August 18, 1999

Ancient labyrinth latest
tool in spiritual centering

___By Annie Lewis
___Virginia Religious Herald
___RICHMOND, Va. (ABP)--In a harried age when the busiest person is deemed the most successful, two Baptist churches in Virginia are using an ancient tool that requires their members to slow down and ponder their spiritual journey.
___River Road Baptist Church and First Baptist Church, both in Richmond, are using the labyrinth to help their people get closer to God.
BAPTISTS have joined a growing trend that employs a "labyrinth walk" as a tool for spiritual centering.
___In 1995, River Road rented a portable labyrinth to use as a meditative tool, at the suggestion of a member active in Chrysalis, a non-profit educational organization in Richmond that constructed the first labyrinth on the East Coast.
___Last January, a 40-foot-square canvas arrived at River Road, and six volunteers began drawing and painting the church's own labyrinth. They finished it the weekend of Palm Sunday. On Good Friday, the labyrinth was open for six hours, and 25 to 30 people walked it.
___First Baptist rents a labyrinth from Chrysalis during certain religious holidays. Last Easter weekend, around 100 people, mostly single adults, experienced the labyrinth, according to Ralph Starling, minister to singles.
___The emergence of the labyrinth predates Christianity by more than a millennium. The most famous labyrinth in ancient times was in Crete, the lair of the mythological Minotaur.
___Labyrinths have been discovered in almost
Stages in
walking the labyrinth

___RICHMOND, Va. (ABP)-- There are three stages in a labyrinth walk.
___The first is purgation, as the walker releases the worries of everyday life by winding on a set path toward the center.
___Once the pilgrim reaches the center, the illumination stage begins. The center of the labyrinth is a place for meditation and prayer.
___Bob Dibble, minister of education at River Road Baptist Church in Richmond, Va., said people often bring their own journals or Bible to use. Walkers may stay in the center for as long as they like.
___The third stage, union, occurs during the walk back out from the center. During this stage, pilgrims reflect on what they've experienced and prepare to enter the outside world.
___Dibble clarified that a labyrinth is different than a maze. "There are no dead ends, no tricks. There is only one way in and out."
___Churches may vary slightly as to how they set up the labyrinth walk.
___First Baptist Church in Richmond plays soft music or Gregorian chants as people walk by candlelight. Some walkers choose to sit on the edge of the canvas mat to prepare their hearts and minds for the experience. Often people bring along Scripture to read once they reach the center.
every time period and culture since.
___The Hopi Indians of North America based their medicine wheel on the classical seven-path labyrinth. In ancient England, Germany and Scandinavia, labyrinths made in the turf are thought to have been linked to local deities and fertility rituals. In Jewish mystical tradition, the Kabbala, the tree of life, is an elongated labyrinth based on the number 11.
___Though no one is entirely sure, it is thought this ancient symbol was introduced to Christianity during the Crusades. At the time, Christians took holy vows to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but the Crusades made Palestine too dangerous for such a journey. As a substitute, several cathedrals had labyrinths inlaid in the floor so that Christians could use them as symbolic replacements for a pilgrimage. In lieu of traveling to Jerusalem, people would simply walk the labyrinth in a local cathedral.
___The most famous of these labyrinths is in Chartres Cathedral, a Gothic church that looms above the French countryside 60 miles outside of Paris. Construction of Chartres began in 1194 and was completed in 29 years.
___The labyrinth at Chartres is an 11-circuit design. It has served as a model for other labyrinths, including those of Chrysalis and River Road Church.
___Lauren Artress, canon of Grace Cathedral Episcopal Church in San Francisco, is responsible for reintroducing the labyrinth as a spiritual tool to modern-day Christian churches in America. At a retreat, Artress rediscovered the tool, which had "dropped out of human awareness more than 350 years ago." Since Artress brought the labyrinth to her cathedral in late 1991, more than a million people have walked it.
___Artress also is the creator of Veriditas, the worldwide labyrinth project (www.gracecathedral.org), and has written a book, "Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool." Artress says her belief that humans have "lost our sense of connection to ourselves and to the vast mystery of creation" led her to develop the project and to write the book.
___Bob Dibble, minister of education at River Road Church, described the labyrinth as "a large experiential metaphor for the spiritual journey."
___"There is something mystical about it," Dibble said. He also noted "a growing interest in matters pertaining to the devotional life" in the last 10 years. In a hectic world, he said, "matters spiritual get crowded out."
___"People hunger for tools to help them with this," Dibble said.
___Starling agreed. "In the busy world we live in, times of slowing down, centering and silence are needed," he said.
___For members of both churches, the labyrinth is a tool that helps fill a spiritual void. Though the labyrinth is "a little new for most Baptist folks," Starling said, many people at First Baptist have taken to it.
___Dibble has received similar positive reactions.
___ "The labyrinth may be out of the normal comfort zone for Baptists, but those who have participated in our church sing its praises as a tool for developing their spirituality," he said.


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