The community of St. John, Bowmanville wanted to create a labyrinth on the lawn outside our church as a way of using our space to invite our parishioners and everyone in our neighbourhood to experience this opportunity for prayer and meditation.
Labyrinths are designed as paths to walk along as you pray or meditate. Unlike a maze, which requires you to make decisions, a labyrinth provides a path that leads you from the entrance to the centre and then, when you are ready, the same path leads you from the centre to the place you began. During the 13th century, churches provided labyrinths as a form of pilgrimage for people in their own local area, in the midst of their daily life, for those who could not undertake long pilgrimages to distant places.
We got ideas from a variety of sources that sparked our enthusiasm.
In August, when I was on a silent retreat at the Ignatius Jesuit Retreat Center in Guelph, thanks to the diocese’s mini-sabbatical program for clergy, I noticed a labyrinth there that was made from grass of two different heights. The path through the labyrinth was trimmed to a shorter height than the surrounding grass. I loved the idea of a labyrinth that could be made of all natural materials, and that could be done without spending a lot of money or doing a lot of planning. What popped into my head was, “We could do that!”
We had experimented with a temporary outdoor labyrinth in the summer of 2019 by spray painting a labyrinth on the grass. Cathie McCabe, our rector’s warden, had looked online for patterns of labyrinths and found one we liked at Karen’s Small Labyrinths You Can Make at Home, which she downloaded. It is the centre of the 13th-century labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral in France. We chose a centre point in our lawn and poked a stick into the ground there. With the help of our people’s warden, Williette Gardner, and parishioner Patty Kingsley, we then used a measuring tape and a rope to measure concentric circles and marked the borders of the path with spray paint. That year, the labyrinth lasted only until the spray paint wore off, but we had seen that the basic concept was doable.
In 2022, we used the same pattern and method of spray painting. We then used a whipper-snipper to trim the path of the labyrinth shorter, while leaving grass on the borders of the path taller. Cathie, Williette and I made the labyrinth in one day in late September. We continued to use the whipper-snipper to keep the path trimmed through the fall. When winter came and the grass wasn’t getting taller, the labyrinth continued to last with no maintenance.
Shortly after we’d made our labyrinth, a friend and I took a trip to Ottawa and attended a weekday eucharist at Christ Church Cathedral. We noticed it had a labyrinth with a plaque that gave suggestions for how to walk the labyrinth. They appealed to me, so I included them in the email I sent to the congregation telling them about our new labyrinth.
Since the “we could do that” idea was such a big part of our labyrinth becoming a reality, I wanted to share it with other parishes in the diocese in hopes that they might think “we could do that” too. I asked Charlynne Jourard, a parishioner, if she would make a video we could show at Synod as a missional moment, and she said yes. I asked everyone on our parish email list if they would share their experiences with the labyrinth in the video, and here are some of the things they said:
- As the labyrinth is on our walk home from school, our kindergarten children have had the opportunity to walk the path of prayer and begin to listen for the voice of God. I, too, with an eye on the children, speak to him with thanksgiving in my heart. I pray the labyrinth provides a place of peace as we speak to the Father. (Vivien Ricard)
- Rushing from one errand to the next, the labyrinth beckoned to me from the church parking lot. Everything slowed down as I set out on the path. Such a welcome slowdown I didn’t recognize I needed. I breathed in deeply and felt refreshed almost immediately. The wind and leaves and birds surrounded me with soothing sounds. I thanked God for the peace I felt and for the beauty around me. I hope I can avail myself of this special place all year round. Thank you, Lucia, for this place of peace where one can get in touch with God, Mother Nature and oneself. (Sheila Blainey)
- I read with interest Rev. Lucia’s email about building a labyrinth in the yard beside the church. I decided that because I was going to a meeting this would be a good time for me to take the opportunity to walk the labyrinth and I followed the instructions that Rev. Lucia included, which was to say a quiet prayer, and then walk and listen. So I did that, and then I went to my meeting. And it was successful because I felt I had God with me, and Jesus within my head. (Eleanor May)
- What struck me was the need to concentrate on the “journey”; immediately in front of me the path was clearly defined, and yet I couldn’t look too far ahead as the path seemed to disappear. There were more twists and turns than I expected but the centre was always visible and constant. It seems to me this is very much like our spiritual journey: you can’t see too far ahead, it can change unexpectedly, but God is always there at the centre of everything. (Carol Langley)
I was delighted to see their positive experiences, because walking a labyrinth has been a positive experience at so many points in my own life. Unlike walking, which is focused on getting to somewhere else, when I walk a labyrinth I get a sense that every step along the way is where I belong at that moment, and I can be aware of God’s presence in my life at every step. It consistently brings to mind Jesus’ teaching: “So do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will bring worries of its own. Today’s trouble is enough for today.” It helps me to realize that in the present moment God has given me everything I need and more. Walking the labyrinth, I notice new blessings all along the way. It has been similar to the process of creating this labyrinth, in which we’ve noticed blessings from God at every step along the way, and we are hopeful that as we follow the path ahead we will continue to notice more blessings in the future!