Dear Jean: A Story of Echoes



My view from Land’s End Labyrinth, E.Thomas, 2017

“Every child, every person needs to know that they are a source of joy; every child, every person, needs to be celebrated. Only when all of our weaknesses are accepted as part of our humanity can our negative, broken self-images be transformed.” ~Jean Vanier, Becoming Human

Dear Jean,

After a 4:30am wakeup call, driving to Calgary, flying to San Francisco, having a late dinner, and then having a restless sleep, I needed to walk the Land’s End Labyrinth. I needed sacred space. I needed quiet. I needed to focus on putting one foot in front of the other. I could worry about my sermon for my sister’s wedding later. Today, I needed to wander through a labyrinth at the end of the world.

I needed Land’s End. I needed to be away. But as my parents and I neared this portion of the Coastal Trail, there were more people instead of less.

My tension was rising instead of falling.

My life has recently taken some dramatic turns, including losing my job, my income, my apartment, and my community. Some of these changes were in the name of finishing any required seminary classes before leaving on my internship; but others were not. Even now, I’m unsure as to how these unforeseen griefs will live their lives within me. I wish they would simply vanish.

As I scrambled down the dusty path to cliffs over the Pacific Ocean, I rounded the bluff to finally see Land’s End – that sacred space where people walked in silence above the great endless blue yonder.

Except people weren’t walking in silence. One group of women in the centre of the labyrinth were holding out a selfie stick practicing their duck faces; kids were squealing as they slid down the bluff; and other people were literally hopping over and around the labyrinth with their devices, cutting off the few of us who were there to actually walk it.

(Deep breath, Erin. Deep breath. Not everyone knows what it means to do a labyrinth walk. Simply begin and keep to yourself.)

I began.

Almost immediately, a crazed girl of about eleven or twelve smashed into me on her way running around the opposite direction. She looked at me, hands on her hips, as if to say “Are you going to move or what?” I stepped aside and she kept running.

I have worked with, walked with, cared for, and engaged children and youth my entire life and never had I been so close as to physically picking up a child and removing her from the area entirely. I’m all for family-friendly venues. Kids need to run and play! But there is a time for running and playing, and a time for children to learn that joy and depth can be found in learning spiritual disciplines.

As I was trying to catch my anger, her little sister also ran into me. Only she ignored my frustration completely and kept running after her older sibling who was yelling “Daddy, take a picture of me! Take a picture!”

I looked over to see their dad with his selfie stick standing at the edge of the cliff, snapping photos of himself in different poses. Judgment rising past my breaking point, I chose to keep walking. One foot in front of the other. Oh, that the story ended there.

That same father turned to his daughters, stepped across the labyrinth’s stone markers, stopped me and asked if I would take a picture. I’m not sure if he saw or understood the look on my face. If he did, he would have perceived that his interruption was not being received well. Couldn’t he tell that I was trying to actually use the labyrinth for what it was actually intended for? Couldn’t he tell I needed quiet, holy space? However, what good would it have done them if I had lectured them?

I took his phone and snapped a few pictures of him and his daughters facing the ocean.

They thanked me and moved on. I returned to my place in the labyrinth – or what I thought was my place in the labyrinth – and found myself exiting the entire thing within thirty seconds. I had returned to the wrong path. I tried repeatedly finding the right away again, but I kept getting turned around and shoved out.

(Good job, Erin. You did something nice for an obnoxious group of people and you got dinged for it.)

Exhausted, grieving over multiple losses, and frustrated at the sheer mountain of ignorance for spiritual disciplines, I was ready to give up. Clearly this labyrinth was being gobbled up just like any other sacred space: it was a haven for consumers, selfies, and loudness.

I love contemplative photography (as you can see), but the ignorance of sacred space I was witnessing at Land’s End was staggering. It was then my mother came up behind me and simply asked “Would you like to follow me now?”

Thank God for wise and patient mothers.

One foot in front of the other, we twisted and turned, breathed in and out, stared out over the great blue yonder, and finally exited the labyrinth.

I stood there and wondered: Just what is being held in this thin space? “Let the little children come to me” (by conceding that kids should be able to run and giggle and go wild at all times as they seek God?); or “Let the little children come to me” (by offering ways children can engage spiritual disciplines as ways of connecting with God); or “Come to me all who are weary and burdened…” (learning to find rest within the literal tumult that refuses to cease?).

They all seemed to resonate somehow.

My mother then offered her take on my story, suggesting that I entered the labyrinth needing some very valid things, but I was interrupted by the needs of another. In stopping to attend to those needs of the other – one whom I had already developed an irritation for – I lost my way, and I couldn’t find it again. When my mother came up behind me, my journey was re-oriented and I walked the whole way. The entire journey didn’t turn out as I’d planned, but it gave me the unexpected.

Which narrative will I choose to tell when I recount this story?

It seems to me that I even though I have a choice about how I tell others what happened, all interpretative strands of this event will still influence me. I might forget to share how genuinely angry I was at a small child, or I might emphasize the need for parents to teach their children spiritual disciplines. But these choices don’t have the power to stop the other echoes bouncing around the story. One day, there will be a need for each narrative to be heard loudly and strongly.

As I sit here and watch the horrors of Charlottesville, I can’t help but wonder how many strands of multiple narratives are echoing around us all. We are hearing but a few strands. There are most assuredly more. I must then ask of myself: Which echoes am I drowning? Whose interpretation am I not paying attention to? Who has been forced into silence?

As I opened myself up to the multiple perspectives I could take on my Land’s End experience, I began to realize that one singular narrative even within myself can limit me or limit someone else’s interaction with me. If I dare to be awakened to the many echoes of even one event in my life, perspectives suddenly have the possibility of blowing my world wide open.

Even during a time of grief and pain, what miracles can now happen in my wide open world?

Until next time,


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s