Spiritual Seekers Walk Ancient Path
There’s more than one way to pray, and people locally and all around the world find focus and peace in putting one foot in front of the other with intention. That’s the function of a labyrinth, the time-honored contemplative journey from the outside of a complicated passage to the center and back again.
The winding circular path has its origins, not in Christianity but in classical times, said Rev. Liz Hulme Adam of Tabor Presbyterian Church. Tabor included a small labyrinth in its plans for Harmony Park, a play area adjacent to the church in downtown Crozet. “Sometimes, those of us who are spiritual are too much in our heads,” Adam said. “Walking like this gives us a sensory experience.”
Centuries of association with religion followed the labyrinth’s pagan origins, mostly because of the mysterious and famous labyrinth built into the floor of Chartres Cathedral, a Roman Catholic world heritage site about 50 miles from Paris. The reasons behind the construction of that labyrinth have been obscured by the years, although some church historians believe it to be associated with the passion of Christ and a companion to the stations of the cross, another walking meditation. Thousands of pilgrims come each year to the church to walk on the ancient stones.
Whatever its original purpose, the Chartres labyrinth has been duplicated over the years in many churches, said Debbie Scott, the director of spirituality and missions at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. Repeated symbols, even the numbers of shapes, have significance, she said. For instance, at Chartres, the six-lobed rosette would have been recognized by Sumerians, Jews and Christians as sacred, having to do with the composition of the world. St. Paul’s has a portable labyrinth that fills a good portion of the parish hall when unrolled.
Nancy Briggs, a St. Paul’s parishioner, has made a study of labyrinths. “It’s a walking meditation,” she said. She said that different styles have incorporated other symbols and meanings, and some have been used as calendars. In some places, the labyrinth refers back to the battle between Theseus and the Minotaur from Greek mythology, the famous story of the maze that restrained the beast that was part man, part bull.
The maze that kept the Minotaur confined was one of extreme intricacy and confusion, to prevent escape, and causing those entering from the other side to get lost over and over again if they chose one wrong turn. The labyrinth at Chartres and others based on it feature a gentle path winding to the center, with no tricks or false turns, as befits the more religious meaning. “You can’t get lost if you just follow the line,” Briggs said.
Scott explained the ritual for walking the labyrinth. A low altar is nearby, with a candle, a bowl and some rocks, all objects with mystical significance. Those walking at St. Paul’s light a candle and remove their shoes. Walkers might try to work out a spiritual question for themselves, or they might focus on someone who needs kind thoughts, or they might try to screen out all thoughts, said Briggs.
Although the labyrinth is ordinarily thought of as a quiet, inward journey, Scott said she also sees it as a way to build community. Not long ago, she walked it with some homeless women hosted by the church through PACEM. It was a powerful message, she said: “We have different degrees of fortune and misfortune but, really, we’re all on the same path.”
Mission Group Returns, Reflects
It’s just a long morning’s flight from Costa Rica to Baltimore, but the young construction workers from Crozet First Baptist Church felt like they’d gone to another world and come back. The group—20 teenagers and seven adults—built a house for a family at a Nicaraguan refugee camp on the outskirts of San Jose.
Natalie Pugh, 12, said she was most impressed by the children. “They didn’t have anything, but they were happy with the least little thing,” she said. When she wasn’t carrying pre-made panels up a rough path to the home under construction, she was playing with the children who would some day live there. Sometimes they communicated with gestures, sometimes with an iPhone translation app, but mostly they were just kids enjoying the simple clapping games that didn’t need much explanation, she said. “They were so sweet, so welcoming,” she said. “I miss them already.”
Tracey Pugh, Natalie’s mother and the youth director at the church, said that the village—mostly squatters fleeing horrible circumstances––had the same problems as any impoverished community, but the guests felt safe and very much appreciated. Adhering to the guidelines, they put the house together quickly. Houses there generally have dirt floors and part of the sides are open to the air, she said. Torrential rains from last season’s hurricanes had damaged and destroyed some homes, so the church returned for a second year. Generally, they alternate between domestic and foreign mission trips.
Camille Phillips, one of the adults accompanying the mission trip, made the same observations as Natalie: “Everyone we met had been through so much. It touched me how content they were with the little they had.”
Natalie found the food to be fine, although different from what she was used to: mostly rice and beans with alternating sides of meat, fish or eggs; lots of fruit and fruit juice. She loved the plantains. There were some unfamiliar sweets, she said.
The accommodations were far from luxurious, the work exhausting and the language foreign, but both Natalie Pugh and Phillips would like to return.
“We try to do the major part of our outreach in our own community,” Tracey Pugh said. “But to leave everything that’s comfortable for you and see another way—there’s something to be said for that.”
Local Artist to Exhibit at Tabor
On Sunday Sept. 30, Tabor Presbyterian Church will open an exhibit of acrylic paintings by John Borden Evans. Evans draws inspiration from the world surrounding his house in North Garden. His peaceful scenes capture the play of light, shadow and the seasons on the natural landscape. Borden alternates between building up and scraping down layers of pigment for textured surfaces that capture the physicality of his subjects. His subjects range from farm animals like cows and chickens to sweeping skies over rolling hills to trees and manmade features dotting grassy expanses. The opening reception will be from 2 to 4 p.m.