A medieval spiritual tool has been winding its way through Christian churches in the United States. The complex geometrical design may look intimidating to the newcomer. However, some Baptists attest that using the labyrinth as a spiritual tool is what they need for taking spiritual pause in today’s fast-paced way of life.
The complex geometrical design may look intimidating to the newcomer. However, some Baptists attest that using the labyrinth as a spiritual tool is what they need for taking spiritual pause in today’s fast-paced way of life.
One of the most commonly known labyrinths is found in Greek mythology. The architect Daedalus, under the employ of Cretan King Minos, constructed a prison for the half-man, half-bull Minotaur.
“Once inside, one would go endlessly along its twisting paths without ever finding the exit,” reads Edith Hamilton’s Mythology.
Highland Baptist Church (Louisville, Ky.) member Scott Hedges, told EthicsDaily.com that today’s labyrinth is much less a maze.
Mazes challenge one’s logic, Hedges said. They offer a variety of paths to follow: trick corners, blind alleys, dead-ends and cul-de-sacs. They present riddles to be solved along the way.
Labyrinths, on the other hand, “have one well-defined path that leads us into the center and back out again … It leads, you follow.”
Hedges began walking labyrinths in 1999 after being introduced to them by a friend.
Labyrinths have been a major symbol in hundreds of cultures, including ancient Greeks, Britons, Romans, Vikings, and countless Native American tribes. They have been fashioned into coins, mosaics, hedge gardens, masonry, sculpture and weaving.
Medieval Christians used the labyrinth to symbolize the “one true path to eternal salvation,” according to About.com. Many cathedrals of the period include a labyrinth laid into the stones of the floor.
Many historians believe Christians may have used the labyrinth during the Crusades. The labyrinths became symbolic replacements for their pilgrimage to the Holy Land.
In 1991, Lauren Artress, canon of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, Calif., rediscovered the tool and had one placed in her church. Since then, more than a million people have made the journey to Grace Cathedral and through the labyrinth.
Labyrinths have three stages. In the first, purgation, participants release everyday worries as they wind their way toward the center of the structure. The second stage, illumination, begins as walkers wind their way around the path and reach the center of the labyrinth.
“Once inside the center you can really look around and see where you have been, take a look at the path and where it has led you, recognize where you were both physically and emotionally when you entered the labyrinth,” Hedges said. “Chances at reflection and perspective are so rare in our society that they take on extraordinary value for many people.”
The final stage, union, finds the walker moving back into the world.
“I feel that walking the labyrinth can help us regain our spiritual base by emphasizing the intuitive, caring and creative aspects of our selves and relaxing the logical, reasoning aspects which have been dominant in Western civilization over the last few centuries,” Hedges said.
For Becky Albritton, whose husband pastors Millbrook Baptist Church in Raleigh, N.C., the labyrinth has a special meaning. Albritton’s father died in the fall; her family asked that memorial contributions be given for the purpose of installing a labyrinth in her church.
Albritton first learned of the labyrinth through another church member, who brought a canvas version for the congregation to use.
“Just approach (the labyrinth) as a path to a greater understanding of yourself and a way to be in communion with God,” Albritton told EthicsDaily.com. “I don’t think people should go into it really lightly.”
At her church, walkers enter in silence and “honor that silence as they walk.”
Jared Porter is a journalism student at Belmont University in Nashville, Tenn.