Labyrinths enjoy a long history predating Christianity. Western Hellenic mythology gives us the story of Theseus and the Minotaur. This labyrinth was a maze-like construction designed by Daedalus. It was so cleverly constructed that Daedalus himself almost did not make it out alive. The hero Theseus entered the labyrinth to kill the Minotaur, a legendary creature with the head of a bull on the body of a man. The goddess of weaving, Ariadne, gave Theseus an unbreakable thread which he unwound as he went to the center of the labyrinth. After reaching the center and dispatching the Minotaur, Theseus was able to follow the thread back out.
Unlike the labyrinth of legend, most labyrinths are unicursal. This means that there is only one course in and out of the center of the labyrinth. It is not a maze and one cannot become lost on the path. Rather, the path winds from the entrance of the labyrinth through to the middle. The ancient custom is to follow the labyrinth from the entrance to the middle and back out again.
Archeology has discovered forms of labyrinths all over the world: in architectural ruins, pottery, baskets, and jewelry. In fact, some very interesting examples may be found in the archeological remains of the Phoenix area’s own Tohono O’odham ancient ones. In this sense, Trinity Cathedral renews an ancient practice used in this area for thousands of years. The fact that labyrinths appear in cultures divided by geography and years suggests they fulfill something deeply archetypal and important to the human psyche.
Christianity adapted the use of labyrinths to both liturgical and meditative purposes. Writings and art depict people using the cathedral labyrinths of western Europe in penitential ways, as mini-pilgrimages, and liturgies associated with rebirth during Holy Week and Easter. There has been a recent resurgence in the use of labyrinths as a practice of meditation in western Christianity.
There are many ways to use the labyrinth as a tool for meditation. We suggest beginning with an imaged walk. An imaged walk is simply walking the labyrinth while whispering a personal mantra. If you are new to the use of a mantra, begin with a classic Christian mantra of Maranatha. This is a prayer for the Lord’s coming. When you say Maranatha, you are essentially praying Come Lord Jesus. It is good to use words that are not normally used in your native language. Doing so frees your mind from the tendency to associate images and emotions with words in your common vocabulary.
Begin by silencing yourself. You may choose to use one of the benches provided in the cathedral close to sit and calm your mind. When you are prepared to begin, start at the entrance on the south side of the labyrinth. Keep a steady but slow pace as you walk along the winding path to the center. As you walk, whisper Maranatha to yourself in time with the pace of your steps. You may notice that the rest of the world falls away as you concentrate on your steps and your mantra. This is to be embraced.
When you come to the middle of the labyrinth, take time to spend with God. Some people like to stand in each of the petals of the flower in the middle, offering a petition or an intention to the Lord in each one. When you are ready, proceed back out by minding your pace and once again whispering your mantra. When you reach the entrance, now exit and take a moment to notice your emotions and the way your body feels. It is often thought that meditating while walking the Labyrinth calms and renews.
As with all meditations, walking the Labyrinth is a discipline. It must be practiced in order to gain personal renewal from it. Do not worry if your mind wanders as you walk. Recognize the thought that arises and offer it to God, and then return to your mantra.
As you become more practiced in the meditation, you may choose to make a silenced walk where you keep silent for the duration of each pilgrimage in and out. Although you may also attempt a silent walk to begin, using an imaged walk will assist you with keeping pace and with clearing your mind of worldly cares.
If you are interested in learning more, please visit the desk in the Olney Gallery where you will find further literature on labyrinths as well as finger labyrinths that you may use for meditation at work and home.
Please enjoy the Trinity Cathedral Labyrinth. May your pilgrimage be fruitful and know that you are always welcome!