December 19, 2021
Day 22: Labyrinth Walking
Have you ever walked a labyrinth? Or, seen a labyrinth? If you check out “labyrinth” on your laptop or smartphone, chances are you will find the labyrinth set in the floor of the Gothic cathedral in Chartres, France. (I would love to make a pilgrimage to that cathedral and walk that labyrinth. But, that is another branch on the Tree of Contemplative Practices.) This particular labyrinth (similar to a maze, with a circuitous path) is based on a circle with a winding path to the center.
I was introduced to labyrinth walking by a professor at my seminary. In my second year, I took a spiritual formation course on prayer and several other spiritual exercises. All of us class members gathered together at a retreat center to immerse ourselves into prayer practices.
Our professor had a canvas labyrinth laid out in one of the large rooms at the retreat center. He had the lights down low, and some electronic candles lit at intervals around the circumference. He had our class read an article on the historical use of labyrinths in meditation and prayer before we arrived at the center, so we all had a basic introduction. We walked both in small groups and alone, during that weekend. I immediately took to this practice of prayer walking and prayer in motion. It is a different kind of praying and contemplation, and I cannot do the same thing the same way all the time. I appreciate having some variety, so I relished learning many different ways to encounter God in prayer.
As I said before, I can’t exactly explain how or why the time in that retreat center was especially graced, but it was. I felt our time away was particularly blessed by God.
When I returned home, I found an outdoor labyrinth nearby my house, at a Catholic property in Chicago. I would walk it occasionally, and it was almost always a breath of fresh air for my spirit. A few times I had more difficulty connecting to the Holy, but I was obedient and continued in the spiritual practice, even though I did not “feel” such a direct connection to God that time. And, as my professor let us know, that was okay. It is okay to be at different places in the spiritual path at different times. Sometimes nearer, sometimes further away.
Several years ago, I had the opportunity to make my own canvas labyrinth. Perhaps I will talk more about that in some other post. (The process of making it was greatly satisfying, and great fun, too!) It was about two thirds the size of my professor’s labyrinth, so a little more transportable.
Labyrinths make a wonderful change of prayer and contemplation. People can be so inventive – just look at all the contemplative practices here. Thank God for creativity.
Thank You, God, for labyrinths. Thank You for the opportunities I have had to walk them. Encourage those who read this post to walk them, too.
Thanks to the website www.contemplativemind.org for their excellent image the Tree of Contemplative Practices.