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Labyrinth walkers follow path on a journey toward spiritual growth

By Yvonne Lopez-Morton

The Rev. Roger Lynn sees the twists and turns of the new labyrinth at Country Homes Christian Church as an active experience to give each walker a path on their journey toward spiritual growth.

“One thing I appreciate about a labyrinth is that it is open ended and allows people to be physically involved in their spiritual practice,” he said. “Something happens when we pray and move.”

Country Homes Labyrinth
Members formed Chartres labyrinth on Country Homes Christian Church property with stones

The church’s outdoor labyrinth, one of several in the area modeled after the medieval Chartres Cathedral labyrinth in northern France, was built with rocks in less than three hours on a Sunday afternoon in October.

“Last spring we held a labyrinth event at the church, and I laid down a masking tape labyrinth,” Roger said. “Our youth group was inspired by the event to build a permanent labyrinth.”

The labyrinth was constructed in a forested area near the church’s parking lot at 8415 N. Wall, by a team that included the youth.

Roger said the labyrinth provides a spiritual tool for a variety of spiritual perspectives.

“You don’t need to be a Christian to benefit from the labyrinth experience,” he said. “It is a welcoming, inclusive experience.

“In a labyrinth, you can feel you are a long way from the center and then two turns later find you are there,” he said.

Roger enjoys walking alone, but when walking with others, there’s recognition that “we are on a spiritual journey together.”

“Walking with others, we may feel we are going opposite directions when we are, in fact, all heading the same place,” he said.

When it is warmer, the church will schedule labyrinth events, provide informational materials for the congregation and feature articles in the church newsletter.

According to the National Labyrinth Society, the earliest labyrinths were in Greece about 2,500 to 2000 B.C.  Labyrinths have been used in many cultures and civilizations.  They are carved in rock or made with ceramics, mosaics, stones, hedges or pavements, according to the society.

Compared to a maze, the labyrinth is “unicursal,” meaning it uses one path. There is one entrance with no dead ends or crossing paths.  The path leads the walker to the center and back out.

Use as a spiritual tool in the Christian tradition dates back to about the fourth century, with labyrinths widely used by French Christians in the late 12th century, the society reports.

Christian artists and thinkers in early medieval times developed early Roman patterns in medieval cathedrals.  The most famous is the 42-foot-wide labyrinth in Chartres, created in the 13th century.

Experts agree labyrinths were a Christian symbol representing the path of the soul through life.

Early Christians often followed the path on their knees while praying or to symbolize a journey to Jerusalem.

After medieval times, the use of labyrinths faded.  Many were destroyed between the 1600s and 1800s, according to the National Labyrinth Society.

Today Christians in North America, Europe, Africa and in other regions use labyrinths in therapeutic, devotional, pragmatic, mystical and intuitive ways.

As a spiritual practice, the society says, walking a labyrinth can be a tool to develop a greater intimacy with God, with one’s self and also the wider human community, the society said.

“We’re all wanderers and life is a path with many twists and turns,” said the Very Reverend Bill Ellis, dean of the Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist, 127 E. 12th.

“A labyrinth has spiritual significance for those who seek their true center and where they do find God,” Bill said.

While its original outdoor grass labyrinth is no longer maintained, St. John has a painted canvas Chartres-style labyrinth bought from San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral labyrinth ministry.

St. John’s places that labyrinth in the northern end of the cathedral through the summer and in the early spring during Lent.

The International Labyrinth Society says a church labyrinth can support and enhance the life of a congregation as an outreach and hospitality tool, expressing the congregation’s interest in the spiritual health of its members and neighbors.

Trinity Lutheran in Pullman, at 1300 NW Lybecker Rd., offers access to both an indoor canvas labyrinth and its classical outdoor labyrinth to community groups. The canvas one is also used for special events at the church.

“Anyone can use our outdoor labyrinth during daylight hours.  It is used frequently,” said Trinity office manager Megan Brannan.

“Our outdoor labyrinth was installed 10 years ago and while the church does not have a labyrinth coordinator at this time, we offer an annual labyrinth workshop each June,” she said.

In North Spokane County, Our Lady of the Lake Catholic Church’s Chartres-style labyrinth, built by parishioners in the summer of 2003, is open during daylight hours.

The labyrinth, which took more than 300 volunteer hours and includes 4,000 hand-placed pavers, is across from Lakeside Middle School on Highway 291 in Suncrest on 12 acres, where a new church will be built in the future.

“Father Tim Clancy envisioned a place of worship and reflection among the basalt outcroppings and trees,” said Lucille Simmons, religious education coordinator.

The parish now worships in the Tum Tum Community Center.  During the summer, a large event tent on the labyrinth site is used for Sunday Mass. The site also features a grotto.

In May, the labyrinth is the site of a rosary honoring the Virgin Mary. Lucille said individuals also use the labyrinth for personal reflection.

Our Lady of the Lake follows the classic three stages of walking the labyrinth used by Grace Cathedral and other Christian churches.  Its flier on the labyrinth describes those stages as: 1) purgation, a form of releasing, letting go and shedding thoughts and emotions to quiet the mind; 2) illumination, finding clarity when the walker reaches the center, stays as long as necessary for meditation or prayer, and 3) union, walking out and integrating what has been received in order to return to life with a renewed vision and refreshed spirit.

A meditation labyrinth on the campus of Spokane Community College, 1810 N. Greene St., was dedicated in the fall of 2004. Students in the horticulture and landscape design program built it.

Using 4,000-year-old design principles, SCC students put in about 350 hours of work. Funds for the labyrinth near the Environmental Sciences building came from the SCC Horticulture Club’s campus beautification fund.

The labyrinth at the Unitarian Universalist Church in west Spokane, 4340 W. Ft. George Wright Dr., is a Celtic triple spiral design, an ancient symbol found in cultures as early as the Neolithic and Bronze ages.

Triple spirals are symbolic, based on the number three, which is sacred in many ancient cultures.  It is different from a classical labyrinth in that the walker can step in and exit anywhere.

 “Our labyrinth is a way to rearrange one’s energy and open up to the new perspectives,” said Elaine Stevens, the labyrinth team leader.  She worked with consultants Kevin and Jolie Hagan during the design and construction process.

Elaine said the labyrinth means different things to different people.  For example, one woman worked through her grief by visiting the labyrinth.

“It is not unusual for people to be surrounded by wildlife like deer and elk while visiting the labyrinth,” she said.

The outdoor labyrinth, open daylight hours, was constructed in 2006 and was a key centerpiece last September during the 11 Days of Peace Celebration.

Built in 1999 by church volunteers, the Chartres-style labyrinth on the grounds of the Unity Church of North Idaho is the centerpiece of the church’s meditation garden and a spiritual pathway for people in North Idaho said Jerilyn Whitaker, office manager.

Made of brick and pavers, the North Idaho labyrinth in Coeur d’Alene is always open for walking at 4465 N. 15th St.

The outdoor Santa Rosa labyrinth at Veradale United Church of Christ, 611 N. Progress, was an Eagle Scout project cut into the sod and laid with bricks.

“I love labyrinths. They are an amazing experience with a group,” said Veradale’s pastor, the Rev. Linda Crowe.

She has a long interest in labyrinths and leads studies on their history and patterns.  She has walked many—from ones Grace Cathedral to Chartres. At a rest stop on the Columbia River, she accidentally discovered a labyrinth at Chief Joseph Dam.

Over the years, Linda has helped campers at N-Sid-Sen, the Pacific Northwest United Church of Christ camp and conference center on Lake Coeur d’Alene spray paint labyrinths on a meadow.  Several years ago, a youth camp installed a rock labyrinth. Stillwater Lodge has a labyrinth painted on the wood floor.

“I value creating and using labyrinths, from designing them on paper to going into meadows and blessing the ground where a labyrinth will be built,” Linda said.

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