Around the Island

A labyrinth appears at St. Mary’s; a medieval, meditative structure suited to the times

What do you do when you miss your church and want to visit, even though services are temporarily suspended?

If you’re like me, you get the blessing of your priest, fill the back of a pickup truck with wood, and go build a labyrinth.

The idea of having a labyrinth at St. Mary’s Episcopal Church is not a new one. For several years we’ve wanted to install an ancient winding pathway that invites people to come and walk, and focus inwardly.

The temporary labyrinth at St. Mary’s was placed as a response to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has forced the closing of churches. Zoom and Facebook Live services are nice, but for some people movement facilitates praying or meditation.

For those of us who may miss the physical presence of our familiar church buildings and grounds, it can act as an anchor in this unsettling time.

What is a labyrinth? Although the word is commonly used as a synonym, it is not a maze, but a circular pathway that winds into a central point, then winds back out. There are no tricks or dead ends and you can’t get lost.

Walking a labyrinth is an ancient practice, found in many cultures and faith practices going back thousands of years.

Normally the labyrinth is walked slowly, helping to quiet your thoughts or help you focus. As they say, the joy is in the journey.

According to Veriditas, an organization that promotes the use of labyrinths, “To prepare, you may want to sit quietly to reflect before walking the labyrinth. Some people come with questions, others just to slow down and take time out from a busy life. Some come to find strength to take the next step. Many come during times of grief and loss.”

That being said, there is no right or wrong way to walk a labyrinth. Some people focus on a particular question, or choose a mantra. Others focus on breathing, or say prayers as they walk. Kids will run it.

Others simply walk, allowing their mind to wander. Labyrinth walking is often used to celebrate full moons or welcome new seasons.

The labyrinth at St. Mary’s is made of pieces of firewood, laid end to end in a specific spiral pattern. Using a YouTube tutorial, we first assembled a prototype in our yard.

Using a length of rope and building concentric circles, we then removed some pieces and added others to complete the circuits. The diameter design at St. Mary’s is a five-circuit Chartres-style medieval labyrinth.

The labyrinth is located in the rear parking lot, snuggled between the church and cemetery. Access it from the gravel driveway to the north of the church.

St. Mary’s invites all to visit and walk the labyrinth. Currently we ask that one person at a time walk, and to practice safe social distancing.