Tuesday, June 26, 2012

The Labyrinth

Outside of my parish on campus, there is this big, round design on the pavement. For  awhile, I was completely oblivious to it. I noticed it one day and thought, "Oh, that's kind of cool." Time went by, the snow came and covered it up, and I completely forgot about it. The weather eventually warmed up, and with the snow gone, it came to my attention once again. It resembled a maze, and it caught my attention this time. Looking at the stone bench that sat next to it, I realized that it was a labyrinth. In my oh-so-pensive mind, the only thought that this provoked was, "Cool, it's like the 2-D version of that weird  David Bowie movie that was made back in the 80's." And just like that I displaced it from my mind.

Yeah, you glow, David. 
Yeah, despite this picture, there is really nothing captivating or spiritually invigorating about that labyrinth. So, anyways, having completely forgotten about the labyrinth at school, I was on vacation this summer when I ran into another one! It was the same exact pattern, and it was outside of the Catholic Church in the city we were visiting. Okay, now I knew that this was no coincidence. I tried to put on my thinking cap and figure out what was so special about this design ornamenting the holy ground outside of now two churches that I had been to. After about a minute and a half of deep contemplation, I looked right in front of me and realized that this church had a nice little stand conveniently placed in front of the labyrinth with pamphlets about the labyrinth. Perfect! The less thinking and outside research I have to do for myself, the better. So here was this great pamphlet that summarizes the whole idea of the labyrinth and and the reason for it's shape and whatnot. Well, apparently I wasn't too inspired by it, because I put it in my purse and forgot about it. It wasn't until I rediscovered it this week that I actually took the time to read it--and I am so glad that I did! Not only did I know nothing about it, but I was missing out on a really great opportunity to actually use the labyrinth as more than just something pleasant to gaze upon.

The labyrinth itself looks pretty cool. It is a circular design with a winding path that appears to be sectioned into four different parts. According to the pamphlet, the four sections dually represent the four gospels and the four stages of the liturgy. In the center is a clover-like shape with 6 "leaves" which is the end of the weaving paths encircling it.

Here's a picture for all you visual learners.

It's pretty neat-looking... AND it's symbolic! The whole thing is meant to represent a journey. One could find a labyrinth such as this outside one of the famous Cathedrals and popular pilgrimage destinations in Medieval Europe. Many an early Christian pilgrim would travel to one of the beautiful gothic Cathedrals and end their journey by walking the labyrinth. Many of these men and women had the desire to make a pilgrimage to the Holy City of Jerusalem, but simply couldn't. So, as a substitute, they would journey this winding path to the open space in the center, which actually represented Jerusalem. I can imagine that this made the voyage of walking the labyrinth a very holy and inspirational one.

Even though there is not the same drive to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem for everyone nowadays, many people still walk labyrinths built by churches everywhere. It is used as a time of contemplation and spiritual connectedness to God. One model of walking the labyrinth, according to my handy dandy pamphlet is the "classical three-fold spiritual path:"*
    Purgation: Walking in, emptying, or letting go.
   Illumination: Time in the center, clarity, insight
   Union: Walking out, initiative, integration, and action in the world.

While walking the path, it is recommended that you remove your shoes and walk barefoot to enhance the experience and help you focus. It is really up to the individual how you wish to walk through the labyrinth. Everybody has different experiences. Walking through the path, you might want to focus on one question you have for God specifically. Maybe you just want to be silent and feel His divine presence. Maybe you want to offer up petitions or honor a significant occasion like a anniversary or something of that sort. Some people repeat a mantra over and over again, bringing in their thoughts completely to Christ. It doesn't matter if you walk it, dance it, run it, do a walking handstand through it, etc. It's all good. The whole point is to take some time out of your busy, busy life and focus on God for a bit on sacred ground. It can be quite a rewarding experience (or so I hear).

Maybe this whole thing just seems a little crazy to you. Maybe you are thinking to yourself, "I don't need a stupid labyrinth to spend time in meditation with God." Well, okay then. Good for you. But I think that I do, and I'm probably not alone. What better way could I find to spend time with God than to go outside and focus in on Him as I walk through a beautiful and historically significant and symbolic design on the pavement outside of my very own campus church? I don't know how you feel about it, but personally I'm pretty stoked to try it out. If they keep popping up on church properties everywhere I go, they must be at least worth a shot! And if you know of a labyrinth somewhere near you, I would highly recommend that you check it out too! Just walk and think. Let God place thoughts in your mind. You never know what you might hear if you just spend some time actually listening!

*Word for word from pamphlet published by the St. Andrew Catholic Community in Boulder City, NV


  1. very insightful. ive never noticed these at churches either. one thing to think about in future conversations is that another significance the labyrinth could have is that we all have our own journeys with God and in life. ultimately, our goal should be God (whether we are aware of it or not), but many choose other things to substitute for God in the centers of their labyrinth. there are so many ways we can get lost and so many wrong turns we can make, but we just have to keep pushing towards the middle and to have the right middle (God) in mind. question: would you say that God makes individual labyrinths for each person in the world that we all have to make it through? or would you say that the world is just one immense labyrinth that we are all in together? curious as to your thoughts.

  2. Wow, I really like that idea. I think that the labyrinth is more closely analogous with an individual's life. The way I look at it, it can be seen as the path God has planned for us here on earth. It is complex and tedious, and the path to the center (Life in God/Heaven after death) is not easy and direct, but rather is made up of many intricate (and sometimes seemingly unnecessary) turns. It doesn't always make sense, but if you're paying attention and have the desire and patience to follow the path, all you have to do is stay in the lines (listen to God's direction) and He will lead you to the center.

    Do you have a comparison for the world being one immense labyrinth? I'm intrigued by this idea.

  3. I see where you are coming from. And as for a comparison of the world being one massive labyrinth, think of it this way: God made the world (planet earth), and all of us humans reside in it. Each of us has our own life that we live and each of us take different turns and go different directions. Metaphorically, we are not searching for a geographical center, as that would be inherently difficult in a spherical world such as ours, but with almost 90% of the world believing in some sort of religion, or higher power, I think it is safe to say we are making our own paths through the world to find the spiritual center that is what created what we know today. In this labyrinth, we can always come into contact with those whom have already found their way to the center (whether it be priests, religious, friends, family or what have you), and they may offer us guidance in order to keep us from losing our way. In terms of us all having individual labyrinths, it is essentially the same concept, except you take the metaphor from a worldly pathological and literal perspective, and customize it to the individual, transforming it into the idea that God has a plan for us and He has laid out personal labyrinths for us in our lives. Due to free will, we may take whichever path we desire in the maze, but many of these will only offer dead ends and feeling lost in the world, yearning for the center. There are different ways to make it to the center, but we each have our own journey and we all have different lives, thoughts, decisions, and experiences, thus creating a personalized labyrinth for every human that exists here on Earth. Does that clarify?