Overview of the Prayer Labyrinth
Commonly called an eleven-circuit labyrinth, this singular path lies in eleven concentric circles with thirty-four turns going into the twelfth circle or center called the rosette. There are no dead ends or false passages but a winding path that leads unerringly to the center. After you reach the center you turn around and walk the same winding path out again. The religious community as well as the medical community are hailing the benefits of prayer. Walking this ancient design while praying gives double benefit. It calms the mind, relaxes the body, and reduces stress. For Christians who walk it, this tool provides a space that guides the mind and heart in prayer.
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Prayer in Motion
The path is a metaphor for our journey in Christ. There is nothing “magical” about the labyrinth. There are no tricks the walker must figure out to walk it. There is only one path. The walker sees the design laid out before her or him throughout her or his walk. Yet, there is the mystery of prayer; that we somehow communicate with our creator and our creator communicates with us! The Holy Spirit’s work within us enables us to pray. The scripture says, “Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.” (Romans 8: 26 – 27)
There are three stages of the walk:
• Entering the Path/Shedding Cares
Walking toward the center, we release cares and concerns and empty and quiet ourselves before God. As we surrender to the winding path, we find wholeness and healing.
• The Center/ Illumination
We pray and meditate within the circle, the Rose of Sharon; the Christ, finding clarity for our lives. We remain as long as we wish, receiving whatever is there for us.
As we walk back out to the edge, on the same path, we are empowered by the Holy Spirit to be more authentic in ourselves and in our service to the world.
The History of the Labyrinth
Christian churches used the labyrinth for prayer and meditation as early as 350. The oldest example in Algeria, in North Africa is inscribed with “Sancta Eclesia” (holy church) at the center, confirming its sacred use. The labyrinth design we are using first appeared in the Middles Ages. This design, built in the early thirteenth century, is most famous in the inlaid floor of the Chartres Cathedral, France. This archetypal design has been found all over the world: in classical Rome and Greece, Western Europe, the Near East, Africa, New Zealand, North America, and Southeast Asia.
People have always had a fascination with circular constructions and varying forms of the labyrinth have been used in many ancient cultures and civilizations throughout human history. Therefore it is not surprising that the labyrinth predates Christian history. Christianizing a pagan custom was a standard practice among Christians, as with the Christmas tree and yule log, and indeed the dates of Christmas and Easter themselves.* (For further information see the footnote.) It is a process that continues today in societies around the world. Prayer is a universal experience. It is a great strength of Christianity that it transforms culture from within. Any sincere researcher would be hard pressed to find any Christian observance, ritual, symbol, or practice that did not predate Christianity.
In the famous thirteenth-century French cathedral, the prayer labyrinth was used by pilgrims to complete their “holy obligation” to travel to the Holy Land sometime during their lives. These pilgrims walked on their knees while reciting prayers.
What the gospel says is true: “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world night be saved through him.” (John 3:17) The Church at Rome was admonished to, “not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds…” (Romans 12:2) The labyrinth, formerly a non-Christian element, has been transformation in Christ. As 2 Corinthians 5:17 states that in Christ, “everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!”
The labyrinth is not sacred in itself, but only something used as a tool for prayer. Other tools we might use in our modern time include prayer journals we write in, the computer screen where we place prayer requests, a cross, candles or picture of Jesus in our sanctuaries, a prayer alter in our home.
To set aside twenty to thirty minutes for prayer is a new experience for many. The labyrinth helps the pray-er take time apart to be in the presence of God in a conscious way.
Our Prayer Labyrinth is Specifically Christian
The prayer labyrinth is set in the context of the Christ story.
• A Talk: Before walking the labyrinth participants hear a talk about the Christian meaning of this prayer tool. In the tradition of Moses, walkers are invited to take off their shoes to walk on holy ground. (Exodus 3:5)
• Baptism Remembrance: A basin of water sits at the entrance of the path symbolizing baptism as new life in Christ and entrance into the church. This is an opportunity for baptized believers to renew their baptismal covenants. “Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6: 3 – 4)
• The Cross: In the center of the labyrinth sits the cross, our hope of salvation . Jesus often went to a place apart to pray and meditate on the Father’s will for his life. “Then Jesus told his disciples, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.’” (Matthew 16: 24)
• Holy Communion: At the head of the labyrinth the Lord’s Supper –Holy Communion is readied to be received by the baptized. “Then he took a cup, and after giving thanks he said, ’Take this and divide it among yourselves for I tell you that from now on I will not drink of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes. Then he took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body which is given for you. Do this in remembrance of me.’” (Luke 22: 17 – 19)
• Anointing: Anointing oil for prayer and healing and the forgiveness of sins has also been used. “Are any among you suffering? They should pray. Are any cheerful? They should sing songs of praise . Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord.” (James 5: 13 – 14)
Some Possibilities for Your Prayer Labyrinth Walk
Some people may become anxious at the prospect of their first prayer labyrinth walk. Be assured that there are no wrong ways to walk the labyrinth, no ways to get lost, no ways to make a mistake. Your way is the right way to walk the labyrinth. The following ideas have been suggested by other walkers. Remember please, they are only possibilities… feel free to walk the prayer labyrinth your way.
• Prior to Your Walk - You may find it helpful to sit and relax. You may wish to say a beginning prayer or read some scripture in preparation. Spend a few minutes in transition from the outside world to the real world, where all things are possible through God’s love.
• Walk in Prayer - Many people walk the labyrinth in thoughtful prayer, giving thanks and praise and asking God’s help for themselves and others. Others empty themselves, shedding the confusion and busyness of their minds. The labyrinth allows us to better focus on our relationship to God.
• Walk in Reflection - While walking the prayer labyrinth, you are provided with an excellent space to meditate on a specific care, verse of scripture, a question or a joy.
• Walk in Silent Reflection - As you walk you may wish to let go of all thoughts, feelings and emotions, and enter a sacred space of silence and solitude. When distracting thoughts occur you might use a sacred word or special image to dispel them and return to the inner silence. Be at home in the silence.
• A Body Prayer - Some consider the actual walk on the path to be a prayer in itself. Dance the labyrinth if you feel called. Be spontaneous. Carry a flower, a shell or some symbol of significance to you. Feel free. The act of prayer can become playful and joyous. Many use the center to kneel and seek God’s guidance before beginning the outward path.
• Walk in Community - You do not walk alone. The pilgrimage is a community experience as you meet people coming in, going out, facing you, and joining you in the middle. Participants usually debrief their experiences with others following the walk.
The following guidelines will help you and others receive the most benefit from your labyrinth prayer walk.
• Please observe the peaceful quiet in the room and on the labyrinth.
• Please remove your shoes to protect and preserve the path (canvas).
• Allow the walker ahead of you to make two or three turns before entering.
• Walk at your own pace. You are free to pass others simply by stepping to another path and returning… but be mindful of your own path. Since there is only one path, you are likely to meet others walking in the opposite direction … simply step to the right and return to where you were before.
• Should you tire, please stop and rest or walk off the labyrinth to a chair. If you need assistance for any reason, please ask the facilitator.
Enjoy! May you be healed and consoled, supported and comforted as you remember the ancient path where others have walked before you.
The Florida Conference of The United Methodist Church
450 Martin L King Jr Ave
Lakeland, FL 33815
(863) 688-5563 or toll free (800) 282-8011