Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Labyrinth

Outside of my parish on campus, there is this big, round design on the pavement. For  awhile, I was completely oblivious to it. I noticed it one day and thought, "Oh, that's kind of cool." Time went by, the snow came and covered it up, and I completely forgot about it. The weather eventually warmed up, and with the snow gone, it came to my attention once again. It resembled a maze, and it caught my attention this time. Looking at the stone bench that sat next to it, I realized that it was a labyrinth. In my oh-so-pensive mind, the only thought that this provoked was, "Cool, it's like the 2-D version of that weird  David Bowie movie that was made back in the 80's." And just like that I displaced it from my mind.

Yeah, you glow, David. 
Yeah, despite this picture, there is really nothing captivating or spiritually invigorating about that labyrinth. So, anyways, having completely forgotten about the labyrinth at school, I was on vacation this summer when I ran into another one! It was the same exact pattern, and it was outside of the Catholic Church in the city we were visiting. Okay, now I knew that this was no coincidence. I tried to put on my thinking cap and figure out what was so special about this design ornamenting the holy ground outside of now two churches that I had been to. After about a minute and a half of deep contemplation, I looked right in front of me and realized that this church had a nice little stand conveniently placed in front of the labyrinth with pamphlets about the labyrinth. Perfect! The less thinking and outside research I have to do for myself, the better. So here was this great pamphlet that summarizes the whole idea of the labyrinth and and the reason for it's shape and whatnot. Well, apparently I wasn't too inspired by it, because I put it in my purse and forgot about it. It wasn't until I rediscovered it this week that I actually took the time to read it--and I am so glad that I did! Not only did I know nothing about it, but I was missing out on a really great opportunity to actually use the labyrinth as more than just something pleasant to gaze upon.

The labyrinth itself looks pretty cool. It is a circular design with a winding path that appears to be sectioned into four different parts. According to the pamphlet, the four sections dually represent the four gospels and the four stages of the liturgy. In the center is a clover-like shape with 6 "leaves" which is the end of the weaving paths encircling it.

Here's a picture for all you visual learners.

It's pretty neat-looking... AND it's symbolic! The whole thing is meant to represent a journey. One could find a labyrinth such as this outside one of the famous Cathedrals and popular pilgrimage destinations in Medieval Europe. Many an early Christian pilgrim would travel to one of the beautiful gothic Cathedrals and end their journey by walking the labyrinth. Many of these men and women had the desire to make a pilgrimage to the Holy City of Jerusalem, but simply couldn't. So, as a substitute, they would journey this winding path to the open space in the center, which actually represented Jerusalem. I can imagine that this made the voyage of walking the labyrinth a very holy and inspirational one.

Even though there is not the same drive to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for everyone nowadays, many people still walk labyrinths built by churches everywhere. It is used as a time of contemplation and spiritual connectedness to God. One model of walking the labyrinth, according to my handy dandy pamphlet is the "classical three-fold spiritual path:"*
    Purgation: Walking in, emptying, or letting go.
   Illumination: Time in the center, clarity, insight
   Union: Walking out, initiative, integration, and action in the world.

While walking the path, it is recommended that you remove your shoes and walk barefoot to enhance the experience and help you focus. It is really up to the individual how you wish to walk through the labyrinth. Everybody has different experiences. Walking through the path, you might want to focus on one question you have for God specifically. Maybe you just want to be silent and feel His divine presence. Maybe you want to offer up petitions or honor a significant occasion like a anniversary or something of that sort. Some people repeat a mantra over and over again, bringing in their thoughts completely to Christ. It doesn't matter if you walk it, dance it, run it, do a walking handstand through it, etc. It's all good. The whole point is to take some time out of your busy, busy life and focus on God for a bit on sacred ground. It can be quite a rewarding experience (or so I hear).

Maybe this whole thing just seems a little crazy to you. Maybe you are thinking to yourself, "I don't need a stupid labyrinth to spend time in meditation with God." Well, okay then. Good for you. But I think that I do, and I'm probably not alone. What better way could I find to spend time with God than to go outside and focus in on Him as I walk through a beautiful and historically significant and symbolic design on the pavement outside of my very own campus church? I don't know how you feel about it, but personally I'm pretty stoked to try it out. If they keep popping up on church properties everywhere I go, they must be at least worth a shot! And if you know of a labyrinth somewhere near you, I would highly recommend that you check it out too! Just walk and think. Let God place thoughts in your mind. You never know what you might hear if you just spend some time actually listening!

*Word for word from pamphlet published by the St. Andrew Catholic Community in Boulder City, NV

Monday, June 4, 2012

Lions, and Tigers, and Zombies, OH MY!

Bolts and fasteners for broken bones, check; glue and caulk for peeling skin, check; deodorizers to freshen up decaying flesh, check. Looks like I am all set for the zombie apocalypse.

What's cookin' good lookin'?

Yep, Ace Hardware in Omaha, Nebraska proudly displays all of these items on shelves in their "Zombie Preparedness Center" section of their store. When I read about this in the Las Vegas Review-Journal this morning, I was more amused than shocked. There have been jokes and different marketing schemes revolving around zombies out of humor or whatever, but people are actually serious about all of this! The web is buzzing with talk of zombies as story after story appears in the news such as a cannibal in Miami, a heart-munching student in Maryland, and a disturbing self-mutilating attack, that suggest the possibility of the beginning of a zombie apocalypse. Now, as commonly happens with serious and disturbing news, there are people who are becoming either obsessively fearful or sadistically humorous (which is no wonder after movies such as Zombieland) about topics such as zombies. While the news is absolutely disgusting and graphic, we are naturally drawn to this type of thing with a sort of sick fascination (to prove my point... you followed all of the links, just to check it out, didn't you?). It makes us sick to our stomachs, yet we read on, because we can't believe a person could actually do it, but we have to find out every twisted detail of the story so we can relive it in our nightmares or ponder thoughts of Armageddon. Let's face it, we are obsessed with the bizarre and extraordinarily gruesome.

I would suggest a detour.
After realizing all of this recent zombie craze was based on real stories, I became pretty unsettled and wanted to take a step back to check out the facts. So I whipped out one of my favorite books. No, not the Catechism. (Even though that book proves very enlightening and helpful for proving a lot of points, I don't think JPII was too concerned with zombies.) But the real source I looked to first is the Bible. Duh. You know, God gave us this really cool book in the bible called Revelation talking all about the end of the world! Maybe I'm missing something, but I don't remember seeing anything about any sort of zombie apocalypse in it. Lamp stands, horses, seals, sure, but no zombies. Unless one is symbolic for flesh-eating living dead, I really don't think a zombie apocalypse is in our future.

But maybe I'm wrong. Maybe one day some disease will make all humans mutate into freaky cannibalistic corpses, and we will have to fight for our lives like Will Smith as we survive by day and hide by night. Maybe all the people on planet earth will become just animals with no thoughts, souls, consciousness, or feelings. Wait a minute. Hold the phone. Humans will be degraded into animal-like forms without any of the above attributes? Come on. If you are worried about that, you aren't thinking it through this through very well. God made us in His beautiful, perfect, divine image. That's right. We are made in GOD'S IMAGE. Made in the image of a God with infinite power, infinite love, infinite EVERYTHING good. How could God let us become merely animals when He so distinctly and purposely set us apart? Correct me if I'm wrong, but I don't think that's the way God has planned for the epic Armageddon. God made us and saw that it was GOOD. We are all supposed to be a reflection of Him, with a mind and a will, and the whole zombie thing just doesn't quite fit the bill.

So then there's the argument that maybe not all humans will die that way. Maybe there is some epidemic in the future that makes animals out of the bodies, but the people themselves die. The zombies are not real humans, but merely the empty vessels lacking a person, but somehow surviving and remaining animated despite the fact they are dead. Ands some humans will survive. Then there will be a terrible war, humans fighting for their lives against a product of our own experimentation and mistakes (as many people are led to believe will cause the end or at least a regeneration). We are slowly dooming ourselves... etc. Well, while we are looking at the what-ifs, what if you die in a car crash today? What if you go to the doctor next week and get diagnosed with cancer? What if you win the lottery? What if your building catches on fire and you lose everything you have? What if you are enjoying a lovely salad when you eat an almond that gets stuck in your trachea and there's nobody around to do the Heimlich and you are suddenly dead because of a seemingly harmless legume? All possible (probably more likely than zombies too), but are they worth worrying about?

It wasn't the zombies you should have been concerned about...

See, here's the point: God has a plan for you. The thing about the future is YOU DON'T HAVE TO WORRY ABOUT IT. God will take care of you; you just have to trust Him. There's this really good book called The Screwtape Letters by this guy named C.S. Lewis (Ring a bell? Chronicles of Narnia? Yes?). If you haven't read the book, it's about this tempter who is instructing his nephew on how to properly lead his human "patient" to hell by prying him away from God and ruining his life in every way possible. In one of the letters to his nephew, Uncle Screwtape discusses the importance of luring his "patient" into focusing on the future. He says, "We want a whole race [in reference to humans] perpetually in pursuit of the rainbow's end, never honest, nor kind, nor happy now, but always using as mere fuel wherewith to heap the altar of the future every real gift which is offered them in the Present." There is so much truth to that. We waste so much time worrying about the future. Along with that, we are willing to put everything on the line for a future reward that may or may not even come. We spend so much energy and effort on the future that we cannot even enjoy the present. We ignore the gifts God is giving us every day, because we are either putting them off for tomorrow or not recognizing them at all because our preoccupation with what MIGHT happen.

I'm going to choose not to worry about the possibility of a zombie apocalypse, not just because it is extremely unlikely, but because I know that God has my back. If I'm doomed to be eaten alive, I guess that it's all in His plan for me. But for right now, all I can do is give up my worrying to Christ, and put it all in His hands, trusting Him and live life as He gives it to me--in the present and not afraid or obsessed with a future that might never come. Only then can I receive the peace from God that allows me to live my life with purpose. Only then can I give my life to Him. I guess it's up to you how you react to all of this news, but as for me, I'd trade in my zombie defense package any day for a little divine life insurance from the Big Guy upstairs.