Using the Labyrinth
What is a Labyrinth?
Labyrinths first are seen in ancient art, for example, as decorative elements on floors in Roman villas. Because meditation while walking slowly was an accepted spiritual practice in the cloisters of monasteries, labyrinth patterns were enlarged and adapted for walking. Beginning in the 13th century, labyrinths were built in French cathedrals on a scale that invited meditative walking. Perhaps the most famous labyrinth is the eleven-circuit labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral.
Labyrinths were rediscovered in the late 20th century, when Dr. Lauren Artress at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco popularized the practice. They are now widely used as a means of centering and spiritual replenishment in our busy multi-tasking world. Indoor and outdoor labyrinths can be found in churches, universities, healing centres, retreats, prisons, schools and private properties.
Labyrinths are ideal for walking meditation and centering prayer, for finding balance, peace and healing. They can be used by those of any faith background or spiritual perspective. The rhythm of “journey in-journey out” resonates at a deep level and is common to all.
The Wesley United Church Labyrinth
A labyrinth is not a maze! A maze is a puzzle, with many frustrating dead ends and choices, so one is often lost. A labyrinth is a single path that spirals back and forth to the centre. The walker returns to the entrance by the same route. This path is a symbol of life’s meandering journey with unexpected turns, encounters with others on the path, and deceptive distances which call for patience with life’s processes. It is like a small pilgrimage.
In 2017, the congregation of Wesley United Church celebrated the 150th birthday of the original Methodist sanctuary. It was a time to reflect, “How can we move faithfully into our future?” When we received an unexpected and generous bequest, we felt called into a time of visioning. What values defined us now? What was our particular calling? And if we were to keep this church building, how could it better serve, not only a Sunday congregation, but also a wider community?
For some time, Wesley has hosted contemplative, spiritual midweek gatherings, in a circle that is inclusive of all spiritual paths and that offers times of reflective silence. More recently, we’ve added a drumming circle to our list of activities. We have sensed a deep longing for an inclusive contemplative space, with room to question and explore. It seemed that a labyrinth could offer new contemplative opportunities for our congregation and the wider community.
In early November 2018, the Wesley faith community voted to undertake a major renovation of our sanctuary, including the removal of the carpet and pews. This made room for a labyrinth. We engaged Barbara Brown, a labyrinth facilitator from Ottawa, to design a Chartres-style labyrinth on a scale suitable for our space. In March 2019 she led a team of more than twenty volunteers in measuring, taping and painting the seven-circuit labyrinth that we now have. The Grand Opening of our sanctuary was celebrated June 9, 2019, with the new stage, the restored stained glass, a wheelchair-accessible washroom, and the beautiful labyrinth in the centre of it all.
The intricate spatial relationships of the Chartres labyrinth have been respected and are visible in the balance between line and path widths, the centre and perimeter diameters, and the lunations of the scalloped outer corona. The curves and patterns have an organic feel that reminds us of growth patterns in nature. This “architecture based on sacred geometry resonates harmoniously” with those who walk the path.
If You Walk The Labyrinth
If you silently walk the labyrinth, the experience is your own; it doesn’t have to be the same as anyone else’s. Sometimes it might just seem like a pleasant relaxation- a chance to become quiet and centred. Sometimes it may be a deeper, more emotional or insightful experience. The best thing is to keep an open mind. Let go of expectations, and let each labyrinth event unfold.
A volunteer will be present when you come to the church to give as much direction as you need or desire. There will also be also a handout to assist you. Other individuals may be walking while you are there, but it is not a problem if several people are on the labyrinth at the same time. Their presence can be part of your meditation, as part of your journey. Please remember that this is a contemplative experience, so it is not a time to strike up a conversation while walking!
We hope that you’ll feel welcome to come and experience the peace of walking the labyrinth, either as an occasional visitor or as a regular part of your spiritual practice. If you walk the Wesley labyrinth, may you find what your heart and spirit most deeply need. As you walk, you are surrounded and supported by the energies of all who have circled these spirals, and you add your own energies to those yet to come.