“A symbolic pilgrimage to the Holy City, a path to a quiet place for listening and for prayer, and a journey to the heart of God.”
The Labyrinth (pron. LAB-er-inth) is a path symbolizing a journey taken to seek prayerfully to be in intimate relationship with God. Labyrinths are established using ancient, sacred geometry. People walk from the outer edge (the periphery) to the center, and then back to the outer edge. It is not a maze, of course. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has no blind alleys or dead ends. It will not frustrate, because it is not a puzzle to be solved. You cannot get “lost” or make a mistake because there are no choices to be made once you have made the decision to start walking. By following the path you always end up either in the center of the labyrinth or back at the entrance.
What is the History of the Labyrinth?
The Labyrinth pattern predates Christianity by at least a millennium. Labyrinth-like patterns have been uncovered by archaeologists in a great variety of ancient and contemporary cultures. They have been carved into rocky hillsides, etched into stone, and painted on ceramic vessels. Some of the simplest and most ancient patterns have been discovered in the Mediterranean and in Celtic lands, and commonly are referred to as “Classical” or “Cretan” labyrinths. Labyrinths have been observed among the Hopi and the Navajo in the Southwest, and additionally among the Pima in South America. In Arizona and the American Southwest the Hopi use a form of the labyrinth in their religious symbolism, and the Tohono O’odham “Man in the Maze” is actually a “seven-circuit” labyrinth and is part of an elaborate creation myth. Christian churches used the labyrinth for prayer and meditation as early as 350 AD. The earliest example of Christian Labyrinths is in Algeria, North Africa. It is inscribed with “Sancta Eclesia” (holy church) at the center, confirming its sacred use. In Christian history and practice, the labyrinth is most famously associated with Chartres Cathedral (pro. SHAR-tra) in France, where an eleven-circuit labyrinth was inlaid into the floor of the sanctuary in the thirteenth century. It was historically used as a way of symbolically participating in the great pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In many cases the end of their journey was a labyrinth formed of stone and laid in the floor of the nave of one of these great Gothic cathedrals. The center of the labyrinths probably represented for many pilgrims the Holy City itself and thus became the substitute goal of the journey.
Why Would I Walk the Labyrinth?
“The labyrinth allows us to offer up to God the reality of our lives, trusting in God’s immense love and grace…The very life of Christian faith is a labyrinth — full of unexpected turns and twists, requiring us to step forward in faith, confident that Christ—our Way, our Truth, and our Life–is at the center of the very universe and at the heart of our life in God.”–from Hungry Heart News, a publication of the Office of Spiritual Formation of the PC(USA). Even though historic pilgrimage travel may not be available to everyone, the need for Pilgrimage is still present deep within each life. Pilgrimage represents our spiritual journey, our desire to grow spiritually, and in the Christian tradition, represents our commitment to Christ. Because of its Sacred Geometry, physically walking the many turns in the pattern stimulates a most quieting and conducive brain-wave pattern which opens our heart and mind to the awareness of the holy presence of God within.
Adapted with permission from First Presbyterian Church in Owensboro, Kentucky.