The labyrinth has always been a metaphor for our journey through life. Whether it is used to trap what you feel is evil, use it to let go of what troubles you, or use it to guide you through your life, it is and will always be, the road we all take.
The center can be whatever we choose to call it, I choose to call it home and that is where I am going. I entered my labyrinth when I was born and I will walk it until I pass from this world into the next, when I go home. The mystics tell us we do not belong here, that we remember only vaguely where we came from, we have forgotten we will one day re-member with all that is home.
Early humans saw the winding one-way path more clearly than we who have forgotten where we came from and where we are going. They understood more clearly than us that we are simply travelers in this place. Like us they did not understand why we are here only that we had to journey home to where we belong. They recognized that every bend in the path represented each challenge we face in this long journey home, whether it be a challenge we have no control over, such as an illness, or something we created through our own ignorance, greed, or selfishness.
We travel this path whether we want to or not, how we travel, what we do, or do not do, on the road creates each, and every, bend. Every path is unique to each of us and we will walk it even if we do not want to. Every bend, every decision we make, every challenge we face and overcome will be recorded in the history of the universe. That history makes up the very fabric of the universe, the energy of life itself. How we respond to our challenges, whether of our own making or not, creates the universe of life that births us all.
Last Friday I had foot surgery to correct arthritis damage to two toes. I have had day surgeries before and in general they go well, just as this one did. But as I waited to be taken in to surgery I began to think of the consequences of my doing this. The benefits are easy to name, the primary ones are, being able to wear my shoes comfortably again and being able to walk without pain in my feet. But there are also consequences and benefits I hadn’t considered.
For example, I wasn’t going to make an InterPlay group on Saturday that I really wanted to attend, and I wouldn’t be able to make it to church on Sunday. In fact not until next Thursday will I be able to leave the house.
In addition to being stuck in the house my foot hurts, a lot, and because I can’t take the more popular pain killers, I have a pain medicine that, while it works well, has some drawbacks like extreme dizziness and fatigue. However, I have begun to see some real benefits, other than walking, that I hadn’t taken into consideration.
First of all I have to slow down, something I don’t often do, and think if what I want to do is really important and necessary. I have been surprised at how much I do during the day that really is busy work. Simply letting go of those fussy details has been a great relief and I think I am going to continue with that. The things I am able to do right now have real importance, mean something to me, and are getting done better and with less effort.
I also have to say “no” to extra tasks when I am asked for “help.” Setting of boundaries has always been complicated for me. I never want to “offend” anyone and so often take on tasks that I know I don’t have the time to do nor the energy and strength to do them. Saying no is one of the hardest things I am trying to learn. I overextend myself all the time all because I can’t set boundaries and tell someone “no, not today.”
There are benefits of saying no such as more the time for meditation, and pausing to take the time for myself. I don’t mean a short meditation I mean sitting down, which is all I can do anyway right now, for a couple of hours and meditating over a passage of scripture, or something I’ve just read. Instead of worrying about what I can’t do I have been rediscovering the joy of what I can do in the moment, the return of silence and quiet peace. Holding Suzie, my Chihuahua, in my lap I have been reconnecting with the Divine in art, literature and music and letting all of it wash over me and renew me.
I have also relearned the joy of receiving the generosity from others. From hospital staff, to friends, to family, especially my beloved husband John, I have been graced with an amazing amount of love and care. These lovely people have helped me slow down and have given me the space to be right here, right now without feeling guilty.
I am grateful that I am not seriously handicapped or so ill I am unable to learn from this slow time. I am learning to accept with joy the gifts others give me and not feel embarrassed or feel I don’t deserve such grace. I know at some point I will grow impatient with being unable to do exactly what I want, but right now I am grateful for this time of rest and recovery.
Now I know I am not the only one out there who has difficulty in accepting gifts. Therefore, I offer this spiritual practice of saying “thank you” for the gifts you receive this week. Simply say thank you, don’t elaborate, just accept. Allow someone to do something for you, or do something for someone else and receive their gratitude with grace. Recognize the joy of being in the moment and offer a thank you. Offer your gratitude to the Holy for this time, this place, the people, creation that is the now. Let the gifts of others to you renew your spirit and let the grace shine out from your heart to those around you.
May your week be filled with joy of gifts unforeseen, and may they bring you peace.
Note: the artist is making a right hand labyrinth, instruction are for a left hand labyrinth. The method is the same; the difference is the starting point, which is from the top left hand short angle line to the top long center line.
I love walking a labyrinth, whether in an indoor or outdoor setting. It is one of the best ways to find the stillness within I need to hear the voice of the Divine. But sometimes I am nowhere near a labyrinth, so in that case I will use a finger labyrinth. But I don’t always carry one with you, so, what I do is draw my own labyrinth. Drawing a labyrinth can also be a meditative act, which can be done anywhere or anytime I have a few moments to spare.
I have provided the following instruction for drawing the Classical (or Cretan) Labyrinth, which is the simplest to draw. As you sit down with your paper, take a deep breath to center yourself. Offer a prayer of intention and begin to draw. As you make your seed pattern and connect each of the lines and dots give yourself to the process, letting the growing Labyrinth enter into your prayers and meditation. When you are finished use your finger or pencil too “walk” your labyrinth just as you would with any finger labyrinth. When you have “exited” offer a prayer of thanksgiving and gratitude for these moments of stillness.
Instructions for Drawing Classical (Cretan) Labyrinth
The best way to draw a labyrinth is to begin with a pencil and paper (you might want to include eraser?) We do not know who found it out or invented it, but this method is ingeniously simple and with practice easy to repeat.
It is very important to place your pattern such that you have sufficient space paper for the following steps. Draw the pattern into the lower half of your sheet of paper just slightly left of the center line, making sure you leave enough space on the right and left side and above.
First you draw the basic seed pattern that consists of 4 dots in a square. Inside draw an equal-leg cross. And into each of the 4 small squares resulting I draw a small angle.
Next you will begin to connect the dots and lines, in sequence, from the left to the right, clockwise all in arc-shaped lines as shown in Fig 3 and Fig. 4
Begin with the middle line (see Fig. 3 above) this is the center.
Now connect the next free end of the line on the left side to the free dot on the right side with an arc equal distant from the first arch (Fig. 4). Continue drawing arcs from left to right. After all of the left side lines and dots have been connected there should be a gap between the bottom left short angle line and the bottom long center line, that is the entrance. Your Labyrinth should look like Fig. 5, if it doesn’t simply start over. Using your finger or a pencil to “walk” your completed Labyrinth.
Several years ago I led a labyrinth walk on September 11, in memory of the World Trade Center Disaster. It was held in the churches outdoor labyrinth and the day was perfect for walking. I placed two baskets at the entrance of the labyrinth, one held fallen leaves to represent those who had died that day and the second held small river stones to represent the courage of all of the emergency people who responded to the attack. Each walker was to carry leaf and stone into the center. They were asked to leave the leaf either in the center or place it along the path of the labyrinth. The stone was theirs to keep in remembrance of the walk. The walk was open to the public and was well attended.
One young woman came near the end of the walk and I remember her because she was unsure as to whether she would walk or not. Finally she picked up a leaf and stone and entered the labyrinth. As soon as she entered tears started to roll down cheeks, she walk very slowly stopping at each of the stone benches to sit for few minutes. When she reached the center she sat down on the bench and bent over appearing to be either in pain or great distress. I thought about going to see if she needed help but changed my mind and waited. She must have sat there for 15 to 20 minutes before she stood up, carefully placed her leaf on bench and walked out of the labyrinth.
When she exited she came over to me to apologize for taking so long and I told her that it was quite alright. She said she had read of the walk in the newspaper and that she really wanted to be here today. You see, her sister worked in the World Trade Center and died that day. At the time she was also living and working in New York and when she heard that plane had crashed to the towers she had run out and saw the towers collapse. They never found any remains of her sister.
She told me she hadn’t realized how much grieving she still had to do and that the walk had been more painful than she thought it would be, but she was glad she walked. I told her the labyrinth was always open to the public and she was free to walk it at anytime. I also gave her the names of a couple of Pastoral Counselors she could call if she needed to talk to someone. She left clutching her small stone.
Fortunately all labyrinth walks are as dramatic as this young woman’s. Most, if not all, are walks that draw us into a quiet place and provide space for conversation with God. Yes revelations can occur but they are very rare. It is a blessing just to have a quiet walk that brings some peace and serenity to your life. That’s plenty I think.
If you’ve never walked a labyrinth here is some historical information. Labyrinths are an ancient meditation tool that predates Christianity. Up until the end of the middle ages they were use in place of a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. People walked the labyrinths sometimes on hand and knees to simulate the difficulties of a long journey. Around the middle of the 1400’s labyrinths fell out of favor and it wasn’t until the middle of the 20th century that they were “rediscovered” as a meditation tool. They are now very popular and used by those striving for deeper spirituality and also in the health professions where the health benefits of walking the labyrinth have proven to be quite diverse.
The spiritual practice I am recommending this week to walk a labyrinth. You may locate labyrinth in area that you may walk, or you may “walk” a labyrinth with your finger using a printed labyrinth figure or finger labyrinth made of wood, stone, or metal.
The labyrinth has only one path. It diﬀers from a maze in that there are no tricks to it. From early on within the Christian tradition to now, countless people have walked labyrinths as devoted acts of pilgrimage, prayer and spiritual formation. There is no right way or wrong way to walk the labyrinth. As you follow the winding pathway to the center and back out again, surrender to the journey with an open heart and an open mind.
Four Fold path of the labyrinth
REMEMBERING you are invited to gather your thoughts as you prepare to begin your walk; remember you are blessed. All that we have, all that we are is a blessing from God. If you are waiting in a line of others for your turn to enter the labyrinth, this is a time for literally counting your blessings.
RELEASING begins when you enter the labyrinth and ends upon arriving at the labyrinth’s center. This is an opportunity for “letting-go” of whatever distracts you. This is a time for quieting, opening, emptying, and shedding. For some, this happens through a mindful slowing and deepening of their breathing, or the silent repeated reciting of a simple prayer.
RECEIVING is a gift at the center of the labyrinth. Having emptied oneself, there is now spaciousness within to receive creative Spirit. Receiving guidance, interior silence, new insight, deeper wisdom, a sense of peace are only a few experiences that can occur on a labyrinth walk. It is diﬀerent for everyone. You may sit or stand in the center as long as you like. Receive what is there for you to receive and accept such as a divine gift.
RESOLVE, begins when you leave the center and return on the same path back out of the labyrinth. There are many aspects of this: you can resolve to take a next step in your life, or come to a resolution about something bothering you. Rejuvenation often occurs, or a feeling of rebirth begins. Or, on your way out, you reclaim those responsibilities you set down on the way in, but for which you have new strength to carry them. Often, feelings of strengthening and integration occur. Symbolically, you take back out into the world what you’ve received.
Some wisdom for these Four R’s of the labyrinth
This way of using a labyrinth is only a map; it is not the territory. You can allow blessing anywhere on the labyrinth. You can release anywhere on the labyrinth, you can receive anywhere; you can come to resolution anywhere on the labyrinth. The Fours R’s is one way of understanding what can happen while you are walking the labyrinth. Do not hold these too tightly; during your walk you will understand the ﬂow.
This Labyrinth ministry resource is Provided Courtesy of Disciples Home Missions (DHM), Office of Search and Call, of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Indianapolis, IN, Rev. Warren Lynn, This document is created with permission from, and based on a source by, Veriditas, Inc., San Francisco, CA; The Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress