By ELISE SCHLAIKJER
Community Labyrinth Coalition
Published: 7/31/2020 2:46:56 PM
Walking a labyrinth is a spiritual tool open to all to enjoy and to find peace and renewal. The permanent outdoor labyrinth at the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew on Federal Street was built a year ago for just that purpose. Built before the pandemic, it feels even more important now to remind our community of its healing gifts.
The following comments by four walkers are offered as a way to see how this practice can touch lives. There is indeed a reason why labyrinths have been walked for over 3,000 years! We invite you to come and experience ours on the lawn at the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew.
If someone had told me five years ago that I’d be diving into installing a labyrinth on the lawn of my church, I’d probably have scratched my head in amazement. Since that exact thing happened a little over a year ago, I have found myself drawn to this beautiful pattern in ways that I’m only beginning to understand. Here is what I’ve noticed so far. The labyrinth is indeed a metaphor for life: winding yet reliable, familiar yet always new. It reminds me to put one foot in front of the other with no concern for the destination, helping me to be present in this exact moment. And at each turn, as I slow down to navigate the reversal, I notice my brain gently reorienting itself from one side to the other, from coming to going. No two walks are exactly the same even if they seem to take my feet over the same ground.
For many years whenever I am in a place where there is a labyrinth, I seek it out. I can’t explain why I am so drawn to labyrinths. When I walk I pause at the entrance, then I put one foot in front of the other and follow the path. It curves and twists. Unlike life, there are no choices to be made. I’m totally in the present. I keep walking and reach the center, rest and look in all four directions. Then I start the path back to the beginning. Every walk is different, some more enlightening than others. Yet each time when I come back to where I began, there is a sense of stillness.
Walking the labyrinth always gives me a perspective on my life’s journeys. Sometimes I feel closer to my goals. Sometimes I feel life has taken me far from those intentions. I may be walking next to someone for awhile but their path turns away from mine. I may have to step aside to let another pass by. Walking is like a miniature view of my whole life.
It was probably 30 years ago that I was first introduced to labyrinth walking. I was invited to a church basement where candles and evergreens on the floor marked a circular pathway, one that would take us to the center and back out to where we had started. The slow walking, the focused attention, the going in and then out, all of it stirred my imagination and interest. I experienced an inner quietness when I emerged and I wanted to find other labyrinths to walk. Since then I have walked labyrinths of different constructions, materials, sizes and locations. I have walked by myself, and I have walked with others. One time, while in the middle of a large meeting, I stepped outside and found a labyrinth with no one else in sight. The renewal that walking it brought carried me through the rest of the busy time back in the meeting. Sometimes I walk a labyrinth with no purpose in mind except to slow down and pay attention. Other times, I intentionally gather on my inward way the worries and challenges filling my mind and then let them go in the center space. On the outward way, I focus on what I want to invite into my heart to guide my pathway. Sometimes I take with me a decision I need to make and open myself to guidance. These days I walk with a cane to assist my balance. The cane frees me to notice more what is ahead and beside me as I walk and to draw inspiration from that. Each time I prepare to walk a labyrinth, I stand at the entrance and ask for it to show me what I need. There is no “right” way to walk a labyrinth as there are many ways to partake of this life-giving experience.