Prayer Labyrinth Offers Centering in Waynesville
The inspiration for laying a prayer labyrinth on the front lawn of Grace Church in the Mountains came from the experience of a few parishioners that turned into a passion for the meditative practice.
One parishioner, Marlene Hyatt, was inspired by a labyrinth she walked as part of a conference at nearby Lake Junaluska in November 2019. She took the idea to
Grace's rector, The Rev. Joslyn Shaefer, and then to the Arts Ministry Committee, of which she is a member. From there, the seed of an idea bloomed to fruition in the laying of the labyrinth in October of 2022.
A prayer labyrinth is an ancient tool that offers a way to focus the mind and center the spirit. It consists of a flat, circular design with one path that winds and folds into the center. Some labyrinths are extensive, consisting of 11 circuits and measuring up to about 50 feet in diameter. The prayer labyrinth at Grace consists of seven circuits and is about 20 feet in diameter.
"We just didn't have the space for the 11-circuit labyrinth, and having seven circuits was a perfect fit for us," Hyatt said. "It's short enough, being just seven circuits, that you can take however much time you need to walk it."
During the months of preparation, the committee researched labyrinths around the Asheville area, visiting a handful in the city and walking through them. Nancy Truluck, a seasonal parishioner at Grace, joined in the effort by teaching labyrinth workshops. Nancy first experienced a prayer labyrinth in California about 30 years ago, and since then, her passion for them grew her to become an expert.
"I have tried over the years traditional centering prayer and seated contemplative prayer, and I'm just not very good at it. I'm a thinker by instinct and it's hard to keep my mind from wandering. But I've found that movement helps that. You don't have to plan or organize. You don't have to think ahead. You just put one foot in front of the other," Truluck said.
Those who walk the labyrinth take the path in contemplation. There is no set way to walk a labyrinth, and plenty of variation exists in how people approach them. Typically, those who venture through the labyrinth will choose something to focus on, be it a life issue, a question, inspiration for their next work of art, or merely an emotion such as joy or peace.
"Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has just one path. It's not something to figure out; it's simply following the path to the center and then returning. For me, it's been a very helpful tool," Truluck said.
As Hyatt and the committee considered where to place the labyrinth on Grace's property in downtown Waynesville, it became clear that the front lawn would be the best place.
"We thought we needed something that could be multi-purpose in the area where we put the labyrinth because we don't have that much space. We realized the area at the back of the church was too steep. Putting it in the front, we were somewhat concerned about traffic, but that doesn't really seem to bother anyone," Hyatt said.
Sandy Jamieson, a labyrinth facilitator in the summertime, said she appreciates the placement in the front yard because that makes it accessible to the community.
"It's a perfect location. What excited me the most was to see the congregation come together and help to make it happen," Jamieson said.
Parishioner David Crowder and a couple of his crew cut the ground where the pavers would be laid, and on the day the stone pavers for the labyrinth were to be laid out in the 7-circuit design, dozens of Grace's members showed up to help.
"There must have been about 45 people who helped to lay the pavers," Hyatt said.
Now that the labyrinth is laid, Grace often incorporates it into events and gatherings. During Advent Quiet Day in December, Truluck invited participants to walk the labyrinth. One of those interested was a man who was nearly blind. His partner asked Truluck if she would walk with him through the labyrinth.
"It was quite an amazing experience," Truluck said. "As we walked, he asked if there was something inherent in us about this pattern. Even though he couldn't see it, he could feel the pattern. That circular movement, a universal symbol of completion and wholeness, is something many people find metaphorical. It's a lot like life. And the way the path bends and folds while being contained in the circle has often been compared to the brain."
The Rev. Shaefer led a New Year's labyrinth walk in January, and plans are in the works to do a Lenten labyrinth walk.
"I enjoy walking our labyrinth and knowing that at any time I can go to the church and have that quiet time. Walking it in community offers an opportunity for us to hear each other's stories and to hear how God is working in our lives. It's another way we can go deeper and grow spiritually while we sustain our much-needed outreach to our brothers and sisters in need," said Mary Lockey, a vestry candidate at Grace.
Everyone walks a labyrinth at their own pace, but generally, the prayer labyrinth at Grace takes about 15–20 minutes.