THE LABYRINTH AT MANRESA
A Walking Meditation
What is a labyrinth?
A labyrinth is an intricately designed pattern composed of a single circuitous path that leads to the center and back out again. Unlike a maze, there are no choices, no dead ends, no chance of becoming lost.
Is the labyrinth Christian?
The labyrinth is a natural idea that dates from 2000 years before Christ. It was used by different cultures and religious traditions. Once the Edict of Milan in 313 AD ended religious persecution, the Church, as it has done with many other pre-Christian customs, adopted and baptized the labyrinth for its own use, but keeping its labyrinths almost exclusively on holy ground within churches, and transforming what was once a symbol of fear into a sign of hope.
The first Christian floor labyrinth we know of was in a basilica in Algeria, built in 324 AD, its center inscribed Sancta Eclesia (Holy Church). The first wall labyrinth, meant to be traced with the finger to quiet the minds of those who entered, is in the 9th century Cathedral of San Martino, Italy. In the 12th to the 14th centuries especially, labyrinths became fixtures in churches like the cathedrals of Chartres, Reims, and Amiens, and the abbey church of St. Bertin in Saint-Omer, France. One use of it seems to have been as a substitute Holy Land pilgrimage for those who were unable to travel.
For the last several centuries the labyrinth as a prayer form had fallen pretty much out of use. The modern Christian revival of the labyrinth tradition began in 1991 at Grace Episcopal Cathedral in San Francisco, and since then it has grown in popularity at Christian institutions and retreat houses throughout the world.
The Labyrinth at Manresa
The Labyrinth at Manresa was installed in the summer of 2015, so that retreatants could experience another way of praying. It is based on the eleven-circuit design at Chartres Cathedral, but with a diameter of 62 feet it is almost 50% wider. The path from start to center is 1200 feet long. Much symbolism is connected with this design, but there is no need to know any of it in order to experience the labyrinth.
Why Walk the Labyrinth?
- – To walk silently in and out at a prayerful pace is a centering prayer that will quiet the mind and heart.
- – As a metaphor for entering within or the journey of life or our pilgrim path to God, it may teach us we can walk with faith in a God who guides our steps on the one true way amid all the apparent confusion of life.
- – The actual experience of modern people walking this circuitous path has produced a wide variety of positive results. They say they have found release from stress, solace amid sorrow, calming of fears, resolution of problems, inner healing, deeper self-knowledge, clarity of mind, empowering of greater creativity, and the list goes on. You will bring your own material to your walk each time you come and you may find that you will at different times experience different blessings.
How to Pray the Labyrinth?
Walk at your own pace; if others are also walking you may quietly pass them or be passed in either direction. There is no right or wrong way to pray the labyrinth. Because of its simplicity you can approach its path on your own terms. But here are some ways you might find fruitful:
- – Simply recall that you are always in God’s presence, and walk in and out in quiet and silence, noticing what God may bring to your mind
- – Allow yourself to have a quiet conversation with God as you walk along with him.
- – Ask God a question upon entering and keep your mind open as you walk. Pray for yourself on the way in, experience God’s love in the center, and pray for others on the way out.
- – Recite the Our Father as you walk. Or recite some other prayer or prayer word or familiar scripture, repeating it as you go along.
- – As you move toward the center, focus on letting go of distractions or worries that keep you from God. In the center, reflect on your relationship with God and be aware of God’s presence. As you return give thanks and praise for all that God has done.
- – Finally, if a way of praying works for you, use it, if it does not work for you, then try something else.
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