Sacred yoga is one of my favorite forms of moving meditation. Walking meditation is another way I love to find my center while moving. Walking a sacred path on a labyrinth can be especially meaningful when I hold my intention to live in readiness, to be open to discover simple radiance.
Several of us had volunteered, on a wet and cool fall afternoon, to offer an outdoor labyrinth walk for any residents of Project Lazarus who were free. Zeal was the Lutheran minister who agreed to share an introduction to some ways of walking a labyrinth. Lawrence was a massage therapist who volunteered to lead a discussion of the experience after we all finished. I volunteered to anoint each participant on the forehead with scented oil as they reached the center of the labyrinth. Jack was the Jesuit volunteer doing his internship there as the activities director. He had invited all the residents with a warm message of, “Come and see.”
Nathan was the year-long resident most comfortable with this form of walking meditation. He was sharing some of the principles of his own recovery with the newer residents before we began. Joshua was used to religious gatherings but he had never witnessed a labyrinth walk. Alvin had been a resident for two weeks and was still learning the ropes. Herman had only been there a week and still looked weary to the bone, like someone just in off the streets.
Ms. B. was anxious about being out there with us since she was about to meet with the executive director of Project Lazarus. She listened to the introduction, went off for her meeting, and returned for our closing discussion.
Nathan led the slow procession onto the stone labyrinth. I followed behind him so that I would be at the center to begin the anointing when he arrived. The walk was slow and thoughtful. I carried a question for discernment about my future work as I walked and paused along the way. When Nathan arrived in the center just ahead of me I stepped forward to offer his anointing.
I dabbed my thumb in the oil and made a sign of the cross on Nathan’s black forehead, noticing his radiant smile. As I touched him I spoke a blessing: “May you be blessed by the God who loves you so.” Then I asked Nathan if he would also anoint me. He didn’t hesitate. As he made the sign of the cross on my forehead he said, “In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
I really liked the sound of that blessing. His was a blessing I needed. My immediate thoughts were: “How cool that this radiant man recovering from AIDS and homelessness blessed me,” and “Not bad to be blessed by three of the most powerful entities in the universe.” I felt truly blessed, spiritually nourished, and encouraged about my future. The radiance in Nathan seemed to pass into me. Then he wound his way gradually back out on the path.
When Alvin arrived at the center he stopped to look up to heaven. He said he was thinking about what he had been doing with his life, as he had done once before when he found the labyrinth on his own. Then we exchanged the same anointing. His black hair was twisted into short braids, dyed light brown on the tips, and peeking out from under his hood. I thought it looked cool. As he anointed me he too chose the phrase, “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
I was intrigued that this tall young black man, just off the streets for two weeks, was familiar with religious things enough to know that phrase. He hadn’t been at the center to hear Nathan’s blessing, so it was his spontaneous choice. I sensed there was a message for me in that phrase, and decided I should pay attention to what was being said to me.
When Herman arrived at the center and received his anointing, he too anointed me in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. He looked me sincerely in the eye as he spoke, and was quite intentional in how he used the oil to make the sign of the cross on my forehead. As he finished I thought I saw a first glimmer of radiance in his face too, like someone just beginning to experience their innate dignity after it had seemed to be lost forever.
When Jack arrived at the center and received his anointing, looking me in the eye also, he suggested anointing my hands for service. I thought that was a great twist, a blessing I also needed. He used the oil to make the sign of the cross on each of my hands.
Joshua didn’t seem to feel as comfortable with the whole idea of this walking meditation on a labyrinth. Instead of following the path he just strolled around the space at a leisurely pace. He chose not to receive the anointing. I couldn’t help but wonder if his Pentecostal background had taught him that such things were “New Age” and somehow evil.
Later in the sharing time, Joshua discussed his career as a singer in a French Quarter bar. He said he always opened with a few hymns from his church. He said it was also different for him when he sang at his church, for there he felt the sacredness of the place and so he put his all into the singing.
As Alvin had walked off the labyrinth he sang a brief line from a song. I asked him what that was in the discussion time. He said a church song had come to mind. I affirmed his great voice. Alvin’s radiant smile broadened. He shared his pleasure when he sang solos at his church, and admitted he also creates songs sometimes. I wanted to remember to invite him to sing at my church once he finishes his first month of probation from leaving the facility. And I was amazed that a resident just off the streets, with AIDS and an addiction, could have such meaningful spiritual experiences in his background.
As the discussion was drawing to a close, Nathan offered to lead us in a prayer, He suggested we stand in a circle and hold hands, which we did. He led us in a beautiful prayer from his heart. What an amazing experience all around.
In so many ways the residents blessed us. The gifts they offered from their broken lives created the effect of a simple radiance. A song, a prayer, an anointing, a blessing, a touch, and radiant smiles as we shared in walking meditation around a labyrinth were sacraments, means of grace. The moments were infused by the divine as acts of mercy and love that healed all of our souls.
As I left Project Lazarus that afternoon I remembered some lines from a poem by Dorothy Walters, “Hymn to the Nameless One.”
…what we ask is that you be with us,
not as a pillar of fire
nor a blaze across the heavens,
but like water
at rest in a pitcher
which catches the morning light
and is filled
with its own radiance.
 Walters, Lev Lines of the Soul: Poems of Ecstasy and Ascension.