What is a labyrinth?
A labyrinth is a path that doubles back on itself several times and leads to a center. Walking a labyrinth is a tool that has been used by Christians for centuries as an aid to prayer and meditation. Labyrinths and mazes are often confused. The difference is that a maze is designed to confuse, but a labyrinth has only one path. The way in is the way out. A labyrinth is actually a metaphor for the Christian life: a meandering but purposeful journey.
Whatever else they may be, labyrinths are the epitome of sacred geometry, a call to the divine, a call to the center, a worship structure where God waits to be encountered. In Chrisitan spirituality, the goal of prayer and meditation has always been union with God. In the Gospel of Matthew we read, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” The ability to see God, to be united with God, begins with the awakening of the soul to the desire for the sacred. The labyrinth has always been associated with this union with the divine, spirituality, worship and the sacred mystery.
How does a labyrinth “work”?
The labyrinth is a spiritual tool. We learn how to use tools expertly through practice. They become extensions of our own abilities, allowing us to be stronger, faster. In the case of the labyrinth, it helps us to meditate more profoundly and to go deeper within. With practice comes improvement. It is a physical spiritual practice. It “embodies” our experience, keeping it from being only theoretical or mental. One of the most notable effect of walking the labyrinth is stress reduction. You can feel it in your physical body.
Walking the Labyrinth
The labyrinth has a single path into and out of its center. That is to say, it is unicursal. Once you begin to walk the labyrinth, you are on a path without deviation or hindrance to your journey to the center. There is no need to rush. Some people walk faster, others more slowly. An average walk may take about 30 minutes.
If others are walking with you, please respect the sacredness of the experience by maintaining a prayerful silence. You may encounter someone along your journey to or from the center of the labyrinth. Remember, as there is only the same path in as out, this is to be expected. Pause and let the other person pass in their prayer-centered mediation. Whatever you experience is part of the encounter. Please do not feel that there is a right way to walk. Simply relax and let what happens happen. Most do not really get a feel for the labyrinth experience until they have walked at least three times.
Thinking About Your Walk
There are many ways to frame this journey. One way to think about it employs the classical three-fold spiritual path: purgation, illumination and union.
Purgation: As we enter the labyrinth, we may experience purification. We open ourselves, cleanse our thoughts, prepare ourselves for the encounter. The walk toward the center provides an opportunity to let go of daily distractions and frustrations.
Illumination: As we make our way toward the center of the labyrinth, we sometimes find clarity, insight, wisdom. The center of the labyrinth offers a space for prayer and meditation, a privileged place for listening for the still, small voice of God.
Union: The walk away from the center is preparation for the outward journey, for engaging in the active life once again. Exiting the labyrinth, bearing our new peace, we may celebrate the sense of harmony, centeredness and oneness with God.
Another way of thinking about your walk is as a seven step process:
- Going In
- Staying in the Center
- Returning to the World
There really is, however, no right or wrong way to engage in this ancient practice. The most important aspect of walking the labyrinth is being open to the whispers and gentle movements of God’s Spirit.
How did this labyrinth come to be here at Second Baptist?
In December 2005, Spence and Becky Wilson’s children (Lauren Young, Webb Wilson, Spence Wilson, Jr., and Rebecca Macsovits) gave this labyrinth to Second Baptist Church as a unique gift to honor their parents. In receiving this now completed labyrinth, Second Baptist joins the Wilson children in honoring Spence and Becky for their many years of service to the church and community. In that same spirit, the labyrinth has become a unique and meaningful addition to the life and ministry of Second Baptist Church.
Local artist and Second Baptist member Kerry Smith created the bronze casting of the Red-Tailed Hawk mounted on a cross near the entrance to the labyrinth. This piece brings to mind the Wilsons’ love of nature, the abundant array of wildlife that make their presence known on this property, including the Red-Tailed Hawks who often perch on the church’s steeple, and the wonderful gift of experiencing the presence of God in creation.