Explore the Roots of Prayer Labyrinths
We are focusing on the spiritual practice of praying with a labyrinth this month.
"Prayer labyrinths are an ancient form of prayer that invite our bodies to participate in the process as we follow a path that mirrors the winding and circuitous journey of faith, existing mostly in gardens and churches. A finger labyrinth...invites you into a portable but equally meaningful version of the experience. As your finger moves from the outside entry point and traces along the path, notice any interior movements that indicate your response to God." - Jenn Giles Kemper, in the Sacred Ordinary Days planner
The planner has the above brief introduction along with an actual finger labyrinth you can use, 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.
Many people today, both in the religious community and the medical community, are noting that walking a labyrinth has calming benefits to both the mind and the body. They are showing up as a meditative practice and are being located in parks, hospitals, beaches, and schools. But prayer labyrinths are not new at all. They have their roots in the ancient practice of pilgrimage, the once-in-a-lifetime journey that early Christians would seek to make to walk where Jesus walked.
One Christian church in Algeria used the labyrinth as early as 350 C.E. The use of labyrinths seem to have been developed more widely around the twelfth century as a substitute for making a pilgrimage to a holy site. After Jerusalem was conquered by the Muslim armies in 638 C.E., pilgrimage became increasingly difficult and by the time of the Crusades in the Middle Ages it was nearly impossible. So instead, people would walk a labyrinth as a symbol of the pilgrimage. Traditionally, the path of the labyrinth was carved in the stone floor of a church or monastery. One of the most well known is at the Chartres Cathedral in France, built in 1201.
The labyrinth is not a maze. There is one entry point, a single path to follow to the center, and the exit is following that path in reverse. As you walk in you are walking towards God, the center of the labyrinth. Your arrival at the center symbolizes union with God. As as you exit from the center, you are going with God back out into the world.
Walking the labyrinth is a slow, quiet, meditative process that attends to the desire to make a journey toward God. It is a way to embody prayer, to keep it from being theoretical or mental, to let our whole selves be attentive to God. It is a way to set aside time to pray and to be with God; to put down our phones, to have conversation with God, to be alone or to be with others in prayer.
There is no one right way to pray with the labyrinth, no one right prayer or speed of walking, no right labyrinth design. As we continue to explore this practice this month, we will offer suggestions and ideas, ways to pray with the labyrinth if you don't have one to travel in your community or your ability, and resources to explore more on your own.
Now it's your turn. How have you understood the labyrinth as an ancient practice? As a modern practice? Does shifting your perspective on it change anything in you?
Head over to Instagram or Facebook to share and tag us @sacredordinarydays, please! Or, join the conversation inside Common House, our ecumenical online community.
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.