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Do you want to be healed?
Annalise Fairfax Thomas reviews Sally Longley's book, 'Walking the Labyrinth as the Beloved in John’s Gospel'
“Do you want to be healed?”
I step on to the centre of the Labyrinth in Sydney’s Centennial Park. Bare feet on warm sandstone. Scent of bats, cockatoos calling overhead. The open grass field with the lake glistening blue beyond. Here I am. What a relief to be here. A welcome relief from fatigue, illness and anxiety. Life seems to be a continual transition.
Do you want to be healed?
Jesus asks the invalid who has been sitting by the pool of Bethesda for thirty-eight years with no one to carry him into the healing waters (John 5:1-9).
When I flipped through Sally Longley’s book Walking the Labyrinth as the Beloved in John’s Gospel it was this question in Chapter 5 (What is between you and healing?) which caught my eye. Sally suggests taking each passage of John’s gospel into the landscape of the Labyrinth with a reflective question. Being immersed in an encounter with Jesus.
So I stand in the centre of the Labyrinth and in the stillness I ask myself:
Do I want to be healed?
Do you want to be loved ?
As this question jumps into my consciousness it takes my breath away and tears rise in my eyes. Slowly I walk out of the Labyrinth. I continue to ponder this question, which feels a profound key along the path of my spiritual journey. Amongst other questions, I ask myself how and why do I block God’s love? As I walk the Labyrinth often in Centennial Park I continue to reflect on this question. Sometimes in the labyrinth there is a flash of insight and many times it is a quiet path of returning to God and being more centred in myself.
What is a Labyrinth? Quoting Lauren Artress who rediscovered the medieval Labyrinth laid in the floor in Chartres Cathedral “A labyrinth is a pattern usually in the form of a large circle, that has one path, beginning at the outer edge and leading in a circuitous way into the centre... flat on the floor …or made out of low hedges or other materials.” The complex pattern can look like a maze but there are no puzzles or dead ends to challenge the intellect.
The Labyrinth with its one path is designed for prayerful, meditative walking. Modern neuroscience, which is now validating many ancient traditions, has shown that walking the Labyrinth helps balance and engage the right side of the brain, allowing a sense of calm and peace. One can walk in solitude or in groups. Labyrinths are a natural gathering place for rituals to grieve or celebrate or to pray during major personal transitions and holy days.
Sally told me her vision for her book is “To enable people to have new life breathed into prayer. Too often prayer is cerebral and one directional. We need all of ourselves engaged with all of God and God’s creation.”
She chose the Gospel of John because it reminds us that we are beloved. “It is fitting that we who are also disciples and beloved walk in the company of the beloved disciple John and also in the companionship of Jesus.”
As an experienced Spiritual Director and Labyrinth Facilitator, Sally believes that the Labyrinth offers us space and time to go slowly and intentionally dispose ourselves to grace.
"In a world that is full of words and encourages the separation of our heads from the rest of our bodies, the prayer labyrinth allows us to be the whole person we are and to pray with this whole person"
"It is a way of placing our whole being into the presence of God, who is always, always present to us. There can be many times when we are in grief, exhaustion, desperation or sometimes even supreme joy that using words in prayer just does not seem to work, this is where praying with our bodies in the prayer labyrinth can enable a profound encounter.”
The Labyrinth is a metaphor for life. The twists and turns are like those we encounter in life. The labyrinth is like the embrace of God: wherever we are in it and however we feel, whether we are way out on the outskirts or right in the centre, we are always held in the embrace of God.
This book is an answer to my prayers as it has drawn me in and become my companion both for walking the labyrinth and bedside reading. It is written with compassion, gentleness, and humour. Without access to a Labyrinth these reflections can be taken on any walk as they stand in their own right. When walking is difficult there is a finger Labyrinth included in the book. I am finding a renewed engagement in the wisdom of Jesus which has taken me deeper and where I can be in stillness, presence and more open to love.
Each chapter has a similar format. It begins with a conversation with a person grappling with a personal issue, which we can relate to in our own times. For example, in Chapter 5, there is a man who suffers from reactive depression. He describes feeling stuck as if in mud, alone and unwilling to ask for Professional help. Then the gospel passages from John’s story of Jesus are printed.
Sally does a thorough and fascinating exploration of the passages giving a deeper meaning and understanding. In a cultural context, an invalid would have received alms from begging. It is possible, when Jesus asks him if he wants to be healed that Jesus is actually asking if the man is willing to give up this money and take responsibility for himself. I think we would ask if he was willing to give up his identity in being a victim.
Being a biblical scholar, she explores the nuances of translation. The name of the pool Bethesda means house of mercy coming from the Greek word eleos, meaning an outpouring of oil, symbolic of an outpouring of mercy and compassion. The next section offers reflection questions and suggests a process for walking in the Labyrinth. We can imagine Jesus is waiting for us in the centre of the Labyrinth and allow our imagination to guide us in a conversation with Him. Questions are suggested such as: What is my deepest desire? How might I be stuck ? Do I want to be healed ? A breath prayer walk, poem or quote, which could be repeated with the breath, completes the chapter.
This is the perfect book for a Christmas present. It is a feast for the eyes with beautiful photos and illustrations. The layout makes it accessible. Reading the chapter headings means you can dive in where they relate to your own situation. Most of all I believe it is a book which speaks to a range of Christian experience. Within the safety of the Biblical passages some traditional Christians might feel more open to exploring Jesus’ call to our imagination.
Jesus expected His listeners to reach for a deeper symbolic meaning in His parables. It could speak to someone who has been disillusioned with Church but still hungers for a sense of the Divine. It could enlighten someone who has a glimmer of curiosity.
Apart from giving it to friends, I suggest it is the best gift you could give yourself. We remember that Jesus came into the world to call us Beloved.
To purchase the book go to www.longley.com.au
Reviewed by Annalise Fairfax Thomas, who is a founding member of Eremos, an artist and Labyrinth Facilitator. Annalise is available to facilitate Labyrinth walks and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
There is a guided walk on the Centennial Park Labyrinth on the first Sunday of the month at 9.00am. www.sydneylabyrinth.org
If you would like to build a labyrinth in your garden or church Annalise has been working with Desiree De Klerk. email@example.com
To find a labyrinth nearby labyrinthlocator.com
Other websites are:
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