Labyrinths: Exploring Their History and Mystery
CINCINNATIWith work stresses, family demands, money issues and the occasional faith crisis,
life can be an exhausting exercise. A strange and mysterious remedy to those pressures
is to take a walkin a great big circle. The practice of walking outside or
indoor labyrinths is an ancient tradition that, for many, has been the key to
recharging their batteries, reigniting their faith and realigning their pathways
Labyrinthstheir history and their mysteryare
featured in St. Anthony Messengers August cover story, Labyrinths: The
Inward Journey. Author and labyrinth enthusiast Gerilyn Wartonick Herold
writes of these spiral patterns and how they have aided the faith journeys of
many Christians over the centuries. After July 20, the article will be found
Labyrinths are not a new phenomenon.
Archaeologists believe they date back 4,500 years, though no physical evidence
survives. Different versions of the spiral pattern have been discovered in
Egypt, India, Russia and Peru. The first Christian labyrinth, discovered in the
fourth century Basilica of Reparatus in Orleansville, Algeria, contains the
words Sancta Eclesia inscribed in the middle, indicating its use for
Labyrinths can vary greatly in design. The
shapes range from circular to square, spade or octagonal. They may be simple or
complex and span from 13 to 44 feet. All are designed with a single meandering
path that leads to the center.
This journey inward appeals to many people. Julie McAfee, a nondenominational Christian, has grown quite fond of
walking labyrinths. The labyrinth really gives me a sense of God, she says.
The message for me is that God is present.
The Rev. Canon Allisyn Thomas walks an indoor
labyrinth at St. Pauls Episcopal Cathedral in San Diego where she is canon for
spiritual formation. I really enjoy walking the labyrinth. Sometimes its
deeply moving; sometimes its just pleasant. Sometimes its a way of helping me
stay on the path, she says.
The labyrinth at La Providencia Spiritual
Renewal Center in Alpine, California, is a favorite among many Christians in
that area. Sister Patricia Hanson, C.S.J.O., one of the Centers directors,
advises people to explore the similarities between the labyrinth and their own
lives. I tell people the path can be thought of as a pattern of our lives or
as a journey to God, she says. Traveling to the center for some may represent
rebirth, initiation or healing. The walk is a metaphor for centering.
Some who walk labyrinths move quickly, while others
move at a more prayerful pace. Some bring rosaries and Bibles while others simply
bring their troubles. Regardless of ones motives, labyrinths provide a mind-
and soul-enriching experience for those who open themselves up to them.
Labyrinth-devotee McAfee believes the ancient
practice can ease the spirit and settle the mind. It brings you to your bare
spirit, to who you really are inside, she says. The labyrinth speaks to you
without speaking. It reminds you of the power of God, not man. A tool that can
do all that is amazing. Its definitely worth a try.
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