On the labyrinth

February 01, 2002 11:00 pm
TRIP TO THE CENTER: Young people tried out First Presbyterian's labyrinth one evening in January. The church is opening the canvas pattern to the public from 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the Presbyterian Friendship Center. (The Observer/LAURA MACKIE-HANCOCK).
TRIP TO THE CENTER: Young people tried out First Presbyterian's labyrinth one evening in January. The church is opening the canvas pattern to the public from 5 to 8 p.m. Sunday at the Presbyterian Friendship Center. (The Observer/LAURA MACKIE-HANCOCK).

It was just after dawn on a cold January day when Cherrie Ward arrived at the Presbyterian Friendship Center near downtown La Grande to walk the labyrinth.

The world was still pretty quiet after a night of snowfall, Ward recalled. I was anxious, excited and somewhat concerned about whether or not I would get it, or have the meaningful experience I desired.

Ward was about to embark on a walk on the huge canvas surface that would prompt her to reflect on her life journey. She would pause for a few moments in the center before continuing down the path out of the labyrinth.

Pastor Norm Shrumm said First Presbyterian Church has opened the Presbyterian Friendship Center and its labyrinth to the public on the first and third Sundays of the month from 5 to 8 p.m.

Someone will be there Sunday to welcome people to the labyrinth and pass out literature that contains guidelines and suggestions for the walk, which could take 45 minutes or longer.

Shrumm, who first became aware of a labyrinth at a workshop a few years ago, said there is no right or wrong way to walk the path.

The person beginning the walk should clear their mind and become aware of their breath, he said. They should allow themselves to find the pace their body wants to go.

They can pass people or let others step around them, whichever is easiest, he said. The path includes the journey to the center, where a person can sit and rest, and the path out.

Those walking the labyrinth take off their shoes and remain quiet and meditative during the experience.

Typically, Shrumm said, there may be one or two other people on the path.

At first glance I was surprised at the labyrinth, Ward said. I had envisioned something three-dimensional with walls. I had pictured something a rat runs through with dead-ends to frustrate and a treat at the finish line with the clock ticking.

What I saw was a huge canvas drawing, flat on the floor, taking up half of the huge room.

Ward said after a quick introduction that explained there were no tricks on the paths or dead-ends, she began her walk. Music was playing quietly in the background. A friend walked behind her.

At first I was full of forcing myself to have an experience, Ward said. My thoughts were busy. ... Gotta have a profound experience. Wanta have a profound experience.

I consciously slowed my pace, stared at the path, let the music and dim candlelight calm and slow me. When the path twisted toward the center and then away again, I did not lament. I had been told that if I remained on the path, I would arrive at the center. This made me think about life and all the ways I force my own direction, and if I could simply stay on the path, I would arrive somewhere.


Ward said at times the path would bring her close to her friend.

At first, it interrupted my inner thoughts, and brought me to an awareness I didnt want, Ward said. She was in my space.

I recall being aware at one point that while we were on different legs of the journey, we were walking for a few seconds parallel to one another close enough to touch.

For those few seconds, I had someone walking with me on my journey and it felt safe and good. When our paths turned us in opposite directions, there would be a moment of loss and a feeling of aloneness.

Ward said she finally sensed she was close to the center, but for some reason I felt like I didnt want to reach it, like that signaled the end of something.

When I arrived at the center, I sat, not really sure what to do there. I stretched, I sat, I stretched some more. I prayed. I reflected. I sat silently and just was. I didnt feel like doing much and didnt want to go back or go forward.

She opened her eyes and looked at the path she had just traveled.

It reflected the path of my life to date ... many twists and turns. Many places of being alone, being sad, being together, being close to the center, close to a goal, close to God and then taking a turn away and another turn towards the center.

Eventually immobility became uncomfortable, and Ward started down the path out of the labyrinth.

Pastor Shrumm said the labyrinth is an archetype found in many religious traditions and in various forms around the world.

Some of the earliest forms of labyrinths are found in Greece, dating back to 2000 to 2500 B.C.

First Presbyterian Churchs labyrinth is a replica of the Chartres Labyrinth, laid in the floor of the Chartres Cathedral in France around 1220.

Interest in the labyrinth has been sparked in the United States over the past five years after Dr. Lauren Artress of San Franciscos Grace (Episcopal) Cathedral visited the Chartres Cathedral.

Shrumm said the labyrinth is available to anyone who would like to experience it.

People will have various responses to it, but most agree that the labyrinth helps them reflect on their life.

You come out of it with the thought that your life is really a journey, and that you can trust lifes journey, Shrumm said.

People of faith see the journey as being held together by God, he said.

They have an expectation that they will receive from God what they need during their journey.

Some people will sort through their values in the labyrinth. Some may decide to let go of something that is no longer important to them, the minister said.

Others may come away with the resolve that there is something they want to pay attention to in their lives.

That could be a relationship, a spiritual discipline such as spending time in prayer or in Bible study or a desire to move beyond a conflict that is occurring in ones personal life or at the work place.

The minister said the labyrinth will remain open indefinitely on the first and third Sundays.

While people will come to different conclusions on the labyrinth, most will be grateful for the experience.

One woman wrote a note on a napkin following her walk.

Thank you. Thank you, she said. I am so blessed.

Story by Dave Stave