“Labyrinths are usually in the form of a circle with a meandering but purposeful path from the edge to the center and back again. Each has only one path, and once we make the choice to enter it, the path becomes a metaphor for our journey through life, sending us to the center of the labyrinth and then back out to the edge on the same path.” —Lauren Artress in Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool (Riverhead Books, 1995).
Walking the labyrinth is one of the most ancient of spiritual practices, first documented in 324 on the floor of a church in Algiers, Algeria. One of the most famous labyrinths of medieval times is on the church floor of Chartres Cathedral, France. Christians who could not go on the Crusades in the 12th century went to the church to walk its eleven-circuit labyrinth pattern as a pilgrimage.
Walking the labyrinth is a form of surrender to a certain path that we trust will lead us in to the center and then back out. As we concentrate on our paces, the committee in our head becomes quiet as all our energy goes to staying on the path. As our body becomes quiet as well, we reconnect to our soul, to the God within. We are now on the path of healing and love and wholeness. This meditative walking spiritual exercise is especially helpful for the person who has difficulty meditating and sitting still, as is necessary in Centering Prayer.
Labyrinths are winding paths that double back before reaching a center. A labyrinth is different from a maze in that there is only one way to go, and you cannot get lost. Walking the labyrinth can be a time for meditation on sacred words, Scripture, or discernment as you move. You can walk, crawl, or skip as you proceed, but you must be considerate of other pilgrims walking the path.
The Episcopal priest, Lauren Artress, was a pioneer at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco when she introduced this spiritual practice in the 1990s. There are books about praying and meditating while walking the labyrinth (see Camp and Geoffrion, below), and how to make your own labyrinth (Welch). A friend, Twyla Alexander, has written a book about her pilgrimage of walking labyrinths in fifty states and hearing the stories of the women who created them.
Choose one of these books or others, or talk with a friend who has walked the labyrinth. Then try this ancient practice, especially if you are one who cannot sit still and meditate. I would also like to hear from you about your experience walking the labyrinth and of any books you have found helpful.
Lauren Artress, Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Practice. Riverhead Books, 1995.
Jill Kimberly Hartwell Geoffrion, Christian Prayer and Labyrinths and Praying the Labyrinth. Pilgrim Press, 2004.
Carole Ann Camp, Praying at Every Turn: Meditations for Walking the Labyrinth. Crossroad, 2011.
Sally Welch, Walking the Labyrinth: A Spiritual and Practical Guide. Canterbury, 2010.
Twyla Alexander, Labyrinth Journeys: 50 States, 51 Stories. Spring Hill, 2017.
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