An organizing theme in my novel, Revelation at the Labyrinth, is the Living Vine Labyrinth. So, as I prepare to launch this book, I want to explain more about labyrinths, how they became important to me, and how this labyrinth evolved.
Many people think of a popular movie named Labyrinth, if they are new to labyrinths. That film actually introduces a maze, a puzzle to be solved, a scary place. A spiritual labyrinth, on the other hand, provides a place for walking meditation, a circular path that leads to the center and back out. On the labyrinth, one finds no puzzles, but a simple path to follow.
Ancients created labyrinths thousands of years ago, and more recently, labyrinths again surfaced to help center and orient pilgrims on their life path. In the middle ages, labyrinths were laid in stone into the floors of cathedrals in Europe. The faithful, who couldn’t afford a journey to the holy land, followed the path of the labyrinth to God in the center. Some walked on their knees.
Several years ago, Lauren Artress, considered by some as the founder of the modern day labyrinth movement, took a group to Chartres, France, where they removed chairs covering the labyrinth on the floor of the Chartres Cathedral. Her experience there eventually led to making a similar labyrinth at the Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco, and she started a labyrinth organization, Veriditas, which trains labyrinth facilitators and hosts labyrinth events. She wrote several books on the topic as well.
When I took an eighteen-month class with the Shalem Institute for Spiritual Formation in 2011 on leading contemplative small groups and retreats, I decided to learn more about the labyrinth. I designed an experience for fellow learners in my cohort. At my church, I decided to create a labyrinth for common use. Some members of our church already journeyed to visit a labyrinth in a neighboring town, and they also previously created a temporary grass labyrinth for me for my 50th birthday.
In the summer of 2012, my friend Holly Wolfe joined me to accomplish this quest. I started by purchasing four drop cloths. Another congregational member, Mary Jane Salyers, skillfully sewed them together. Then Holly and I, after much trial and error, made a simple compass with a string and a bolt. While Holly held the bolt in the center, I drew eight concentric circles by walking around the center with a pencil tied to a string, anchored in the center. Although most canvas labyrinths are painted, I decided to try using markers and focused on the possibility of making a vine for the paths. Another labyrinth enthusiast and church friend, Debbie Copeland, came and helped design a leaf for the vine, and together, we found a pattern. Holly preferred the Santa Rosa design, a copyrighted design created by Lea Goode-Harris out of California. And so, I drew that on our cloth. I learned that some labyrinths use the colors of the rainbow/chakras, and so I decided to add flowers at each turn, in these colors. Another church friend, Amy Woodburn, designed a simple flower for this purpose.
Over a two-week period, a variety of friends and church members gathered in the church fellowship hall to draw the vines and flowers, pushing to completion to coincide with a contemplative worship service planned for our church. And indeed, we completed our masterpiece in the allotted time period. We were quite delighted with the end product which continues to offer a space for walking meditation at our church.
For the past five years, we have hosted a variety of labyrinth events using our new labyrinth. At first, we held “First Friday Happy Hours” and I discovered walking the labyrinth re-energized me after a long work week. “This is better than beer!” I would exclaim. More recently, we decided to hold quarterly themed walks on Saturday mornings. We have taken the labyrinth out to a women’s retreat at the State Park, to Peace Camp, to the Cancer Center, to the Juvenile Justice Detention Facility, to contemplative groups and Wittenberg University’s Weaver Chapel. A friend and I also hosted a labyrinth walk at the Women’s Reformatory in Marysville. Gradually, the Living Vine Labyrinth became an important part of my life. When Lauren Artress visited a neighboring town, I attended her workshop, completed her training program and became a certified labyrinth facilitator with her organization.
A walk on the labyrinth for me helps quiet my inner voice and listen for God. As I weave into the center, I let go of concerns and worries. In the center, I sit or lay down or stand and pray and receive God’s love and often a message. As I walk out, I think of ways to incorporate this new learning into my life.
Lauren explains that in times of great chaos, the labyrinth emerges throughout history to help orient people and center them. This I find so true, as I walk on the labyrinth’s winding path.
Lauren also teaches that the labyrinth connects people to the Earth and each other. I didn’t know about the labyrinth’s Earth connections, when we drew vines and flowers onto our labyrinth. Later, though , Lea Goode-Harris, the creator of the Santa Rosa Labyrinth, told me other designers have created vines when drawing this particular labyrinth as well. What we all discover through our practice of walking the labyrinth is that the rhythmic, balancing experience of moving along this circular path helps ease the pilgrim into harmony with creation.
After creating the labyrinth and enjoying many walks on the sacred cloth, I decided to use the labyrinth as a theme and organizing principle for the novel I was writing on an Earth theme. I didn’t know much about the chakras when I added them in, but as I began to write and research the book, I read more. And then my labyrinth walks started to include prayers for the various aspects of life reflected in the chakra or energy centers. For those of us raised in the Western society, this is a new concept. But in the East, it’s quite well accepted that our bodies have these energy centers that must remain open to keep a person healthy with positive energy for life.
Each chakra or plexus is associated with a color. The purple flower reflects the crown chakra, the top of the head, a connection to God. The indigo flower reflects the third eye chakra in the middle of the forehead, a connection to intuitive wisdom. The light blue represents the throat chakra, the voice. The green flower represents the heart chakra. Unique to the Santa Rosa Labyrinth, a heart center on the 4th circle, provides a small area to place a plant, some flowers or a candle for the walk. The yellow flower represents the solar plexus and fortitude. The orange flower represents the womb and creativity center. And finally, the red flower represents the root chakra at the base of the spine, with a sense of grounding.
In my book, you will find that my main character, Thomaseena, tunes in to the chakras and she writes poems after each of her walks in the first half of the book. Each of her poems is focused on one of the chakras. Her poems also speak to the need for healing; for the Earth, for herself and for the way humans are relating to the Earth.
The labyrinth blesses me with many powerful experiences, both when I walk it alone, and when I share it with others. One of the most amazing walks of my life came one day, when my friend, Mary Anna Robinson, and I led a labyrinth experience at women’s prison. The spiritual energy in the room seemed to throb within me. Later, when the women began to share poetry and journaling offerings inspired by their walks, I knew they felt it as well. Another time, at the Cancer Center, a caregiver and cancer survivor walked the labyrinth together and shared how the walk meant so much to them as they reflected on their journey together through a horrendous battle with throat cancer. When I’ve hosted labyrinth walks at the Springfield Peace Camp, the parents, the teachers, the teens and the little children all tell me it calms them and quiets their thoughts deep within.
If you wish to experience the labyrinth, go to Labyrinth Locator.org for a list of labyrinths in many places around the USA and the world. I often seek out labyrinths while traveling. Or come visit the Living Vine Labyrinth and listen to God in our own church, First Baptist Springfield. Follow us on Facebook to learn of future offerings. I would also be willing to arrange a labyrinth experience or retreat for your group or organization. And, I encourage you to read my completed novel, Revelation at the Labyrinth, to see how labyrinth walks help the MAMs Book Club ladies and the re-entry women as they struggle with the challenges of their lives.
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