Not far from the church here in Rye is Playland, the county-owned amusement park on the shore of Long Island Sound. Aside from being one of the oldest such parks in the country, it is perhaps most known for its appearance in the Tom Hanks movie Big. In the movie, Hank’s character – a middle school youth – has his wish fulfilled to be “big,” and the majority of the movie is a playful look at the adult world through the eyes of a youth. Rye Playland is the place at the end of the movie where he finds the arcade game that allows him to undo his “bigness” and return to childhood.
For most of the summer, Playland will function in that same way. It will be full of people enjoying a time of play – and the sound of the roller coasters and “joyful” screaming will be heard throughout town.
Ironically, tucked in the grassy park adjacent to Playland, is a hidden treasure that is pretty much the opposite experience. The park, to my great surprise, has a labyrinth.
If you don’t know what one is, you are not alone. It is an ancient spiritual practice that was adopted by the medieval church, with the best known example built into the floor of the Cathedral in Chartres. Unlike a maze, which has multiple ways to go (and get lost!), a labyrinth is a single path that leads eventually to “the center.” For some, it was a substitute for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. For most, the labyrinth became a spiritual practice of prayer “along the way” as one slowly and meditatively walks the path and finds their spiritual center.
We took our own middle school youth group to experience the labyrinth recently. Like many such middle school experiences, it didn’t quite go as expected. More in the spirit of Playland, they raced noisily along the path, bumping into each other, eager to find out where it led, with much jumping up and down in the center once they arrived. Soon they sprinted out and on to the next activity. Calming, meditative prayer? Not so much. Yet we hope that maybe in a quieter moment they will find their way back to this and other such slower, quieter practices.
As the busy days of the end of the school year lean toward the quiet of summer, may we all find refreshment on our labyrinth walk. May there be time for long, slow, prayerful walks. But like in the movie Big (worth watching again) may a dose of middle school enthusiasm be ours as well – jostling, curious, and playful – laughing together as we joyously run the path before us!
Dan Love is Co-Pastor at the Rye Presbyterian Church.