TLS Members e-Newsletter

Members eNewsletter
At least four times a year, TLS members are rewarded at their inboxes with a copy of the Labyrinth Society e-newsletter. It serves as a means of direct communication with the membership and provides an historical record of the Society.

Labyrinths in Churches: Your Stories

The Labyrinth Society Facebook Group is a lively place, a bubbling stream of shared images and conversations. We recently asked about people's experiences with labyrinths in churches. With the World Wide Labyrinth Locator now listing church labyrinths in the thousands, these stories represent but a sliver of the thousands of individuals served through labyrinth ministry. For every church labyrinth, there's a labyrinth keeper. We've collected your stories here, and included one longer piece in honor of all those souls who mop the floor and get all the tealights lit.

Dean mopping labyrinth

Rev. Shane Parker, Dean of Christ Church Cathedral Ottawa.
photo: V Compton

 

Carol Maurer: "Walking Together"

The line at the labyrinth entrance was long but the two tables holding finger labyrinths were open. I decided to sit and walk the finger labyrinth instead of standing in line.

Sitting, focusing and breathing deeply, I prepared my body, breath and mind for my finger walk. Pointer finger poised at the entrance I looked up and saw Diane Terry-Kehner poised to enter the canvas labyrinth. I decide to walk with her. To pace myself on the finger labyrinth in accordance to her walk on the canvas labyrinth. We walked together, we paused together, we sat in the center together but Diane had no cognitive awareness of this. I held her in my thoughts, my breath and in my heart.

When Diane stepped off the labyrinth I approached her to envelope her in a huge hug. Later I shared my experience with her. It was a powerful experience of unconditional love, letting go of my own pace and inward thoughts and walking in unison with someone on the path.

Tom Vetter responded:

Wonderful story, beautifully told. Your experience reminds me so much of a practice I learned from a book years ago. The book is Kything--The Art of Spiritual Presence. I hadn't made the connection between the book and labyrinths until now. Thank-you! 

A link then appeared:

Kything: The Art of Spiritual Presence by Louis M Savary, Patricia H Berne. Introduces and explains the communion skill of kything, a spirit-to-spirit loving presence which can bring about a deep sense of peace and communication. [before you click over to check out the book on Amazon, see this quick and easy way to help TLS at the same time!]

Christiana Brinton has watched a ministry grow and thrive:

When I moved to Vancouver, WA, I became a member of the Trinity Labyrinth Guild at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral in Portland, OR. I spent many happy years facilitating with the other dedicated guild members, watching as numerous members of the greater Portland community attended our monthly facilitated walks on the beautiful inlaid labyrinth in Kempton Hall. Not sure if the church community saw an increase in attendance, but the larger community responded to these and other special events such as our Icon Walk and New Years Eve Walk. This year 92 walkers, many of them new, walked to close out 2014 and bring in 2015 at midnight and before. Its presence makes a difference and it's open to all. How great is that?!

Anne Keevan Fox on her daughter's birthday: 

The first time I walked a labyrinth was at Wisdom House, in Litchfield Connecticut. I went there with my daughter to celebrate her 26th birthday. We were given an introductory overview of the labyrinth and then we were invited to go outside to embark on their beautiful seven circuit Cretan labyrinth. With our intentions in mind Rachel and I entered the labyrinth. It was a lovely autumn afternoon and I became thoroughly immersed in the experience when all of a sudden I found myself slightly disoriented. I looked up and right next to me, in her own circuit was my daughter. "I'm lost, Rae" I said...she looked over at me...smiled and said, "You're not lost, Mom...just follow your path." A daughter provides guidance...we have shared labyrinth journeys ever since. 

Anne Gordon describes a turning point: 

When I first walked a labyrinth at a Body and Soul conference in Seattle in 1997, I was astounded at the breadth and depth of the experience. I wondered what on earth is this, where did it come from, and why have I not known about it before?

At this conference I listened to the stories and wise counsel of some of the finest hearts and minds in the spirituality and consciousness movement. Luminaries such as Jean Houston, Rachel Remen, John Kabat-Zinn, and Marianne Williamson told fascinating and inspiring stories. But the one image, the most compelling experience, the most insistent voice that continued to resonate days and years after this conference was the one at which not a word was spoken aloud—at the labyrinth walk.

Each evening a ballroom was transformed into sacred space. Lights were dimmed, candles were lit, and a harpist played beside a large canvas labyrinth. I entered the labyrinth, gliding in liminal space. I remain there to this day.

[Another account of this remarkable gathering. The Second Annual Body & Soul Conference was co-sponsored by New Age Journal and Hollyhock Centre]

 Vanessa Compton shared this: "Coal @ Christmas: Notes of a Church Labyrinth Keeper"

It was a cold December night, the eve of the solstice, not long until Christmas. Fifteen people had shown up for the regular third Thursday guided labyrinth walk, including one woman who’d called earlier in the week to say she was coming down by bus from Toronto and planned to stay over at a bed & breakfast and make a real pilgrimage of it. Knowing this dignified the feeling of enthusiasm and anticipation, and helped bring together the little clusters of friends arriving from all over. None were from the parish except Paddy the minister and myself: the less traditional services and events tend to draw people in who otherwise would be unlikely to come to church. If we were keepers of a pilgrimage site for these seekers, then all the more significance lay in our usual scrambling to get ready.

Earlier I’d swept up the Sunday school crumbs and mopped the surface of the labyrinth in the waning light of late afternoon. I love doing this. The elegance of the pattern glows through the trodden-in bits of plasticine, “Good work!” stickers, spilt juice, scraps of wool and chalk and discarded song sheets, the detritus of a busy parish life. Like a mother, like the Earth, the labyrinth underlays all this activity and embraces it. I feel honoured to be washing Her beautiful face, and through these mundane tasks, preparing for the stunning transformation of sacred space later in the evening when Paddy gathered us in prayer to begin the service. I set out the flowers: a sparkly red poinsettia by the entrance on the hospitality table, draped with a brightly embroidered fringed black silk shawl; a sprawling arrangement of red carnations and pine branches at the center of the labyrinth; a bowl of prickly, glossy deep green holly and scarlet berries, at the far side of the labyrinth; each with clusters of votive candles around them like little altars. 

When people arrived, we invited them to help set out dozens more candles in the lunations round the outer edge of the labyrinth, in the window ledges, in the doorways. One woman sensibly suggested a tray, and we said, “What a good idea! But this way, it’s a group activity!”  Paddy expanded on this theme in the introduction, how we have learned over the years of keeping the labyrinth that this is public sacred art in which all may participate and engage, contribute and receive. To walk it is, he said, to practice body prayer within ancient Anglican tradition, a meditation that embodies the intention of shedding, journeying, turning as repentance. Everyone listened attentively. They took off their shoes and sat quietly as Paddy chanted in plainsong the Deo gratia.

I turned down the hall lights and turned up the recording of harp and chant fusion music that we use as accompaniment. The light through the stained glass windows of the church across the courtyard glowed into the hall. The candles flickered in the dusk, outlining the huge circle of the labyrinth. I moved to the labyrinth entrance and opened my hands in invitation. Each one stepped resolutely forward. As they moved deeper into the circuits, stiff posture and gait resisted and then relaxed, hunched shoulders dropped, shallow breathing changed to sighs. When everyone had entered, I walked slowly around the perimeter to “wind up” the energy they were building within, and then settled down on the far axis by the holly altar to a sitting meditation, where I watched over the people moving along the path, and prayed for their wellbeing. On the far side, Paddy was doing the same. Participants have told us that our doing this helps them feel safe. I attended to each one, observing the way their burdens and dilemmas, sorrows and joys were expressed in their walking.

I was glad to see Mary, a regular participant at the labyrinth events. A heavy woman with a corona of silver hair and a big open face with intense eyes, she is graceful on her feet and her smile lights up a room.  But she is not always smiling: often her expression is determined, and sometimes she marches into the labyrinth as if to battle. Mary says that she does “lots of work” on these walks, and when she shows up, I put out a second box of tissues at the far side of the labyrinth where it is easily reached. She finds the mudras I sometimes demonstrate— gestures of prayer and meditation from all over the world— helpful for this work, particularly those of “shedding” and purgation: one for self-hugging that becomes a brushing off of old skin or moulting feathers, and a Balinese hand and wrist extension that models an extreme “letting go” where you keep nothing back in your cupped hand.

That night Mary had much to attend to—she was the first one up. She looked festive in colourful flowing clothes and lots of big shiny necklaces, and her toenails were painted sparkly pink. Her eyes were bright as she greeted me at the entrance, then leaned over, grabbed a wad of tissues, and launched herself onto the path like a swan into a river.  Throughout the evening she was mercurial, a storyline seeming to unfold in her moods as she first embraced herself, then brushed away something that looked as if it might be sticky and awful. Then, breathing deeply and shuddering, she shook a burden from her shoulders before making her way to the center, where she sat quietly for a very long time staring into the carnations and candlelight, crying softly to herself and wiping her eyes. Finally she got to her feet, turned to look back at the center, and started back out along the path. This time, she danced round the turns, occasionally beaming her big smile, and when she reached the holly altar, serenely knelt down beside it and tenderly stroked its shining leaves. As I sat on the other side of the bowl in deep meditation, even with my eyes closed I could feel the waves of energy coming from her. I looked up and met her glance. She looked beatific.

Afterwards Mary wanted to talk.

“I left a load of coal in that fourth petal tonight,” she announced cheerfully.

“Oh really? What was going on?” I asked.

Her eyes flashing, she said, “My mother died this year. We didn’t get along at all. I’ve had a lot to work through. I told my sister, ‘You know, this will be the first Christmas dinner in our whole lives that we can put the potatoes on the left side of the plate, and not get told off for being so wrong’.”

Easter vigil CCCOttawa

Easter vigil, Christ Church Cathedral Ottawa. photo: B Brown