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A Simple Path to Follow

Today’s post is by Nancy Flinchbaugh

Ancients created labyrinths thousands of years ago, and more recently, labyrinths again surfaced to help center and orient pilgrims on their life path. In the middle ages, labyrinths were laid in stone into the floors of cathedrals in Europe. The faithful, who couldn’t afford a journey to the holy land, followed the path of the labyrinth to God in the center. Some walked on their knees.

Many people think of a popular movie named Labyrinth, if they are new to labyrinths. That film actually introduces a maze, a puzzle to be solved, a scary place. A spiritual labyrinth, on the other hand, provides a place for walking meditation, a circular path that leads to the center and back out. On the labyrinth, one finds no puzzles, but a simple path to follow.

Several years ago, Lauren Artress, considered by some as the founder of the modern day labyrinth movement, took a group to Chartres, France, where they removed chairs covering the labyrinth on the floor of the Chartres Cathedral. Her experience there eventually led to making a similar labyrinth at the Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco, and she started a labyrinth organization, Veriditas, which trains labyrinth facilitators and hosts labyrinth events. She wrote several books on the topic as well.

When I took an eighteen-month class with the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in 2011 on leading contemplative small groups and retreats, I decided to learn more about the labyrinth. I designed an experience for fellow learners in my cohort. At my church, I decided to create a labyrinth for common use. Some members of our church already journeyed to visit a labyrinth in a neighboring town, and they also previously created a temporary grass labyrinth for me for my 50th birthday.

In the summer of 2012, my friend Holly Wolfe joined me to accomplish this quest of creating a labyrinth. I started by purchasing four drop cloths. Another congregational member skillfully sewed them together. Then Holly and I, after much trial and error, made a simple compass with a string and a bolt. While Holly held the bolt in the center, I drew eight concentric circles by walking around the center with a pencil tied to a string, anchored in the center. Although most canvas labyrinths are painted, I decided to try using markers and focused on the possibility of making a vine for the paths.

Another labyrinth enthusiast and church friend came and helped design a leaf for the vine, and together, we found a pattern. Holly preferred the Santa Rosa design, a copyrighted design created by Lea Goode-Harris out of California. And so, I drew that on our cloth. I learned that some labyrinths use the colors of the rainbow/chakras, and so I decided to add flowers at each turn, in these colors. Another church friend designed a simple flower for this purpose.

Over a two-week period, a variety of friends and church members gathered in the church fellowship hall to draw the vines and flowers, pushing to completion to coincide with a contemplative worship service planned for our church. And indeed, we completed our masterpiece in the allotted time period. We were quite delighted with the end product which continues to offer a space for walking meditation at our church.

For the past five years, we have hosted a variety of labyrinth events using our new labyrinth. At first, we held “First Friday Happy Hours” and I discovered walking the labyrinth re-energized me after a long work week. “This is better than beer!” I would exclaim. More recently, we decided to hold quarterly themed walks on Saturday mornings. We have taken the labyrinth out to a women’s retreat at the State Park, to Peace Camp, to the Cancer Center, to the Juvenile Justice Detention Facility, to contemplative groups and Wittenberg University’s Weaver Chapel. A friend and I also hosted a labyrinth walk at the Women’s Reformatory in Marysville. Gradually, the Living Vine Labyrinth became an important part of my life.

When Lauren Artress visited a neighboring town, I attended her workshop, completed her training program and became a certified labyrinth facilitator with her organization. Lauren explains that in times of great chaos, the labyrinth emerges throughout history to help orient people and center them. This I find so true, as I walk on the labyrinth’s winding path.

Lauren also teaches that the labyrinth connects people to the Earth and each other. I didn’t know about the labyrinth’s Earth connections, when we drew vines and flowers onto our labyrinth. What we all discover through our practice of walking the labyrinth is that the rhythmic, balancing experience of moving along this circular path helps ease the pilgrim into harmony with creation.

A walk on the labyrinth for me helps quiet my inner voice and listen for God. As I weave into the center, I let go of concerns and worries. In the center, I sit or lay down or stand and pray and receive God’s love and often a message. As I walk out, I think of ways to incorporate this new learning into my life.

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