Catholic Diocese of Spokane, Washington

From the

Official News Magazine of the Diocese of Spokane

Deacon Eric Meisfjord, Editor
P.O. Box 48, Spokane WA 99210
(509) 358-7340; FAX: (509) 358-7302

Everyday Grace: Labyrinth prayer for children

by Mary Cronk Farrell

(From the July 31, 2003 edition of the Inland Register)

The first time I was invited to walk a labyrinth, I was not enthusiastic. I seem to spend quite enough time walking around in circles wondering where I’m going. But then my curiosity got the better of me.

The labyrinth, an ancient symbol of wholeness, has significance in many cultures and has been used for meditation by Christians for hundreds of years. Now it’s popping up all over modern America. Once the province of monks, the labyrinth now offers a simple and powerful method of prayer for all ages and anyone willing to take the time.

Four families gathered on a recent summer evening to walk the new labyrinth at Clare Center south of Spokane. Sunlight slanted from low in the west, and tall pines cast cool shadows. Stones marked the path, laid out in a clear space of ground surrounded by tall grass. A deer leaped along a distant hill and disappeared into the treeline.

The children chattered and ran about, exploring the winding spiral walkway. I had been told children never walk a labyrinth slowly and quietly, so I had come prepared. I offered them colorful scarves to dance with, and bubbles to blow. Insects provided musical accompaniment.

A labyrinth looks like a maze, but it is not. You follow only one path to the center and one path back out again. You take many twists and turns, but meet no dead ends. There’s only one rule: respect others in the labyrinth. We agreed to try to move slowly and quietly and open ourselves to God. Then one by one, we started through.

This form of meditative prayer has been used for centering, to celebrate or remember a person or event, to express gratitude, find peace, seek answers and process problems. It can be a path of discovery, or a way of letting go. The labyrinth is an archetypal symbol for the journey of life; as such it contains the power to release a truth deep within us.

Taking children to a labyrinth can be especially powerful if we pay attention to what we can learn from them, rather than thinking about what we want to teach them. There are no magical words or practices that bring us nearer to God; rather there is a way of simply leaving room for God to enter our lives, and a way of welcoming the Holy Presence when it breaks through. Healthy children do not need to be taught this; they come by it naturally.

“What did you notice while walking the labyrinth?” I asked the children when they finished.

“It calms you down,” said 10-year-old Nicholas. “And sometimes God tells you to slow down and look at everything that’s around you.”

“Sometimes you may think you are lost, but you’re not,” said 16-year-old Kaitrin.

“It’s a way to find God,” said 7-year-old Caroline. “I noticed God was speaking to me, and my mind was speaking to him. I wrote a message to him with my mind when I got to the center and he wrote me back.”

A parent in the group, Bridget Hunter Green, re-worded a popular slogan. “You can’t keep your eyes on the goal,” she said. “You must keep your eyes right in front of you, or you’ll trip.” She liked the labyrinth’s metaphor for living in the present moment.

Perhaps the most famous labyrinth is located in the Chartres Cathedral in France, dating from 1225 A.D. San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral is perhaps the most well-known labyrinth in the United States. In Spokane there are two outdoor labyrinths open to the public, the one at Clare Center and another at the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist. Portable canvas labyrinths are becoming popular, and some people are even building their own backyard versions.

With the busyness of life it’s important to make time to be quiet and open to God. The next time I find myself going round in circles, maybe I’ll take a clue and head for the nearest labyrinth.

© 2003 Mary Cronk Farrell

(Mary Cronk Farrell is a Spokane free-lance and children’s writer. She is a contributing author to the new book Daughters of the Desert: Stories of Remarkable Women from Christian, Jewish and Muslim Traditions, from Skylight Paths Publishing.)

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