The labyrinth at Portiuncula Center for Prayer

On Saturday I walked the labyrinth at Portiuncula Center for Prayer in Frankfort, Illinois.

I spent the weekend in one of their hermitages for a self-guided retreat, something I had developed a habit of doing every six months or so but not since 2019 (!).

This was my first visit to Port, and miscalculating Friday afternoon Chicago traffic resulted in me pulling up 45 minutes after my scheduled arrival and 15 minutes after the office was supposed to close. Fortunately the staff welcomed me graciously, easing my spirit from the stress of rush hour traffic to the spaciousness of their quiet, wooded campus. It’s close enough to the suburbs that the soft hum of traffic is never totally absent, but the trees and breeze are expansive enough that I didn’t notice it long.

I would have stayed all month. In my circumstances, 39 hours had to suffice. But a lot can happen in 39 hours, especially if you spend 19 of them sleeping and the other 20 with your phone off. (Okay, okay, I turned it on once or twice to check for any dog emergencies.) I brought along Brennan Manning’s Ruthless Trust. Ask me sometime soon how the book cracked open my heart, but suffice it for now to say that Manning is less concerned with trust in terms of anticipating future events and more in terms of a posture of assuming God’s love for us in our present circumstances—a posture I’ve fought hard in my adult life to achieve, and one I slide away from too easily in seasons of stress or fatigue. I think my favorite passage was a brief, imaginative aside describing the divine presence:

Something is afoot in the universe; Someone filled with transcendent brightness, wisdom, ingenuity, and power and goodness is about.

The Port labyrinth is large and wide, and it takes a long time to walk the full length, leaving plenty of time to pray or listen or breathe. I’ve realized that walking a labyrinth allows my mind to relax and wander more freely than simple walking because I don’t have to consider where I’m going and there’s nothing especially interesting to see. When I’m trying to pray in an active or conscious way, it has the effect of loosening things up, like taking a walk or a long drive with a friend, where you’re both no less engaged but maybe a little more daring, freed from each other’s direct gaze. Inevitably on these solo retreats, while I’m journaling or praying in the hermitage, I’ll reach a point of ramming up against a wall of my own neuroses or insecurities or well-worn thought patterns. That’s when I close the journal and walk the labyrinth. (I did it twice on Saturday.)

I wandered the rest of their campus, too. I saw dozens of robins, one woodpecker, a large doe, a handful of bats, my first fireflies of the season, and three adolescent raccoons, scampering and wrestling over each other. I wrote new insights in my journal, only to realize they were the same insights I received two years ago, or four, or six, or maybe just a few months ago. After a year of loneliness and grief and creeping burnout, I tried to follow Manning’s advice that “like faith and hope, trust cannot be self-generated” but that we can cultivate it through certain practices. In the silence, I began to hear the sounds of something afoot in the universe, someone filled with transcendent ingenuity and brightness.

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