As we near the end of Advent and see the beginning of yet another coronavirus variant accompanied with rising cases, we may be feeling despondent. The words of Psalm 80 resonate with me: “How long, Lord God Almighty, will your anger smolder against the prayers of your people?” (Psalm 80:4 NIV) I, for one, have been asking God in prayer over the past two years, “How long?” The seemingly never-ending nature of the pandemic reminds us that we are wandering through the darkness, with no clear end in sight.
In the Cathedral of Chartres, there is a mosaic of a labyrinth on the floor consisting of eleven concentric circles. The labyrinth of Chartres depicts Christ’s descent into hell and opening of the gates of heaven for the dead who lived just lives. The labyrinth also represents Christ’s Passion: passing through the darkness of human suffering and ending with his death on a cross. Although death awaits at the center of the labyrinth, the labyrinth is not a symbol of despair, but rather of new life. As the reading in Hebrews today tells us, “And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:10 NIV).
The labyrinth of Chartres is unicursal: there is only one way to the center. To reach the end, there is no need to outsmart the maze, to find the perfect combination of steps in different directions. What is necessary is to keep moving forward, to trust in the darkness of faith, to trust that God is with us. Christ went into the darkness not so that we will never experience suffering and darkness ourselves, but so that we may know that God is present in our sorrow, unknowing, and helplessness. In this Advent season, I reflect on the first three Glorious Mysteries of the rosary, a series of prayers devoted to Mary, the Mother of Jesus. These three mysteries are the Angel Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, Mary’s visitation to Elizabeth, and Jesus’ birth. For me, these moments represent the mind-boggling mysteries that God is in each of us, God-in-me rejoices in God-in-others, and God became man. As I dwell on these mysteries, the voice in me asking “How long?” weakens, and a feeling of joy starts to settle. Like the wildflowers of the California desert after a spring rain, the joy and hope lying beneath -the -surface begins to spring up as God’s response to our prayer: “Restore us, God almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved” (Psalm 80:7 NIV).
Image: A miniature version of the labyrinth of Chartres outside of Swedenborg Chapel in Cambridge, MA (across from Harvard’s Center for European Studies). Other models in the Greater Boston area are located at Harvard’s Divinity School, the Armenian Heritage Park near Quincy Market, and the 9/11 Memorial at Boston College.
TJ Dulac is a junior in Currier studying Comparative Religion.