Labyrinth or Maze?

Today we are beginning a labyrinth retreat at Launde Abbey. I am very excited about this as I think a labyrinth is a very useful tool for meditative prayer and contemplation; for review of our lives and our walk with God; for healing of memories and for discernment, and for peace and wholeness. It is also something that one can come to as a seeker or searcher.

But I have found that many people do not know what a labyrinth is. Too many people seem to think it is another name for a maze. Whatever the meaning in the past (and some authorities say it has changed) today the labyrinth is different from a maze.

If you have ever been to a maze you will know that it has high walls or hedges which you cannot see through or over. It is full of corridors that promise a passage to the centre but then, after having given you a very confusing journey, end in dead ends from which it is very often impossible to find your way back the way you came. You can get thoroughly lost in a maze and even a little frightened. It is not surprising that the fourth Harry Potter book, “The Goblet of Fire,” ends in a terrifying maze where the hedges take on a life of their own as they close in on the characters.

In a labyrinth today, certainly as used in Christian spiritual exercises, if the path is followed from the entrance, you will eventually get to the centre. In fact, you can see the centre at all times. It is just that the route to the centre winds around, so that at times you are closer to the centre and then further along the path you may see (and feel) that you are as far away almost as when you started. Are you getting anywhere?

The labyrinth is a good metaphor for the spiritual life. At times we feel very close to God; at other times we feel very far away. Sometimes we feel as if we are turning towards him; sometimes we turn our backs to him; sometimes we are in “consolation” – feeling open and in tune with the world and ourselves; sometimes we feel in “desolation” – distant from God, others and negative about ourselves. But the truth is we are always journeying towards God as long as we stay on the path.

Sometimes, however, our lives feel more like a maze. We cannot see where we are going. We don’t know what we are going towards. Things we hoped would open up for us come to a dead end. We feel as if we have no control, no power; the path we are on is not friendly.

Jesus in his teaching invited all of us to trust. The path he invites us to follow him on is a friendly path. His way (and in the first days of the Church, those who were Christians were said to follow “the Way”) is one that will take us eventually to the God who loves us. Each seeming dead end will open up and invite us into a new place; even dying will do this for us. His road is open and empowering; not enclosing and frightening. Truly, the metaphor for our walk through life is one of labyrinth, rather than maze.


One thought on “Labyrinth or Maze?

  1. Rev Kevin Lindsay-Smith

    The Labyrinth Retreat at Launde Abbey entitled ‘The Gift of the Labyrinth’ was indeed an opportunity for me to study the history and current day use of labyrinths. The course led by Di Williams also gave participants the opportunity to walk the newly created grass labyrinth in the grounds as well as the indoor canvas ‘white labyrinth’. Following walking we had the opportunity to silently reflect on the experience, create a Soul Mark picture which were collated into a small booklet as a record of our walks, often reflecting a visual image of our reflections or visions. Thank you for this opportunity. I do hope the success of the retreat will mean it is repeated to give others a similar experience. The group took the opportunity to visit the nearby turf labyrinth at Wing. The staff, accommodation, food, church prayers and communions added to the whole retreat experience. Thank you to all.

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