Charmed Circles: Becoming a Believer
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.