I grabbed my jacket, tossed a notebook in my backpack and headed out the door. It was my first contemplative retreat, and I was staying at Mystic Trace, the middle-of-nowhere, Missouri home of my friends Tom and Kathryn.
The path was swimming in rain, but the grass, trees and flowers seemed content to float along in the early morning laziness. If it is possible for plants to have an “old soul,” these did; boasting a familiarity that indicated they’d remained in the same place since the time native peoples and animals first carved the crisscrossing traces that mark the land.
I waded across a small creek, and there it was — the prayer labyrinth. Rocks outlined the winding path that led to the inner circle: the representation of God’s presence. And it was calling me. I tossed my pack aside and stepped across the threshold. I followed the path, weaving first closer to, then farther away from the center circle. I imaged the journey of my life doing much the same — wandering on a route that seemed anything but direct. When I finally reached the center, I sat down on a stump and began to scrawl in the tiny rocks that filled the inner space.
I heard the crackling of branches and looked up to see Bob — a large black dog — bounding toward me. Bob seemed to sense the holiness of the moment and eased his pace as he approached the labyrinth. He ignored the indicated path and instead stepped directly into the inner circle to sit at my feet.
I smiled at the thought that I was sitting in this place with both God and dog and began to wonder that this animal seemed to understand life and its purpose far more deeply than I do. Bob looked up at me with a compassionate, somber expression. “Bob, what do you know that I don’t?” I asked. He licked my hand in response.