Labyrinths, Lent & Prayer

If I were to say “prayer,” what’s the first image that comes to mind?  A pair of folded hands?  Kneeling by a bedside?  That picture of the white-haired, white-bearded guy sitting at the table with soup and bread and bible with his head resting against his folded hands?  I’d hazard a guess that whatever the image that comes to mind, for most of us it is a static image without movement.  But prayer can be movement.

What if I were to ask what prayer sounds like?  The Lord’s Prayer spoken by a congregation?  A family saying, “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest…” before a meal?  Driving to work with an inner-monologue grocery-list of petitions bouncing around in your head?  I’d hazard a guess that whatever the sound that comes to mind, for most of us it is the sound of a human voice (or inner-monologue).  But prayer can be listening.

CLF LabyrinthOne of the ideas that sprouted out of my sabbatical travels and grew into a project which was completed last fall (with the help of the Rap Group and a dozen or so talented painters) was to create a labyrinth on the floor of the ‘DownUnder’ – located in the basement below the sanctuary.  When Pastor Tom and I were talking about the project before it was completed, one of our main concerns was that it would actually ‘get used’ and not just be a decoration.

With this in mind, throughout the season of Lent (that’s the rest of the month of March) on Wednesday afternoons and evenings the labyrinth will be “set-up” for use.  I say, “set-up” even though it’s available for use just about anytime that there isn’t something else going on, but this is a time when it is intentionally set-up with quiet music playing and a request that during this time the area be reserved for quiet prayer.

Don’t worry if you think that using a labyrinth might “stretch” the way that you’re used to praying.  If you’re used to prayer as a “static” thing, then it’s true, it might challenge you a little bit to pray and walk at the same time (although it’s about as difficult as walking and chewing gum at the same time).  If you’re used to prayer as something that’s primarily the human voice talking (whether aloud or as an inner-monologue prayer), then it might stretch how you think about prayer being a time to “listen” for God’s voice as you walk the labyrinth.  But isn’t Lent a perfect time to stretch or challenge how we pray?

Still, I know that many people have questions about labyrinths and/or what they’re supposed to do when they walk a labyrinth.  Here are a few frequently asked questions and answers…

  • Is a labyrinth the same as a maze?  No.  A maze has dead-ends, but a labyrinth has only one path, which you follow all the way in to the center and then all the way out.
  • Aren’t labyrinths just “new age” or pagan?  No.  Labyrinths are extremely old.  They were a standard part of European churches in the Middle Ages.  One of the most famous labyrinths (which is the model for the labyrinth in the ‘DownUnder’ at CLF) is at the Chartres Cathedral in France.
  • What am I supposed to ‘do’ when I walk the labyrinth?  The simple answer is “walk” and “pray.”  The rest is up to you.  Some walk faster, some slower.  Some pray the traditional grocery-list, inner-monologue prayer, some try to quiet their thoughts by praying a simple, repetitive phrase like, “God is love” or focusing on a single image like the cross.  The only other thing you might try to do is to ‘pay attention.’  Listen.  Look.  Relax.  Breathe.  And don’t forget to watch out for other people walking the labyrinth.

If you didn’t already know, you might also be interested to know that Custer Lutheran Fellowship has had an outdoor labyrinth by the outdoor worship area (located to the northwest behind the parsonage) for several years, which was built by the Health Ministry Team.  This labyrinth is open year-round too!

If you have any other questions, I’m happy to visit with you and please know that Lent isn’t the only time that you can use a labyrinth for prayer. You might find that a labyrinth stretches and challenges the way you’re used to praying, but you also might find it feels like a very natural form of prayer for you.  It might not be for everyone, but I encourage you to give it a try this season of Lent as we meditate on the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ who walks with us in all our prayers.