My favorite labyrinth is the one in my backyard. My husband created it stone by stone. He laid out the circle design, marking it with sticks, string, and orange paint. He did the back-breaking labor of carrying and placing 500 pounds of rock one by one to create the pathway. When we first moved into our house, an enormous ash tree grew there. As it aged, it grew diseased and unstable as ash trees are prone to do. Eventually, it had to go. I mourned the loss of that tree because of its life and shade and shelter.
My husband, a persistent and creative gardener, tried repeatedly to get something to grow in that circle. But the roots and tree trunk below the surface simply couldn’t provide the nutrients that plants needed to grow. Eventually, my husband thought of a labyrinth. Now I celebrate the labyrinth as yet another representation of life - another metaphor of our relationship with God who loves and created us. The stones are solid, reliable, and firmly grounded in the earth. They provide a place of spiritual reflection and an opportunity to slow the pace as I celebrate the One who is Life and Light.
WHAT IS A LABYRINTH?
Some people confuse the terms "maze" and "labyrinth." Essentially, a maze looks like a puzzle. It is designed at best to challenge and at worst to confuse you. A maze has false turns and dead ends. It is, by design, created in such a way as to make it difficult to navigate. Turn left instead of right, and you find yourself facing a dead end. The way is unclear. There are multiple opportunities for choices that impede you, delay you, or block your progress altogether. The objective of a maze is to get through and out to the other side, preferably as quickly as possible.
A labyrinth, on the other hand, is designed in such a way as to take you to the center. While there are a variety of designs, all labyrinths have one thing in common. There is only one path to the center. The path loops and turns, sometimes appearing to be very near the center and then winding away again before you arrive. But be assured, you can’t take a wrong turn. You don’t hit a dead end. Stay on the path. Get to the center. That’s the purpose of a labyrinth - to provide a path to the center. The objective of the labyrinth is the journey itself as you make your way to the center.
WHY WALK A LABYRINTH?
Labyrinths, by their very construction and design, provide an opportunity for spiritual reflection and application. Walking a labyrinth is a physical action that mirrors a spiritual journey. The curving, winding path of the labyrinth slows you down. In this hurried, frantic pace of our world, we need things that slow us down. The labyrinths I’ve known have very narrow paths, wide enough for only one person at a time. The sharp curves and turns require a slow and deliberate pace, but the fact that the path leads you to the center frees you to walk steadily without having to figure out your own way. You can focus on the significance of the journey rather than on what direction you must take next.
The journey pauses at the center of the labyrinth. Usually, there is space in the center for several people to stand or kneel. Others have been on the journey with you and will arrive in their own time. The center provides a place for rest, reflection, and prayer. You might choose to leave some burdens or worries there at the center. You might take a few moments for gratitude. Some may simply rest silently in the presence of God.
As you leave the center and follow the path back out, you are returning to your daily responsibilities and activities. The pace of your life may quicken again. But you have had a few moments of respite, fully aware of God’s presence and love.
The first time I walked a labyrinth, it felt very strange to me. I didn’t think of it as a spiritual experience at all during the labyrinth walk. I was so busy worrying about what I was doing that I forgot to pray or open my mind to Christ in any way.
Am I going to fast? Too slow? Has that person already finished? Oh, my gosh, someone is coming right toward me on their way out! What do I do? Did I take a wrong turn? Am I ever going to get to the center? Shouldn’t I be feeling something? Are they looking at me? Did I do something wrong? Should I be looking at them? My internal dialogue was loud and unremitting.
It was only after I had completed the walk and was reflecting on it that I realized that such a worry-filled walk did indeed have spiritual applications for me. How often in my life did I miss a beautiful moment with my Saviour because I was worried about what someone else was doing? How often did I compare my experience to others? How often was I impatient? Worried? Critical? I realized that the labyrinth experience had indeed been used by the Spirit to teach me to seek a walk that is less other-focused and more Christ-focused.
HOW TO WALK A LABYRINTH
PAUSE TO FOCUS at the entrance to the labyrinth. Take a moment to focus your heart and mind on Christ - not on others around you. Walking a labyrinth may be described as a solitary experience practiced in community. You are walking the labyrinth with others, but you need not compare yourself to them. You do not match your pace to theirs. You need not be concerned about their steps or pauses. Your experience with God is uniquely yours.
BE SILENT on the pathway. Participants on a labyrinth are focused on silently experiencing the presence of God. Do not engage in conversation with others on the path. Do not pray aloud unless you are with a group that has agreed to experience the labyrinth in that manner.
SHARE THE PATHWAY. While some participants simply walk off to the side of the labyrinth when they have completed their prayers in the center, most participants continue a reflective walk as they reverse their direction on the path. You will often encounter others on the pathway. They may have paused so that you overtake them. Or they may be returning from their journey. Most labyrinths have such a narrow path that you will need to step to the side off the path in order to pass someone or allow them to pass.
PAUSE AT THE CENTER. Your journey takes you to the center. Along the pathway, you are savoring the presence of God. As you reach the center, linger there as long as you would like to savor God’s presence.
RETURN. As you leave the center and retrace your steps back to the beginning, reflect on what the Spirit has taught you about your life with Christ as you continue with your daily activities.
WHERE TO FIND LABYRINTHS IN HOUSTON
There are many opportunities to discover and walk a labyrinth in Houston.
St Paul’s United Methodist Church: outdoor labyrinth in their front courtyard, accessible from the sidewalk for the public. 5501 Main St.
Grace Episcopal Church; outdoor labyrinth in a gated courtyard. For public use but by appointment. 4040 W Bellfort Ave. Call 832.667.8601
www.labyrinthlocator.com is a website dedicated to the location of labyrinths. Please contact the labyrinth location directly to determine if the information is current.