"Walking Worship" - the Way of the Labyrinth
by Rt Revd Dom Alistair Bate OSBA, M.A.Div.
Before moving to Switzerland eighteen months ago I lived in Edinburgh and it was there, around the turn of the millenium that I was introduced to my first labyrinth walk at St Columba's-by-the-Castle. Over the years since then I regularly walked several different indoor (portable) labyrinths in Edinburgh and often walked the magnificent Chartres labyrinth in George Square Gardens.
the exercise to be very rewarding and sometimes quite enlightening and am tremendously grateful to the Revd Di Williams, then the University Chaplain, for introducing the indoor labyrinth and raising the money and managing the project to build the outdoor labyrinth.
Labyrinths, whether square, rectangular or circular, grace the pavements of several medieval cathedrals in Britain and northern Europe and yes, they were built to be walked on meditatively, not merely for decoration. The journey to the centre was envisaged as a journey to the heavenly Jerusalem, then thought of as the cosmic centre of the world and originally pilgrims walking a labyrinth gained an indulgence which others, more able bodied or less occupied, might gain by joining the crusades in defence of the earthly Jerusalem. Due to this connection with Jerusalem the Labyrinth and Templar mysteries have become somewhat intertwined.
Although labyrinth patterns are known from even the old stone age, labyrinth lovers often give the first place of honour to the intricate pattern of the labyrinth at Chartres cathedral, itself famous for its "sacred geometry". Some of the most popular modern labyrinths are built in this style. I am a Chartres fan through and through but I have to say that walking the square labyrinth at Ely Cathedral was also a wonderful experience, especially as other tourists seeing me walking the labyrinth, gave it a go themselves. Labyrinths do seem to have the power to awaken the spiritual craving in people and satisfy it in accessible and unique ways.
Now, living at St Gall's Retreat, high in the Swiss Alps, I do not have the opportunity to walk a labyrinth regularly, but what I learnt from labyrinth walking in Edinburgh has not been lost ,for the labyrinth taught me how to walk meditatively and prayerfully. Just as we sometimes occupy our hands and the surface of our minds with the rosary or chotki in order to find a deeper peace within, so occupying the feet, walking slowly and consciously as we pray, can really help us to slow down and notice the beauty around us.
A Navajo Chant
Beauty is before me
Beauty is behind me
Above me and below me
Around me and within me.