I was 16 when my eyes first saw the magestic spires, one romanesque and one gothic, of Chârtres. Chârtres made a huge impression on me, even at that tender age. It was a birthday gift to be able to travel to France with my beloved high school French teacher. A love for France and its people has remained with me. But somehow in that first trip, I missed the labyrinth and the importance it would eventually make in my life. Walking a labyrinth would eventually become an important part of my regular spiritual renewal plan.
I have returned to Chârtres several times, but the labyrinth was never empty of chairs, until today. Today I had done my research, and I had the honor and privilege of walking and praying through the oldest inlaid labyrinth in France. It dates from around the 1200’s.
If you have never walked a labyrinth it might be something you want to try. (We will put one up again a few days this summer at Middletown UMC). They come in different shapes and sizes, many are copies of the pattern found at Chârtres.
As one walks, one can use the experience for several things, one of the most “popular” is to enter into the presence of God, the middle representing being in the center with God, or being in the center of what you are seeking. Sometimes one might repeat the words “Come Holy Spirit” or “Come Lord Jesus.” Sometimes one might pray the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus, have mercy on me, a sinner.” As it has been said, “Pay attention to your experience, without judging it. It can serve as a mirror for what you are experiencing elsewhere .”
Today, I was one of the few who took my shoes off. Since it was inlaid stone taking your shoes off was not a requirement, but for me, if we are trying to walk into the presence of The Holy One then we should show respect by taking off our shoes. After all, Moses was told to take off his shoes when God spoke to him through the burning bush as he was on “holy ground.”
Some impressions from today’s labyrinth prayer walk: The stone was cold to the foot. That had never been part of my previous experiences. Some folks, from many nations, came in to see the cathedral and were oblivious to the fact that many were walking the labyrinth. (Even though it was blocked off with chairs) Perhaps many go through life in the same manner, oblivious to the fact that there is something more and we are called to be all that God created us to be; Each person goes at their own pace, and we pass many on the journey; interacting with some, not necessarily with all, but we are always trying to show kindness; Some intentionally changed the atmosphere. There was a wonderful group of women visiting who stood in a corner and sang a capela. One such chant was “Kyrie Eleison,” Lord have mercy on me. It was a lovely enhancement for my journey of prayer; Someone else had gathered some tiny leaves from an outside bush and had dropped them along the path of the labyrinth. While I thought that it was probably meaningful for them to leave those leaves on their journey, whoever has to clean them off and get them out of the old cracks and crevices of the stone might not think so. (The story of Hansel and Gretel did cross my mind.) Finally, since I have walked this pattern of Chârtres in other places, I sort of know the way. Yet even in knowing the way, there is an inner yearning for the center and in coming out, you know the end is near, yet what are you going to do about the end looming near? How does this walk correlate with our daily life journey?
If you have never walked a labyrinth it might be something you want to try. Google will show you where one is located near you. In Mariottesville, Md the sisters of Bon Secour have a lovely outdoor labyrinth that you can use anytime. May you be able to experience this journey too, and may your labyrinth journey bring you closer to God!