The question came from a monk.
[Questions from monks, in case you were not aware of this, are not your average “What did YOU bring for lunch?” kinds of questions. Questions from monks are the kind that raise the hair on the back of your neck. That slam your mouth shut. That drag reluctant burning tears from deep within, where they’ve been stored up in all their bitterness. They’re funny that way.]
As I was preparing for the labyrinth walk this week, looking for ways to create sacred space for a community to grieve, comfort each other, and pray for peace after the tragedy in Aurora, Colorado, the question came:
- In ancient Greek stories, who is at the centre of the labyrinth?
And the hair on the back of my neck stood up.
I was searching scripture, poetry, liturgy for images and words that conveyed reassurance, comfort, and peace, and the monk wants this image in my mind? The Minotaur: monster, bull-headed man, violent, bloody, ravenous murderer of innocents. This was not the image I wanted in my preparation, not when . . . well. Enough of violence and innocents murdered.
But the question, once asked, would not
We seek the center of the labyrinth as home, as the safe place where the Beloved awaits us. I choose this image when I walk the labyrinth, use it in talking with others, in processing the experience of the labyrinth: what was your experience of the center? of coming so close to it, and then being turned away by the path? of the longing for home? Mine is a redeemed labyrinth, filtered through the lens of my faith: the center offers safety, security, acceptance, protection. It is where my soul is most itself, in the embrace of the Beloved.
The question–the monk’s question–challenged me deeply, painfully. What if, at the center, I find that the violence which I imagine to be an external danger, which I imagine I can keep at arms’ length, has been carried there–within me? If the labyrinth is a metaphor for (among other things) my own soul, does the shadow of the Minotaur still lurk there?
I wrote back (finally–after much wrestling):
- The minotaur–a monster born of violence, fed with violence, visiting violence upon the world. Do we too carry the seed of violence at our center? Will we feed that demon seed, or nourish the seed of peace instead?
No answer came for a long time. I continued my preparations, but also continued to sit with this most uncomfortable, uncomforting question. And I began to wonder–as no doubt the monk knew I would–whether our best response to that tragedy was to seek and provide comfort. Soft chairs, candlelight, quiet music–far away from places where violence stalks, and madness in the eye becomes tangible and launches its death-wish with blood and fire. So we arrange our lives, like furniture, and hope for the best.
Or would it be better to ask the question, and live with the hard truth?
When I snap at our son–just recently turned 13, and capable of producing many snap-worthy moments over the course of a day–can he sense the bared fangs behind the terse words?
When I snarl over this irritation or that disappointment at work, can my staff see the raging beast underneath, kept in check (just barely) under the forced smiles and careful politeness of ‘professional’ demeanor?
Here’s my uncomforting truth: I feed the Minotaur every day.
And then I saw a response:
- Yes . . . And the name of that bull-headed flesh eating man is significant. His name is Asterion, meaning ‘star’. The creature at the centre is both earth and sky, darkness and radiant light. That ‘seed of peace’ is divine.
This brought tears.
In the quiet center, in the embrace of the Beloved, is there space for all of me, the dark and the light, the monstrous and the angelic? The God-man who stepped willingly into our mud–can He redeem this in me, too?
The grotesque at the center of the Cretan labyrinth speaks truth of our divided nature; but he does not have the last word. Another has taken up residence, One who embraces and blesses us where we are, One who teaches, who is the very seed of peace.
Seek Him. Speak peace to each other and into a world stalked by madness. In this way we change the turning of our days. In this way we grow up this seed into a green branch, hope in this parched world.