All are Welcome to walk A Sacred Path At St. Joseph’s Outdoor Labyrinth. Open all year.
A Personal Journey
We are all on the path... exactly where we need to be. The labyrinth is a model of that path.
A labyrinth is an ancient symbol that relates to wholeness. It combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path. The Labyrinth represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world. Labyrinths have long been used as meditation and prayer tools.
A labyrinth is an archetype with which we can have a direct experience. We can walk it. It is a metaphor for life's journey. It is a symbol that creates a sacred space and place and takes us out of our ego to "That Which Is Within."
Labyrinths and mazes have often been confused. When most people hear of a labyrinth they think of a maze. A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is like a puzzle to be solved. It has twists, turns, and blind alleys. It is a left brain task that requires logical, sequential, analytical activity to find the correct path into the maze and out.
A labyrinth has only one path. It is unicursal. The way in is the way out. There are no blind alleys. The path leads you on a circuitous path to the center and out again.
A labyrinth is a right brain task. It involves intuition, creativity, and imagery. With a maze many choices must be made and an active mind is needed to solve the problem of finding the center. With a labyrinth there is only one choice to be made. The choice is to enter or not. A more passive, receptive mindset is needed. The choice is whether or not to walk a spiritual path.
How to Walk the Labyrinth
There are many approaches to the labyrinth. One Christian approach to the labyrinth is based on the “threefold path” of Purgation, Illumination, and Union. These represent three stages in a labyrinth walk.
1. Releasing (Purgation). From the entrance to the goal is the path of shedding or "letting go." There is a release and an emptying of worries and concerns.
2. Receiving (Illumination). At the center there is illumination, insight, clarity, and focus. It is here that you are in a receptive, prayerful, meditative state.
3. Integrating (Union). Empowerment and taking ownership. The path out is that of becoming grounded and integrating the insight. It is being energized and making what was received manifest in the world.
There are three stages but one path, and it is different for everyone.
"Palms Up, Palms Down"
These three stages can be symbolized with a "palms down, palms up" approach to walking the labyrinth.
"Palms down" symbolizes release or letting go while "palms up" indicates receiving. Enter the labyrinth and walk to the center with palms down and center your thoughts on releasing any conflicting issues and concerns in your life. When you reach the center turn your palms up to be receptive to insight. As you walk out of the labyrinth keep your palms up to receive strength and guidance to make your insight manifest. As you leave the labyrinth turn to face the center and bring you palms together for a prayerful end to your walk.
*The concept of the "threefold path" is credited to the Reverend Dr. Lauren Artress in her book: Walking A Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool
History of the Labyrinth
Labyrinths have been known to the human race for over 3,500 years, conjuring up such images as the legend of Theseus and the Minotaur. They have been used in many different religious ways by many peoples, and as solar and lunar calendars. In Arizona and the American Southwest the Hopi use a form of the labyrinth in their religious symbolism, and the Tohono O'odham "Man in the Maze" is actually a "seven-circuit" labyrinth and is part of an elaborate creation myth.
The oldest existing Christian labyrinth is probably the one in the fourth-century basilica of Reparatus, Orleansville, Algeria. And while Christians used labyrinths on pre-Christian sites and modeled their own after ones used by earlier cultures, the development of the high medieval Christian seven circuit labyrinth was a breakthrough in design. Its path of seven circles was cruciform (shaped like the Cross) and thus incorporated the central Christian symbol. Use of these labyrinths flourished in Europe throughout the eleventh and twelfth centuries and beyond, especially in the French cathedrals of Chartres, Sens, Poitiers, Bayeaux, Amiens and Rheims and in the Italian cathedrals at Lucca and San Maria-di-Trastavera in Rome.
Medieval pilgrims, unable to fulfill their desire to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, went instead to many pilgrimage sites in Europe or Britain. In many cases the end of their journey was a labyrinth formed of stone and laid in the floor of the nave of one of these great Gothic cathedrals. The center of the labyrinths probably represented for many pilgrims the Holy City itself and thus became the substitute goal of the journey.