Monday, August 3, 2015

LABYRINTHING

Labyrinth at Convent of St. Mary, Sewanee

Sunday afternoon, Vickie Sullivan and I returned to the Convent of St. Mary, where we worship regularly, to walk in St. Mary's Prayer Garden and to view the lavender fields that students, interns, and workers from Thistle Farms in Nashville, had planted and harvested several times. Behind the lavender fields, we walked a gravel path, lined with iris, to the labyrinth that Nathan Bourne, an intern at the Convent in 2012, had helped construct. Native stone edges the path of the circles that were formed with boxwood plants, and a beech tree in the center of the labyrinth shelters it. This space, only a few years old, carries the spirit of ancient Benedictine spirituality implicit in St. Mary's mission, and we savored the peace associated with prayer paths. After walking the labyrinth at St. Mary's, visitors can sit awhile on a stone bench inscribed with the comforting words of Julian of Norwich: "All Shall Be Well." It was a great place to spend time on a Sunday afternoon.
Bench beside CSM
labyrinth

The visit to this labyrinth reminded me of another labyrinth built in the backyard of Solomon House, the outreach mission in New Iberia, Louisiana for which I was once executive director. Vickie Sullivan, then treasurer of the Solomon House Board, and Betty Leblanc, former president of the Board, constructed this labyrinth initially as a temporary path for a Board retreat. On a hot summer day, the two women, armed with a stick, some string, and marking powder began work on the labyrinth. After clearing the yard, they anchored the stick in the center and used the string to mark off circles. One of the pair walked with the taut string while the other followed behind, pouring powder on the grass and marking seven rings, equidistant apart. They decorated the entrance with potted plants and prepared a place to set up a recording of music from Pachelbel.

Construction of Solomon House
Labyrinth
Board members who walked the prayer path the day of the retreat reported that their experience was so profound they wanted the labyrinth to become permanent so that the entire community of New Iberia could use it for prayer and contemplation. The design was actually an ancient one, using the bare earth as a base and river rock to delineate the pathways. Betty's husband, Wilson, brought in extra dirt to fill in the lower spots, obtained a donation of 1500 pounds of cement to mix with the soil, spread the cement, and laser leveled the base. A small box containing information about walking a labyrinth was attached to a tree in the backyard.



Construction of Solomon House
Labyrinth
Coincidentally, the day the river rocks for constructing the labyrinth arrived, Hurricane Katrina blew in. Solomon House set up a food and clothing station to help with displaced people coming in from New Orleans. Many came to the outreach house to be consoled after they had lost everything but the clothing on their backs, including two young men who had been stranded on the overpass in New Orleans for days. They helped move the rocks into place in the heat and humidity that usually follows a hurricane, and a sacred place was born. The labyrinth became permanent and continues to host Earth Day celebrations, board retreats, women's groups, and individual retreats.
Construction of Solomon House
Labyrinth


Labyrinths have been used for meditation and prayer since 3000 B.C. and can be found throughout the world. Chartres Cathedral in France contains one of the most famous pavement labyrinths dating back to medieval times when labyrinths were at their zenith.  
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