Last week I was in North Wales at St Beuno's Spirituality Centre, with days spent in the weak Welsh sun. This week I'm in Cyprus where I'm typing this in the intense Mediterranean sun. Last week I experienced some magnificent sunsets, but here the sunrise is worth getting up early for. I don't think I've seen the sun actually rise above the sea's horizon, getting hidden for a moment by the clouds, and then come blazing out in all its glory. But it's the same sun that makes us screw up our eyes at its intensity in Cyprus as it is that brings a pale yellow glow glow to the green Welsh countryside.
The picture in the centre is of the labyrinth at St Beuno's. I didn't discover it until my last day, but, I'm glad it waited until the end, because my experience of it provided just the insight I needed to make the transition from a calm spiritual oasis to the distractions of Croydon. I was recommended by my spiritual director to walk the labyrinth from the centre outwards. The thing about a prayer labyrinth is that there is only one path, unlike a maze in which there are many false paths which you may or may not choose. The other difference is that the route of the labyrinth is plain to see whereas the maze is hidden by tall hedges.
As I walked away from the centre I was aware of leaving something precious behind - my eight days spent listening to and talking with the Lord, knowing the love of God, the companionship of Jesus and the quiet prompting presence of the Spirit. It was with some regret that I began the journey, but after the first few metres the path took a sharp turn and, much to my surprise, I was back almost to where I had begun, looking straight at the centre again. Walking further on there were times when I turned away from the centre, and times when I turned towards it. Times when I thought I was getting nearer but ended up further away, and times when I thought I was about to leave the labyrinth but found myself walking towards the centre again. It may sound like a pious cliché but this describes my experience of life?
There is only one path - I only have one life - and sometimes I think I'm doing all the right things to make me feel closer to God, but I find myself feeling further away. But at other times there can be the unexpected moment of consolation when God is vividly present. It may be an inner warming of the heart, a sense of Jesus' companionship, or a moment of natural or artistic beauty that makes me catch my breath and say, "Thank you Lord for your grace." During the day I may find myself naturally turning towards the Lord and consciously seeing the 'centre', and others times I am preoccupied with daily chores and can't look at the centre.
But one more thing struck me - as I walked round the labyrinth I could see the centre nearly all the time out of the corner of my eye. I knew it was there and that I was never far from it. As I finally left the labyrinth I felt the Lord say to me that I would not be bringing a memory of my eight days' retreat back home, but the reality of the Lord's presence.
So it's the same SUN in Wales and in Cyprus though experienced quite differently. Jesus is the same SON whether experienced in the spiritual oasis of St Beuno's or the less obvious spirituality of Croydon. And for that I thank God!