A labyrinth is a pattern with a purpose. They offer a chance to take “time out” from our busy lives, to leave schedules and stress behind. Walking a labyrinth is a gift we give to ourselves. The labyrinth walk is popular with a growing number of people because of its simplicity and the ability to approach its paths on your own terms. St. Alban’s labyrinth is made of grass and has existed since 2006.
The labyrinth represents our passage through time and experience. Its many turns reflect the journey of life, which involves changes of direction, transition, some uncertainty but also discovery and achievement. Different from a maze (which has dead ends and false passages), the labyrinth has a single path that leads unerringly to the center. It shows us that no time or effort is ever wasted; if we stay the course, every step however circuitous, however many turns, however distant it seems, takes us closer to our goal.
Labyrinths are found in many cultures dating back as much as 3,500 years. Labyrinth walking is a form of meditation that has been practiced by nearly every religious tradition since ancient times. There is no one “Christian” labyrinth pattern. Faith communities throughout the ages have utilized labyrinths of various dimensions, materials, colors, and shapes. Theologians of different periods have utilized the pattern to emphasize beliefs that were most relevant to their time.
People walk the labyrinth as a tool to enhance prayer, contemplation, meditation and/or personal growth. There is no “required way” to walk the labyrinth. Thinking is not required to walk a labyrinth. At the same time, one must remain alert to stay on the path. This combination of reduced mental activity and heightened awareness makes the labyrinth ideal for walking meditation or prayer. The turns of the labyrinth are thought to balance the two hemispheres of the brain, resulting in physical and emotional healing. As reaching the center is assured, walking the labyrinth is more about the journey than the destination, about being rather than doing, integrating body and mind, psyche and spirit into one harmonious whole. The labyrinth meets each person where they are and helps them to take the next step on their spiritual path. Because it is so personal, it is a spiritual practice that can be enjoyed by everyone.
A “typical” labyrinth experience involves preparing yourself at the threshold, following the single path to the center (releasing), spending time in the center for as long as you like (receiving), following the same pathway from the center out, crossing the threshold (returning), and then responding to the experience. There is no single “right” way to pray a labyrinth. Praying in whatever way helps you connect with God during the labyrinth encounter is the “right” way and serves as the best guide possible. Journaling before or after the walk may help provide focus and insights.
Approaches to the walk may include:
- Intentional walks–where you address a specific intention, issue or concern as you walk
- Intercessory walks–offering prayer for people or needs
- Meditative walks–meditating on a specific word or passage or prayer
- Conversation–having a conversation with God
- Walking in a relaxed, peaceful state, temporarily releasing concerns, being open and peaceful