I was taught to pray using words; I prayed using words thought in my own head, written in my journal, or read in scripture and prayer books. At times, I listened (or tried to listen), but mostly I spoke to God. I offered prayers of praise, thanksgiving, intercession, petition, and confession, just like I learned in Sunday School. The words were always about what I was thinking, feeling, sensing, and experiencing. Occasionally, I tried to pray using imagery, like creating art or imagining the prayers of the people in a newspaper photograph. However, all of these prayers, known as kataphatic prayers, revolved around the presence of mental content, such as words or imagery. Not only was the term “kataphatic” foreign to me until very recently, I didn’t even know there was another approach to prayer.
I was first introduced to labyrinths when I helped with my church’s Vacation Bible School, a summer camp for children. We helped each child make a decoupage labyrinth. We taught them why and how Christians use labyrinths to pray. Since then, I’ve walked stone labyrinths in church gardens and canvas labyrinths on retreats. They’ve become a meaningful – albeit infrequent – spiritual practice. For some, the circuitous path represents our life-long journey toward Christ-likeness and for others it is a way of entering into a pilgrimage of imagination without going on a long trip. Using a labyrinth helps me approach God with humility, curiosity, wonder, and undistracted presence.
Walking a labyrinth with your feet or your finger, as you can do in our planner, is meant to be a meditative practice to draw you into the mystery of God. Apophatic prayers like these are about resting in and being present to God, in a place beyond words, linear thinking, images or other mental “content.” There is absence of those things and, instead, space. Using a labyrinth is one of many methods of entering into Apophatic prayer. But, it's one of the most accessible and teach-able ways I know, and therefore one of my favorites.
Given how mysterious and foreign the apophatic approach to prayer still is to me, I find walking labyrinths helpful, because it gives my “outside” self – my physical body – something to do. This employment allows my “inside” self – my heart, mind, and spirit – to simply be present without having a responsibility in that moment. While labyrinths look like mazes, the path is singular and without deception. They do not require decision-making or problem solving. Once you enter, you simply continue moving forward. Though it may seem as if you are moving outward, each step draws you inward to the center. It’s a helpful analogy for me to remember as I continue forward in my journey of faith.
Now it's your turn. What has your experience been with the prayer labyrinth? Have you been invited to experience one at church or on a retreat? What questions do you have about praying the labyrinth?
We are focusing on the spiritual practice of praying with a labyrinth this month. You can find the latest on our blog and on our prayer labyrinth resource page. The planner has a brief introduction, but this month we want to extend a broader invitation, explore together, and offer some guidance so you can go farther and deeper with this spiritual practice.
But, the short and sweet is that our goal for this series is to help you...
- LEARN about the spiritual practice of the praying with a labyrinth. You will learn about why we included in in the Sacred Ordinary Days planner and about how you can use the one in your planner or anywhere else.
- EXPLORE a practice of prayer that includes physical movement. Whether it is your finger, your hands, or your whole body, praying with the labyrinth involves movement. Discovering new ways to pray has been a gift to me and I want to invite you in!
- SHARE your experience with people who speak the same language. You'll get our guidance along the way, plus you'll get to know the other members of our community, by following along on Instagram or Facebook or inside Common House, our ecumenical online community.