Prayer Labyrinth, burnout, and other things


This design is an ancient labyrinth design

Over the past month or so, I have been extremely busy (hence why my blogging has dwindled, as it always seems to do). I have an incredible amount of things going on- I have 16 credits at Northwest, plus debate there which could theoretically add 4 more credits, I am a youth pastor at Everett Family Church, I lead worship fairly regularly, and I have a pregnant wife that I have to make time for. I’ve struggled, at times, to make sure I am balancing my time budget well, and I feel like I have been approaching the borders of burnout. Do I do everything as well as I could? No. But sometimes its overwhelming to try to keep everything straight.

That being said, God has been reminding me through various avenues that I need to slow down and take time for him. So, I’ve been very intentional about spending more time with him. I think it’s really helped my productivity, oddly enough as that may be. When you struggle to find time to do everything, and you don’t make your relationship with God the primary concern, you WILL burnout- and much faster than normal.

One of the ways I have been intentional about making more God-time is to focus on praying. It’s been one of the areas I’ve struggled with, constantly praying as 1 Thessalonians 1:17 reminds us, so I’ve really been trying to deepen that time with God. So I’ve done a few things to help me along this path- 1.) I’ve been attending dedicated prayer times at church, 2.) I’ve been spending more God time at home, 3.) using a prayer labyrinth.

Now, most of you are totally comfortable with the first 2 things on this list- me too. Those are my defaults, my comfort zones if you will. The third thing on this list will likely elicit one of two responses- what the heck is a prayer labyrinth? or dude, that stuff is like weird mystic, new agey BS (or maybe you just think it’s dumb).

Let me tell you how I became acquainted with the Prayer Labyrinth. I first heard of it this school year. One of my professors wrote a blog on it and mentioned that he thought it was silly. It did, indeed, sound silly. Basically, a prayer labyrinth is a maze-esque design either inlaid on a flat surface (painted, built with brick, etc.) or a raised wall structure (like a corn maze, or even just rocks outlining a path) that is laid out in a twisted, convoluted path always moving towards the center of the labyrinth. Labyrinth’s are distinct from mazes, however, in that they only have one path and are not meant to confuse the participator. So basically, you walk along this path, making a fool of yourself to anyone who doesn’t know what you’re doing (perhaps a fool even to those who do know) while praying/reading scripture.

Well, I later enrolled in a class with my professor and one of the books we read for that class is by Tony Jones called The Sacred Way. The book is a compilation of spiritual practices that one can use to help deepen their faith, the faith of their students, or the faith of congregants. In The Sacred Way is a chapter dedicated to the prayer labyrinth. Now, my more conservative (read: Calvinist) friends react pretty strongly against the name Tony Jones. He’s one of the leaders of the Emergent movement, especially in youth ministry.

One of the things that categorizes the Emergent movement (as much as this wide-spread, largely diverse movement can be labeled and categorized) is a rejection of modernity’s influence on Christian thought. This influence has lead the church, they claim, to over emphasize propositional truth (truisms, statements, creeds, etc- i.e. you have to believe core doctrine x, y, and z to be a Christian) over the personal and relational truth that exists in Christianity. Their strongest argument, I believe, is that Jesus says that He is Truth. Truth is a person, not necessarily a proposition (that doesn’t mean that truths can’t exist in proposition, however). This challenge is very post-modern (or at least, not modern… the romantic period developed much of the same existential tendencies as the post-modern period has) so much of the church, particularly fellows in the apologetic realm, have come down hard on the Emergent movement and anything that doesn’t fit within their systematized, well thought-out, intellectual perception of Christianity. Thus, practices like walking the prayer labyrinth are considered non-Christian or anti-Biblical- because they emphasize relational truth over propositional truth.

Perhaps I need to rephrase this- the prayer labyrinth is distinctly existential. When I say existential I mean that the meaning and value of a prayer labyrinth is expressly created by the participator. That means that each person develops their own understanding of it and how it relates to their relationship with God. Everyone’s relative truth meters are starting to freak out. It’s okay. It’ll be fine. Bear with me.

The reason this is so, is because ironically, prayer labyrinths are old. We have examples of labyrinths from 1000 BCE. In Greek mythology, it was said that the Minotaur was trapped in a labyrinth and could not escape. Theseus went in after a few failed attempts by others, tied a string to himself so he could find his way out (Hansel and Gretel, you thieves) and successfully killed the Minotaur. The church began to use them as alternatives to pilgrimage in the 14th and 15th centuries, however, in which pilgrims would couldn’t afford the travel to the Holy Land would go to the closest cathedral and walk through a prayer labyrinth on their knees (ouch!).

Eventually, they fell into disuse, and were almost forgotten until a lady in San Francisco began to really push for them to be picked up again in Christian spiritual practice.  Now, they’ve really gained some steam amongst more mainline Protestant denominations (PCUSA, Methodists, Episcopalians, etc.) and the emergent church.

I find them valuable for a couple reasons, but first I need to point out that they aren’t for everyone. That’s the biggest thing for me- they work for some and not for others. Particularly if you’re in ministry, labyrinths will work more for some than for others. If you live in an area that doesn’t really buy subjective reality like the country, or in urban contexts working with minorities, or in poorer communities, this would probably flop. Because, let’s be honest, this whole prayer labyrinth thing will only work for yuppie white people who drink lattes and pretend to be socially and environmentally conscious. That being said, I find value in it for a number of reasons.

Number 1- it forces me to slow down. I live in a busy, loud, crazy world where technology exists only to help you be even more busy. Silence is something my generation cannot stand. We don’t do quiet. Our brains have been rewired so that if we don’t have something to do for 5 seconds (literally, there is research to back this up) we get bored and start trying to find something to do. I struggle with this, and in my loud city I need quiet.

Number 2- walking in a labyrinth is monotonous, so you can focus on God. My brain likes to be doing something menial in order for me to reflect on life. That’s why I like doing yard-work or something simple with my hands. It allows me time to reflect.

Number 3- it’s uncomfortable. This, perhaps, is the greatest benefit to the Labyrinth. When’s the last time you did something uncomfortable? The main reason I chose to do the labyrinth was because it was weird. I thought it was uncomfortable (also, my professor not liking it presented a challenge… what, don’t judge me, I like a challenge). Sometimes we need to challenge ourselves and step out of our comfort zone- you just might be surprised.rd-work or something simple with my hands. It allows me time to reflect.

Are you busy? Does it feel like you rarely have time to breathe? Do you sacrifice your relationship with your Creator for the other things in life? Maybe you too should step out of your comfort zone and walk a labyrinth. Here’s an easy way to find one close. Also, if you’d like a little more info about the Labyrinth, just ask me. I have more resources that I’ve worked on, or I could even do more blog posts about it.

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