11.2 Labyrinths
My sister Agnes lives in Chichester, England, where she is active in the twin-city program with Chartres, France. While visiting us recently, she took part with me in a walking meditation practice that links Christ Episcopal Church in Los Altos to Chartres Cathedral, by way of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.
Inlaid in the floor of Chartres Cathedral, in a great circle, is an ancient design known as a labyrinth: similar to a maze but without any misleading dead ends.
Walking the labyrinth with spiritual intent has been described as bringing one closer to the heart of God or closer to one's own spiritual center. Dr. Lauren Artress of Grace Cathedral, who had benefited from this form of meditation and wanted to make it accessible to others, hit upon the idea of reproducing the Chartres design on a large canvas.
Thousands of people have since walked the labyrinth in San Francisco, including Michole Nicholson of Christ Episcopal Church. She and others from the parish were so deeply affected by the experience that they prepared their own sacred canvas, which is brought out frequently for public use.
So it was that Agnes and I, with about eight friends, gathered at the church two weeks ago. Michole introduced us to some of the ways in which the labyrinth can be walked. Some people enter seeking the answer to a specific question, some seeking assurance of God's presence.
Some repeat a phrase or bible verse as a means of concentration. Michole suggested that we leave our "baggage" at the entry point and pick it up later, if we wished.
Wearing socks to protect the canvas, to the strains of soft music and with candles around the room, we started our journey, each at our own pace. A single pathway winds back and forth in each quarter of the circle and leads gradually into the center, which is shaped like a flower with six petals.
From there, the path is followed out again. Most people took 30 minutes or so doing the walk and spending time in the center. Several did some journaling afterwards.
As the group talked together before leaving, everyone spoke of how beneficial the experience had been, each in a different way. Agnes told us that, for the first time in months, she had been helped to clear her mind of the myriad thoughts that had besieged her day and night since her husband's sudden death this year.
"It feels like the first step on the road to peace of mind at least," she said.
Walking the labyrinth with spiritual intent
By Ruth Polata
Dr. Artress said, of her experiences, "I moved from curiosity to skepticism to profound respect for the uncanny gifts of insight, wisdom and peace the labyrinth offers."  Artress has presented a very comprehensive treatment of the subject of labyrinths. Many people have absolutely no knowledge of labyrinths and feel it must be a New Age device.  She offers many reasons for walking the labyrinth, as well as possible approaches to the walk. She happens to work in a church but this meditational tool can be used by people of all cultures and religions. It is a way to go on a personal pilgrimage to become better acquainted with oneself.
She says, "To walk a sacred path is to discover our inner sacred space: that core of feeling that is waiting to have life breathed back into it through symbols, archetypal forms like the labyrinth, rituals, stories, and myths." In her eloquent treatise, she champions the use of the labyrinth as a way of rediscovering one's spiritual center. In Walking a Sacred Path, written in 1995, Artress tells the story of her own spiritual seeking and how a labyrinth came to be built at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. Sharing the vision of sacred geometry through the ages, she poetically recounts its wonderful effects. The author is deeply concerned about the environmental and spiritual crisis near the end of the millennium and offers illumination on the path to greater self-understanding, healing, and true spirituality. "Religion," she says, quoting an unknown source, "is for those scared to death of hell. Spirituality is for those who've been there." --
This is a meditational account of the rediscovery of an ancient meditational technique, the labyrinth, a "spiritual tool" that predates Christianity and was widely used in Christian spirituality until the sixteenth century.
Dr Artress, is a canon of Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco