Wednesday, December 8, 2010

twenty-seventh visit: Dec 8th 2010 Prayer Labyrinth

9am - 9pm (I went just after 7pm) wednesday
East Liberty Presbyterian Church (ELPC)
116 S. Highland Ave,
Pittsburgh PA 15206
east liberty

Same address as visit numbers 13, 22 and 26, but different congregation, entirely different part of the church, different type of worship and important that I include.

A student at Pitt told me about the existence of this labyrinth. Thank you, Rob. Before this experience, the only thing I knew about the labyrinth was that it appears in Joseph Campbell's The Power of Myth. a chapter header I think? the video? ...back cover? Somewhere. Either it's not thoroughly explained, or I am developing a bad memory, because I did not know a thing about its use until I prepared for this visit.

Anyway, this is what I have come to understand:
This labyrinth is not a maze. Let's talk technicalities a minute. A maze includes dead ends and intends to make the user lost. A labyrinth of this sort, on the other hand, consist of a single continuous path not intended to confuse or frustrate users in any way. The purpose is exactly the opposite: to allow for a means of quiet meditation during ambulation, meant to bring the user closer to the Spirit. Most histories I read link labyrinths to medieval Christians, but the ELPC claims the labyrinth is "an ancient, sacred symbol found in many religious traditions throughout the world." A few sources link the oldest forms to the Pagans.

ELPC has conducted a Labyrinth Ministry since 1996 and owns four floor labyrinths, painted on canvas. The labyrinth at this visit is an eleven-circuit Chartres pattern, 36 feet in diameter. It is based on the labyrinth that exists in Chartres Cathedral in France, which is made of pavement stone, and was built during the 13th century (year 1220 at best guess).

One descends a flight of stairs to enter ELPC's social hall, where the labyrinth is located. Mid-flight at a landing where the stairs turn is a guest book. I am the 3rd to walk today. The first walked in meditation of John Lennon (anniversary of death today) and Elizabeth Edwards (passed away today). The second in prayer for the homeless. I sign into walk for hope of tolerance in today's society. One worshiper (the second, I assume) is just completing, tying his shoelaces. We talk a minute before he leaves.

The room is dark except for a few soft lamps and a stand of flickering votive candles close to the start of the labyrinth's path. Evening seems like the perfect time to walk, for me. And I'm grateful for the solitude.

The walk: (from
"The labyrinth has only one path, and that path leads from the entrance to the center, and then back out again on the same path.
We usually speak of the labyrinth walk in three phases:
    1.    Walking from the entrance to the center: release, surrender, letting go, letting be.
    2.    In the center: illumination, insight, receiving.
    3.    Walking from the center to the exit: integration, union, understanding.
Before you start walking, you may want to spend a few moments in silent reflection, as preparation for your walk. ...Stay as long as you want in the center, or at any point on the labyrinth."
"...the winding path into the center and back out again is a metaphor for the journeys of life and faith." (ELPC).

When I finish I notice that the fourth labyrinth walker of the day has arrived. It is common for many walkers to use the labyrinth at the same time, but he has been sitting quietly, writing in his journal. Eventually I realize that he is waiting to start until I leave... which is why I have an excuse to return on a Monday or Wednesday to do my on-site drawing for this visit.

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