On a little-trafficked section of Penn State Berks is a huge concrete circle with what appears to be a maze painted on it. Yet a maze it is not, for it is a labyrinth. In a maze you can get lost, hit a dead end and have to try again. A labyrinth, on the other hand, is a continuous path which through many turns and curves, takes you to the center.
Labyrinths are ancient devices found in many cultures. Christians began including them in cathedrals during the medieval era. Like many traditions found in the history of the church, with no precedence in scripture, labyrinth use among Christians is controversial. To find out, just Google “labyrinth Christian” and you will find all kinds of arguments for and against.
One of our student leaders, Brandon, spends his summers working at a local Christian camp called Gretna Glen. Early in this semester he suggested we invite one of his friends from camp to lead us in a prayer time while walking the labyrinth. After a few scheduling conflicts we were able to do this on Tuesday night.
For college students today (well, for anyone) it is extremely difficult to get away from noise. There is always something going on: a test to study for, an incoming text, a friend to meet up with, a computer to sit in front of. It was refreshing for the students to walk to one of the quietest parts of campus shortly after dark on a cool fall night with the stars shining overhead. At least for a few moments the noise was turned off. As the students walked the labyrinth it was clear they were spending the time speaking to and listening to their Creator.
One of the clearest lessons was that life is a long journey. Sometimes you may feel very close to where you want to, or where God wants you to, be. Other times God seems distant. But if you stick to the path, the path laid out for you by Jesus Christ, you will persevere.
At this point I want to say how this reminds me of Dante’s Divine Comedy which I have been reading. It has been a tough read, but one thing that has stuck out to me is how Dante has, with help of course, slowly progressed closer and closer to God. I recall the same thing from John Bunyan’s Pilgrim’s Progress. Really all of this just takes us back to Jesus calling us to deny ourselves, take up our crosses and follow him.
Labyrinths are a helpful tool in our lives of prayer and discipleship. Like guitars, church buildings, full-time paid pastors, Facebook, Twitter and many other things, they were not prescribed in scripture. But like those things, they can be tools used by the Holy Spirit to draw closer to our Savior.