Walking a Labyrinth in a Distanced Manner

When you read the word labyrinth what comes to mind? Do you remember the first time you heard about a labyrinth? Was it with Jim Henson and David Bowie in 1986? Was it when Daedalus built one for King Minos, the son of Zeus? Or was it in your local parish when there was a prayer walk organized on a crisp autumn night? Labyrinths have been found in Christian churches since the fourth century CE ( Kern, 2000), with one of the most famous found in the Basilica of St. Reparatus in Orleansville, Algeria. In 2021 Labyrinths can be found in many churches in the United States. Many worshiping communities have constructed permanent structures with bricks or stones. In contrast, other labyrinths have been painted on canvas or outlined with candles or luminarias, and some communities have provided portable ones that a fingertip can trace. 

Many Ways to “Walk” a Labyrinth

One theory is that early labyrinths were used as a placeholder for a pilgrimage to the holy land when people could not undertake the physical journey. The labyrinths that Christians walk today are not set up to be a maze. There are no wrong turns or dead ends; instead, one path guides pilgrims into conscious reflection, increased mindfulness, and an ultimately closer relationship with God. Praying a labyrinth will invite pilgrims to walk a path from the outside to the center and back, both physically and spiritually.

People have walked and prayed using a labyrinth worldwide in times of peace, war, joy, sorrow, and even disease. Using the labyrinth has taken pilgrims on journeys to places that cannot be accessed physically. In recent times, there are many restrictions to worship. And we are re-learning old ways to be together even when divided for public safety or distance. It is good that there are so many ways to “walk” a labyrinth. Perhaps this practice can bring us into community with Saints who have prayed this way before us, those who are praying this way today, and those yet to come who will pray this way in the future. 

There are many ways to use a labyrinth as a spiritual practice. Sharon Ely Pearson (2006) presents a threefold path of purgation, illumination, and union for pilgrims to engage. The releasing (purgation) is a “letting go” that occurs when there is a turning loose of worldly concerns. Next, there is an idea of receiving illumination at the center. When pilgrims reach the middle in a receptive and prayerful state, they can gain new insight. Lastly, integrating or union is how the labyrinth empowers pilgrims to take ownership of becoming grounded and putting ideas into practice when finished with the walk.

Walking a Labyrinth in a Distanced Manner 

  • Remember, labyrinths connect you with people using this practice worldwide and people who have done this practice for hundreds of years. While you might be alone at this moment, you are never alone in your life – BOTH God and others are always with you.
  • Set an intention for your time. Say a prayer before you start your journey. Meditate on a question, phrase, or even a single word as you walk. Many people say a word with each step they take while traveling. If using a finger labyrinth, people might think the word with each breath they take.
  • Be mindful. Pay attention to the way your feet feel on the ground as you walk. How does your breathing change as you continue to move in the space? What do your eyes see as you turn in the same direction again and again? How does your body feel in the chair as your finger circles each curve? Is your spine straightening or curving the longer you stay here?
  • Stay awake. Continue to pay attention as you travel out of the labyrinth. Remember, your journey is not complete when you reach the center. If you walk the labyrinth as a repeated practice, what was different for you this time? Consider how our habits can show us new truths.
  • Reflect afterward. After walking, it might be time to journal or act on the wisdom you found on your journey.  
  • Partner up. Consider having a walking partner or group. You can walk separately and then connect to discuss your experience. This can also help with accountability. 

Click here for a PDF with these suggestions for praying a labyrinth.

Practice, Repeat

Like most spiritual practices, the real power comes from paying attention and repeated practice. So return to your walk frequently and stay awake to what God is showing you along the path.

Click here for a PDF with these suggestions for praying a labyrinth.

*Feature photo by Fabrício Severo on Unsplash.

Leave a Reply