By Rev. Cheryl A. Fear, Retired
A few years ago I officiated at the wedding of two dear friends. Instead of an honorarium, the bride asked if I would accept her gift of a labyrinth. I accepted with enthusiasm. We live in the country and have a little over an acre in which we can ramble. There is a small pond in front of our home with a willow tree that towers over it. We chose to place the labyrinth by this pond. The entrance to the labyrinth is flanked by two maple trees, and a red bench sits between the two trees facing the labyrinth. It is a tranquil, soothing setting.
I am indebted to the builder of our labyrinth, Myra Corcorran, who provided a great deal of the information that follows. She gave us a scrapbook when we blessed The Labyrinth at Willow Pond (pictured to the right). Here is what I learned:
A labyrinth can be described as a walking meditation or path of prayer. Most are constructed in the form of a circle, symbolizing unity, oneness or wholeness. A single path labyrinth has a clear route to the center and back. Labyrinths are not the same as mazes. The maze is designed to be confusing. It is a puzzle. The labyrinth is not a puzzle. There are no “wrong turns”. As long as you follow the path, “the way”, it always leads to the center. Labyrinths are usually located outside so that we are placed in the midst of God’s Creation and in a position to “be awed”. They call us to withdraw from the fray and encourage us to be still so that we might avail ourselves of God’s presence and grace. Labyrinths encourage us to walk, to meditate, and to pray.
If you have not walked a labyrinth, the following guidelines may be helpful. If you are already familiar with the labyrinth, I hope they will be “reminders” for you.
There is no right way or wrong way to walk a labyrinth! It is often helpful to prepare yourself by sitting quietly and breathing calmly. Be aware of your body, your state of mind, and pay attention to the pace at which your body wants to travel the labyrinth. The labyrinth simply provides a place in which to become mindful of your thoughts, feelings, emotions, and place all that you are at that moment into God’s care. As you journey to the center, be open to the insights that God may reveal to you. You may stand, sit or kneel once in the center for a moment of silent contemplation. You may walk slowly or briskly. You may stop along the way or even skip or dance as you go. Generally there are three stages to walking a labyrinth:
- Releasing on the way in.
- Receiving in the center.
- Returning from the center to the beginning.
No two times of walking the labyrinth are the same, even though I always begin the same way—by sitting on my bench, taking a few deep breaths, and lifting up to God whatever is on my heart at that time. If you find yourself being distracted by external sounds or by internal thoughts, lift them up in prayer, and continue walking.
Stay on the path as it unfolds, being mindful of all that is presented to you in the moment. The path itself is leading you to the center. Arrival at the center is not the goal—rather experiencing the path as it unfolds with mindfulness, insight, and openness leads into deeper relationship with the Spirit and increased fruits of the Spirit.
Walking the labyrinth can be seen as a metaphor for our life in ministry. We are asked to remain true to our calling, to be open to the experiences of our ministry, and to reflect on them through prayer. As we faithfully walk the path set before us, we live more deeply into our baptism and experience God’s grace moment by moment. By placing our feet on the path, we also intentionally place ourselves within the embrace of God’s love and presence. May God guide, guard, and sustain you as you seek to walk the path God has set before you.
There are several labyrinths in my area, and I am sure there several in yours as well. Here are a few I know of:
- Stillpoint Retreat Center – 1625 Huntley Rd., Bellingham, WA
- St. Paul’s Episcopal Church – 2117 Walnut Street, Bellingham, WA3.
- Christ Lutheran, 5904 Vista Dr., Ferndale, WA
- Garden Street UMC – 1326 N. Garden Street, Bellingham, WA
- Grunewald Guild – 19003 River Rd., Plain, WA
- Labyrinth at Willow Pond – 5060 Hannegan, Rd., Bellingham, WA
You can also locate labyrinths near you through the following website: http://www.labyrinthlocator.com