This past summer wildfires surrounded Holden Village, a Lutheran retreat center in the Cascade Mountains of Washington State. Like many other folks who at one time or another had been to Holden, I waited for news updates on Facebook. My hope and prayer: that this little village would somehow be spared the ravages of the flames. After a mandatory evacuation, only a few staff members remained to assist the firefighters. Together they cleared brush, burned a ring around the village, and kept sprinklers going 24/7.
After several tense days, Chuck, co-director of the village, sent word that it appeared Holden would be spared the worst. An image he shared captured my attention. It seems that the animals of the forest had gathered in the clearing where the labyrinth is located. In the midst of the charred ground the stones formed an orderly path, a reminder of peaceful reflection and prayers lifted up during less dangerous times. The labyrinth was a refuge from the flames, a place of hope, a container for new life to come.
Any labyrinth is a place like that for me. I have walked labyrinths indoors and out, in quiet settings and on busy city plazas. A labyrinth is a single circuitous pathway designed to guide a person to its center and then back out again. It is different from a maze, which has many paths that are intended to confuse. A labyrinth is peaceful.
Walking the labyrinth provides an opportunity for introspection, contemplation and prayer. This practice leads to an increased awareness of the whole self: body, mind and spirit. It promotes a sense of harmony, clarity, and focus. It also reminds us of the seasonal cycles in the natural world… that of life, death and rebirth.
Thoughts and feelings, hopes and dreams often bubble up as I walk. I can safely explore these issues in the refuge of the labyrinth. I see what happens on the labyrinth as a metaphor for my life. When things around me are filled with anxiety and uncertainty this circular route provides a way that holds me close and keeps me steady. Even when it seems all around me has gone up in flames there remains a singular path of death and rebirth. Many have walked before me, alongside me and ahead of me. They are companions and a host of pilgrims seeking new life and hope.
Pastor Rachel Larson is the pastor of Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church in Laramie, Wyoming. She highly recommends the spiritual practice of walking the labyrinth.