Church adopts laybrinth

Published: Saturday, June 12, 1999

BETH PRATT, A-J Religion Editor.  Source:

Some Christians call it a path to prayer, a spiritual tool, a way to focus their thoughts through walking a labyrinth, also called a Celtic maze.

Other Christians call it New Age nonsense.

Christ United Methodist Church in Levelland has had some criticism for adopting the labyrinth as a guide to meditation, admitted George W. Payne Jr., a member of the church.

''Liz (the Rev. Liz Sisco, pastor) introduced us to the idea of meditation,'' Payne said. ''She had been to San Francisco and seen the labyrinth at Grace Episcopal Cathedral.''

When the Paynes joined Christ Church in 1995, funds already had been raised to build a meditation garden centered by a concrete labyrinth.

Although the labyrinth can be found from ancient burial sites in Egypt, to Greek mythology, to Celtic, Scandinavian and Native American cultures, it also has been adapted by Christian church tradition.

''There is a rich Christian tradition that includes the labyrinth in various meditation and seeking practices,'' Sisco said. ''Here at Christ Church our study and concern has been to find ways in which the labyrinth can enrich our Christian faith even as we recognize that others might also find it a tool to the mysteries of their faith.''

The garden is open to the public, Payne said, and ''the church encourages people to stop by and use it. We still think it's an important idea as far as church ministry is concerned.''

Last summer, the church took the youth group to San Francisco to see the labyrinth at Grace Cathedral Church.

''We have been criticized because it's not a Christian symbol, but it's a point of contemplation, and we feel it encourages introspection,'' Payne said. ''We have all used it, and we do like the idea. Meditation is real important. With all this information in the world, sometimes you need to shut things out and withdraw a little bit.''

The labyrinth design is not a maze in the sense that the participant searches for exit, but a mystic spiral that requires concentration to follow.

Sisco said, ''I make no claim that the writers of Scripture found a walk on the labyrinth necessary to salvation.

"However, we are all aware that both in the ancient Hebrew Scriptures and in the Christian Testament, the writers make use of rich metaphors in order to express the truths about life that concrete language cannot portray.''

Among those metaphors, she said, are journey, walking in the wilderness and ''to walk in the way of the Lord.''

''To walk in the way of someone is to follow them,'' she said. ''To walk the labyrinth can be to follow the Holy Spirit, to follow Christ to God.''

Probably the earliest Christian labyrinth was found in the fourth-century basilica Repartus in Algeria, she said. ''The words 'Santa Eclesiaat' at the center confirm its Christian origin.''

The effects of the labyrinth lie not in its specific design, but ''will be shaped out of what you personally bring in experience, in faith, in confusion,'' she added.

Children frequently play hopscotch on it, she said. ''Find your own pace. Do what feels comfortable ... some have crawled the path, others have danced it ... there is no authoritative guide that defines the significance of the labyrinth or its parts. Use your own imagination as you search for God in your soul.'

The Rev. Lauren Artress, canon at Grace Cathedral, is inviting people of all traditions from around the world to walk the labyrinth on Dec. 31, 1999, as part of a global celebration of the new millennium.