Every summer I try to carve out for myself three consecutive weeks in the Bethesda Workshops calendar, and I spend part of that time in the mountains of Western North Carolina at a beautiful piece of heaven called Lake Junaluska. I first came here in 1981 before David and I married, and it’s always been a meaningful location.
Later, we brought children with us several times every year for over a decade. I did some intense early recovery work here, including deep immersion in the culture of 12 Step recovery at an old building that sat close to where I presently type in our condo near the edge of the Lake. I wrote large portions of two books here. I’ve walked scores of miles around the Lake trail and over the dam.
Mostly, I’ve communed with and more importantly wrestled with God at a deeper level at Junaluska than anywhere else on a consistent basis. To be honest, I’m usually in deep pain here, hungry for a safe space to plumb inside mercilessly as I seek to conform my heart to what I understand to be God’s plan for me. The Lake is a place of deep interior excavation – and, hopefully, of surrender.
Since 2001, a central piece of my time here has been spent walking a labyrinth that was built that year in the shadow of a stunning stone chapel at the edge of the Lake. It was originally an area of grass with a dirt path etched in it, which is now laid with beautiful stones that look like tile. The labyrinth is large and classically unicursal, meaning it’s a singular path without branches or dead ends. Yet it is intricate and elaborate enough to provide a puzzling (and always surprising) path to the center that is only revealed as you progressively walk forward. I love this active form of meditation and am always impacted by what it teaches me.
This year I arrived at Lake Junaluska in a different interior state: completely peaceful, immensely grateful, and surprised at God’s direction for my path during these times of pandemic change. I’m walking into deeper integration of life, spirit, and heart, and I’m overwhelmed with gratitude for God’s clear provision.
In this altered state, I went to the labyrinth accompanied by Kevin, my constant canine companion. Although he’s very easy to have on a leash, he was confused by the hairpin turns and our slow pace. He kept getting tangled as I abruptly changed direction, and it wasn’t the meditative experience I’d hoped for.
Making matters worse, the entire area at the center of the labyrinth, even before we reached it, was invaded with playing children and a group of college-age girls, none of whom were using the space properly. When I fussed to myself about it, MamaGod said, “There are other ways to engage the labyrinth than the deliberate, meditative, plodding silence of your experience, dear one.”
I surprised myself by easily accepting her invitation to move aside and let the intruders be. Kevin and I stepped across the stones that circled out from the labyrinth’s center and waited on a shady bench for the space to empty, which spawned a delightful half hour of seeing children and adults doing whatever seemed right to them in the concentric space. Ah, more than one way, huh? I’m coming to see that possibility, to even accept it, I told Kevin.
Eventually, we were alone. I fastened Kevin’s leash to the leg of the bench, promised I would soon be back, and returned to the labyrinth’s entrance. Instead of looking for each step to provide guidance, I found each one brought deeper gratitude for the clarity God has already provided in recent months. When I reached the center, I stood with my arms raised above my head and said loudly, “I am here. I (capital I) am here. I AM here. I am HERE.” Several times recently I’ve made those declarations as this integration process has unfolded, and in the holy space of the labyrinth I felt such incredible certainty. Such conviction. Such deep resonance springing from a grateful heart.
As I turned, I realized Kevin was standing, whimpering, pulling at his leash. I was never out of his sight, but he was clearly distressed to be away from my side. (My sweet dog with his disordered attachment.) Immediately, my focus changed from myself to a bigger picture, and Kevin represented me and all the years of searching for peace for my own longings. It seems so egotistical, but I saw myself as Kevin’s loving MamaGod, who is fully in sight and completely with him, yet Kevin couldn’t calm himself or allow my soothing calls to pacify him.
Still, I kept talking to him as I retraced my steps, more quickly this time. As I got consistently closer, he seemed to relax some, and he leaned his stout body into me as soon as I reached him. Finally his panting stopped and he was more at ease. I asked Kevin what was the matter, and he turned his soulful eyes fully into mine and sighed. I promised him, “I’m right here, buddy. Right here.”
From the center of the labyrinth behind me, I heard my MamaGod say to me, her equally anxious one, “I AM HERE, too. Always.” And in a way I haven’t experienced before, I believed her, because in an astonishing fashion, she is providing the grace and path to walk out that truth.
Marnie C. Ferree