Karen Toole's Reflection for the Exploring Sacred Space Event
Sunday May 24, 2009

Today we are standing on common ground. Today we are celebrating an awesome meeting place. Today we are bringing the diversity of our spiritual, religious and faith based practices into a holy place of wholeness and healing.

We come from many paths and yet they all lead us to this holy circle of oneness.
You don’t have to have a membership certificate, or recite a creed; you don’t have to keep all the traditions or adhere to any doctrine or law. Invitation and entrance to this labyrinth is what unites all of us who have gathered today, and that invitation is at the root of all our beliefs. It is the invitation of wonder that leads us to wander. It is the invitation of question that leads us to quest, and it is the invitation of search that leads us to the inner journey of our souls.

It’s a privilege to offer this reflection this afternoon, because I truly believe we are standing on holy ground every moment of our lives, and once in a while we have the courage to reveal and celebrate it’s holiness. This is one of those courageous times of revelation. And this labyrinth is it’s visible creation.

Today is about claiming the labyrinth of our lives. Today is about the maze of making meaning. And, just to be clear, I am not confusing labyrinth and maze.
Labyrinth is symbol of that right brain searching which knows at core that every crack holds hope of discovery. Maze is about that left brain fixing which knows at core that every crack puts the foundation of absolute truth at risk. To walk labyrinth is to enter into the mystery of unknowing. To enter a maze to discover the correct way out of confusion. Labyrinth is never about being correct. It is always about that which is beyond the answer. Maze on the other hand seeks to be solved, it is the work of solution that leads to conclusion, and labyrinth is invitation to the more than perhaps place of wisdom.

Carol Shields in her writing knew that we were about both in our lives. There was time for maze and a time for labyrinth, and the bereft among us where those who thought they could only choose one or the other, when indeed it was always both/ and which made us whole brained, and holy souls.

I have a confession to make; for a long time I could not read Carol’s writing. I wanted it to be more important…to be more action oriented…to be like a who dun it….plot with clues and then solved and fixed. But Carol knew something in her writing that it took me a long time to discover. She knew that in the trivial is the treasure, in the ordinary is the extraordinary, in the secular is the sacred, in the entry is the exit. This is the teaching of labyrinth. Life is not a who dun it of us or them. Life is not a fix it project and the walk of labyrinth is not a magic fix it trick. It’s not a game of, if I walk it, then I will know the right answer.
When I was a kid I had one of those plastic eight balls…you’ve seen them….you ask a question, shake it, turn it upside down…and the answer of yes, no or maybe floats to the surface. Labyrinth is not rubbing the lamp or shaking the eight ball. Labyrinth is choosing to take the time and opportunity to reflect. It is in the most traditional sense pilgrimage and journey not for the sight seeing but for the insight to see.

In many ways it is a way to engage in the W-five of our own lives. We go at times inward on the spiral to the core of being where we come again into the why and who of our being. And then we unwind, outward to the larger action of our lives, where we encounter the what, the when and where of it all.

We can all research the history and origins of labyrinth, and it is truly fascinating, but today let me offer some connection to our own faiths and practices. For me labyrinth is Exodus and promised land, it is Mecca, Israel, Vatican. It is Pilgrims progress, and forty days in the wilderness. It is the movement of mindful meditation. It is how the circle is cast. It is medicine wheel of healing. It is four directions, four seasons, the compass point that holds and grounds us. It is how we turn, turn, turn, until in all our turning we come down in the place of love and delight. It is the spiral staircase (Karen Armstrong’s latest biography) that comes from Karen Armstrong’s start(her earliest biography) on an all too narrow way.

For me, one of the most vital meanings of labyrinth was the discovery that this circle is a symbol of equality, justice and hope. This was the poor person’s pilgrimage. For many people in medieval times an earlier it was not possible to consider the privilege of pilgrimage. Pilgrimage took time from work, it took money to travel, and as result the vast majority of people could not go to the mountain top, or down into the depths of the valleys. Not much has changed. But what labyrinth offered was a way to journey without leaving my village. I cannot go but I can arrive at the same place. I cannot leave but I can arrive at the reach of my humanity, transformed by this site, and this journey, into an awareness that I am truly sacred soul.

From my perspective this is one of the reasons why it is so exciting that Winnipeg of all locations has this labyrinth. Carol Shields was a woman of the world who found her muse on her doorstep here in Winnipeg. She might have written in France, but the ideas and the people were the stuff of Stonewall, River Heights, lonely lives, and confused partners making tea and playing cards. Winnipeg is this meeting place of rivers, where hundreds of years ago those who went before us choose to mark the spot, fist with crude markers, then with huts, and forts and finally with homes. And now this spot in this park is marked as well. Winnipeg is this working class stew pot of cultures, and it is this awesome creative meeting place of the world. It is so right that here there should a labyrinth for all people, of all beliefs, to freely walk as they wish.

What labyrinth proclaims is that here is our holy ground, here is our invitation to the sacred journey of transformation and recreation, here is our mystery, awe and wonder. Labyrinth is an open invitation that requires no RSVP because the choice of time, and way, and reason is entirely up to each of us.

Not all of us will accept the invitation of this form of meditation, and this is not a failure in our spiritual program because there is no program. There is only the need calling, always calling us to find our way into this beautiful complex and stunningly simple reality of that which we name to be our self..our psyche…our soul. Some will pray in the words of tradition, some will sing and chant, some will reflect and meditate in calm repose, and some will walk….not with direction but with reflection as their only companion. To all who have worked to make this form of walking pilgrimage path and circling the creation of our being, thank you, and to all who will choose to walk these paths, may you journey well,and may you be blessed by your revelation, and may you share that blessing with a waiting world.