I consider myself a bit of an amateur contemplative, and as such, prayer labyrinths are one of my favorite spiritual practices. The weather was great the other day, so I decided to try my hand at passing down my love of walking a labyrinth to my two girls, ages 5.5 and 2.5. The .5s matter a lot apparently, or so they tell me. As is typical of theological experiences with my daughters, I learned way more from them than they from me.
In the care on the way there, I preface the experience with some instructions about using the time for prayer, walking slowly, staying on the path, and enjoying just being with God. We talk about different kinds of prayer, and they seem genuinely excited. We get there, they enter the labyrinth, and immediately start running a race down the path. We regroup and start again. And then one more time.
We make our way around the first full outer ring of the labyrinth in silence and at a nice mosey of a pace. It’s working! We turn on the path and my oldest proudly proclaims that she’s done praying. I try to show her how much more of the path remains, and she says she is really done. She’s prayed all she wants to pray. My youngest makes a 90 degree turn and walks straight across the labyrinth, clearly done being confined by the path and its strict adherence. I spend the rest of my time trying to convince them to really give it all their effort; I’m so busy trying to help them that I get to the center of the labyrinth before realizing I haven’t been praying at all.
My oldest declares that on the way back out she’s just going to do it her way and not stay on the path. Running and chaos ensues, and I consider the experience a bust. I convince them to go back to the car, and just before I back out of the parking spot, my oldest tells me, “Thank you for bringing me here! I had fun with God. That was a great way to pray. Can we come back soon?”
There it was, my lesson for the day. They may not have followed the traditional methods of walking a prayer labyrinth—they may not have even walked—but they did pray. Their prayers were not filled with words, but with time and play. That morning my daughters taught me that sometimes contemplative spirituality means silliness, laughter, joy, and play with God. They reveled in the presence of God in that labyrinth, and it left them craving more. Lesson learned.