I suspect that most of my readers are fairly unfamiliar with what a labyrinth is, so I'm going to start there. It looks like a maze, but is not one. A labyrinth, which can be made with various materials- paving stones, paint on canvas, small shrubbery, gravel- is a walking path with one opening. The idea is that you simply follow the winding path before you. As you twist and turn through the path, you can let go and clear your mind and commune with the divine. Eventually the path ends in the center and this is the place you can spend as much time as you like praying, breathing, resting in the peace of your walk and the space where you can sense the divine, creator, universe, fill in whatever name resonates for you. When you are ready to exit, you walk out the same way you came in. Again, there's no worry about getting lost or having to think about the route out, and so you can fill your time feeling energized, renewed, and ready to take on the world again.
The last time I walked a labyrinth my daughter was with me and she was four or five. I decided that visiting four labyrinths would be a good item on the 4040 list since there's so much contemplation infused in a birthday milestone like turning 40.
There's a labyrinth directory that lists the locations of labyrinths across the world. http://labyrinthlocator.com/ I made a list of labyrinths in Missouri and Kansas to help me plan to visit the four. I remembered that there were two labyrinths listed on the route we take to visit my grandparents. So last Friday, my daughter and I became tourists in our own state and made two stops: one in Lebannon and the other in Carthage.
Visiting a labyrinth with a question-rich seven-year-old is NOT the same experience as having a solo walk where contemplation fuels your walk. I knew this going into these two labyrinths and so I reveled in the questions she asked.
She didn't remember having been to the other one, so this was a brand-new experience for her.
“Are we allowed to come here?”
“What are we doing?”
“Did Jesus have brown skin?”
I'm so glad that the first labyrinth was the disappointing one of the two. It left a lot of maintenance to be desired, but then in fairness, it's also February. I would guess not too many parishioners at First Congregational United Church of Christ in Lebanon, Missouri, are doing a lot of labyrinth walking right now.
The labyrinth's path, as pictured below, was made of gravel with plant life surrounding it. It needed some raking to help determine where the opening of the labyrinth is. So I just started out making the best of it, answering Cadence's questions, and thinking about the labyrinth I want to create on our church's property. Once the initial disappointment wore off, I was grateful to have this space to consider the fact that gravel is not the optimum material for a labyrinth even though it's likely more affordable.
The sun was shining, the wind was blowing, and it was chilly. We made it to the center and I told Cadence I wanted us to say a prayer before we walked out of the labyrinth and back to the warmth of our car. We took a selfie seated at one of the benches in the center, said our prayer, and then walked back out of the path and to our car. One labyrinth down, three to go.
I was hoping that the next one we visited would be in better shape or Cadence might never want to see another labyrinth. We were not disappointed! Grace Episcopal Church is host to a beautiful stone labyrinth and garden space.
The sun was hiding behind cloud cover and the wind had picked up, so I wore my coat and hat. You'll see Cadence pictured without a coat! Brrr.
We walked the labyrinth. This time with a little less chatter. She's getting accustomed to me shush-shing her during my daily sun salutations, so I just kept doing that quietly and patiently as I walked the labyrinth. I imagined creating this kind of labyrinth for my church and the surrounding community. The dreaming of a labyrinth and making it a reality may very well become what replaces my time, thought, and energy when the 4040 list is complete.
Cadence agreed to say the prayer in the center of the labyrinth. Then we wound our way out and headed to the car.
The brochure I picked up at the site offered these suggestions for “Why do people walk a Labyrinth?”
To relax and feel at peace
To let go of worries and concerns
To cope with grief and loss
To clear the mind and gain insight on problems
For healing of relationships
To open the flow of creativity and discernment
As a sign of penitence when we seek forgiveness
To thank God for birth, recovery, new beginnings, friendships, and the beauty of the earth
To ask God's grace for those facing a surgery, marriage, ordination, or death
To pray with one's whole being, not just “the head”
To give structure to regular daily prayer
Let go of you worries as you walk in
Experience God's presence in the center
Give thanks for all the blessings of life as you walk out.
I'm so glad to have crossed off two of the four from my list, but I think I'm going to wait for warmer weather and maybe seek out somewhere for Cadence to go, so that I can have at least one “proper” peaceful labyrinth walk. If you're interested in joining me, please let me know.