The labyrinth is an ancient spiritual tool, used for the purpose of prayer, meditation, reflection, and contemplation. It is a universal image representing the path of life, and its winding walk in toward the center and out again symbolizes a pilgrim's walk with God, a symbolic journey in the form of a walking meditation. Walking the path is a sacred ritual that can provide insights, courage, and understanding in facing life’s challenges.
The labyrinth is found in various forms in all religious traditions around the world and throughout history. The labyrinth is not a maze; there are no tricks to it, and no dead ends. The labyrinth has only one path which leads to the center and out again. If you make a misstep, you will simply end up at the center or at the beginning. The path winds throughout and becomes a mirror of the way we live our lives; it touches our sorrows and releases our joy. So walk it with an open heart and mind.
The rediscovery of the medieval labyrinth, a twelfth century mystical tool, may be one of the most important spiritual developments of the last decade. Throughout human -history there has been the practice of making a spiritual pilgrimage – a search for the holy. The Hebrew Scriptures refer to God's people journeying to a land of Promise, to Zion, to sacred places. The Psalms witness to this deep yearning within people. The first Christians were called "people of the way," as they tried to follow the path Jesus set before them.
In the Middle Ages, Christians were expected to travel to the Holy Land at least once during their lives. As travel became too dangerous during the Crusades, certain cathedrals throughout Europe were designated as" pilgrimage cathedrals." Christians would journey to those sites where they would make a prayer-walk of the labyrinth, laid in the cathedral’s stone floor, as a symbolic completion of their pilgrimage. This is why these labyrinths were sometimes called the "New Jerusalem." Today, labyrinths are being used in churches, hospitals, retirement centers, parks, prisons, and in retreat and conference centers as we recover this sacred practice. The labyrinth appeals to all ages, from youth to senior citizens.
Some people find that the labyrinth walk falls into three stages:
The labyrinth walk is different each time one walks it. Often people find peace, solace, release, and deep sense of joy. When walked with a community of people, the walk is a shared journey, an activity that groups do together to build solidarity and shared vision.
There is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth. Simply relax and enjoy your journey.
For more information, see the book by Rev. Lauren Artress, Walking A Sacred Path: Rediscovering the labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool.