The Prayer Labyrinth
Dating back to 1201, the cathedral of Chartres, France was the first to build a prayer labyrinth into its floor, creating a prayerful movement (literally) that has been recreated thousands of times since around the world within contemplative communities. The idea is that participants walk a prescribed path—into the labyrinth and back out—while in an attitude of prayer.
The labyrinth is not a maze that ends in dead ends; there is only one path in the labyrinth. It leads inward to the center and then back out along the same path. The design to the left is the classic 11-circuit layout, but there are many variations.
The labyrinth offers a metaphor for the journey of life and a symbol for our spiritual pilgrimage. Life is not a straight line; it’s full of twists and turns. Sometimes it feels like we are walking “backwards,” but all of it eventually takes us toward the Center!
The practice of walking the labyrinth is, like all good spiritual practices, very simple. There are three movements: walking in, stopping in the center, and walking back out. The ancient words used to describe those three movements are a little austere—purgation, illumination, and union—but they are informative. I like the words refresh, reflect, and refocus…but the concepts are really the same.
- Refresh. The walk in is about letting go, about emptying our hands of all the stuff we tend to fill them with that are distractions from and counterfeits of God himself.
- Reflect. At the center, the movement shifts to receiving—whatever God wants to impart.
- Refocus. As you move back along the circuit towards the outside, the movement is about integrating and incarnating the truth and life you have received.
That’s it. You don’t need to force anything; God will guide your walk, and it will be as personal as your spiritual journey always is. There is no “right way” to walk the labyrinth; just embrace the delight of moving your body at your own pace and encountering God in the process. It may be playful, it may be profound. It may be emotional, it may be peaceful. It will probably be different every time.
Go with God.