Spirit Lab: Walking the Labyrinth

Hey all! So, you remember last May when we did a month-long experiment in the spiritual practice of body prayer? And we used the super-clever name of “Spirit Lab” to tie all of those posts together?

Well the Spirit Lab is back! Along with longer experiments like the one with body prayer, we’ll also be sharing one-off adventures in spiritual practice from time to time. Consider it like a tiny lesson in spiritual hygiene.

Here’s why we’re doing this: because, y’all, your spiritual health is SO IMPORTANT. Great theological ideas are fun, but they’re not going to do you much good unless you’re doing some kind of regular spiritual discipline. It’s like brushing your teeth. Sometimes you know you need it, sometimes you don’t, but you just have to do it if you want to have a healthy spirit in the long haul.

Each of these posts will include a bit of tutorial on how (and why!) to engage the spiritual practice in question, and also some personal experience. These practices are Spirit Lab tested, Saying Grace approved!

If there’s a spiritual practice you want to see us write about (Fasting? Silent retreat? Spiritual direction?), please let us know in the comments. We write for you! 

This week I want to talk about walking the labyrinth, one of my favorite spiritual practices.

(P.S. This isn’t our first post about the labyrinth! If you’re interested, we also have a post about Kelley’s labyrinth experience.)

What is a labyrinth?

A labyrinth is like a maze, but with only one path in and out. You may find labyrinths worked into the floor of a church, mowed into a lawn or laid out with rocks, or painted on a large canvas that can be laid out on the floor anywhere. You can even find small hand-held labyrinths that you ‘walk’ with your finger! The idea is really simple: walk to the center, and walk out again, prayerfully.

Here is one classic labyrinth design.

What is the history of labyrinths?

The labyrinth is a super-ancient spiritual practice… like, 4,500 years or so! Ancient labyrinths are found all over the world, from the Hopi culture in what is now the United States to Ancient Egypt, India, and elsewhere. The Christian tradition picked it up, too, and labyrinths are set into the floors of medieval cathedrals. Hildegaard Von Bingen, one of my favorite bad-ass women from Christian history, was known to be an avid labyrinth walker. Today you will find labyrinths in use in all sorts of spiritual spaces, Christian and non-Christian. One great thing about the labyrinth is that it can be such a universal tool, and still be useful to your own particular faith walk.

Why walk the labyrinth?

The labyrinth is many things to many people. Essentially, it’s a tool for connecting with the Holy Spirit… but of course, that means something different every day! In the labyrinth you may find guidance for your journey, healing, help with grief, aid in a decision, peace in troubled times or an opportunity to celebrate and give thanks. The labyrinth is a centering practice. As we spiral in towards the center of the labyrinth, we are able to let go of peripheral things and bring our focus to deeper spiritual truths.

How do you walk a labyrinth?

There are no rules for labyrinth walking; it’s a tool that you can use many ways! A few guidelines can help you get started, though. Georgiana Lotfy, a labyrinth facilitator, breaks the walk into five essential parts.

  1. Before you start walking, take a moment to quiet and center your heart. If you have a special prayer or intention for your walk, now is the time to pray it.
  2. As you walk towards the center, you are letting go. Release whatever is weighing you down, and let go of to-do lists, thoughts, and worries. Let awareness of your body and spirit grow.
  3. When you reach the center space, pause for as long as feels right to practice letting in. In the quiet, you may hear the voice of God or a nudging in your spirit. Allow your body to take whatever posture feels right: standing, kneeling, dancing, whatever!
  4. As you begin your walk back out, you are letting out, allowing the work of the Spirit to flow into your daily life and returning from the movement of the labyrinth to the movement of the world.
  5. At the end, pause to give thanks for what you have received.

My Experience with the Labyrinth

I was introduced to walking the labyrinth by a wonderful mentor in college (shout out to Rachel Larson!), and have walked it whenever I’ve had a chance since then. Sometimes I’ve just found it to be a peaceful and calming time of sabbath and rest; a time when I don’t have to worry or think. Other times I’ve found real tension in my walk. I walked a labyrinth on my wedding morning, and I found my body resistant about turning the corners of the labyrinth, so I let myself pause at each one and found courage to move through my fear of change and into the joy of a new life. Once when my life seemed to be bound up in concern and mistrust, I practically danced through the labyrinth, spinning around as I went, trusting that my body knew the way, and came out feeling like I could trust both myself and God. Recently, as I labored through a difficult decision, I drove across town to walk a labyrinth, hoping that the answer would become clear. It didn’t, but as I sat in the center I felt the sun fall across my face and knew without a doubt that whatever decision I made, I would be wrapped in God’s care. The decision wasn’t so fearful when I was reminded that I would be loved either way.

Where can I find a labyrinth?

If you are in the Twin Cities like me, here’s a list of labyrinths! Please make a note in the comments if you know of another one. If you live elsewhere, check out this world-wide labyrinth locator. Many of these are outdoors in public spaces like churchyards, and you can just arrive and do your thing, alone or with friends. In the winter you can explore indoor labyrinths at hospitals or churches that are open to anyone. One Twin Cities hospital is listed; there is also one in the chapel at Southdale hospital. Also on the list are several canvas labyrinths that can be brought out for particular events, and contact information for the folks who facilitate them.

My best labyrinth wisdom

Just do it. Don’t be afraid that you’re going to screw it up; there is no such thing! I pray that you find yourself at the center sometime soon.

Have you ever walked a labyrinth? What’s your experience?

And don’t forget to tell us what spiritual practices you’d like to see profiled next!


2 comments on “Spirit Lab: Walking the Labyrinth

  1. Thanks for this! I find myself interested.

    FYI all MPLS folks — From this list’s reference I dug a bit and found that Hennepin United Methodist Church has an open-labyrinth time 3-6pm every Thursday: http://hennepinchurch.org/labyrinth/

  2. I walked a labyrinth on retreat in Pennsylvania. It was in the woods. I got a new song while I walked. I’m very interested in all the possible topics. Especially does anyone hear God when they’re knitting? I’d like to explore that since I spend so much time knitting.

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