This weekend I had the privilege of attending the day conference ‘Taste and See’ organised by CoRE in York – a fantastic ecumenical event providing taster sessions on different forms of spirituality. One of the workshops I attended was a Prayer Labyrinth, facilitated by Catherine Askew of the Northumbria Community.
I have organised a version of a prayer labyrinth before for friends at church but I had never walked a traditional prayer labyrinth of the kind that was available on Saturday. The labyrinth we used was an exact replica of the ancient labyrinth on the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France (of Da Vinci Code fame!) An example is pictured above (this isn’t a picture of me!) After telling us something of the history of labyrinths (I was interested to hear that they pre-date Christianity) and how Christians began to use them in the Middle Ages, we each got an opportunity to walk the labyrinth.
In the Middle Ages, Labyrinths were often used as a form of ‘mini-pilgrimage’ for those who could not afford to go on a lengthy pilgrimage or were too infirm to manage it. I found this a bit hard to understand until I walked it myself.
I had a very moving and profound spiritual experience walking the labyrinth. It was very personal to me so I won’t go into detail here. However, I discovered what a powerful tool the labyrinth is and it really opened me up to listen to God.
Here is an image of the labyrinth I walked. You can see, if you try and trace the labyrinth with your finger, that there is one path. There are no dead ends, it is one complete pathway that moves to the centre and back out again by the same route.
Some parts of the journey are short, and feel short lived – you find yourself sometimes not wanting to turn the corner. Other parts of the journey are long and exhilarating. Some parts feel dull and repetitive. The centre of the labyrinth represents communion with God. As I was walking to the centre I was longing to reach it. Interestingly, something I noticed was that although the centre of the labyrinth was a place to stop and be embraced by God, the spirit of God was with me throughout the walk – on the way to the centre and on the way out. I realised that my perception was that I could only ‘truly meet with God’ in the centre, when in actual fact, He was there with me all the time – behind and before me (like Psalm 139:5).
The whole experience was a powerful metaphor for the Christian journey. The journey we take each day, each year and the journey we take with God over the whole of our lives. I was amazed how the walk felt similar to a big hike up a mountain, with the hard bits, easy bits and ‘beautiful views’.
Other people who attended the session said that they have walked a prayer labyrinth a few times and that it is different every time. I can believe that. I can’t wait to walk one again!
What I am going to try and remember from my experience is:
Communion with God is always available to me – I only have to open myself to Him and ask Him to come and be with me. After all, Jesus says ‘behold, I stand at the door and knock’ (Rev 3:20)
Jesus is with me always (Matt 28:20) – behind and before me. I am walking in His footsteps and He is right behind me – whether on the easy path or the difficult path.
If you get the chance to walk a prayer labyrinth, I would really recommend it!
To find out more about labyrinths and to take part in an online labyrinth visit: http://www.labyrinth.org.uk/