Last week, Culturebox had an important insight into the nature of American spirituality. She would like to share it with you today. The revelation occurred while she was reading a remarkable column by Sally Quinn in the Washington Post about labyrinths. Labyrinths, for those who don't follow trends in New Age healing, are the hot new form of meditation. You march around in them, you get lost, and you find yourself on a higher plane. They are often built by churches as a way to lure people back into the fold, and by spas as a higher form of relaxation, sort of like water aerobics. Many people spent their New Year's Eve walking in labyrinths, rather than pursuing more conventional paths to transcendence, such as champagne and foie gras.
Quinn walked her first labyrinth when she was a guest at the Golden Door, a spa for society ladies in Southern California. She was dubious at first, but the staff insisted, and it was a truly transforming experience. She concentrated on some tests her learning-disabled son was taking at that very moment back in Washington. Later, she discovered that though he'd done poorly on most portions of the test, he had scored off the charts on one: "The maze." This was her first step toward conversion, but what really moved her was a photograph taken of a woman who had just walked a maze for the first time. We'll let Marylin Arrigan tell this story in her own words, or at least Quinn's words:
"Suddenly," [Arrigan] says, "I was in a very bright light. I had a vision of an Indian face with long straight hair, blowing in the wind. He had uplifted arms. He kept telling me to look up. I kept looking up. I was engulfed in light.
"He asked if I was committed to walking the labyrinth. I said 'yes.' He said, 'If you are, you must leave a footprint.' When I got to the center I left two deep footprints. As I was walking out he said, 'Now you are walking out, you must go out in the world and leave a footprint.' "
... Arrigan can't explain her vision. "I was in tears on and off. It was like a roller coaster. But toward the end I was very calm, it was like a peace. Like I had a mission."
Skeptical? Quinn has the clincher:
A volunteer, Carol Davis, took pictures with a digital camera as they were finishing up. Flipping through the images, she stopped, stunned, at a shot of the group. For there, in the center of the picture, was what looked like a brilliant shaft of multicolored light, coming from above and directed exactly at Arrigan.
The Washington Post photo department, says Quinn, thinks that the "brilliant shaft of multicolored light" is lens flare. But Quinn disagrees. The experience gave Arrigan and Quinn a sense of higher purpose, and what else do you need to know?
Very little. Once upon a time, religion in America was a terrifying, finger-pointing, hellfire-and-brimstone affair. God didn't come to you; you went to God, or else. Insofar as there was life outside the church, it was secondary. Religious doctrine was dense and difficult and if you misunderstood it, you could be excommunicated or jailed. Now, though, everything is different. Religion isn't mean and threatening. It doesn't demand all your time. You can fit it into your busy schedule. If you need a "mission," as Arrigan says, you just do whatever you're already doing, as long as you can coax from it some movement of the soul. A socialite and journalist such as Sally Quinn can have her spiritual moments along with her aromatherapy and massage, and find proof of God in newspaper photos. Interior designers and writers for home decor magazines can take up feng shui, the ancient Chinese art of object placement. Woody Harrelson can adopt tantric sex. Gym trainers can practice yoga. Football coaches can preach the religion of sports. Culturebox, whose job it is to write articles that are short, is planning to devote herself to kabala, a form of Jewish mysticism, weirdly made popular by Madonna and Roseanne, in which one finds a deeper meaning in small, seemingly insignificant words and individual letters.