Wednesday, 27 July 2016
Mazes and Labyrinths; Perfection and Union
Some time ago I wrote about the difference between a maze and a labyrinth. I would like to continue my exploration of these to paths in the perspective of the goal of union rather than perfection.
Both the maze and the labyrinth are ancient forms which appear in antiquity. To review, the maze which people are more familiar with, presents the person who enters it a puzzle. The maze does provide a route through it. It has many twists and turns and there are dead ends if you take a wrong turn. You cannot see the path from the ground when you are trying to navigate it. The maze often has a different entrance and exit and it you are successful you will travel through the maze. Mazes have become very popular in recent years using various materials to create them. The corn maze is a particularly popular form.
The labyrinth, which is often confused with the maze, has a similar lay out of a path to follow without seeing how it is going to end. However, in the case of the labyrinth a path is provided which, if followed, will being you to the destination which is in the centre. On the outward journey you follow the same path and if you stay the course you will be brought back to the place where you began.
The approach to navigating these two forms is very different. The maze is seen as a puzzle to be solved. You can figure it out by trial and error or often by trying to be clever enough to solve the puzzle. In this it is a challenge for the ego. In many ways it reflects how we approach life—as a puzzle to be solved and a challenge to be met and won. That unfortunate saying that was popular some years ago sums it up nicely; the one who has the most toys wins.
The labyrinth can be understood as the representation of the spiritual journey. It is found in many ancient cultures and has been revived in modern times and is now walking the labyrinth has become a well know spiritual practice. It is considered a moving prayer in which we follow the twists and turns of our spiritual life to the centre and back. Sometimes it seems we are getting close to the centre and then there is a sharp turn in our lives and we seem to be moving away from our goal. However, if we follow the path that our savour prepares for us we will reach it even though at times it might seem as if we have reached a dead end in life.
One way of looking at the different approaches offered by the maze and the labyrinth is the difference between perfection and union. The maze offers us way that holds up a goal of perfection. However, the labyrinth offers us the way of union. Richard Rohr gives a very clear distinction between the two approaches to life:
The path of union is different than the path of perfection. Perfection gives the impression that by effort I can achieve wholeness separate from God, from anyone else, or from connection to the Whole. It appeals to our individualism and our ego. It's amazing how much of Christian history sent us on a self-defeating course toward private perfection. Union is instead about forgiveness, integration, patience, and compassion. The experience of union creates a very different kind of person. Richard Rohr Daily Meditation July 20, 2016
Western culture has bought into the ideal of perfection to its great detriment. Unfortunately, Christianity has walked arm in arm with our culture and encouraged Christians to try and achieve perfection. We need to relearn again the message that Jesus showed is at the last supper that we are called to serve and not be served. That message is truly counter cultural and radical. It is a difficult one for us to truly learn but it is the way. Blessings.