The Labyrinth at St Faith’s Anglican Church Burwood/Glen Iris
We have a beautiful cobbled labyrinth at the rear of the Church. You are welcome to come at any time to walk it by yourself.
The labyrinth is an ancient pattern found in many cultures around the world. Labyrinth designs date back 4000 years. The earliest known labyrinth in a church is in Algeria, dated 324 AD. All labyrinths have one path, which winds in a circuitous way to the centre.
Labyrinths were very popular during medieval times. Twenty-two of the eighty Gothic cathedrals of Europe housed labyrinths. The labyrinth design used by St Faith’s is a replica of the 11-circuit labyrinth of Chartres Cathedral in France. This pattern, once central to cathedral culture, was inlaid into the stone floor in 1201. For the last 250 years, however, it has been ignored until Canon Dr Lauren Artress of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco led the effort to reintroduce the labyrinth into the world as a spiritual tool. It was while studying with Canon Artress, that the previous vicar of St Faith’s first learned their potential as a spiritual tool.
Labyrinths are currently being used worldwide as a way to quiet the mind, find balance, and encourage meditation, insight and celebration. They are open to all people as a non-denominational, cross-cultural tool. Overseas labyrinths are found in medical centres, parks, churches, schools, prisons, memorial parks and retreat centres as well as in people’s backyards. Many communities are coming together to construct labyrinths in their community parks. Spirituality centres are creating them for those on retreat. Hospitals are building permanent labyrinths for patients and staff. Cancer support groups use them for strength and finding one’s way through difficult times. Patients at hypertension clinics walk them to reduce stress.
The labyrinth is not a maze. There are no tricks to it and no dead ends. It has a single circuitous path that winds into the centre. The person walking it uses the same path to return and the entrance then becomes the exit. The path is in full view, which allows a person to be quiet and focus internally. Generally there are three stages to the walk: releasing on the way in, receiving in the centre and returning; that is, taking back out into the world that which you have received. There is no right way or wrong way to walk a labyrinth. Use the labyrinth in any way that meets your need.
As far as we know, St Faith’s permanent courtyard labyrinth is a ‘first’ for a Melbourne church. The labyrinth invites you to walk with God!
Walking the Labyrinth
There is no one ‘right’ way to walk the labyrinth. However, at first it is best to begin at the entrance, which is on the side nearest the church building and follow the pathway. You will be taken through all four quadrants of the design. Most likely you will lose your sense of where you are in the design but not feel ‘lost’ since the labyrinth is not a maze. There are no tricks and no dead ends. You may well enter into a pleasurable state of timelessness. Some people find this particularly relaxing and refreshing.
Choose the pace of your walk: slow, moderate or fast. If other people are also walking, it’s okay to walk around others or let them pass you when you meet someone, coming or going, on the path. You may want to make eye contact or not acknowledge them at all. Consideration of self and others is the cornerstone of labyrinth etiquette. You may walk off the labyrinth at any time, walk around the perimeter, stay at the centre as long as you wish, sit on the path or at the centre, or even experience the labyrinth by watching others walk it.
Walking the labyrinth is a metaphor or image of life and of our relationship with God. It can be a way of praying ‘with our feet’. The psalms often refer to walking in God’s way, or pray to be taught God’s paths. (See Psalm 25.4 but look elsewhere also). No one matures in his or her faith without effort. Unless we are disciplined, unless we become disciples, and find practical, consistent ways to pay attention to God and to ourselves, we will remain spiritual babes. The labyrinth can become a valuable tool for spiritual growth. Crossing the threshold of the labyrinth is a way of saying to God: I want to walk with you, and I invite you to walk with me.
People have often needed to move in some way –leave familiar places or change direction– in order to respond to God. Abraham and Sarah left their country and kindred to go to the land that God chose for them. (Gen 12.1-4) The apostle Paul beautifully describes God as the one ‘in whom we live and move and have our being.’ (Acts 17.28) The labyrinth will often show you where you are in life, or lead you to new insights, new questions or new confidence in yourself and in God.
Sometimes people bring a question to the labyrinth and allow any answers to emerge during the walking. Sometimes the questions arise from the walking. At other times, they bring a verse of scripture and simply repeat it over and over in a meditative way. Using repetition in this way is a long standing Christian practice. A word, ‘Abba,’ ‘Jesus’, or a phrase ‘Come Holy Spirit’ can be spoken in our heart, over and over. Reading the scriptures, especially the psalms, is another way to walk. You may prefer to walk letting go all thoughts and remaining open to whatever occurs. After you have walked, take a few minutes to recall your experience — give thanks in any circumstance, and resolve to walk again!
Children and the Labyrinth
Children are very welcome to walk the labyrinth at St Faith’s. Jesus took children seriously as little people with spiritual needs and potential, and so does St Faith’s parish. In developing the courtyard to include the labyrinth, we at St Faith’s hoped very much that local children would come to enjoy the experience and want to come back time and time again.
Children love to imitate adults, and they learn by ‘doing’. We encourage you to walk the labyrinth with your children. They may want to skip or run, count their steps, sing or talk as they go — allow them to do these things and enjoy the experience. We have only one request — well, a ‘rule’, to be honest!
–Always consider others, especially elderly adults, and use the labyrinth in ways that make sharing it safe and enjoyable for everyone.
Labyrinths represent our journey through life. Just as we all learn to walk physically, by being held and guided by adults, so we must learn that we must choose a path in life if we are to be happy and fulfilled. Adults shape children’s lives as they teach them right and wrong, sound values and good habits, and how to make good choices. By bringing children to walk the labyrinth parents can use it to talk with their children about these things in a natural way. It is thought that the children’s game of hopscotch is based on the same notion of progressing through life by making choices.
The courtyard labyrinth is ‘open’ every day and we encourage you to make use of it. We only ask that you not make an undue amount of noise when the church building is in use for worship — Sundays 8am-12noon and Wednesday mornings 10-11am, and sometimes during the week for funerals or weddings. At other times, please enjoy this unique experience; we will delight to hear children’s voices echoing in the parish centre courtyard.
St Faith’s organises special events for children and parents from time to time, as well as our regular worship adapted for children to take part. If you would like further information contact The Vicar.
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