Sara F. Neumann, The Etownian: Although Elizabethtown [Pennsylvania] College is a Brethren-affiliated college, the religious identity of students and faculty has become more diverse in recent years; the religions on campus vary from Christian faiths to Jewish to Muslim and everything in between. In light of this diversity, there have been more attempts by student organizations to reach out and invite people of various faiths through different activities.
The Labyrinth, hosted by the Chaplain’s Office, is one of these new interfaith activities. Most students are unaware of what a labyrinth is and what the experience at Etown offers them. “Labyrinths are a kind of walking meditation and they are like mazes, but there is only one path in and one path out. It’s a guided path that allows walkers to get closer to God or just to themselves,” explained Assistant Chaplain Amy Shorner-Johnson.
The Labyrinth began last semester and is held on Sunday nights, but this semester it was switched to Thursday afternoons.”We wanted it to be more interfaith,” Shorner-Johnson said. “Having it during the week makes it more inviting toward everyone.”
Labyrinths date back to Roman times, when Romans carved the circular paths onto rocks. They were then adopted by various faiths, including Christian sects, who often placed them on church floors. Depending on the faith, labyrinths could be walked on the knees for penance or walked as a substitute for a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. One of the most famous labyrinths is in the Chartres Cathedral in Paris, France; the labyrinth is a circular maze, which leads into a patterned center and then leads the walker back out.
Etown’s own labyrinth is modeled after the Chartres labyrinth. It is a large canvas piece that, when rolled out, reveals a winding path defined in purple. “The Chaplain’s husband picked the color, actually, and the company liked it so much they picked it up for their other labyrinths,” Senior Marshal Fettro said, the student leader in charge of the Labyrinth.
While Chartres labyrinth is a Catholic labyrinth, the assistant chaplain is eager to emphasize that Etown’s is multifaith and open to all. While labyrinths can be religious for some, walking one does not have to be a path to a personal God. It can just be a way to relax.
“It provides a sacred space or just a getaway for students. You can practice mindfulness while walking it. Sometimes if I try to meditate or relax while just sitting, I worry about sleeping. I tend to be able to focus when I’m doing something,” Shorner-Johnson shared.
Senior Laura Miller explained that she goes to the Labyrinth as an escape. “I’ve been coming since last semester. It’s just a break from everyday life,” she said.
Senior Amanda McGeary, a first time attendee, came to earn Called to Lead points. “It was calming and quiet. It was just nice,” she said.
Another first time Labyrinth walker was impressed with the fulfillment of the slogan that drew him in. “I saw the poster in the BSC that said, ‘Walk your worries away,’ and I thought, ‘What’s the worst that could happen?’ Well, it worked—I don’t have any worries anymore,” he explained.
The Labyrinth experience offers a few quiet hours for students to focus simply on themselves or on getting close to the God in which they personally believe. Music is played during the experience, but it is non-denominational; the CDs vary from Native American chants to simple nature sounds. The music changes from week to week. The walk can take as long or as short as the walker desires, depending on what they are contemplating.
“Just setting some time, whether to meditate, pray or think, can turn the profane into the sacred,” Fettro said, referencing Emile Durkheim’s dichotomy of the sacred and profane.
The Labyrinth is held every Thursday from 4 to 6 p.m. in the M&M Mars room in Leffler Chapel. It is open to all who wish to attend.