Travis SCHOLL. Walking the Labyrinth: A Place to Pray and Seek God. Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 2014, pp. 237. $16.00 pb. ISBN 978-0830835836. Reviewed by Fran LEAP, Seton Hill University, Greensburg, PA 15601
The labyrinth has an ancient and varied pedigree. Daedalus is credited with the most ancient multicursal edifice in Crete to contain the Minotaur. There is evidence of labyrinths throughout history and throughout cultures in various media from stone walks to basket designs. But it is the labyrinths of the medieval world that have captured the contemporary imagination and given rise to a proliferation of unicursal designs, from tiny jewelry images, to finger labyrinths, to full size walkways in churchyards or other institutional grounds. The unicursal pathway functions both practically as an aid for meditation, and symbolically, as the journey of the human soul toward the deep center of existence, returning transformed to immersion once more in the world.
It is one such construction in the side yard of First Presbyterian Church in St Louis, Missouri that is the impetus for this gentle book by Travis Scholl. Scholl interweaves his walking of this labyrinth with a reading Mark’s gospel through the forty days of Lent in 2011. By writing about his thoughts each time he walks the labyrinth and linking this with his imaginative retelling of Jesus’ journey he invites us into a multilayered work worthy of the multi-challenges of life, Lent, and the Markan narrative.
The text is written in reflective, repetitive style. Like the labyrinth he walks, Scholl’s writing is constantly circling back around, reviewing themes, revisiting life experiences, re-visioning the gospel narrative. It demands a meditative reading. It is best experienced exactly as it was intended, as a daily reflection for the forty days of Lent. It is a book that invites conversation, beckoning one’s own journey into dialogue with Scholl’s reflection on his experience.
Labyrinths and labyrinth-related spirituality are often suspect in some Christian circles for their “pagan” origins. Scholl brings nothing but Christ-centered orthodoxy to his walk and to this writing. “In other words, the path of the labyrinth is Christ. Christ is the path.” (43) But contained in this singular focus is the paradox of the multitude, the many people and many paths that are possible in the following of the one Christ.
Searching for the one path of Christ through the maze of his own life, Scholl revisits pivotal turns in his life: his decision to propose marriage, loss of a job, the decision to attend seminary, the birth of a child and pregnancy with another. In momentous choices new paths open that were previously unseen; in seeming dead ends fresh life is found with a new turn. The metaphor of the labyrinth path, its circuits, repetitions, and promise, undergirds both Scholl’s life reflections and the interpretation he brings to Mark’s words.
The greatest strength of the text is Scholl’s imaginative retelling of the forty lectionary readings from Mark’s gospel. Here he strives to bring a sense of humanity to Jesus and to the disciples. At one point he imagines Jesus’ own delight as he walks, sprints, strides, skates, dances across the surface of the Sea of Galilee before he is spied by frightened disciples and enters their boat to bring them calm. There he rows the boat with them, sweating with the effort, yet secretly he “still grins with his former delight.” (107) The gospel retellings are vivid, respectful and sometimes thought provoking.
The path of the labyrinth is an exercise in liminality. At the center Scholl recites the Our Father, the liminal prayer that bridges then and now, connecting Christ with our daily discipleship. It is in the practice of following, of walking with the One who calls, that the disciple is formed. Treading the labyrinth prepares Scholl, and the reader, to walk more clearly the path of discipleship. The text is well suited for private devotional use and perhaps for small groups; I certainly recommend it for such.