when after being clean and sober for nearly 5 years, I entered the congregation in Leavenworth, Kansas, was met with love and gladness, and found out all the new growth and change in the church since I had left in 1991!! I was elated!! To learn of the enduring principles and the mission initiatives of the church, to hear talk about the worth of all persons, unity in diversity, and all are called: it’s like every ounce of the pain of my isolation and rejection and exile was gone in an instant. I was loved! I was seen! I was welcomed back into the fold with open arms! I have experienced nothing but love, kindness, welcome, and appreciation ever since, and it is the greatest blessing of my life.
Big thanks to Dakota for sharing his heart with us! I'm always amazed at the journey's people travel to find acceptance and love.
This week hug someone close to you! Let them know they are loved by you no matter what life situations present to them.
Craig Hidy like the majority of ministers in Community of Christ is a bi-vocational, self sustaining ordained minister. He is a member of the Midlands Mission Center Emporia Team and an ordained Seventy. He and his family, live in Topeka, Kansas.
What is a Seventy?
The Seventy carry out missionary work for the church in close association with other missionary leaders. They represent Christ primarily as ministers of evangelism through witnessing, inviting, and church planting. They especially proclaim and promote Jesus Christ’s invitation to faithful discipleship through vibrant witness, and train individuals and congregations in witness and invitation. They particularly minister with seekers, individually and in groups, to share the gospel in relevant ways and to invite response. They support sacramental ministries by preparing people for baptism and/or confirmation, presiding at sacramental services, and performing most sacraments. They promote community by inviting individuals, households, and families to respond to Christ’s call to discipleship. They promote justice and peacemaking by inviting people to experience all aspects of Christ’s peace through active discipleship. They create ministry partnerships with mission center officers, apostles, elders, and evangelists.
The views expressed here are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of Community of Christ. We believe individuals should be allowed to have their own opinions and be at different places in their faith journey.