This past week Rob Sheppard was here doing a photography workshop for John James Audubon State Park. Once the workshop was over we had some time to run around and visit some of my favorite places in the area. One of those places is New Harmony, Indiana. Once the site of an utopian experiment it is now something of a living museum. The Roofless Church is located there and a number of historic buildings. In New Harmony you will find a memorial garden honoring Paul Tillich and a number of other impressive gardens. New Harmony also features a couple of labyrinths.
Labyrinths have been used for centuries as a tool for prayer. I took Rob to one labyrinth that is modeled after the famous one located at the cathedral at Chartres. While we were there I noticed a sign I don’t remember seeing before. On that sign was the following quotation attributed to Black Elk: “Everything the Power of the World does is done in a circle. The sky is round, and I have heard that the earth is round like a ball, and so are all the stars. The wind, in its greatest power, whirls. Birds make their nests in circles, for theirs is the same religion as ours. The sun comes forth and goes down again in a circle. The moon does the same, and both are round. Even the seasons form a great circle in their changing, and always come back again to where they were. The life of a man is a circle from childhood to childhood, and so it is in everything where power moves.”
I remember from some previous studies that circles were very important to Native Americans. Some believed that natural arches continued underground and formed circles. Medicine wheels also played an important role in some tribes. Black Elk’s words remind us that there are many examples in nature where the Creator has utilized circles—the earth, stars, wind, nests, the sun and moon, and the seasons.
I like to think that a circle also portrays the love of God as it is revealed in the Scriptures. The Bible declares that “God is love” and I believe that God’s love encircles or encompasses everybody. I also happen to believe that you and I are supposed to love as God has loved us. At our recent Maundy Thursday service, where we paused to remember Jesus’ “new commandment” which tells us that we are to love one another as Christ has loved us, I used a passage from a poem by Edwin Markham as part of my message: “He drew a circle that shut me out–heretic , rebel, a thing to flout. But love and I had the wit to win: We drew a circle and took him in! I do, in fact, think God likes circles and that when it comes to love He expects us to draw a circle that will take everyone in, even our enemies.
When I pause to remember that the circle of God’s love included me I feel both obligated and inspired to love others too. I hope you’ll think about that when you happen to come across one of the many circles that can be found in nature. Perhaps one reason God used so many circles was He knew we would need the reminders.
(I took the top image in Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the middle one in Middlesboro, KY, and the bottom one in Henderson, KY.)