"Walking the labyrinth is a prayer form symbolizing our walk with God and our walk toward God. Some people walk with a verbal prayer on their lips or in their hearts. Others hold a question or a petition and open themselves to hearing an answer or receiving an insight. Others walk simply for fun and relaxation, and still others walk to be energized. The experience of walking the labyrinth is different for everyone, and often very different for the same person every time it is walked.

"I walked the labyrinth for the first time at Grace Cathedral during a Lenten retreat. I was nervous about the experience, not knowing what to expect. I had been assured that I could not get lost because the labyrinth is made up of a single winding path which leads you to the center and then leads you back out again. The labyrinth is not a maze, which is designed to trick you by sending you on detours and trapping you in dead ends. I was still apprehensive, wondering what would occur on this sacred path.

" 'Whatever occurs on the Labyrinth is a metaphor,' Dr. Artress told us before we began. 'If you get annoyed at others on the path, treat that awareness as a metaphor for your life. If you resist traveling toward the center or resist returning, understand that awareness as a metaphor.'

" I decided to walk the labyrinth simply for the experience and to be attentive to whatever happened in the process. My nervousness turned to anticipation as I stepped onto the canvas and began my journey. The first thing I noticed was that I was very quickly close to the center although I knew I still had a long way to go before I arrived. I then became aware that I could not tell exactly where I was in relation to the beginning or the end, and there was no way for me to look forward and plan my route. Because I tend to anticipate the future in many areas of my life, I found this inability to plan ahead disconcerting. But I also recognized the freedom of simply attending to the moment — my steps, the patterns on the floor, the movements of others, and my body in motion.

"I began to relax and appreciate everyone's intention and the stillness in the midst of movement. I began to look at the people I passed who were going at a slower pace, and those who I met who were on their return journey. Occasionally I would step off the path at a resting spot and simply watch the beauty of the process.

"I lost track of time. I had no idea how long I had been walking. I began to think that I should reach the center soon, but I didn't reach it. I just kept walking, following the path before me. I began to get disoriented with all the twists and turns. I felt anxious, but reminded myself that I just needed to keep walking. So, I breathed deeply a couple of time, continued moving, and arrived at the entrance!

"The entrance! What a surprise! What a disappointment! I had finished my journey without ever reaching the center! What had happened? What had I done wrong? How had I gotten lost on a single path? And then I began to laugh. If whatever happened on the labyrinth was a metaphor for life, I had just been given a glorious insight. How often I wish for an 'arrival' in the spiritual life. How often I forsake the journey for the destination. How often I assume I have done something wrong if I do not meet my expectations. How often I get lost even when I believe I have one true path in my mind and heart.

"I sat down to reflect on all that had happened, and when I felt clearer, I started walking the labyrinth once again. This time I felt like I was floating, freed of worry and anticipation. I was simply walking, moving, opening all my senses to the full experience. This time I did reach the center, but the 'arrival' felt more like a stop along the way rather than an end point or a goal attained. Arriving was simply part of the process of walking with and toward God, part of my journey of body and soul.

"I realized that my own practice of prayer was enhanced because of the insights I received by walking the sacred path, but I did not realize the labyrinth's rich potential for community until I introduced it to my prayer class. A local group had made a portable labyrinth, which they were willing to loan to interested groups. They brought it to the seminary where I teach, and one of their leaders presented the historical and theological background of the labyrinth to my prayer class. She also explained the Christian and pre-Christian symbolism contained in the labyrinth. She then invited the students onto the path to experience it for themselves.

"To support the process, I went to the edge of the labyrinth and prayerfully watched as student after student began walking. The students walked at very different speeds. Some had their hands folded over their hearts, others walked with hands behind their backs. One woman moved her arms as if she were flying. A student invited a young child to accompany her, another spent some time walking backward. As all these diverse students walked in their own unique ways, the labyrinth began to fill. I was astounded to realize that I had no way of knowing who was coming and who was going, who had arrived and who had just begun. I watched as students seemed to walk for a moment in step with one another, and then one would turn back and the other would continue on. Sometimes it appeared that students were moving against each other, going in opposite directions, and then as they were about to collide, one would step aside and the other would glide by.

"I sat in awe of the beautiful, flowing, vibrant image of the body of Christ that was before me. I was witnessing a community in prayer and action. Everyone was walking the same path, but traveling with the freedom to walk as they wished. No one was above or below, ahead or behind. Everyone was simply moving with and toward God, and with each other. 'An image of the church,' I breathed. 'A healed and whole and holy church.' "