Almost every week, outside groups use this building for their caring work in the world. They range from people supporting the differently abled to LGBTQ high school students learning about leadership to small theater groups writing and performing their own plays to piano lessons to small neighborhood groups planning for ways to support those in need. Without fail, there is a collective sigh of appreciation and comfort when participants in these groups see the labyrinth in our Friendship Hall carpet. Some know what it is and find it encouraging that an ancient prayer practice is still honored in our space. Others don’t know what it is but find the pattern compelling and mesmerizing. When they find out what it means, they are even more intrigued.
I cherish these conversations because so often there is an element of surprise. People expect to see a sanctuary or worship space in a church building. Because they usually know how involved we are in community and world events, this prayer-filled carpet in our busiest room catches them off guard. It gives them pause. I love experiencing their reactions and the joy that so often surfaces without prompting. It is, in the words of a mentor of mine from decades ago, a “ministry of place.” For this reason, I’m deeply indebted to the small team (Barb Hummel, Chris Thomas, Betty Day and Elaine Pasinski-Thomas) that continues to offer opportunities for walking the labyrinth each month.
I love the way that floor embodies the spirit of prayerful action in the world. Just this week we will have a community meeting sponsored by a city alder as he seeks to help service providers collaborate with each other. We will host WAVE (Wisconsin Anti-Violence Effort). They’ve been meeting monthly for a couple of years, but their work is heightened again by a school shooting in Florida on Valentines Day. We will provide meeting space for the Mellowhood Foundation as its Board plans for youth employment and neighborhood empowerment. In the midst, a baby shower and young parent game night and Sanctuary volunteer training and a medical screening day will be held. This building is central to our ministry of presence and place in the world, and integral to all these efforts is our commitment to prayer and action, prayerful action and practical prayer.
You need not be versed in the specifics of the labyrinth to benefit from its presence in our common life. Much as the cross or the bread and wine remind us, by their very presence, of God’s love in the world; so also can the labyrinth remind us of the power of invoking God’s spirit in all our work to bring about the realm of God in our time.
Years ago, while on sabbatical, I had a chance to walk an outdoor labyrinth in Germany in an apple orchard behind an old monastery that had been turned into a retreat center. Sure enough, to complete the labyrinth, you had to step over sheep dung more than once. Prayer and life sharing space. It was a beautiful image. In the same way, our Friendship Hall is a well-used, well-loved and, at times, a bit dirty space. Of course, this is where prayer should happen. This is where activism meets meditation; community meets the cries of the marginalized.
It’s my hope that we never take for granted the power of our space, and that we never slack in our appreciation for how prayer and activism shape us into God’s hands and feet in the world. We don’t have to fully understand it. It isn’t always neat and tidy. But it is the way of faith and compassion.