The silence, as much as anything, is what Gretchen Newell comes for.
“This is a time for maybe letting God talk to me for a change,” she said.
All the while she slowly walks in circles — along one winding path segment. Then another. And another.
“We don’t know much about being quiet anymore,” Newell said. “It’s a lost art.”
But it’s one being recaptured monthly at the Second Saturday Labyrinth Walks at North Christian Church. The informal gatherings allow people from a variety of spiritual bents to find a measure of peace in a world that sometimes leaves them going in figurative circles.
Labyrinths, circles of paths all leading to the center, date to at least 3,500 years ago, according to historians. People have used them for reasons ranging from simple relaxation to complex prayer.
Besides churches, hospitals have installed them. At North Christiauildn, the indoor labyrinth in its lower level is open monthly. But its just-installed outdoor labyrinth, looking partly like an alien crop circle, is available anytime to anyone.
Organizers even mentioned that, in other cities, some people take their dogs along the paths.
“There’s no right or wrong way to walk a labyrinth,” said the Rev. Lanny Lawler, North Christian’s senior minister.
Christine Lemley arrived at the center of the indoor diagram recently and knelt with her eyes closed as a single track light illuminated her. Soft flute music wafted from a CD player in the corner. Miniature candles flickered along the border of the circle.
But others, including Vicki Bartlett, seemed oblivious to their physical surroundings. As she moved along the paths, Bartlett said her thoughts wandered to the 800-foot drop-offs near walkways at the Haleakala volcano on Maui, Hawaii.
“Picturing those allowed me to confront my fears,” Bartlett said after her one-hour walk-through. “And I came away today with a deeper understanding of myself — the good, bad, ugly and the funny.”
In her life, Bartlett has studied Christianity and several spiritual rituals of people worldwide. She laughed when asked if she calls any one house of worship home.
“There’s only one place I call home,” she said. “And that’s the earth.”
Sandy Wilson, a member of North Christian’s labyrinth team, envisions the diagrams, including a smaller one for children just down the lower level hallway, drawing people of all persuasions.
“When you walk it, it’s just an amazing feeling,” Wilson said. “I come away with a peace. When your week has been long and hard, this is a nice break to calm yourself down. The quiet kind of pulls you deep into yourself.”
She is able to walk the labyrinth with an aluminum crutch she uses for balance. But, for those with ambulatory issues, a finger labyrinth rests on a table just inside the lower level door.
Most visitors arrive individually. But Fairlawn Presbyterian Church once brought a group.
Wilson and others say that, all things considered, they feel that, as they walk, they somehow step closer to God as they shut out the noise and stress of the everyday world.
“I don’t know if we really know how to turn off everything,” Wilson said. “But I think we need to learn how to do it.”
Newell, a member of St. Peter’s Lutheran Church, said she always leaves the labyrinth feeling different from when she arrived.
“I’m not so worried,” she said with a smile. “That’s especially true knowing and remembering that God is in control.”
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