Delaware’s beloved Rev. Dr. James Leslie served as Ohio Wesleyan’s prophetic conscience and university chaplain for 28 years. He had many things in common with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. For one, they sat next to each other as classmates at their graduation from Boston University School of Theology in 1955, when both received Ph.D. degrees. For another, they prayed and studied together under their university chaplain, the Rev. Dr. Howard Thurman, who earlier that decade had delivered the Merrick Lectures at Ohio Wesleyan, which later were published in his famous book, “The Creative Encounter: An Interpretation of Religion and the Social Witness.”
This week, we bring those three powerful persons back together in a creative way: the prayer labyrinth at Ohio Wesleyan. Over the past few days and into this weekend, Ohio Wesleyan is hosting its first series of workshops to equip community members and area churches to more deeply utilize the OWU labyrinth as an instrument for prayer and reflection. The OWU labyrinth replicates the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France. It is a gift from the family of OWU alumna Kathe Rhinesmith, and she herself is the faculty trainer for our workshops this week.
You may well ask: “But what is this labyrinth; what on earth does it have to do with Leslie, King and Thurman; and what is it doing here in Delaware?!” Here goes:
A labyrinth is basically a circular spiral path folded back in on itself as a means of prayerful meditation. Christians have used this pattern of walking around in circles for nearly 2,000 years. This meandering meditative path has been found over the centuries to be an amazingly powerful tool for Christian prayer: to quiet distracted or overactive minds; calm disturbing emotions or unfortunate events in life; resolve inner discomfort; still one’s mind enough to get clarity for whatever it is that is going on in one’s life; but most importantly to help one ponder the power of God’s greatest mysteries of life to enhance healing – emotionally, mentally and spiritually.
Today, as I prepared these notes for you, I walked the labyrinth at OWU, and a prayer from Jim Leslie and Martin Luther King’s old college chaplain Howard Thurman came bubbling up in my mind. This old Thurman prayer, so bred in my bones, reminds me of my own experiences with Jim Leslie, Martin Luther King Jr, and Howard Thurman over the years. Thurman’s prayer just might show you what could happen in your own heart when you walk the OWU labyrinth as a prayerful exercise:
“I need Your sense of time, O God. I have an underlying anxiety about things. I am in a hurry to achieve my ends, completely without patience. It is hard for me to realize that growth is slow, not all processes are swift. I cannot discriminate between what takes time and what can be rushed; my sense of time is dulled. O to understand that I may do all things with a profound sense of leisure of time.
“I need Your sense of order, O God. The confusion of details is overwhelming; little things get in my way: ready-made excuses for failure to do and be what I know I ought to do and be. Much time is spent on things not very important while significant things are put in my scheme of order. I must unscramble my affairs so my life will become order. O God, I need Your sense of order.
“I need Your sense of the future, O God. Teach me to know that life is ever on the side of the future. Keep alive in me the future look, the high hope. Let me not be frozen either by the past or the present. Grant me, O Patient One, Your sense of the future without which all life would sicken and die.”
The Rev. Jon R. Powers is the university chaplain at Ohio Wesleyan University.