Taking Root: The Labyrinth in Myanmar

My heart is jumping for joy! I literally cannot believe my eyes! The labyrinth is appearing on the floor of the new chapel here at the seminary in Yangon.

A paper Chartres-style labyrinth diagram had been given to the builders. Thanks to Robert Ferré (www.labyrinth-enterprises.com), the correct measurements were shared. Together with the architect who had never seen a labyrinth before, we came up with a diagram for the dimensions and placement of the first-ever permanent indoor labyrinth in Myanmar.

Day by day, right behind the workers carrying bags of sand, I would walk up the five flights of newly built stairs.

At first, all I could do was to check on the progress of the floor construction.

But then one happy day, I saw more. The workers seemed as pleased as I!

We checked to make sure that the measurements were accurate. Thankfully, they were perfect!

Now, every day is more exciting than the last as more and more of the labyrinth appears. First came the outer turns.

Then more of pathway.

Next, the crown (as the architect here calls it) was installed.

The center was saved for last.

I walked the pathway to make sure all was as it should be. My prayers for all those who would come and pray this labyrinth flowed freely all the way to the center and back out! The next step will be filling in the dividing lines with a black material, shaping jade color terrazzo stone to fill in the path, and installing yellow terrazzo stone around the outside.

I’m leaving the country now, so I won’t be able to watch more of this labyrinth’s birth.  I can’t wait to be back to walk it with the seminary community during its dedication in June!

The cross at the center. The beginning of all the measurements.

Prayer: May all who work build this labyrinth and all who walk it be blessed by Your Presence, dear God. Amen!

Question for reflection: If you could be the first person to walk a new labyrinth, what would you pray for?

Scriptural Touchstone: “You gave me a place for my steps under me, and my feet did not slip.”

Encouragement In The Midst of Our Sufferings

I would like to share a homily (and accompanying images) that I preached this morning in chapel.

Greeting and Introduction

…I would like to especially thank you for your prayers during my period of convalescence since November 2010. God has been answering those prayers for the return of my health, slowly, in God’s own time.

This morning I would like to share with you what God has been teaching me through my suffering and encourage you as you experience whatever suffering is a part of your life.

Question for Reflection

Someone has said, the best question we can ask one another is, “What are you suffering?” It gets at the heart of our human experience. If your best friend, or someone who loves you and whom you trust asked you, “What suffering is a part of your life right now?” What would you answer? Take thirty seconds to consider.

Telling My Story

The Apostle Paul, who suffered much in his life and his ministry, wrote these words, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.”  I would like to share with you what these verse have come to mean to me.


In November 2010, after two wonderfully rewarding and exhausting weeks of ministry

and teaching in the Democratic Republic of Congo, my husband and I flew France.


I was feeling so happy and alive.

We checked into a hotel in Paris where we were planning to rest for three days before continuing home to the United States. The first night, I woke up and could not breathe. We feared that I was having a heart attack.

While Tim asked me questions about my symptoms, I left my body.

We were staying on the fifth floor of the hotel and strangely, I saw my body laid out flat, with my feet first, go right through the closed window, and as if on a conveyer belt, move towards the horizon. When the conveyor belt had taken me a long way from the hotel, I suddenly understood that I was dying. Without thinking, I screamed “NO!!!! I have a husband, I have two sons!”

Immediately, the conveyor belt stopped. Then, it jerked into reverse, and took me back through our closed hotel window where I reentered my body.

When we got to the hospital they explained that a blood clot that had formed in my leg on the long airplane ride had broken loose, gone to my heart, splattered and then gone to my lungs where it had killed lung cells. That’s why it was difficult for me to breathe. They told me I was lucky to be alive, and that it would take at least a year to regain my health.

My life had changed in an instant. I had no idea how much physical and emotional suffering was to come as my body and spirit tried to heal.

God has used the past fifteen months of healing to teach me more about what Paul meant when he said, “Rejoice in hope, be patient in suffering, persevere in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)

Reflections on Suffering from a Christian Perspective

Rejoicing in hope, as you know, is not always easy.

Our Christian hope is not that we won’t have suffering, but that God will use our suffering for good. Suffering changes us. If we allow it to, it can help us become more sensitive to the suffering of others. When we have made peace with our own suffering, we are no longer so afraid of the suffering of others. We can be with them and help them in the midst of their pain.  We can sit with them, pray with them, and love them in whatever ways God shows us they need.

I remember one day when the physical pain my body was overwhelming. On a scale of 0 to ten, with zero meaning I felt no pain and 10 meaning that all I felt was pain, my pain ranked at an eight or maybe a nine.  I was with a friend and we had prayed together, asking for healing in my body. When we were done we sat and looked at each other, saying nothing. Then I started to cry. “Kate, do you the pain will ever go away?” I asked. I am sure each of us remembers a time when we asked that question, “Will this pain ever go away?”

My friend answered me very wisely—and with great compassion. “Yes, Jill,” she said kindly, “but it is going to take time.” I clung to her words, even though my fear made me doubt that they were true. Sometimes we lose our hope; that is when we need others to hope for us.

Our Christian hope is not that we won’t have suffering, but that God will use our suffering for good. Suffering changes us. If we allow it to, it can help us become more sensitive to the suffering of others. When we have made peace with our own suffering, we are no longer so afraid of the suffering of others. We can be with them and help them in the midst of their pain.  We can sit with them, pray with them, and love them in whatever ways God shows us they need. Our suffering is not without fruit. If we allow it, God can use our suffering for good.

Suffering reminds us that life is far beyond our control. In our need, we can turn to God who was willing to come to this world and suffer himself. Nothing that we suffer is greater than what Jesus suffered. Because Jesus experienced suffering of every kind—physical suffering when he was tortured, spiritual suffering when he felt abandoned by God, emotional suffering when people he loved disappointed him as his disciples did in the Garden of Gethsemane, and relational suffering such as when his friend Lazarus died, we can have confidence that in the midst of our suffering God can understands what we are going through. Our hope right now is this—we are not alone in our suffering. Our ultimate hope is that one day there will be no more suffering of any kind.

Paul urges us to rejoice in hope, but he also reminds us of our need to be patient when we suffer.

Being Patient in Suffering: Illustrating Our Hope

Being patient in suffering is a lot like crossing a busy road here in Myanmar.

Every evening Tim and I have to get from one side of Kabar Aye Pagoda Road to the other.

First, we wait for an opening in the flow of the busy, oncoming three lanes of traffic. When it is possible, we get to the center white line and wait.

Looking back at where we’ve come from is of no use, we have to focus on the traffic that is coming towards us, making sure not to get hit, and waiting for just the right moment to continue across three more lanes of busy traffic to the other side.

Sometimes when I stand on the white line in the middle of those six lanes of traffic, even though my husband tells me that it’s safe to cross and urges me to keep going, I’m too afraid. Then, he has to take my hand and lead me to the other side.

Whenever we get all the way across that busy road safely, relief and gratitude well up in me!

Being patient in suffering is not so different! When we suffer, we try to find a way to get to the other side of it. We set off, finding a way to distance ourselves a little from the pain we’re experiencing.

It’s as if we make it to the center white line. But then, we find our way blocked by the oncoming challenges that are such a normal part of our lives.

Sometimes these difficulties keep coming and can make it impossible for us to move for a long time, so our suffering continues. Looking back to all we’ve already suffered only makes the current suffering greater, so we find it much more useful to look in the other direction, seeking a break that will let us cross to the other side of the physical, emotional or spiritual pain we’re enduring.

Sometimes an opening presents itself, but we’re so afraid that we don’t move, or take advantage of it.

Sometimes, someone who cares for us and knows how much we are suffering, takes our hand and helps us get safely to the other side. When our suffering finally ends, we feel both relief and gratitude.

Applying the Message

What are you suffering? Right now? I know that God cares about whatever difficulties are a part of your life this morning. I would like to offer us a minute of silence in which we can each talk to God about our suffering and also to listen to what God might want to say to us as He is present to our suffering.

In silence, let us pray.

(one minute of silence)

Amen.

Safe and Secure: A Finger Labyrinth Prayer

Your embrace encircles me.

This spiritual landscape opens

to welcome other visitors,

seen only with the eyes of faith.

Gratitude,

hope,

encouragement

spring up from this fertile soil.

This beauty is all that is needed

while we move on.

What a privilege it was to introduce labyrinth prayer to this group of young leaders.


We didn’t have a labyrinth to walk, so we walked with our fingers and pens.


The poem, “Safe and Secure” synthesizes the prayer experience of one of the class members as explained to me through a translator.

Question for reflection: What is my prayer experience as I walk the labyrinth with my feet, eyes or hand?

Prayer: May the messages I receive be integrated into my life. May I live out of my relationship with You. Amen.

Scriptural Touchstone: Psalms 16:11

You show me the path of life.
In your presence there is fullness of joy;
in your right hand are pleasures forevermore.


Special thanks to Alain Kilar for donating finger labyrinths of his amazing photo of the Chartres labyrinth (in the lead photo here)
to Faith, Hope and Love Global Ministries. We are happy to share then around the globe.  www.alainkilar.ch

Labyrinth Construction To Start Soon

In 2009, a permanent labyrinth was installed on campus. As far as we know, it was the first in the country. Many used it and found its pathway a supportive environment for prayer.

In 2010, after a permit was granted for the construction of a new seminary building, the labyrinth had to be taken up to make way for water tank that was needed for the project. A vision for an even more permanent labyrinth, one that wouldn’t be able to be removed if land was needed for another purpose, began to form. What if an in-floor prayer labyrinth could be placed in part of  the 5th floor chapel and multipurpose room?

The labyrinth entrance will be below the central window on the top floor.

In late 2011, the decision was made; a new labyrinth would be installed! Since coming back in January, we have met with stone merchants and engineers to discuss the dimensions,

placement,

and materials for the labyrinth.

Concrete floor that will be covered with terrazzo stone. The labyrinth will be jade-green with black lines. The chapel floor will be the yellow seen in the photo below.

Next week, construction of this labyrinth will begin. The team here is very excited. We would appreciate your prayers for this project.

Jill, Engineer, Floor Specialist, Treasurer

Question for reflection: What spiritual tools could you share with those who are seeking to know and love God better?

Prayer: God, bless this pathway of prayer. Bless those who build it and those who come to pray on it. May its pathway lead us all, step by step, closer to You, the Center of All.

Scriptural Touchstone: Isaiah 30:18, 21
Therefore the LORD waits to be gracious to you; therefore God will rise up to show mercy to you.
For the LORD is a God of justice; blessed are all those who wait for him.
…and when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left, your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying,
“This is the way; walk in it.”