First United Methodist Church – Omaha
Dr. Cynthia Lindenmeyer
October 28, 2018
Scripture: Psalm 139:1-12
Sermon: “Universe of Energy”
1 O Lord, you have searched me and known me. 2 You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away. 3 You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways. 4 Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely. 5 You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me. 6 Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.7 Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence? 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. 9 If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea, 10 even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast. 11 If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,” 12 even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
Last August I was saddened to hear that one of the original attractions at Disney’s Epcot Center closed, Universe of Energy… I remember being in High School—confessing jealousy when I heard stories my friends shared about their adventures to Epcot Center’s primeval diorama ride that took you back to the beginning of creation, a journey where you encountered animatronic dinosaurs and hair singed as lava spewed from an erupting volcano. Finally, when I was 22-years-old stationed at Ft Gordon in Georgia, I talked a group of friends to take a weekend trip to Epcot. They endured going on the Universe of Energy ride with me….three times. Over ten years later I would return with kids in tow, but the ride was now called Ellen’s (as in Ellen DeGeneres) Energy Adventure and featured Bill Nye the Science Guy.
So what’s the point of telling you all that? Well, this Sanctuary reminds me of the configuration of that ride…. guests would enter into sections where multi-passenger pews moved in front of giant Imax-like screens to witness the Big Bang and formation of the Earth. I can assure you that no motion sickness will occur during this sermon, as your seats are stationary. Instead of a movie screen, we have a living altar thanks to our Ecology team. This morning, engage your adventurous spirit as you transform into a spiritual traveler with me experiencing the mystical understanding of a labyrinth! (Hence the insert in your bulletin)
If you could travel through time, would you visit the past or journey into the future? Many books and movies evolve around the concept of time travel. I’ve always been gripped by the events that happened on January 5, 1900, when dinner guests are skeptical of their host, George, who arrives late looking disheveled and tells them he is just returning from experiencing a civilization that exists 800 thousand years in the future—so is the scene from the 1960 version of HG Wells’ Time Machine.
What if here at FUMC I said we have not only one time machine, but two— one in the Commons and one on our front lawn. See, to me, the labyrinth is like a time machine but much more profound, for a labyrinth transverses spiritual dimensions of consciousness and allows us to glimpse other realms and other ways of knowing. Walking the labyrinth invites you on a pilgrimage toward our Creator. To enter a labyrinth is to embark on a three-fold path of Christian mysticism: Purification, Illumination, and Union. At the beginning of the labyrinth, before taking that first step, you stand at the entrance and open your mind and heart, letting go of expectations. That’s the Purification stage. The next phase is Illumination- where you allow your heart to be expectant. At some point as you take each step, you twist and turn, realizing you come close to the center only to be led away. Like life, we twist and turn feeling like we are drifting, feeling lost and possibly disconnected from the Sacred. Once you reach the center, pause, experience whatever dimension of life you are in. Experience illumination, insight and when you are ready, retrace your steps, mindfully walk the path on which you came, returning to the beginning. Union.
It’s not just the physical aspect of walking the labyrinth—but the mental. Which is why finger labyrinths are just as powerful if you don’t have access to a physical labyrinth or health reasons are a factor. A month ago, I attended a retreat at the St. Benedict Center at Schuyler…Beautiful labyrinth there. When I listened to others share about their labyrinth journey, I heard echoes of the mythical journey that Joseph Campbell talks about. Joseph Campbell, a great teacher of literature whose writings about the Hero’s Path would inspire epic stories like Star Wars and Watership Down, who said one of my favorite quotes: The cave you fear to enter holds the treasure you seek. To me, encountering the labyrinth is like a Hero’s Journey of faith… Faith being a bridge between the spiritual and physical, like the wind that you cannot see but can feel and see evidence of as each falling leaf wildly flies through the air. To Campbell, the mystery of life needs symbols and mythic metaphors to truly explain reality. I experience the labyrinth as a metaphor for the deepest journey, possibly into a cave where we discover the treasure our Creator left for us to find. Campbell regarded Christianity as a myth to help us find meaning in life just like other faiths, saying:
We have not even to risk the adventure alone
for the heroes of all time have gone before us.
The labyrinth is thoroughly known …
we have only to follow the thread of the hero path.
And where we had thought to find an abomination
we shall find a God.
And where we had thought to slay another
we shall slay ourselves.
Where we had thought to travel outwards
we shall come to the center of our own existence.
And where we had thought to be alone
we shall be with all the world.
We all make sense of the world in various ways—I grew up fascinated by literary stories and so I understand the world best through narrative. That’s why I think about the labyrinth in relation to H.G. Wells’ The Time Machine, Campbell’s Hero’s Path Model and another story with three distinct aspects like Purification, Illumination and Union—this one about magic, The Prestige, that explores how every great magic trick has three stages:
The first part is called “The Pledge.” The magician shows you something ordinary: a deck of cards, a bird, or a man. The magician shows you this object. Perhaps asks you to inspect it to see if it is indeed real, unaltered, normal. But of course… it probably isn’t. The second act is called “The Turn.” The magician takes the ordinary something and makes it do something extraordinary. Now you’re looking for the secret… but you won’t find it, because of course you’re not really looking. You don’t really want to know. You want to be fooled. But you don’t yet clap. Because making something disappear isn’t enough; you have to bring it back. That’s why every magic trick has a third act, the hardest part, the part we call “The Prestige.”1
We all stand at the entrance of the labyrinth with ordinary thinking, ready to take the Pledge of entering in. As we take each step, the ordinary becomes the extraordinary, where the Turn occurs, where we encounter the center of our very existence— and while the center may be a place of solace, you have to return— the Prestige.
If I’ve lost you on this journey, allow me to turn to a well-known story that to me captures the journey into and out of the labyrinth: The Wizard of Oz. Dorothy enters the Purification stage of the labyrinth, the land of Oz, with questions, wanting answers… In the labyrinth of Oz, Dorothy is on a spiritual quest to find her own center, her own self. Following Joseph Campbell’s Hero’s Path model, Dorothy enters the labyrinth on a path with a clear beginning towards a center called Emerald City. She battles evil in various forms, finds companions to help along the journey, travel through a wilderness, and these companions get separated then discover a power to help return home…Illumination. That is the mental journey occurring in the labyrinth until she clicks her ruby slippers together, the time of Union.
What is the power we have on our spiritual journey? What are our metaphorical ruby slippers? We all have the grace of God, the love of our Creator that surrounds us always. The same God encountered in our Scripture reading from Psalm 139 Who discerns our thoughts from far away.
And that bring us to the end of our ride—and back to reality. I offer you one more story. I’ve asked Sue Rood to share about how our outdoor labyrinth came into place…If you were involved in the planning and building of the outdoor labyrinth, please stand up.
I encourage you to walk our labyrinth either outside or inside, or try a finger labyrinth. Remember everyone’s experience is different and sometimes nothing magical or mystical happens. I read Psalm 139 before I enter the labyrinth. Whatever your experience, you are linked to those who walked labyrinths thousands of years ago; a spiritual time traveler on a journey of purification, illumination and union; engaging in your own story with a beginning, middle and end; experiencing a pledge, a turn and prestige. You are part of our Universe of Energy.
Christopher Priest, The Prestige