A labyrinth is a large, geometrically (generally circular) pathway that can be used as a tool in spiritual contemplation. Labyrinths have been used for over 4000 years and appear in most religious traditions. Christian use of labyrinths to deepen reflection on scripture and one’s spiritual relationship with God began as early as the fourth century after Christ.
A labyrinth is not a maze. It is a pathway that meanders back and forth within a circular design and ultimately leads to the circle’s center. The path is traveled in silence and because there are no decisions for the journeyer to make, their mind is freed to concentrate on a scripture or spiritual issue of focus. Psychologists suggest that the nature of the labyrinth’s structure frees both the right and left hemispheres of the brain so that the wisdom God imparts through the journey can be received by an open and willing heart.
Use of labyrinths is controversial in Christian circles. Some believe that because labyrinths are also used in other spiritual traditions, that they are inherently non-Christian. Others suggest that any effort to free the brain from conscious thought is only opening the journeyer up to forces of Satan.
Christians who utilize labyrinths as tools of meditation and prayer begin by praying for God’s provision and protection from the evil one, thus God controls the contemplation process. They also ask God to help them hear His voice, through scripture or discernment as they walk the path. Often those who walk the labyrinth focus on a short prayer or present God with a question as they walk.
It is important that the labyrinth not be walked with specific expectations. The process of walking the labyrinth should not be seen as a spiritual fortune telling exercise, but simply as a process of deepening one’s connection to God.
How to Walk a Labyrinth
- Prepare to walk. Take some time to transition from your everyday life to the labyrinth experience. Remove your watch. Slow your breathing. Still your mind. Open yourself to God. Think about, or write in a journal, your intentions for the experience: questions, affirmations, feelings. Leave your personal belongings in a secure place. If inside, take off your shoes, a traditional sign of respect for a sacred space, and required for walking some painted labyrinths.
- Begin your journey. Pause at the entrance to the labyrinth to take a cleansing breath and focus your attention on the Lord. You may ask a question, say a prayer or recite a scripture. Some people choose to bow or make another ritual gesture to signal the beginning of their walk.
- Walk the inward path. Put one foot in front of the other and walk at a measured pace that is comfortable for you. On the way in, focus on letting go of things you want to leave behind and releasing things that stand in the way of your connection with the Lord. Pause when you need to. Don’t focus on the center as a goal; be present in each step of the inward path.
- Spend time in the center. Take as long as you wish. You may stand, sit, kneel or lie down. This part of the journey is about being in the Lord’s presence and present to His power. You may pray, journal or simply be open to the stillness. Respect the boundaries of others with whom you share this sacred space.
- Take the return path. When you are ready to leave the center, begin walking back the way you came. On this part of the journey, focus on what you will bring out from the center and back into your life. As before, pause when you need to. Resist the temptation to sprint to the finish line: the return journey is as important as every other part of the labyrinth.
- Reflect on the journey. When you leave the labyrinth, you may pause, make another gesture or say a prayer. Before leaving the area, take some time to reflect on insights you’ve gained, or make notes in your journal to explore further later.