by Understand the Times with Roger Oakland
The labyrinth is a maze-like structure used during times of contemplative prayer that is growing in popularity. The participant walks through this structure until he comes to the center, then back out again. Unlike a maze, which has several paths, the labyrinth has one path. Often prayer stations (with candles, icons, pictures, etc.) can be visited along the way. The labyrinth originated in early pagan societies. The usual scenario calls for the pray-er to do some sort of meditation practice, enabling him or her to center down (i.e., reach God’s presence), while reaching the center of the labyrinth.
In a Christianity Today article (written by Dan Kimball) titled “A-maze-ing Prayer,” Kimball describes when he and his wife went through a labyrinth at the National Pastors Convention:
Meditative prayer like that we experienced in the labyrinth resonates with hearts of emerging generations. If we had the room, we would set up a permanent labyrinth to promote deeper prayer. Until then, however, Graceland will continue to incorporate experiential prayer and encourage our people to stop, quiet themselves, and pray.1
After Kimball and his wife experienced the labyrinth at the convention, they put up a temporary labyrinth at their own church. He explains how they “hung art on the walls, draped fabric, and lit candles all around the room to create a visual sense of sacred space.”2 Describing how “more than 100 people” went through the makeshift labyrinth, Kimball said, “It was a joy to see so many people on their knees communing with God through the experiential prayer elements.”3
Having some understanding of how the current interest in the labyrinth began and the nature of this practice will give us some further insight into the emerging church and its use of multi-sensory worship practices.
Lauren Artress, canon of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, is considered the modern-day catalyst for the labyrinth. One article explains:
For her [Artress], the labyrinth is for the “transformation of human personality in progress” that can accomplish a “shift in consciousness as we seek spiritual maturity as a species.” Artress says she walked her first labyrinth at a seminar in 1991 with psychologist and mystic/channeler Jean Houston, who several years ago famously assisted First Lady Hillary Clinton in trying to contact the departed spirit of Eleanor Roosevelt…. She calls her discovery of the labyrinth … one of the “most astonishing events of my life.” For her, the labyrinth is a “spiritual tool meant to awaken us to the deep rhythm that unites us to ourselves and to the Light that calls from within.”4
Artress says the “sacred geometry [of the labyrinth] is based on ancient, sacred knowledge,” and she sees the labyrinth as is a way to connect with the “divine feminine.”5 While Artress is not considered part of the emerging church, she has a strong tie to it, and her spirituality is similar. The Reverend Alan Jones [whose says the doctrine of the Cross is a vile doctrine] is Artress’ pastoral overseer at Grace Cathedral. It is safe to say that Jones resonates with Brian McLaren, who endorsed the back cover of Jones’ book, Reimagining Christianity. This book has all the flavor of any emergent book. [Emergent leader] Doug Pagitt also has found use for the labyrinth. He explains:
The first day of Lent this year brought the first Ash Wednesday gathering in our church’s history and in mine. The evening began with people walking a candlelit labyrinthâ€¦ The experience of walking the labyrinth invites the body into a rhythm of moving around and moving toward the center, then back out. Dozens of people may walk the labyrinth together, some walking in, some walking out.6
Pagitt proceeds to say that after people completed the labyrinth, they participated in a Lent service in which ashes were applied to those confessing. It seems that Pagitt’s experiences with the labyrinth led to other unbiblical practices supported by Rome. This willingness of emergent leaders to experiment with mystical practices like the labyrinth can only lead to trouble. (from chapter 5, Faith Undone)
1. Kimball, “A-Maze-ing Prayer” (Christianity Today, October 1, 2001, http://ctlibrary.com/9665).
4. Mark Tooley, “Labyrinths are Latest Fad for Spiritual Seekers” (The Institute for Religion and Democracy, Ecumenical News, November 21, 2001, http://www.ird-renew.org/site/apps/nl/content2.asp?c= fvKVLfMVIsG&b=470197&ct=416271).
6. Doug Pagitt, Church Re-imagined, op. cit., p. 103.