What is a labyrinth?
A labyrinth is a patterned path, often circular in form, used as a walking meditation or spiritual practice. A labyrinth's walkway is arranged in such a way that the participant moves back and forth across the circular form through a series of curves, ending at the labyrinth's heart or center.
It is unicursal, which means that it has only one entrance and leads in only one direction. Although the word maze is often used as a synonym for labyrinth, a labyrinth is Not a maze. Mazes are multicursal in design; the user has to make choices at many points along the path.
What is a Labyrinth?
It is a walking meditation.
Walking can be a spiritual exercise! Movement can be prayer! In fact for some of us, like St. Augustine, walking is the way we do contemplation, discernment, and often can best encounter the Divine. The labyrinth is a spiritual practice that helps us use our walking for spiritual purposes.
It is old.
The labyrinth is ancient. In many of the great Christian cathedrals of Europe, labyrinths were built right into the floor tiles. The Celtic cross and knot bear similarities to the pattern. Even sacred circles of ancient civilizations resemble features of the labyrinth.
It is a tool.
The labyrinth holds no special powers. It isn’t sacred alone. It is a tool for sacred experience the same way that music and artwork can help us experience something sacred. Alone, it is only an object, but put to use, like a hammer and a nail, it can achieve the purpose for which it is designed.
It is NOT a maze.
Keep in mind that the labyrinth isn’t a puzzle to be solved, or a maze with choices to be made. The labyrinth only has one path to follow – the walker cannot get lost or confused. The journey to the center and the journey back are clearly marked.
It is within our tradition.
The labyrinth is appropriate for Christians of all traditions, as well as people of all faiths. It doesn’t have doctrine – you don’t have to believe a certain way to walk the labyrinth. It DOES allow people to bring their own unique heritage and beliefs to the walking experience. We walk on the spiritual pathway with those who may be different from ourselves – an experience of unity in diversity.
It is shared.
Walking the labyrinth can be a solitary experience, but at the same time it is important to remember that you are not alone. The path is shared by others. Often you will encounter others in front, behind, alongside. And they may walk slower, faster, or linger places. It may be appropriate to greet or acknowledge with a nod or eye contact, or simply allow them to pass by.
It is an opportunity.
Walking the labyrinth is an opportunity to be attentive to God’s presence in new and fresh ways. Each entry into the labyrinth can be an opportunity to encounter God anew. Allow the rhythms, movements and silence to help your contemplation, and nourish your imagination.
It has many purposes.
The labyrinth provides a place for a variety of spiritual exercises. Christians may use the labyrinth for: PRAYER – walk and allow the prayer to happen; PRESENCE – experience the union with God on your path; DISCERNMENT – you may bring a particular concern, decision or request and seek divine guidance; METAPHOR – reflect on the labyrinth as a metaphor of life itself.
It is without judgement.
There is not a “right” way to experience the labyrinth. While these suggestions may help in your walking, they do not guarantee a particular experience. Like reading and re-reading the Bible, each time can have differences of nuance and understanding. Let the Spirit move according to God’s purpose; let go of a “planned” outcome. Sometimes it may seem like nothing has happened; if so, just explore that. Trust that the Spirit has spoken even if the walk seems unexpected.
Borrowed from the materials of Grace Episcopal Church in Yorktown, Va.
Suggestions for Walking the Labyrinth
Take your shoes off
This is consistent with the biblical image of standing on holy ground. As this labyrinth becomes for you a place of prayer and holy encounter, allow yourself to walk on it in socks or stockings. For practical reasons, this helps to take care of and preserve the Labyrinth.
Maintain the quiet
It is important that the labyrinth remain a peaceful and quiet place, though not a silent one. Often music, like the kind of music from the Taize community, accompanies and enhances the experience of the Labyrinth. But the labyrinth is not a place for conversation. Feel free to talk with others about your experience of the labyrinth,
outside the room.
Pause at the entry into the labyrinth. You may choose to take a deep breath, to say a silent prayer or to gently ring the chime to begin your journey, Allow what comes naturally to guide you.
Take your time
WaIk at your own pace. You don't need to rush it or prolong it Take it at a tempo that feels right.
Follow the path
Allow yourself to be guided and to trust the beauty of the labyrinth is its singular path that leads and allows you to focus on the experience of walking without worrying about direction. Submerge yourself in the
experience of walking a spiritual path.
Rest when you need to rest The path is a long one and will ordinarily take 20 minutes to complete. Turning points are good places to pause out of the way of others. The center of the labyrinth also provides a place of rest. Be mindful of those waiting to get into the center when there are many people on the labyrinth.
Be considerate of others
Remember that you are not alone. Many times there will be several people walking the labyrinth at the same time. Though the path may seem narrow, there is plenty of room. Feel free to walk around others or allow them to walk around you. You can also step slightly from the path, noting your place, and then return to it after another has passed. AIso, as you wish, you may acknowledge the presence of others with eye contact, a nod, or an embrace. Always be respectful and considerate of those who share the journey
Finish the labyrinth in a way that seems appropriate. As you walk off the labyrinth you can gently ring the chime, breath a long deep breath, silently say a one word prayer or simply depart.
From "Centering on the Spirit"
Carl E. Horton, 2003