Way Leads on to Way: A Paradox in the Labryrinth
by Rev. Laura Rolen
Delivered at CHI Ordination, September 20, 2014
On July 24, 2008, my then 15-year-old son and I—along with 2 dogs, a corn snake, and a red-eared slider turtle—left the beautiful mountains of Southwest Virginia with a car full of what we could fit in it and ended up in another beautiful part of the country, the San Francisco Bay Area. We knew it was time to leave the small town of 2,000 people where we had lived most of our lives.
In deciding exactly where to go, I thought about how, as a child, I used to like to sit on the floor in front of the bookcase and look through the books. That was where, in one of my parents’ college English textbooks, I discovered Robert Frost’s poem “The Road Not Taken.” It made me think about being above all of the potential paths we could take when we come to a decision point, and looking down at the multitude of continuing branches. The poem also talks about how way leads onto way.
Way led onto way, and on September 30, 2011 I attended a labyrinth service. I was really questioning my perception of truth and my beliefs about God and Jesus. As I walked the labyrinth, I asked God to tell me just anything I should know. When I reached the center of the labyrinth I felt God say, “I already gave it to you. The answer is within you.”
Then I heard some Bible verses echo within, including:
“My grace is sufficient for you,”
“Seek you first the kingdom of God and all these things shall be added unto you,”
“You will seek me and find me when you search for me with all your heart.”
But none of that was really what I wanted to hear. I didn’t want to be told I had more searching to do; I felt like I had searched enough. I wanted to be told I had arrived somewhere, but that was not the message I got.
As I left the labyrinth service, I picked up a brochure about The Chaplaincy Institute and stuck it in my pocket. I lived just down the street from there. I walked home and put the brochure and my keys, along with whatever else was in my pockets, on the kitchen counter. A couple of days later I was cleaning the kitchen (which was a miracle in and of itself) and saw the brochure. As I was picking up trash, I almost threw it away. Then I thought, “This looks kind of interesting; I think I’ll do this.” So I did.
I came to the Chaplaincy Institute a confused Christian—disappointed, disillusioned, discontented; wondering if Jesus was the way, a way, or as I thought during a time of despair and seemingly unanswered prayer perhaps no way; wanting to learn more about what I then viewed as false ways, so I could understand them better.
Way led on to way. In the earth-based module, I developed an appreciation for the interconnectedness of all beings with one another, the earth, and God.
In the Judaism module, the Shabbat, Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur spoke to me about the importance of rest, letting go of the old, and inviting in the new.
From the Buddhism modules, I learned to listen and wait upon God.
From Islam, I learned about making prayer more than just presenting my wish list. I learned to thank God and surrender to God.
In Matthew 7:20, Jesus said, “By their fruits you will recognize them.” Galatians 5:28-29 names the fruits of the spirit. I’ve seen each one of those fruits in the interfaith world.
In the Buddhism modules I saw the fruits of patience and self-control.
In the Islam module I saw the fruit of peace.
At the Hindu temple in Livermore I saw kindness.
At the Sikh temple in El Sobrante I saw generosity.
And at the East Bay Church of Religious Science I saw joy.
I still experience some cognitive dissonance between what I believe to be the compelling truth of Jesus Christ as the way the truth and the life—the savior of all humankind—with the love, compassion, and insight I gained in the interfaith world of CHI . The closest answer I got from God was, “It’s my job to worry about all of that; your job is just to love.”
As I reluctantly leave behind this phase of my journey, I am reminded of a statement my son made a few years ago. We were in the car, just riding and talking about philosophy, theology, and such matters, and he said, “I go seeking answers and sometimes I get them, but with each answer come a thousand more questions.”
I thought of that statement today. I’m leaving the Chaplaincy Institute with 1,000 more questions—different questions from the ones I had when I began my studies here—more thought-provoking questions, more compelling questions. I’ve learned to tolerate—even appreciate—ambiguity, the reality of the unknown, and the vastness of the divine mystery.
As I continue to explore ultimate existential questions to attempt to integrate the paradox of seemingly conflicting truths, I am grateful to The Chaplaincy Institute for broadening my perspectives and providing me with new avenues from which to explore. I am leaving transformed: intrigued by the possibilities as the next step of my journey unfolds, eager to embrace the path that lies ahead, and excited to see where the way will lead me next.