The idea of a labyrinth was a rather foreign concept to me. I had briefly been introduced to it when I was in my first year in seminary, but it never occurred to me that it could be used as a powerful spiritual practice and tool for self-reflection. Actually, the idea of grown-ups going through some kind of a maze and coming to life-changing epiphanies almost made my throat tickle with laughter. However, not too long after, the labyrinth and I entered into a serious relationship.
I was at the Chicago Presbytery CPM retreat last December and for the afternoon, we were given two activities to choose from: making candles out of colored wax crystals or tracing a finger labyrinth. Almost everybody lined up to make the meditative and mysteriously soothing colored candles. Not much the one to wait in lines, I chose the path less traveled, and that, indeed, made all the difference. With the paper finger labyrinth in my hand, I headed to an empty room in the church.
The room was dim and damp; on the table, an organic paper finger labyrinth—some intestinal looking lines with a flower in the middle–was staring right at me. I murmured sometime like, “let’s see what you’ve got” and started my journey. As my finger squeezed through the narrow winding and mercilessly turning pathways, calm and peace took over me. Every doubt I had about my calling as an Asian American woman and uncertainties of my future ministry all seemed to dissolve into uncanny twists and turns. All of my effort was focused on making it to the center. I was getting closer to the center with every turn—I was almost there! And then, the most unexpected tragedy befell my path. Just as I thought I had almost made it to the center, the labyrinth started leading me away from the center. I winced at the pain of going farther and farther away from the center to the outer paths I did not want to walk. I longed to be centered and finish my journey, but the labyrinth led me otherwise. Then, just as I thought I was too far out to ever reach the center, I was there in a blink of an eye. I started to weep as I realized that this was my life. It was a powerful spiritual metaphor—you are never too close or far from the center as you might think you are. Just when you think you’ve found the center, the Spirit leads you to the twisted back alleys of life; just when you think you are lost beyond hope, God brings you to the center through a straight path. It was a moment of healing and grace I had been craving for so long. Since then, I have walked several actual labyrinths and each time, I have felt God’s enlightening presence.
Nietzsche had once said, “You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star.” Through the labyrinth, the Spirit of the living God stirred that chaos within me and brought about the bright star of healing, creativity, and authenticity. Walking the labyrinth has taught me that through all the shame and pain, living a meaningful life involves thorough self-scrutiny and self-reflection that leads to discovery of God’s “kindom” and true beauty of Imago Dei in others.
Eun Joo Angela Ryo immigrated to America from Korea when she was 9. She is a full-time third year MDiv student at McCormick Theological Seminary in Chicago and a part-time interim coordinator of the Center for Asian American Ministries (CAAM). Angela is also undergoing the process of pastoral ordination in the Presbyterian Church (USA).