What is a Labyrinth?
The Labyrinth is an ancient meditative tool, an aid in prayer, and a way to pray. It is an archetype, a divine imprint, found in all religious traditions in various forms around the world. By walking a replica of the Chartres Labyrinth, laid in the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France around 1220, we are discovering a long-forgotten tradition that is insisting to be born.
Appearing down the millennia in various cultures, this fundamental pattern or archetypal symbol carries a meaning and impact which works at a very back human level. Labyrinths date back to Crete and the earliest Greek culture. They appear in Egyptian tombs and on Etruscan vases, Celtic graverunes and Hawaiian petroglyphs, at shores of Baltic Viking settlements and around baskets used by the Hopi. At least 43 cathedrals in Europe included a labyrinth in the nave, laid out as a symbol for the journey of life and as a way for the faithful to make a religious pilgrimage when it became prohibitive to make a geographical one to Jerusalem.
The labyrinth is a sacred pattern, a path leading one into the center and out again. Marked by stones, tiles, turf, plants or paint, it is not a maze, for there are no dead ends, tricks or puzzles to solve. The path winds throughout and becomes a mirror for where we are in our lives; it touches our sorrows and releases our joys. Walk it with an open mind and an open heart.
How is the Labyrinth Used?
Both simple and complex, obvious and elusive, the labyrinth offers the walker an experience which engages the person both physically and spiritually. Used as a walking meditation our labyrinth has been walked by church groups, camp, and local organizations. People have found that walking the path can bring a focus and quiet to their mind; it can lead to reflection and awaken one to the deep rhythm which unites us to ourselves, to others, and to the Light that calls from the center. In surrendering to the winding path, walkers find peace and healing. To walk the path is know and trust that there is guidance to help us live our lives on this planet and in community. The labyrinth is a container in which the creative imagination can align with our heart. It is a place where we can experience – both playfully and profoundly – the soul’s desire and a movement towards it.
There are three stages of the walk:
First, releasing the details of your life. This is an act of shedding thoughts and emotions. It quiets and empties the mind.
Then, receiving insights and discernment; for many people this occurs upon reaching the center. Stay there as long as you would like. It is a place of meditation and prayer.
Finally, returning with new understanding to the world. Each time you walk the labyrinth you become more empowered to find and do the work you feel your soul is reaching for.
Guidelines for the Walk
Clear your mind and become aware of your breath. Breath in and out slowly. You may want to repeat a word or phrase as you walk. It helps distract the restless mind.
Allow yourself to find the pace your body wants to go. You may “pass” people or let others step around you, whichever is easier.
The path is two ways; those going in will meet those coming out. Some will be walking faster or slower than you. Do what feels natural to you. Don’t worry about staying exactly within the lines of the path, but be aware of the path. If you lose track of the direction you are going, just start over again.
First Congregational United Church of Christ’s outdoor Labyrinth is available for walking any time the church is open.