Sunday, September 14, 2008
According to an article in my Sunday paper labyrinths are finding "new converts in the modern world." In "A Spiritual Path," Post-Crescent author Cheryl Anderson begins by recounting how a certain Anglican priest began creating these things by mowing intricate paths in her backyard, and then later at Our Redeemer Lutheran Church in Menasha, WI. This is just the latest version of what has descended from one of the most famous 'Christian' labyrinths located at the Chartres Cathedral of Notre Dame, France.
"A labyrinth is a form of a maze," Anderson writes, "but unlike a maze there's only one path leading to the center with no dead ends or false turns. It is a meditative tool used to quiet the mind. Labyrinths serve as a metaphor for the person's inward spiritual journey." Labyrinths fell out of exsistence over time, and were only 'rediscovered' in the '80's and '90's.
I have never 'walked" a labyrinth, so I have no real experience with them. The idea of focused walking in a quiet atmosphere to aid in prayer and meditation would seem to have benefits for those who struggle with distractions. Mideaval believers used the labyrinth as a substitute for pilgrimage to the Holy Land,and as Anderson notes, "to gain spiritual merit." For that reason I can imagine that the practice would have been suspect among the early reformers who were cautious of anything that took away from grace and faith alone in Christ. However, I am not sure that Luther or the others had an familiarity with this practice by the 15th or 16th century.
Overall walking labyrinths seems innocent enough. My only concern would be if someone substituted this for true devotional prayer centered in the Word, feeling that they could "find God" by merely walking the path. As this Anglican priest admitted of her time in labyrinths: "I've had experiences where I've felt like I was in the pressence of the holy one, in the hands of God." Such an experience I have usually reserved for describing my time in the sanctuary during the Divine Service centerered on Word and Sacrament.
For now walking around my country church for exercise and meditation seems to work fine for me. I guess I'm not really into trends. Any way, I hate to mow. I'd just as soon keep all the grass at one length.
Note added on 9-15-08: For additional information discovered after this article was originally written, please make sure to read the "comments" section. Links provided here will help those interested to learn more about the concerns some Christians are expressing concerning the current use of "prayer labyrinths."