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The Labyrinth


The Labyrinth
 The Prayer Garden
First Presbyterian Church

"A symbolic pilgrimage to the Holy City, a path to a quiet place for listening and for prayer, and a journey to the heart of God."

What is a Labyrinth?

The Labyrinth (pron. LAB-er-inth) s a path symbolizing a kind of journey taken to seek prayerfully to be in intimate relationship with God. Labyrinths are established using ancient, sacred geometry. People walk from the outer edge (the periphery) to the center, and then back to the outer edge. It is not a maze, of course. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has no blind alleys or dead ends. It will not frustrate, because it is not a puzzle to be solved. You cannot get "lost" or make a mistake because there are no choices to be made once you have made the decision to start walking. By following the path you always end up either in the center of the labyrinth or back at the entrance.

There are three stages in a labyrinth walk.

The first is purgation. During this stage the walker releases the worries of everyday life by winding on a set path toward the center.

The second stage is illumination. This begins once the walker reaches the center. The center of the labyrinth is a place for meditation and prayer.

The third stage is union. It occurs during the walk out from the center. During this stage the walker reflects on what they've experienced. They also prepare to enter the outside world.

There are many variations which individuals will make to suit their spiritual needs as they walk the Labyrinth. For example, some will pause before walking to prepare their hearts and minds for the experience. Others will bring journals or Bibles to reflect upon once they reach the center. Some churches will play music, such as Gregorian chants, while walkers complete the Labyrinth.

Finding Stone counseling center, based in Phoenix Arizona, offers the following reflection on the variety of methods when walking the Labyrinth.

"There are two common ways of walking. The way of silence and the way of image. In choosing the way of silence it might be helpful to focus on your breathing. The way of image might be done by reciting a prayer or a name for God over and over to yourself. Ask yourself: How am I loved? How do I love? In either case or in some other manner best suited to you, be open to your heart and mind. Pay attention to your thoughts as they rise and then let them go."

Some believe that it is not even necessary to complete the walk in order to take advantage of the Labyrinth. Just seeing the pattern may be enough to spark the mental and emotional state invoked during the walk.

"The profound experience it gives to the ones who walk in search of
healing and nourishment. It may be called the power of grace, or simply the
psychological human experience which relieves anxiety and stress, but
something happens when the heart of the one walking opens to the invisible
One who walks next to him/her, as Jesus on the way to Emmaus"
                                                                                                                        ~ Chanoine Francois Legaux, Rector, Chartres Cathedral, France

What is the History of the Labyrinth?

The Labyrinth pattern predates Christianity by at least a millennium.

Labyrinth-like patterns have been uncovered by archaeologists in a great variety of ancient and contemporary cultures. They have been carved into rocky hillsides, etched into stone, and painted on ceramic vessels. Some of the simplest and most ancient patterns have been discovered in the Mediterranean and in Celtic lands, and commonly are referred to as "Classical" or "Cretan" labyrinths.

Labyrinths have been observed among the Hopi and the Navajo in the Southwest, and additionally among the Pima in South America. In Arizona and the American Southwest the Hopi use a form of the labyrinth in their religious symbolism, and the Tohono O'odham "Man in the Maze" is actually a "seven-circuit" labyrinth and is part of an elaborate creation myth.

Christian churches used the labyrinth for prayer and meditation as early as 350 AD.

The earliest example of Christian Labyrinths is in Algeria, North Africa. It is inscribed with "Sancta Eclesia" (holy church) at the center, confirming its sacred use.

In Christian history and practice, the labyrinth is most famously associated with Chartres Cathedral (pro. SHAR-tra) in France, where an eleven-circuit labyrinth was inlaid into the floor of the sanctuary in the thirteenth century. It was historically used as a way of symbolically participating in the great pilgrimage to Jerusalem. In many cases the end of their journey was a labyrinth formed of stone and laid in the floor of the nave of one of these great Gothic cathedrals. The center of the labyrinths probably represented for many pilgrims the Holy City itself and thus became the substitute goal of the journey.

Why Would I Walk the Labyrinth?

Even though historic pilgrimage travel may not be available to everyone, the need for Pilgrimage is still present deep within each life. Pilgrimage represents our spiritual journey, our desire to grow spiritually, and in the Christian tradition, represents our commitment to Christ. Because of its Sacred Geometry, physically walking the many turns in the pattern stimulates a most quieting and conducive brain-wave pattern which opens our heart and mind to the awareness of the holy presence of God within.

Jesus said, The kingdom of God is within you. But just where is that kingdom really to be found in our human life experience? How do we attain it in this fast-paced society? No matter what our spiritual orientation, most of us need to contact that special state of awareness via the practice of prayer, corporate worship, quieting, centering, or meditating through a form of spiritual discipline. Just as spirituality is not a spectator sport, the labyrinth is not a one-time event, even though many report marvelous insights from their first experience. Rather, it invites you to deepen your spiritual experience, to 'be still and know,' to seek the Kingdom within. In short, walking the Labyrinth offers the following:

                            It can serve as a mechanism to reconcile you to a new spiritual way.

                            It can help you quiet your mind, and prepare you to listen for God.

                            It can help you pray with your heart (instead of with words).

                            It can serve as an alternative to meditation.

Dr. Lauren Artress points out that the seeking of answers to our questions is the act of walking a sacred path. When we walk the labyrinth, we discover our sacred inner space. We are attracted to healing tools such as the labyrinth because they deepen our self-knowledge and empower our creativity. Walking the labyrinth clears the mind and gives insight into the life journey.

In the words of Marilyn Campbell, All Saints' Labyrinth facilitator, "Allow yourself 45-60 minutes to experience the meditative walk. Be assured that there is no right or wrong way to walk this path. There are no tricks or decisions to make, one only follows the winding pathway into the center, then returns by way of the same path."

And finally, as excerpted from the Hungry Heart News, a publication of the Office of Spiritual Formation of the PC(USA), "The labyrinth allows us to offer up to God the reality of our lives, trusting in God's immense love and grace... The very life of Christian faith is a labyrinth -- full of unexpected turns and twists, requiring us to step forward in faith, confident that Christ -- our Way, our Truth, and our Life -- is at the center of the very universe and at the heart of our life in God."

What is the History of the Labyrinth in the Prayer Garden at First Presbyterian Church?

When Andrew Moore was senior at Daviess County High School, he approached our pastors, the Revs. Jonathan Carroll & Wesley Kendall, about the possibility of completing his Eagle Scout in partnership with our congregation. Because of the church's commitment to the practice of prayer and the communal cultivation of the disciplines of personal and corporate worship, it was decided quickly that the most helpful, inspiring, and beautiful gift would necessarily be the construction of a Labyrinth in the Prayer Garden.

Upon researching the various historical kinds of Labyrinths in use around the world (and most notably, the regionally-located labyrinths at New Harmony, IN; Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, Louisville, KY; and Centre College, Danville, KY,) Andrew and his parents Dr. and Mrs. Keith (Tricia) Moore brought the concept to the Session with the full support of the pastors. In short order, the Session had agreed with unanimous support, and construction began. The 28' Chartres Labyrinth was completed in the Spring 2008, just before Andrew's 18th birthday.

The Moore Family, and Andrew in particular, labored many long hours in the Prayer Garden to bring this lovely spiritual tool to our faith community. Alongside the congregation, its Session, and its pastors, the Moore Family believes the Labyrinth in the Prayer Garden to be a most inspiring gift to have.

The dream of FPC is that this Labyrinth - Owensboro's only permanent Labyrinth - will be used by many individuals, small groups, Sunday School classes, retreat groups, and other pilgrims as they, along with us, pursue God's presence in the world and in their lives.

Soli Deo Gloria