The labyrinth is a sacred symbol that could be found in some medieval cathedrals, and the earliest known Christian labyrinth was located in a church in Algeria. As early as 350 A.D., worshippers entering the church would trace the labyrinth with their finger in order to focus their thoughts and open themselves up to the presence of God. In the middle ages, many cathedrals in Europe began to construct larger labyrinths, which served as a substitute for those who could not make the pilgrimage to Christian holy sites like Jerusalem, Rome, and Santiago.
This sacred pattern is engaged in through walking a prescribed path to its center and back out again. It is composed of eleven circuits and is divided into four quadrants, clearly defined by a cross. The center of the labyrinth is a rose-shaped area for resting, prayer, or meditation. Walking the labyrinth is a way of praying with the body that invites the divine presence into an active conversation with the heart and soul. By engaging in this walking meditation, we are fully engaging our minds, bodies, and spirits at the same time.
Walking the labyrinth is a three part prayer journey:
- Inward Releasing – First the journey inward, letting go of what keeps us from hearing, understanding, knowing, accepting God’s love and care.
- Center Receiving – Next, time is spent at the center, where the new life begins. Waiting and listening, what does God want for me? What do I hear in my soul?
- Outward Returning – Finally the journey outward, the returning a transformed person in the world, often with newfound clarity.
Often the labyrinth is seen as a metaphor for life. The journey to God is a path that leads along many deceptive twists and turns to the center. Though it often feels we are getting lost, if we keep following the path, we’ll eventually end up where we are supposed to be. When we are feeling lost, all that is required of us is that we put one foot in front of the other and carry on. Sometimes we get really close to the center and think our journey is done, but suddenly we round the corner and there is a whole new lesson to learn before we can rest. Each time we pass a familiar place, we wonder “haven’t I been here before?” Those moments offer us the opportunity to lean ever more deeply into the lessons we are meant to learn and the beauty we are meant to see at those places. God is both the center we seek and the path that gets us there. What we need is to trust the center and to trust the path that leads us to it. The path to God requires that we commit our body to it, not simply our minds. We can know, hear, and experience God on a deeper level when our practice is embodied.
Get up and walk – God is in the movement!
A Sacred Journey –http://www.asacredjourney.net/category/resources/travel-tips/ – This website has all kinds of great tips about travel and pilgrimage.
The Art of Pilgrimage: A Seeker’s Guide to Making Travel Sacred, by Phil Cousineau
Pilgrimage Prayer Guide – http://www.usccb.org/about/world-youth-day/upload/WYDUSA-Pilgrimage-Prayer-Guide-FINAL01.pdf – This is actually a document for pilgrimage to local Catholic sites, but I think it could be used for any journey. It is chalked full of prayers for “On the Way”, “Upon Arrival”, and “The Way Back”
Labyrinths – www.labyrinths.org – Here you can find a directory of labyrinths all over the world.
Labyrinth Guides and Meditations – http://wellfedspirit.org/labyrinth_pages/guides.html – This site is chalked full of different types of labyrinth guides and various ways to use a labyrinth within your prayer and meditation.
Q & A discussion with Fr. Carl from Contemplative Outreach – Discusses a healthy vs. unhealthy relationship with security, affection, and control.