Christian meditation

“All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” — St. Julian of Norwich

This was revealed to St. Julian by Jesus in a vision, and recorded by her in her Revelations of Divine Love: “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.” These words have been of great comfort to me in times of stress and anxiety.

Meditation practice can reduce, but doesn’t erase, anxiety. In fact meditating makes us more sensitive to what’s going on within us, both emotionally and physically. When we meditate we feel more. Meditating can also lead to us being more present with those feelings, so rather than than avoid or bury them we experience them full-on. In these ways, meditation can cause our anxiety to be stronger!

If this sounds like bad news, it should be balanced by the fact that meditation also gives us the ability to stand back from our anxiety and to befriend it, so that it becomes less threatening and is less likely to lead to worry.

(What’s the difference between anxiety and worry? I see anxiety as being an initial unpleasant feeling in the body, produced by parts of the brain that are not accessible to conscious awareness. Worry, on the other hand, is where the mind responds to this initial unpleasant feeling with a succession of “what if” thoughts, that again and again turn toward what we’re anxious about, and in doing so intensify our anxiety.)

Sometimes I can be with my anxiety mindfully. I can accept it. I can recognize that I don’t have to turn it into worry. And to prevent my mind getting caught up in worrying thoughts, I can keep myself grounded in my experience of the body. I can especially be aware of sensations low down in the body, like the movements of the belly or sensations of contact with the ground, my seat, or whatever else is physically supporting me. I can relax the physical tension that accompanies anxiety and worry by really letting go on the out-breath. I can offer my anxiety (or the anxious part of my mind) reassurance and kindness. I can say to it, “May you be well; may you be happy; may you be at peace.” The point here is not to make the anxiety go away, but to be a compassionate presence for it while it’s in existence.

But there are times when I turn to those words of St. Julian (or of Jesus, depending on your perspective).

One thing they remind me of is that all things pass. I’ve had intense worries in the past. I remember one time being in utter despair because of financial problems (although really those fears were more to do with concern that I wouldn’t get support from others). I even had some suicidal thoughts, although I knew I had no intention of following through on them. But where are those particular financial problems now? The debt I was struggling with at that time has just gone. (I may have new debts, but they are new, and not a continuation of the same problem I had before.) Where is the isolation that I feared before? That’s gone too. Where is the anxiety I experienced in the past? It’s no more than a memory, and not even a very vivid one. I can recall feeling despair, but in recollecting it I feel compassion for my old self rather than falling into despondent once again. The past is gone. Memories are just thoughts. They’re like dreams or mirages.

So even though there are things going on in my life right now that prompt anxiety to arise — health concerns, housing concerns, financial concerns — I know that from the perspective of my future self they too are going to have a dream-like or mirage-like quality. And so I can remind myself, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

Julian had been concerned with the question of sin: why did God allow it, since if he hadn’t then all would have been well from the beginning. The reason is to do with sin, pain, and faith. Sin, she tells us, is another kind of mirage: “I saw not sin: for I believe it hath no manner of substance nor no part of being.” She did believe that the experience of pain was real, however, even if it was impermanent. “Nor could sin be known but by the pain it is cause of. And thus pain, it is something, as to my sight, for a time.”

The value of pain, in Julian’s view, was that it could cause faith to arise. It causes us to reach out to God. Had we not had sin, and therefore not had pain, then we would, in some sense, have been god-like. And so God allowed sin.

Buddhism doesn’t use the word “sin,” but it does say that our pain is caused by spiritual ignorance. And one key manifestation of this ignorance is that we see things that “hath no manner of substance” as being real and substantial. And as in Julian’s view, it is pain (dukkha) that impels us to seek happiness and peace — that drives us toward awakening.

Julian’s view of “sin” was quite remarkable, and it would be misleading not to point out her belief that because God allowed sin to exist, he therefore shows no blame to any who shall be saved. We don’t, after all, choose to have spiritual ignorance, or to be born with sin.

To Julian, “all shall be well” because we’ll find God in heaven. To me, “all shall be well” not just because pain will pass, but because we’ll awaken to the nature of reality, and will see that pain itself (such as the pain of anxiety) “hath no manner of substance.”

Anxiety isn’t just dream-like or mirage-like when we look back on it from the future. It has those illusory qualities right now, whether we see that or not. Right now, when we look closely at our anxiety, we’ll see that it’s not really there. It’s just patterns of sensation in space. When we can see our experience in that way, then “All shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well.”

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Christian Meditation sidesteps ego for cosmos

Matt Gardner, Prince Albert Daily Herald: The idea of Christian Meditation might seem firmly rooted in traditional, even archaic, notions of spirituality and healing. But looks can be deceiving.

Facilitating an introductory session on the topic Tuesday evening at the John M. Cuelenaere Public Library, retired teacher/librarian Sheila Soulier used the technological advances of modern science to illustrate the benefits of meditation.

“They’ve put (people) in MRIs and discovered they can watch what’s happening in your brain while you’re meditating,” Soulier said. “So while you’re meditating, the part of your brain that … controls this whole ego thing relaxes and the part of …

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Law professor to speak about Buddhist meditation and Christian spirituality

University of St. Thomas law professor Susan Stabile will present the lecture “Adapting Buddhist Meditation Practices to Christian Spirituality” at 8 p.m. Monday, Nov. 12, in Quad 264 at Saint John’s University, Collegeville, Minnesota.

The lecture is sponsored by the Jay Phillips Center for Interfaith Learning and is free and open to the public.

Drawing from her book “Growing in Love and Wisdom: Tibetan Buddhist Sources for Christian Meditation,” published this month by Oxford University Press, Stabile will explore common values that underlie Christianity and Buddhism and how interreligious engagement can offer mutual enrichment for people of both traditions, giving special attention to how Buddhist meditation practices can enrich Christian spirituality.

After the program, Stabile’s new book will be available for purchase and signing.

Stabile holds the Robert and Marion Short Distinguished Chair in Law at the University of St. Thomas School of Law, where she also serves as a fellow of the Holloran Center for Ethical Leadership and offers retreats and other programs of spiritual formation for students, faculty, staff and alumni.

Raised as a Catholic, Stabile devoted 20 years of her life to practicing Buddhism and was ordained as a Tibetan Buddhist nun before returning to Catholicism in 2001. She is a spiritual director, trained in the Ignatian tradition, and one of the leading scholars in the United States on the intersection of Catholic social thought and the law.

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Children find meditation a blissful experience

Matt Bowen: Silence dominates here.

It’s noon in room two at St Paul’s Catholic School and noise is everywhere else – the four walls are ablaze with colour, art and slogans; outside, the Ngaruawahia sun is laced with the din of schoolyard kids in play.

Inside though, not a sound – the children are meditating.

The class of 14 six-year-olds is sitting in a close circle on the carpet with teacher Judy Craven the centrepiece on a chair.

Her eyes are closed, too.

The kids sit cross-legged – hands rest either on knees with thumb and forefinger touching or in laps with fingers interlocked …

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Prayer versus meditation? They’re more alike than we realize

Black woman with hands held in gesture of prayer or meditation

Doug Todd (Vancouver Sun): You could call it a religious war of words, with the West Coast serving as one of its most intense battlegrounds.

The bid to win hearts and minds pits Buddhist meditation against Christian prayer, with meditation, especially so-called “mindfulness,” seeming to be gaining ground.

It’s been the focus of more than 60 recent scholarly studies. It’s being embraced by hundreds of psychotherapists, who increasingly offer Buddhist mindfulness to clients dealing with depression and anxiety. It’s been on the cover of Time magazine.

Even though polls show there are 10 times more Christians in the Pacific Northwest than Buddhists, the forms of meditation associated with those on the opposite side of the Pacific Ocean are rising to the fore in North America. Buddhist meditators, who tend to think of themselves as “spiritual but not religious,” claim what they do is not “religious.” That’s part of the appeal of mindfulness. Such medita-tors complain that Christian (as well as Jewish and Muslim) prayer over-emphasizes pleading with, confessing to or praising a God.

But meditation, Western Buddhists maintain, is simply a “practice.” It’s “secular,” with no traditional God, even while it may also be “spiritual.”

It turns out, however, that the gap between Buddhist meditation and Christian prayer might not be so huge. Indeed, some forms seem almost identical.

Still, the many well-educated, well-off Westerners who have been drawn to Buddhism, including famous Vancouver spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle, have scored some important points when they criticize Christian prayer for being too busy, too noisy and too focused on soliciting otherworldly aid.

Indeed, Rev. Ellen Clark-King, the archdeacon of Christ Church (Anglican) Cathedral in downtown Vancouver, is among many who acknowledge Western Buddhists may have been doing Christians an indirect favour.

She does, however, go out of her way to cite the dangers inherent in claiming one form of spiritual practice is superior. There are many paths to the holy, she points out.

In her new book, The Path to Our Door: Approaches to Christian Spirituality (Continuum), she suggests the popularity of Buddhist meditation has prodded many Christians to re-discover some of the tradition’s less well-known meditative and contemplative methods.

“When considering silence as prayer many people’s first thought is of the Eastern, especially the Buddhist, tradition rather than the Christian,” writes Clark-King.

“Buddhism is seen as the natural home of contemplation while Christian prayer is believed by many to focus almost exclusively on intercession, confession and praise – all three very wordy ways of praying. However, this is to ignore a crucial – and central – component of the Christian spiritual path.”

Why has it taken so long for many Christians to seize on to their tradition’s contemplative practices? Clark-King speculates it is hard for anyone, whether Christian or Buddhist, to face the “emptiness” of solitude, which many equate with loneliness. It takes away our distractions and leaves us with only ourselves and, as she says, God.

SIMILARITIES BETWEEN MEDITATION AND PRAYER

It can be revealing to discover the similarities of Buddhist mindfulness and Christian prayer. The noted Buddhist magazine, The Shambhala Sun, is just one of thousands of sources on mindfulness.

In a how-to article, Sakyong Mipham Rinpoche tells those who want to learn mindfulness to first get into a comfortable position and then note when thoughts arise.

Just monitor your thoughts and feelings without getting stuck on them, teaches Sakyong Mipham. “Say to yourself: ‘That may be a really important issue in my life, but right now is not the time to think about it. Now I’m practising meditation.’”

By labelling one’s “wild” thoughts and feelings, Sakyong Mipham says, mindfulness practitioners begin to recognize the mind’s discursiveness. “We notice that we have been lost in thought, we mentally label it . without judgment.” The ultimate goal, Sakyong Mipham says, is to keep noticing one’s breath, to reach tranquillity.

Even though Clark-King is not arguing that Buddhist mindfulness and Christian prayer are exactly the same, it is fascinating to note how similar her language is to that of Sakyong Mipham when she describes at least two forms of Christian contemplation.

The first form is set out in The Cloud of Unknowing, a classic book writ-ten anonymously in the 14th century, probably by an English monk.

The Cloud of Unknowing calls for a kind of contemplation that requires radical “openness” to a non-controlling God, Clark-King writes. “All that the pray-er does is keep silence as far as is possible, surrendering every thought as soon as it occurs without paying any attention to it whatsoever.”

The prayer style outlined in her book has been developed by 20th-century Cistercian monk Thomas Keating into a popular movement called “centring prayer,” which is closely akin to mindfulness.

The first step of centring prayer involves opening yourself “to whatever it is that you are experiencing,” says Clark-King. The second step is “to welcome the feeling whatever it may be, consciously saying to oneself: ‘Welcome fear, anger, unhappiness.’” The third phase is to let go of the situation and experience, “to stop trying to control it and leave it for God to take care of.”

There are now hundreds of thou-sands of Christians practicing centring prayer and related contemplative techniques across North America, Europe and beyond. The Canadian Christian Meditation Community is a leader in the field. Still, Christian meditation is not yet mainstream in Protestantism or Catholicism.

Clark-King calls contemplation a “passive” form of Christian prayer. She could say the same of mindfulness as well. Contemplation arises out of a stream of Christian practice that is known as “apophatic,” in which no names or images are used for God. God is not asked to do anything in particular.

The Path to Your Door outlines several other “passive” forms of prayer, which focus on self-emptying.

Like many Buddhists, Meister Eck-hart, a noted 13th-century Domini-can monk, taught “detachment” from desires and things. That’s in part why Eckhart Tolle, author of The Power of Now, adapted his name from Meister Eckhart.

All names for God separate people from the divine reality, said Meister Eckhart. The controversial Germanic monk was not afraid to be curt, telling anyone who would listen: “Be silent, and quit flapping your gums about God.”

Many Christian meditators, in addition, are drawn to the teachings of Thomas Merton, a 20th-century Anglo-American monk who engaged in dialogue with Zen Buddhists. Merton saw Zen-like forms of contemplation as the route to authenticity, where we rid ourselves of preconceptions and open up to God, whom many Christians call “the ground of being.”

Fortunately, there are more than a few Western Buddhists who have also figured out that the gap between their practices and those of some Christians is not as big as many assume.

Kate Braid, a Vancouver poet and scholar who practises mindfulness meditation, likes the way that Buddhist author Phillip Moffitt equates Christian “prayer” with Buddhist “intention,” and Buddhist “mindfulness” with Christian “observance.”

Victor Chan, who has brought the Dalai Lama to Vancouver on several occasions, also reminds people that “mindfulness” comes in many every-day forms. It is not mysterious or esoteric.

“You do not have to sit in the lotus position and chant ‘Om’ all the time to practise mindfulness,” Chan says. People in effect practise mindfulness, another word for “paying attention,” whenever they find ways to still their minds and concentrate.

That not only happens through “passive” forms of Christian contemplation, Chan says. People are also being “mindful,” he says, when they are learning how to play tennis, practising the piano, drawing, working on martial arts or memorizing poetry.

In the same vein, Clark-King emphasizes that contemplative prayer, or “observance,” is just one way by which Christians and other spiritual people can connect with the holy.

In addition to her book’s chapter on “passive” practices, titled “Silence,” The Path to Your Door contains many chapters outlining the spiritual benefits to be mined from “kataphatic,” or “active,” disciplines.

Kataphatic spirituality emphasizes words, actions and deeds. It includes artistic creativity, communing with nature, reflecting on sacred poetry, dance and serving the poor, ill or struggling.

THE DOWNSIDE OF CLAIMING SUPERIORITY

Clark-King takes a gentle shot at well-known Christian contemplative and author Cynthia Bourgeault, formerly of B.C., whom Clark-King says acts as if centring prayer is “the pinnacle of all spiritual experience.”

It’s counterproductive, Clark-King says. “This is not helpful. No spiritual practice, however helpful or advanced, is an end in itself; the end is always a closer relationship with God and a greater desire to serve our neighbour.”

I believe the same could be said for claims that Buddhist mindfulness is the finest of all spiritual practices. Or, conversely, that certain forms of Western prayer always trump the ways of the East.

Even though we should never ignore the real distinctions between various religions and spiritual practices, it’s humbling to recognize they often have more in common than we realize.

Original article no longer available

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A Buddhist’s perspective on biblical ways to love

Book of Corinthians

I just read a list of biblical suggestions for ways to show love and I was inspired to write this article including a Buddhist’s perspective of ways to carry out the suggestions on the list.

Ten ways to show people you love them:

  1. Listen without interrupting. (Proverbs 18) – When someone is speaking, the most loving thing we can do is listen. And, if we are really listening, we are not thinking of how to respond or how to get our point across or asking questions or saying anything. We are simply listening to hear and understand what the person is saying. So, the next time you are listening to someone, wait until the person is finished and then respond.
  2. Speak without accusing. (James 1:19) – We all have times with our partners, family members and friends when we disagree, feel disappointed, feel hurt or get angry. When someone accuses us of doing something, we can respond honestly, without blaming or accusing them, by gently speaking from our own experience including: how we felt, what we heard and how we responded. Whenever we accuse or blame someone, they feel defensive and communication is blocked.
  3. Give without sparing. (Proverbs 21:26) – A friend of mine suggested “Always follow through on an impulse of generosity”. I love this idea and put it into practice as often as possible. Yesterday I was selling tote bags and jewelry at a Crafts Fair. A young woman, with two young children, was at a table next to mine. She came to see my jewelry and found a necklace she liked. She told me she would love the necklace but she works at a Child Care Center and cannot wear jewelry to work. She went back to her table where she was selling things her students made so they could take the proceeds and purchase holiday gifts for children who otherwise wouldn’t have them. I put the necklace she liked in a box and gave it to her and told her I would like her to have it. We were both very happy. At the end of the Crafts Fair, she came back to my table with a box, filled with goodies to make a gingerbread house and offered it to me. I accepted her gift and agreed with her when she said “After all, it’s all about creating community.”
  4. Pray without ceasing. (Colossians 1:9) At times in our lives when we feel overwhelmed, uninspired, exhausted or hopeless, the best we can do is to meditate or pray.
  5. Answer without arguing. (Proverbs 17:1) Recently I received an email from a friend (Cindy) who told me she heard from a friend (Janet) who was upset because they had not gotten together for a long time. Janet has a relationship that is on again, off again and Cindy hears from her when the relationship is in the “off again” mode. Janet expects Cindy to be available when Janet wants to get together. Cindy loves Janet but feels Janet takes advantage of their friendship. Cindy wrote to Janet and expressed her feelings. Janet got defensive and argued her case. Cindy refused to enter into an argument and although they didn’t come to an agreement, Cindy left the door open for further communication. When two people argue, it is unlikely they will find a resolution.
  6. Share without pretending. (Ephesians 4:15) Real sharing comes from the heart, without pretense of giving something because it is expected or given with strings attached.
  7. Enjoy without complaint. (Philippians 2:14) Real enjoyment comes when we are wholeheartedly in the present moment. When we have a tendency to find fault with or complain about things, we stop ourselves from enjoying life.
  8. Trust without wavering. (Corinthians 13:7) Many people grow up in situations where they learn not to trust people. This lack of trust can become a habit, a way of protecting ourselves, but it also interferes with closeness with others. When we are aware that we lack trust, it is important to make a resolution to learn to trust again, not blindly, but with wisdom and compassion for ourselves and others.
  9. Forgive without punishing. (Colossians 3:13) People will disappoint us and we will forgive them and when we do, the forgiveness should come without conditions or punishment.
  10. Promise without forgetting. (Proverbs 13:12) It is so important to follow through with our promises so that we are trustworthy and dependable.
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Labyrinths, a walking meditation

Last week, I had a profoundly spiritual experience that you might want to try for yourself. I walked the labyrinth at the Brecksville United Methodist Church.

Labyrinths are a series of winding paths that you walk. They lead to a center where you pause to contemplate or pray or rest, and then you walk back out to the beginning. A labyrinth is meant to be a walking meditation.

 

I went with no expectations; I just wanted to see what it was all about. But when I began to walk the labyrinth, I couldn’t help but think about the journey of my life: where have I been, where am I now, where am I going? Why am I in such a hurry?

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According to the website lessonsforliving.com, the labyrinth “is a metaphor for life’s journey … the journey to the center of your deepest self and back out into the world with a broadened understanding of who you are.”

Labyrinths can be very simple structures or very elaborate. Some are made of stones or snow or chalk, and some are laid in marble or grown out of hedges. The one that I walked last week is printed on a gigantic piece of canvas and is brought out for special occasions.

Labyrinths have been used in many cultures around the world for thousands of years and have been called various names, according to GraceCathedral.org.

Whether you’d like to quiet the mind, meditate, celebrate or contemplate, a labyrinth walk might be just the thing. During my labyrinth walk last week, I was so caught up in my thoughts that I was almost in a trance. Without realizing it, I completed the labyrinth and walked right out. This abrupt ending also made me think about the journey of life, and I had the desire to run back in.

If you would like the experience of walking a labyrinth, there are a surprising number of free resources available. I’ve included some links below, but call ahead to verify hours.

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Matter of Faith: Meditation, prayer can help find God

In many Eastern traditions, and growing in popularity in the Western world, more and more is being written about meditation. And some of us are at least thinking about meditating – especially as we hear Western medicine voicing its value with some physicians even writing prescriptions for meditation. The practice is being given credit for better health, relaxation and even lowering blood pressure.

Similarly, there is a discipline called Centering Prayer, a method of silent prayer that prepares us to receive the gift of contemplative prayer, prayer in which we experience God’s presence within us, closer than breathing, closer than thinking, closer than consciousness itself. This method of prayer is both a relationship with God and a discipline to foster that relationship. While Centering Prayer is attributed to the Rev. Thomas Keating, all faith traditions – Jewish, Christian and Muslim – practice some form of prayer; with Quakers and Buddhists honoring the silence.

In our world of technology and the use of cell phones, radio, CDs, TV and the Internet, silence becomes more and more difficult to find. Silence between two or in a group of people can even make us uncomfortable. Today, there is less time in our busy lives…

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to experience the power of an inner world.

Winter, with leanings to hibernation, is probably the best season to “awaken” to that world. Wrapped in fleece, watching a fire makes the journey inward a bit easier. It is our head that gets in our way. While solitary meditation brings inner peace, group meditation has proven to change society as evidenced in a drop in the crime rate in Washington, D.C. during research using large numbers of people meditating at the same time with that intention.

My first experience with group meditation was at the Christine Center in Willard, south of Thorp, where I believed I had booked a long weekend of rest and relaxation. When registering I was asked if I’d like to join others in a retreat experience for just an extra $25. I said, “Sure.”

I found out after I arrived I had signed up for a four-day silent retreat – a form of meditation that called for no writing, no reading, no music the entire time, alternating between sitting and walking meditation with a one-hour morning lecture. Of course food and sleep rounded out the days. It was an incredible experience to just be with my thoughts.

The word center contains the word enter. Brian Luke Seward in “Quiet Mind, Fearless Heart” connects the center of the labyrinth to the experience of centering ourselves in prayer and meditation. He writes, “Walking the labyrinth – as you walk from the entrance of the circle’s perimeter through a gentle maze of smaller concentric circles to the center, a divine stillness quiets the soul and a transformation takes place to prepare you, the student, so that the inner teacher will come. With the word center, like the path of the labyrinth, there is an implicit invitation to enter the heart.”

If the spiritual path is truly 12 to 14 inches from the head to the heart, then look no further than the meditating/centering process to get you there.

McKinney is a pastor at Unity Christ Center in Eau Claire. Matter of Faith, a column on faith and ethics, is printed periodically.

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Labyrinth experience provides outlet for meditation

wildmind meditation news

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.

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Not your everyday worship: the legend of the labyrinth

Contrary to popular belief, labyrinths are not used to get one lost and confused – rather, their purpose is to find answers and to meditate on religious issues. Two of the 109’s churches, St. Stephen Presbyterian Church and the University Christian Church, use labyrinths as methods of worship.

That fact is, according to Mark Scott of St. Stephen, the labyrinth is an extremely ancient form of meditation that has roots in paganism and is used as a form of worship in many historically aware churches. The design of labyrinths at St. Stephen and the University Church can both be traced back to the famous Notre Dame Chapel in Chartres, France.

Scott, St, Stephen’s minister of music and organist, is a fierce proponent of labyrinth. He says its ability to help sort out one’s life problems and commune with the God is a type of therapy and worship that would benefit everyone, Christian or not.

“It’s symbolic along the path of life and reminiscent of the times and trials in one’s life. It’s a visual reminder of the non-visual,” Scott said.

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The winding paths of the labyrinth are meant to be walked quadrant by quadrant. Participants meditate on any issues they are experiencing in life and offer these up to God. After walking the main section or quadrants, the meditator or questioner stands or kneels at the center or main floret or rose of the labyrinth and then exits.

“It’s supposed to be a journey,” Scott said. “It makes you slow down and think. You’re supposed to take your time walking. It’s a very esoteric, ecumenical type of thing.”

St. Stephen has two labyrinths — one indoor, one outdoor.

The outdoor labyrinth is in the form of a garden path and is flanked by benches and a vista of downtown Fort Worth. Scott says it was funded by a church member and like the indoor labyrinth, was a gift given in memory of a loved one.

The indoor labyrinth is an 11-circuit Chartres-style labyrinth actually painted on an enormous piece of canvas fabric and is rolled out on various holiday occasions and when led in a labyrinth worship facilitation by church member and trained labyrinth facilitator and clinical psychologist, Carol Stalcup.

Stalcup visited Grace Cathedral in San Francisco to be trained by Lauren Artress, the woman charged with starting the revival of labyrinth worship in the early ‘90s. According to the training Stalcup received, there appear to be three stages during one’s walking of the labyrinth: the releasing of cares and distractions, the receiving of enlightenment or encouragement, and returning to the world in union with God.

Stalcup says facilitators are trained to deal with people’s differing reactions to the labyrinth and also sometimes encourage people to journal about their experiences to better understand them.

“Some people are deeply moved and there are tears, they have a profound experience and come out lighter, happy, and thoughtful. For others, it’s simply another form of prayer and not as dramatic. It’s different for everyone and the labyrinth is not meant for everyone.”

Constantly making turns and twists in connection with the direction of the labyrinth is something that Stalcup says is currently being scientifically tested to determine whether it helps tap into the left and right hemispheres of the brain. She says it could be a scientifically proven neurological calming process.

Stalcup is a believer in what she terms embodied spirituality: that humans can disconnect their bodies from their emotional and spiritual lives. She believes the labyrinth is the perfect conduit for doing so. She calls walking the labyrinth a form of “body prayer” and emphasizes the positive connection between body movement and one’s ability to connect with a deeper part of oneself.

Stalcup said she wishes all could experience the benefits of walking the labyrinth. She says she is such a devoted follower of labyrinth worship because each experience is different and unique, and she loves the diversity.

“I have walked with different communities of friends and with groups of strangers, I have walked solo walks and lingered a long time. I’ve danced the path, sung, prayed, created body prayers, listened to music, smiled, laughed, been surprised by tears, felt deep awe, felt lonely, felt reassured, solved a problem,” Stalcup said.

It is her favorite form of worship because of the various forms of spiritual experiences one can have.

“I have experienced what I believe to be profound spiritual experiences, but am always caught by surprise,” she said. “Somehow, though a walk may not move me to tears or bring me to dance, I always feel as if the time I spent on the labyrinth was a special moment outside of linear time, outside of my usual way of being.”

Stalcup said being a regular walker of the labyrinth has “directly impacted my discernment of God’s presence in my life, in others, in the world. Those discernments stay with me, sustaining, encouraging, nourishing and leading me to more gratitude, wonder and connection with all of creation.”

For those with difficulty walking or without access to a full-size labyrinth, there are finger or stylus labyrinths, which one can follow with a finger or pen-like utensil and employ the same meditation/worship philosophy.

The UCC’s website for its labyrinth ministry describes using the labyrinth as a way “to enhance spiritual growth, experience transformation, enter into an intimate and inspiring relationship with God and one another, and share the path in the spirit of love, reverence and respect for each one’s personal journey.”

UCC’s labyrinth is also a hand-painted, roll-out canvas. They were bought from the same company and are the same traditional Chartres design.

The labyrinth of Chartres is famous for its location, age and size. It was inlaid in the Chartres Cathedral floor in 1205 and contains only one pathway, which is 954 feet in length. The center of the labyrinth purportedly once had a metal plate with figures of Theseus, Ariadne, and the Minotaur, figures from the classical Greek mythology of the labyrinth on Minos.

The Chartres-style labyrinth employed by both churches has a circular pattern with a rose or floret design in the center. According to Stalcup, the rose symbolically can stand for human love, enlightenment, Christ, and God’s love for the world. The rose traditionally has six petals which represent the six days of creation; Stalcup encourages her “walkers” to step into each petal and as they leave the central rose, to imagine themselves returning to the world in union with God.

While many churches utilize the practice of worship with the help of labyrinths, the practice is actually an ancient one the church may have borrowed from pagan or nature-based religions.

“Christians were kind of the late kids to the party,” Scott says with a laugh. “Even down to the holidays, Christmas was made Christmas because of the winter solstice. Easter coincides with the spring equinox.”

Above all, Scott says, he wishes all to know St. Stephen’s outdoor labyrinth is intended for the entire community, religious or not.

“Sure, it’s a labyrinth with a Christian take, but anyone can come use it. With the benches all around, the beautiful garden, the glorious view — we want anyone and everyone to be able to use and enjoy it.”

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