Ash Wednesday Labyrinth Walk

Here is a beautiful prayer from Bonnie Harr designed to be used in walking the labyrinth at this season.

Ash Wednesday Labyrinth walk

 

 

What on Earth is a Finger Labyrinth?

finger labyrinth

finger labyrinth

Last year for my sixtieth birthday someone gave me a finger labyrinth. I put it in my draw and promptly forgot about it. However, as I started to research various methods of prayer to incorporate in my new book Return to Our Senses: Reimagining How We Pray I pulled it out again. To be honest this seemed a very strange way to prayer especially when most of the articles I read suggested that the best way to trace out a finger labyrinth is with a finger from your non-dominant hand. Evidently research suggests that our non-dominant hand has better access to our intuition.

Much to my surprise, when I experimented with my finger labyrinth, I found that it really did help me focus and often brought intuitive inspiration when I was grappling with challenging issues. This morning it inspired this prayer:

Walk with us Lord through all the twists and turns of life,
Walk with us when the clouds obscure the way,
when what seemed close is now so far away.
Walk with us Lord until we trust in you,
Lead us to the centre of your love.

Interestingly, some of the earliest labyrinths found in Christian churches are finger labyrinths, their circuits well worn over the centuries by the passage of innumerable fingers “walking” to the center and then out again.

In view of that you may like to try your own finger labyrinth experiment. Try this exercise from United Christ Church Ministries

Before you start any finger labyrinth “walk,” take time to breathe and relax. If you keep a journal, have it ready for recording any insights after your walk. Set an intention or question for the walk. Without an intention a finger labyrinth walk can become an exercise in hastily and mindlessly moving your finger along the circuits and wondering why at the end of the walk you even bothered. Say a prayer, if you like, for support, healing, and guidance.

Place a finger from your non-dominant hand at the entrance to the labyrinth. (Research shows that often our non-dominant hand has easier access to our intuition.) As you trace the circuit, stay open to whatever presents itself: feelings, sensations, memories, images, or just “knowings.” Pause at any time to breathe, be with a memory, work with an image, or simply relax into the labyrinth. At the center of the labyrinth, feel its connection to your own center. The center is a wonderful place to relax, pray, or sing. When you are ready, trace your way out, staying open to whatever comes up for you. When your walk is done, place both hands on the labyrinth and give thanks for whatever you learned and experienced.

Experiment and play with your labyrinth. Try using a favorite word or phrase that evokes the sacred for you. Repeat the mantra slowly in your heart as you “walk.” You may also walk with questions such as, “In what way do I most need to grow spiritually right now?” or “What most blocks me from fully receiving and living God’s love?” You can also walk the labyrinth in intercessory prayer for someone else, sending them the fruits of your walk.

If you are experiencing a difficult feeling-anger, grief, bitterness-have as your intention its healing and release (knowing, of course, that many deeper feelings may take more time than a walk).

If you are struggling with a problem, ask for insight and guidance: What must I release in order to allow healing? What am I not feeling or acknowledging that I must let into my conscious awareness to allow healing? Whom do I most need to forgive, and for what?

If you are working with an illness, either serious or insignificant, you may walk into the labyrinth simply asking to return to balance with yourself and life, no matter what the circumstances of your illness. You can also walk with the question: What part of my life (or me) am I neglecting that needs attention?

Illness may also be a teacher or an ally. If you are interested in exploring your illness as a teacher, you may walk asking, “How may I open to my illness as a teacher and ally?” or “What does my illness have to teach me at this point in my life?”

The Labyrinth, The Emotion and Music – by Gil George.

At the centre of the labyrinth

At the centre of the labyrinth

This morning’s post is contributed by our good friend Gil George, whose pregnant wife recently had emergency surgery. It moved me to tears especially when I clicked the link and listened to Gil recite his poem with music in the background.

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This poem has been stirring in me since my wife had to have emergency surgery last week. At the hospital that my wife had her surgery in there is a labyrinth laid out in the cobblestones of their “Healing Garden” located in the courtyard between the wings of the hospital. She is recovering well, and our unborn daughter appears to be unaffected by the surgery. Still, it has been a very difficult time emotionally and it took me a little while to process enough to write.

*UPDATE*
Rich Mutua has put my poem to music. Listen at emotionandmusic.

Labyrinth

I look down at the Labyrinth

That sits in the middle of the courtyard

Of the hospital in which my wife lies

Recovering from a surgery that was successful

To see the pain in her eyes and the pale, drawn visage

Of one whose being has been woven with mine

Over the last eleven years and five months

Having no ability to do anything to assuage her pain

Seeing that there is nothing I can do but wait, I sit

I say “I love you.” as I prepare to go home and try to sleep

As I walk to the elevator I see the labyrinth again in the courtyard

In a very real way it seems to invite me to walk its cobbled path

To a center that I cannot find.

I take the first step with a sense of longing and as I walk I feel

I feel that here is something I can do

Something in which I can have some illusion of control.

I walk slowly, not wanting the illusion to end

I walk towards and away from the center as I follow

A path laid out by someone else, a path walked by others

I approach the center and look out to the West as the

Setting sun sheds its last light of the day

On me, standing in the center of a labyrinth

In the courtyard of the hospital

Searching for a center in me

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Tools for Prayer – Walk the Labyrinth

Children in midst of labyrinth

Children in midst of labyrinth – Celtic retreat

The labyrinth is another tool for prayer that I found really helpful in the last few years.  I talk about their use in my recent book Return to Our SensesWe always set one up for our annual Celtic prayer retreat and it is particularly popular amongst the children.  Last year we also made finger labyrinths which were a great hit amongst both adults and children.  Labyrinths have become extremely popular in the last few years amongst Christians from a wide variety of backgrounds.  I have written about them before such as Are We Walking A Maze or a Labyrinth

However I don’t think that I have ever really given a full description of the labyrinth so thought that I would do so here.  this description was put together by Maryellen Young as a brochure for the labyrinth at St Albans church in Edmonds

ABOUT THE LABYRINTH

A labyrinth is a pattern with a purpose.  They offer a chance to take “time out” from our busy lives, to leave schedules and stress behind.  Walking a labyrinth is a gift we give to ourselves. The labyrinth walk is popular with a growing number of people because of its simplicity and the ability to approach its paths on your own terms.

SYMBOL

The labyrinth represents our passage through time and experience.  Its many turns reflect the journey of life, which involves changes of direction, transition, some uncertainty but also discovery and achievement.  Different from a maze (which has dead ends and false passages), the labyrinth has a singe path that leads unerringly to the center.  It shows us that no time or effort is ever wasted; if we stay the course, every step however circuitous, however many turns, however distant it seems, takes us closer to our goal.  The two most common types are Chartres and Classic 7, however there are many variations.  Labyrinths are described by the number of circuits or paths they contain.

HISTORY

Labyrinths are found in many cultures dating back as much as 3,500 years.  Labyrinth walking is a form of meditation that has been practiced by nearly every religious tradition since ancient times.  There is no one “Christian” labyrinth pattern.  Faith communities throughout the ages have utilized labyrinths of various dimensions, materials, colors, and shapes. Theologians of different periods have utilized the pattern to emphasize beliefs that were most relevant to their time.

USE

People walk the labyrinth as a tool to enhance prayer, contemplation, meditation and/or personal growth.  There is no “required way” to walk the labyrinth.  Thinking is not required to walk a labyrinth.  At the same time, one must remain alert to stay on the path.  This combination of reduced mental activity and heightened awareness makes the labyrinth ideal for walking meditation or prayer.  The turns of the labyrinth are thought to balance the two hemispheres of the brain, resulting in physical and emotional healing.  As reaching the center is assured, walking the labyrinth is more about the journey than the destination, about being rather than doing, integrating body and mind, psyche and spirit into one harmonious whole.  The labyrinth meets each person where they are and helps them to take the next step on their spiritual path.  Because it is so personal, it is a spiritual practice that can be enjoyed by everyone.

THE WALK

A “typical” labyrinth experience involves preparing yourself at the threshold, following the single path to the center (releasing), spending time in the center for as long as you like (receiving), following the same pathway from the center out, crossing the threshold (returning), and then responding to the experience.  There is no single “right” way to pray a labyrinth.  Praying in whatever way helps you connect with God during the labyrinth encounter is the “right” way and serves as the best guide possible.  Journaling before or after the walk may help provide focus and insights.

Feel free to walk around other people if their pace is different or if they stop.  It’s okay for other people to move around you.  Some find it helpful to stop at each turn.  The path can be a two-way street.  Do what comes naturally when you meet someone else, just as you would if you were walking on a narrow sidewalk.  Walking around the outside of the labyrinth before or after the walk may be helpful.

Approaches to the walk may include:

  • Intentional walks–where you address a specific intention, issue or concern as you walk
  • Intercessory walks–offering prayer for people or needs
  • Meditative walks–meditating on a specific word or passage or prayer
  • Conversation–having a conversation with God
  • Walking in a relaxed, peaceful state, temporarily releasing concerns, being open and peaceful

Many have found that reciting Scripture on the labyrinth focuses their attention on biblical teaching and their relationship with God.  For instance, a person may find it helpful to pray, “You show me the path of life.  In your presence there is fullness of joy” (Psalm 16:11) or Jesus’ words, “I am the way and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) while moving on a labyrinth.

Life in a two-beat rhythm – by Lynne Baab

The posts for Worshipping God in the Real World have been few and far between lately.  Hmm I wonder if that is a symptom of something?  But more of that later.  Today we have another post from Lynne Baab the author of the recently released Friending: Real Relationships in a Virtual World, as well as numerous other books including Sabbath Keeping and Reaching Out in a Networked World. Visit her website for articles she has written and information about her books. Lynne is a Presbyterian Church (USA) minister, currently a lecturer in pastoral theology in Dunedin, New Zealand.

Walking the labyrinth - Celtic retreat 2010

Walking the labyrinth - Celtic retreat 2010

Have you ever walked a labyrinth? I’ve done it maybe a dozen times, and several of those times I have had a pressing issue that I wanted to pray about. My pattern in those times is to pray my desires on the way in, then stand restfully at the center for a few moments, enjoying God’s peace. On the way out I pray in a different way, sometimes expressing my willingness for God’s desires about the issues. I might ask God to open me to unexpected answers to my prayers or I might simply thank God for the fact that the issue is now firmly in God’s hands, no longer in my own. On one occasion , which I have been pondering recently, that movement in (focused on my own desires) and the movement out (expressing my willingness for God’s future) prepared me for a major life change.

That movement in/movement out pattern can be helpful in many everyday prayer situations. One way to engage in breath prayer is to breathe out our worries and struggles into God’s presence, one at a time with each breath out. Then with each breath in, to imagine ourselves breathing in God’s peace and love.

Another way involves praying while walking. As a young mom I used to hire a high school girl to come over after school a few days a week so I could get out for a walk. I had a two-mile route. I walked through our neighborhood to a lake, then took the path along the lake toward an aqua theater. At the aqua theater, I would turn around and walk home.

In the first half of the walk, I would think about the things I was worried and preoccupied about. When I reached the lake, I imagined Jesus in the boat on the lake, and I handed him each of those worries one by one as I walked on the path beside the lake.

At the aqua theater I turned around, and my prayers changed. At that point I might simply enjoy the birds and trees and water, thanking God for the beauty of the creation. Or I might pray thankfulness prayers, focusing particularly on the gift of God’s peace that comes when we hand over all our needs. I might pray intercessory prayers for needs in the world. Whatever I prayed on the way back came from the deep sense of rest and confidence that flows out of giving our concerns to God and knowing God is capable of dealing with them.

Any back-and-forth walk can be an opportunity to pray in this way. A short walk down the hall at work to photocopy a document can be an opportunity to hand our concerns over to God on the way there, then rest in God’s peace on the way back. A bike or car trip to run an errand can function the same way with prayers about needs and concerns on the way and prayers focused on thankfulness on the way back. The primordial rhythm of our breath teaches us life in a two-beat rhythm, and we can draw on those two beats in a variety of ways in our everyday prayers. The trick is to make it a pattern or a habit, so we get used to the idea that the first half of the journey is an invitation to hand over our worries to God, and the second half is a time to rest in God’s goodness to us.

 

 

 

 

 

Are We Walking a Maze or a Labyrinth?

Making finger labyrinths

This is the season when many urban and suburban families here in the US get out into the great outdoors at least for a brief time.  They visit pumpkin patches and corn mazes as part of the harvest celebration.  Kids delight in getting lost in the midst of corn stalks and straw bales – at least for a time.  And then they want to get out.  If their parents aren’t close at hand some of them panic looking for the exit.  Of course the aim of a maze is to get lost and have fun finding the one true path.

The aim of a labyrinth on the other hand is to follow the path that is already mapped out for you.  A couple of years ago our church installed a labyrinth and I enjoy the occasions, rare though they may be, when I have taken the time to walk the path.  Each year at our Celtic retreat we set up a labyrinth too and this year we even made finger labyrinths on wooden blocks, using glue and sand.

For me, walking the labyrinth is a very relaxing and calming experience, a good time to meditate on God and the way that God is working in my life.  In fact I often find myself reflecting on the experience for days afterwards wondering about how to align the experience with my daily activities and the struggle to understand God’s love and faithfulness in the midst of ongoing pressures and frustrations.

Building the labyrinth

In the Middle Ages people who could not afford either the resources or the time to go on pilgrimage, walked the labyrinth instead.  I suspect that many of them walked it on numerous occasions.   it is I have discovered a wonderful mini pilgrimage.

The twists and turns of the labyrinth, at one moment walking straight towards the centre and then suddenly turning towards the perimeter, reminded me that there are times well into our Christian journey when we feel we are back to our starting point.  These are the times when we feel far from God in spite of the fact that we have been followers of Christ for many years.  All of us experience them.  Part of what my labyrinth walk has taught me is that at times like this I don’t need to look back, I need to look forward to the next step, trusting that God has laid out the path I am walking.  Hopefully the next turn  will lead me back toward the centre.

Of course if I was building the path, I would make a straight line that moved me straight to the centre without any twists and turns, with no times of feel distant from God.  That I realize is not God’s way.  Standing back from a labyrinth or viewing it from above  one cannot see the whole path but we trust that it is there and that it will not lead us astray.  And so it is with God.  We cannot always see the path that God has laid out for us.  Sometimes it takes unexpected turns that seem to take us away from the centre just when we thought we were drawing close to God.  But it is not really so.  Every step we take is a step closer to the centre of the path God sets out for us and closer to a more intimate knowledge of the God we love and serve and in whom we live and move and have our being.

Tips For Creating a Faith Based Community Garden – part 2

Here is the second part of the article I wrote for Patheos.com  And don’t forget to check out the resource list here.  Please email me or leave a comment if you have suggestions on other resources.

Labyrinth at Northgate community garden

I also think that incorporating sacred spaces within the garden is an essential part of this initial discussion.  Depending on the size of the garden, places for people to sit and meditate, prayer walks, community gathering spaces, even the inclusion of a labyrinth are all possible ways to strengthen peoples’ faith beyond the activities associated with food production.  Early monastic communities created walled gardens that were rich with biblical imagery, often centered around an apple tree, representing both the tree of Life in Genesis and the Cross of Christ.  Northgate community garden in Seattle surrounds a small hill on which a labyrinth has been created as a place for meditation.

Establishing these connections between our faith and the garden are essential.   In fact I am concerned that this faith based community garden movement may not be sustainable unless we learn how to connect our new found passions to our understanding of God and God’s world.

Once the basic garden plan has been moved through the appropriate church organizational process, it is usually fairly easy to recruit additional help, money and in-kind donations.  Every Sunday after the 10:30 am service parishioners at St Mary’s in Cadillac, Michigan, take turns weeding and tending the community garden.  Other churches have recruited their youth groups and retirees as volunteers or asked for donations like soil and building materials from businesses owned by church members.

Those outside the church may be interested in being involved too.  Sonlight Community Christian Reformed Church, also in Lynden went door to door asking neighbors if they would like to participate.  The Pumpkin Patch Community Garden at Millwood Presbyterian Church in Spokane Washington intentionally used Facebook and Twitter to help get the word out and had a Twitter inspired flash mob at there first big work day this year.  Or you might like to contact other environmental organizations that work in the area and may be interested in partnering with your efforts.  Third Christian Reformed Church in Lynden partnered with AROCHA, to develop a show garden that grows new and different varieties, provide teaching to help establish other community gardens, and hand out food to neighbors.

You may also like to approach your local Master Gardener’s association who are usually more than willing to provide expert advice if not labour and skills.  Local high school or community college students may also be interested in volunteering as a way to earn their required Service Learning credits.

Another important discussion for your planning group concerns the use of garden produce.  Many churches designate all or part of their harvest to local food banks and other organizations that feed the marginalized.  For example, Grace Church in Old Saybrook, CT gardens a quarter acre of land and donates its produce to the local Shoreline Soup Kitchens and Pantries helping to feed 2,000 needy families each month.  Last year the garden provided about 17,000 lbs of produce for the season.  Other churches distribute the food amongst church members or invite neighbors to freely harvest from the garden encouraging a sense of community that goes far beyond the church congregation.

Community gardens can also form the basis for other church related activities.  Classes in gardening, cooking and preserving can arise out of garden related activities.  Other classes on health and nutrition, healing the earth and other environmental issues and even spiritual formation can have their origins in such endeavors.  My own venture into conducting seminars on The Spirituality of Gardening grew out of constant prodding from friends who wanted to learn more about not just how to grow vegetables but also about how to connect their experiences to their faith.

Mongomery Victory Gardens in Silver Spring MD offers the following great advice for anyone contemplating starting a faith based community garden:

start with a small group of committed individuals, but work hard to involve the entire congregation in some way; look for ways to make the process educational, and to make connections to your faith tradition; enlist people, especially young people from the community outside the congregation; start small and do realistic planning, especially when it comes to people’s crops in the beginning; keep a garden log and update the congregation throughout the process; expect surprises and have fun.

Faith based community gardens, like any community project are not without their challenges.  People are concerned about safety and liability issues, whether the project is sustainable for the long run, who will do the weeding and harvesting, where the water and electricity will come from.  Even what to do with the sometimes overwhelming abundance that explodes over the summer can be a problem.   All of these are issues that need to be discussed and planned for.

No matter how many challenges there are, nothing can take away from the deep satisfaction of getting one’s hands into the earth, digging, planting and harvesting the bounty of God’s good creation.  Nor can they detract from the joy that engulfs as as we experience the awe inspiring generosity of a God who wants to provide abundantly for all of humankind.  The garden is a place of healing, of wholeness and of deeply spiritual encounters where God restores our bodies and our spirits in a way that is truly miraculous.