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The Labyrinth

The labyrinth has a long history in the Christian tradition. Perhaps the best known labyrinth is the pattern embedded in the floor of Chartres Cathedral. During the Middle Ages it was customary for the faithful to vow to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. Since travel at that time was both dangerous and expensive, seven cathedrals throughout Europe were designated as alternative sites where pilgrims could journey to fulfil their vows. Chartres was one of these designated cathedrals.

The walk into the labyrinth marked the end of the physical journey across the countryside and served as a symbolic entry into the spiritual realm of the Celestial City. A labyrinth has a single path with numerous twists and turns that leads eventually to the centre. The centre itself is a sacred space. At the centre of the Chartres labyrinth there is a rose with six petals. For some this rose represents Mary, the mother of Jesus; for others it is symbolic of the heart of God; for others simply a sacred space in which to pause and pray. Labyrinths belong to the world of the symbolic and walking the path lends itself to prayer and meditation .

By navigating all the twists and turns of the labyrinth we are invited to reflect on our own wanderings, we are enabled to act out something of the complexity that seems to attend our own journey through life. There are times when the labyrinth's course takes us near to the centre and we think we are close to the heart, only to find ourselves being swept out to its farthest perimeter. In recalling our journey we may see with a deeper clarity that God has always been present and this recognition of the divine presence in all the unexpected twists and turns of our life moves us to acknowledge that it is holy ground. For those who do not have access to a labyrinth there are finger labyrinths, hand-held versions of the pattern.

To engage with the finger labyrinth: Spend a few moments becoming still and centred. Using your finger or a pencil slowly begin to trace the pattern of the labyrinth. Try to keep your mind open to receive any insights that may come about your life's journey. Ponder the twists and turns, the nearness to and the distance from the heart of God. When you reach the centre, the sacred space, pause and pray. As we engage with the labyrinth we may experience death and resurrection, an insight into our shadow, some glimpse of God's love, we retrace our steps and take whatever we have received to help us continue our journey through life.

Henry Morgan