In medieval times, when many Christians were unable to make the pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to walk one of the labyrinths inlaid in the naves of European cathedrals was a spiritual metaphor for taking that journey. Whenever I walk the labyrinth, I begin by standing still at the entrance. The path winds to the center so you don't ever get lost. The idea is to get found. Often I'll stand for a while concentrating on something troubling me, then clearing my mind. This time I wondered if I wanted to go on living without my mother. I felt dead inside. I asked her for help. Mother, tell me what to do. Send me a message, a sign.
I entered and walked along the path almost in a trance until I found myself at the center of the rosette. This would be the first time I had ever lain down in the center—as if in total surrender. I don't know how long I lay there, maybe two or three hours. My mind was empty.
Suddenly I was infused with a force or energy I had never experienced before. My whole body began vibrating with a sense of overwhelming joy. What was most shocking was that I was in a state of extreme sexual arousal. I put my hand between my legs and the sensation was electric. I was stunned. I laughed out loud. This was not at all what I expected. I felt more alive than I ever had in my life. Mother? What are you telling me?
My mother was a beauty, a Southern flirt, sensual, in love with men and with life. "Life goes on, darlin'," she seemed to be saying. "Live for the moment."
"I will, Mama," I promised. "I will."
I had been an atheist all my life. Even at age 6, when I was forced to go to Sunday school, I never believed in God. My mother tried to bribe me with a beautiful blue silk dress she'd made for a Sunday school pageant. My father told me that if I didn't go, he wouldn't let me go to the premiere of Disney's Alice in Wonderland. I didn't believe he would be that cruel, but he didn't let me go to the premiere. At 13 I learned the word atheist and announced to my parents that's what I was. My journalist father went to Paris on assignment and brought back a pair of French high-heeled shoes—my first. He said he would only give them to me if I went to church. I threw scruples to the wind and walked proudly down to the front pew in my fancy new shoes. I didn't believe a word of what I heard. My Episcopalian father couldn't believe I didn't believe. But I just didn't get it.