Author Archives: Chris Heuertz

Ashes, Tattoos, the Sign of the Cross, and My Friend Connie

by Kelly Pigott


I was in first grade the first time I participated in an Ash Wednesday service. I attended a parochial school, and our teacher, a very stern nun, paraded us into the chapel where we all knelt and were told to be still and quiet, an impossibility for six-year-olds. But we tried our best. The priest walked in, dressed in a formal robe, and he approached each of us, spoke soft words, and placed an ashen cross on our foreheads. I had no idea at the time what this meant. I knew it was important, and sad, and it identified me as a Christian, but that was about all my little grade-schooler brain could comprehend.

I do, however, remember that it made me feel special—because this pastel-grey mark identified me with my classmates, and my faith.

The tradition of marking the forehead with the sign of the cross goes all the way back to the first couple of centuries of Christianity.  Tertullian (b. 160 CE) mentions it as a motion (much like we do today when we clasp our hands or raise them in prayer) that Christians utilized to set apart or bless routine events, beginning with the rise of each morning. It was a way of saying, “this belongs to God” and to encourage a life of purity.

At first, it was done by simply marking an invisible cross on the forehead with a thumb.  Many centuries later, it will become a more explicit motion that tapped the forehead, chest, and then left and right shoulder if you lived in the West, but right to left shoulder if you lived in the East, providing yet another annoying little disagreement for the Latin and Greek Christians to argue about.

But during the infancy of Christianity, the sign of the cross unified the church as an expression of solidarity in a hostile world.

It soon expanded to many other aspects of the church.  When the persecutions escalated, Christians used the sign of the cross to clandestinely identify themselves as fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. It was also incorporated in the baptismal service as oil was placed on the forehead of the still dripping candidate during the blessing. And even exorcists used oil on the forehead as an aid to driving out demons.

There was also a brief and curious practice that emerged in the 4th century after Constantine lifted the status of Christians and halted the persecutions. Augustine remarks how it became in vogue among believers to have a tattoo of a cross indelibly marked on their forehead.  I can only imagine the kind of conversations that took place between Roman parents and their teenagers about that one.

Eventually, the sign of the cross became incorporated in the season of Lent, where the bishop used ash to make the sign of the cross.  Ash, as you know, was often used in the Bible as a sign of repentance.  And indeed, on the first day of Lent, many Christians from various traditions will walk around as I did with a sign that not only identifies them with Christ who saw himself as the man of sorrows mentioned in Isaiah, but also with all the broken in the world. It is a way of mourning with those who mourn, and weeping with those weep. This is not a pity party, or a “let’s get together and get depressed” occasion.

It is a journey of healing.  And one that we all need to take.

One spring I attended a funeral for a friend who was way too young and who had left two daughters and a son behind.  At the graveside there were so many people gathered that I was a good distance from the casket and could barely hear the pastor. A woman named Connie stood next to me while we waited for the service to conclude. Her head barely reached my shoulder, and she had a round face with straight, brunette hair that always looked a little disheveled; ironically, she owned a local beauty shop and had cut my hair for me when I lived in the area. We chatted for a little and got caught up on things. Connie had been battling cancer for years and had lived far longer than the doctors expected.  She didn’t like to talk about her own cancer much, except to boast about how God was confounding her oncologist.

Connie refused to be depressed or sad about her condition. Instead, she dealt with her anxiety by doing everything she could to stare down death in a contest to make him blink first. She had a contagious, independent spirit. She refused to miss work even when she was feeling wretched. She reached out to other cancer patients in the area. Numerous times I saw her driving someone to the doctor’s office for chemo therapy or visiting acquaintances at the hospital—even people she barely knew.

She volunteered at the funeral home, styling the hair of the deceased before they were presented at a funeral. Until I had met Connie, I never even thought about somebody needing to do this. But she relished the job, and had some bizarre stories to tell about the things she learned the hard way about fixing the hair of dead people. And somehow, this melancholic ministry gave Connie humor and strength to make it one more day.

She is one of those rare individuals I have met who I would nominate for sainthood.

Eventually we ran out of things to say and the crowd settled down. A reverent silence fell on the hillside, except for the birds. The pastor was bringing his remarks to a close, and as he did Connie reached out and grabbed my hand.

I have to admit I was a little embarrassed at first. Here I was without my wife, and Connie was without her husband, and we were both surrounded by a mob of people, some of whom were my former church members, and we were holding hands.

What would people think?

I felt awkward.

But after the initial shock wore off, I was able to think a little more clearly about what was going on.  I turned and looked at Connie, who was crying just a little, her eyes fixated on the casket. And I don’t think it was just because of sadness. She was scared. And then it dawned on me what must be frightening her.

She was staring at her own near future.

How dumb could I be? Here I was, afraid of what others might think when all the while Connie was giving me a precious gift—a chance to share her pain. I stepped a little closer to her, and she rested her head on my upper arm as we watched the casket descend into the grave

Ashes to ashes.  Dust to dust.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”


Kelly Pigott is the University Chaplain and Associate Professor of Church History at Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene, Texas, where in addition to church history, he teaches courses in ministry and spiritual formation.  He has written numerous journal articles and serves on the editorial boards of two academic history societies.  He has twenty years of experience as a pastor.  Most recently, he contributed a chapter to the book, “Phyllis Tickle: Evangelist of the Future” (Paraclete Press) edited by Tony Jones.

He has a weakness for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and cheeseburgers.   He likes to take long hikes in the mountains, roast marshmallows over a fire, skip stones across a lake, and camp in his trailer with his children Nathaniel and Eliana.  He feels most like a kid when he rides his bike around the park.  He is very much in love with his wife, Susan, who teaches Old Testament and Hebrew.  And he wishes that Mark Twain had written one of the gospels. 

Follow Kelly on twitter at @kellypigott

there are no dead ends, only a clearly defined path

Walking the Labyrinth

by Kathy Mansfield


 What is the Labyrinth?

The labyrinth is not a maze. The labyrinth is an ancient spiritual tool—a single path of prayer and meditation leading to a center and returning back. Unlike a maze—there are no dead ends, only a clearly defined path.

Labyrinths are thought to enhance right brain activity. Whereas a maze is constructed to be a left-brain puzzle.

A maze can have more than one entrance and numerous choices along the way. The walls are usually high so as to block one from seeing the way out. Mazes were developed as a source of entertainment. Labyrinths are tools for spiritual renewal.

Walking the labyrinth is a form of contemplative prayer that can bring one closer to God, and to self. Because it utilizes the mind, body and soul, it can help with healing, grief, forgiveness, gratitude, prayer and creativity. 

The labyrinth journey quiets the mind as it removes us from the distractions of daily life. In so doing it allows us to reflect, receive, and be renewed.  The inward and outward turns, symbolize our path through life and our spiritual journey. We appear to reach our destination, only to find that we still have a long way to go

“The labyrinth is an archetype, a divine imprint, found in all religious traditions in various forms around the world. …We [people who use and work with labyrinths] are rediscovering a long-forgotten mystical tradition that is insisting to be reborn.” 

-Lauren Artress, Walking the Sacred Path

 Why Walk the Labyrinth?

For some, walking the labyrinth is a way to relax and to meditate, but for others, it is a highly spiritual experience.  For these people, modern day pilgrims, the walk, the journey to the center and back, is a metaphor not only for their journey through life but for their faith journey. On the labyrinth they learn to trust God, to seek His wisdom, and to hear His voice. It is a way to reconnect with our inner Spirit, to go within, to hear the voice of God.

 The world surrounds us. Noise and busyness, abound. Finding time to be still and seek God is becoming harder and harder. The labyrinth is an ancient spiritual tool that can help us “reconnect” to the Spirit within and to feel God’s presence in the midst of this chaotic world. The labyrinth is truly a gift to us from the past.

What Can the Labyrinth Do for Me?

I once stood in wonder as I observed a young girl who was walking the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in June 2009.  As I watched her journey into the labyrinth, barefooted, I was amazed at the reverence with which she took each step.  Much to my amazement, when she arrived at the center she started to pray each petal of the center rose.  She got it!

How could such a young girl know how special, how mystical, the Chartres labyrinth is?

I could sense her connection with God, and I could imagine a ray of light illuminating her face; God shining Divine light down from the heavens on her because her prayer was so humble, so intense, so pure, telling her, “My daughter, with you I am well pleased.”  I felt voyeuristic watching this deeply personal and spiritual moment, yet I could not take my eyes off of her until after she had completed her walk.

Later, after I was finished writing in my journal, I saw her with her grandfather at the exit. Had he shared the secrets of walking the labyrinth and praying the center with her?  I do not know.  However, I do know that this image of  “The Girl Praying the Center” is forever etched on my mind.  I will never again walk the labyrinth without thinking of her and her Divine connection. As Thomas Keating once said,

“A single moment of divine union is more valuable than a long period of prayer during which you are constantly in and out of interior silence. It only takes a moment for God to enrich you.”

-Thomas Keating

Don’t you long for this too?  To feel God’s presence in your life once again (or perhaps for the first time)?  The labyrinth, an ancient, spiritual tool, can help you do just that. All it takes is a few minutes of your time.  Are you willing to take the first step?   As St. Augustine said,

“Solvitur Amublando – It is solved by walking.”

Kathy Mansfield is an Advanced, Certified Veriditas Labyrinth Facilitator. She trained under Lauren Artress, the founder of Veriditas.

As a facilitator, Kathy offers monthly walks to the formerly homeless in Charlotte and has seen the impact this type of spiritual practice has on those that have faced difficult situations in their lives. She has seen their transformation of spirit.  Kathy also facilitates walks for her church, women’s conferences, retreats, retirement communities, survivors of domestic violence, and for whomever calls her and asks for her help.  Kathy works with several groups to help them determine what type, size, style of labyrinth to build.

Kathy is also an artist, a photographer that uses her photos to create meditative moments.  She also creates Gratitude Beads that you can carry with you throughout the day. Every time you are feeling grateful for someone or for something you can pull one of the beads forward. At the end of the day, you can look at your Gratitude Beads and be reminded of all of your blessings.

If you would like more information or are interested in Gratitude Beads, email Kathy at

Charlotte Labyrinths, Spiritual Labyrinths | Labyrinths in Charlotte, NC

Reflecting Back Looking Forward

We wanted to make the world a better place. Most people do. But those who give themselves to the hard work of fighting for justice, building peace, and bearing witness to hope find themselves in constant conflict.

After serving 20 year with an international organization fighting human traffickers, caring for children dying from AIDS, and working to disarm child forced to fight as soldiers in civil war, we saw a few consistent symptoms of activist compassion fatigue:

  1. Many practitioners involved in causes, charities, or communities of hope often do a much better job of taking care of those they serve than they do taking care of themselves. There’s an obvious break down in credibility and integrity when we try to heal our own wounds through serving the brokenness in another.
  2. Folks working in difficult communities find it nearly impossible to ground themselves—stability seems like a far-off ideal that activists desperately long for, but seldom embraced.
  3. Often those engaged in the difficult work of justice perpetually teeter on the edge of burnout. Countless young people sign-up for volunteer opportunities, internships, and even careers of service, and while some find ways to sustain and thrive in these callings most are not as fortunate. It’s not uncommon for activists to leave vocations of service disillusioned. Some even walk away from their faith.

We can live better.

We can love better.

We can serve better.

…we can do good better.

And last year was a great start.

It’s hard to believe we’re well into a new year with new possibilities and new opportunities.

Before we get too far away from 2013 we wanted to thank each of you for helping make Gravity’s first year a huge success!

Thank you.

Thank you for believing in the vision. Thank you for getting behind the movement. Thank you for standing with us in solidarity and support.

To capture just a small handful of the highlights from 2013 we:

Thank you for making so much possible. The work of Gravity is shaping the imagination for social engagement of thousands of people—forming people in the contemplative tradition to live thriving lives of justice and peace.

Your support has inspired us to look into a new year with holy ambition and hopefulness for so much more that needs to be done.

Looking back it’s clear that 2012 was a year of transplanting—in many ways an unexpected transition, in many ways a transition that was long overdue. 2013 was a year of rooting—establishing the infrastructure to build the capacity for the future of Gravity. We believe 2014 will be a year of cultivating—launching a series of new programs and initiatives to make the world a better place through contemplative activism.

In addition to our already full speaking schedule, in 2014 we are ready to roll up our sleeves to launch the following programs and initiatives:

We’ll keep you posted on all the great things that come together in this New Year.


Silence nurtures transformation by helping us quiet all the voices that threaten to define us, so that we can hear the One voice, so that we can then know that we are loved to such a degree.

But without silence we too often numb ourselves, or mask over what’s going on in the heart of who we are.

We are afraid of silence because it stirs up some anxiety. That anxiety points to the reality that we don’t know that we are loved, that we don’t know that we are fully accepted.


Film produced by The Work of the People with music from Sleeping at Last


Cultivating the Contemplative


Why bother? Why cultivate contemplative spirituality in a demanding world with insatiable needs?

To sustain, not just to sustain, but to thrive in difficult vocations of hope we found that we need to nurture a deep spirituality.

We’re all interested in making the world a better place. But it’s not easy. Learning to develop contemplative practices that make room for silence, solitude, and stillness allows our inner life to impact the external world for good.

The world is in desperate need of healing. And we found that to the degree that we are healed, the world will be healed.

We need both. The contemplative and the active have to go hand in hand.

Film produced by The Work of the People with music from Sleeping at Last