Annie, aged 9, is walking the labyrinth.
Today’s story has been about Wangari Maathai planting trees across Kenya and everyone has been asked to take something into the labyrinth that reminds them of the natural world. Annie has chosen a lemon and some bark. She has placed the bark at a junction and the lemon in the centre and collected a tiny tree button to take back with her.
As an adult walking the labyrinth, I walk straight in and straight out. I follow the rules, trying to focus on what has been asked. It is a peaceful and reflective experience.
On her way out, Annie is stopping at every junction.
“Where am I?” she muses out loud. “Am I going in or coming out? Should I go this way or the other way? I know I’ll go this way,” she adds choosing the way that leads back to the centre.
I know that she is doing this in part to wind up her friend Tom, who is waiting impatiently for his turn. In this she is successful.
“Hurry up!” he calls to her, leaping from one foot to another. “Don’t go back again! Oh, come on!”
I tell Tom that it is up to Annie how she walks the labyrinth and he needs to let her be. He stops talking to her and tries to contain himself. Annie glances at us, and continues on her way, backwards and forwards, making each junction a decision point.
And I wonder, as I frequently do in children’s ministry, how much should I intervene?
It is difficult to make the labyrinth a quiet personal experience in this room. The children range in age from a few months to 12 years and there are too many other activities going on – planting trees, painting, craft, sand, free play. It is a noisy room acoustically; when I tell the story to those who come later it can be hard to make myself heard. It probably doesn’t help that I frequently get up from my seat by the labyrinth to replenish craft supplies or talk to a child who has brought something to show me.
It seemed right to stop Tom interacting with Annie so that the labyrinth remains a personal experience. But is there a right or wrong way to walk it? Should I be insisting that the children walk slowly in silence? Sometimes they do. At others there seems to be an eager rush to take in whatever they have chosen. Even the smallest children are keen to have a turn.
Did it matter that Annie seemed to be playing to the audience? When I subdued Tom did it help her to focus on her own experience? I don’t know.
But it seems to me now that real life is far more like Annie’s way of walking the labyrinth than mine. Perhaps I should take more time to stop and wonder at the junctions?