What is a labyrinth? A labyrinth is a shape encompassing a curving path from the outside to the center. It has only one path, unlike a maze, which has many paths and is intended to get someone lost. The labyrinth’s path is confusing and indirect. Yet as it twists and turns, it takes you unfailingly to the center – and then back out again to where you began.
The labyrinth is a very ancient symbol, found on Greek coins as long ago as 450 years before the birth of Christ. Various forms of labyrinth are found on all sorts of artifacts, from all over the world. In northern France, several medieval cathedrals were built with labyrinths in their floors – most famously, at Chartres. Some scholars think that these labyrinths were intended for “pilgrimage in miniature.” Pilgrimage – a holy journey to a special place, like Jerusalem or other sacred sites – was a very important part of popular spirituality in that time. But actually taking a long journey wasn’t practical for everyone. Walking the labyrinth may have been a way to live out one’s faith without traveling far.
How do I use the labyrinth? A labyrinth is essentially a tool for walking prayer or meditation. Walking quietly, slowly, with an open mind and heart, can be a wonderful form of prayer. Here are some guidelines to try.
1. Find a focus for your labyrinth time, to hold in your mind and heart – a question, a situation, a feeling. It could be a simple question – “God, what is my next step?” – or, “God, what word do you have for me today?”
2. Pause before entering the labyrinth and ask God’s spirit to walk with you.
3. Enter. Walk. Go at whatever pace feels natural – but bear in mind that our lives encourage us to rush, and think seriously about slowing down! Notice your surroundings and include them in your prayer… or remain focused inward, keeping your spirit open to God’s guidance, and let your surroundings drift by.
4. When you reach the center, pause. Rest a little. Reflect on where you are in the journey. Is it time to ask a different question? to pray for your own needs, instead of others’? to seek guidance on how to integrate a new insight into your living?
5. Begin the return journey, back to the start. Again, take a natural pace; don’t get impatient. Return is also an important part of the journey.
6. When you reach the threshold, pause and give thanks before leaving.
Heartfelt thanks to Michael Sharpe and the many friends and family members who helped him in his work building the labyrinth, his Eagle project. Our labyrinth is dedicated to the memory of John Robinson, husband of our beloved retired deacon.