Have you ever used a labyrinth to slow down and consider your life-journey? I don’t mean a maze, a puzzle that’s designed to trick you and get you lost; a labyrinth is something different.
A labyrinth has one, long, winding route that leads directly from the start to the end. There are no branches, no dead-ends and no tricks. Your way may not be obvious, and sometimes it will look as if you are (almost) right back where you started, but always, always, you will reach your goal.
You will often find labyrinths on the floor or in the grounds of a church or cathedral, and they have been used as an aid to prayer for centuries. I find praying with a labyrinth a good way to slow down and reflection in God’s company.
A labyrinth can either be big enough to walk through, or small enough for your lap, where you trace the path with your finger or with a small object which ‘walks’ the labyrinth in your place.
For this reflection, I have designed a labyrinth which you can make for yourself easily. It features a central turn which separates what has gone before from what is to come, so this style of labyrinth is particularly suitable for considering changes. There are detailed instructions for how to make it at the end, or you can use a printed version, (click here), and choose a suitable small object as your ‘walker’.
A Labyrinth Mediation
Start with the walker at one end of the labyrinth and sit with your eyes closed for a few moments. Drop your shoulders and slow your breathing. Take the buzzing thoughts of your minds and consciously lay them to one side for a time. They will still be there when you come back.
Offer these minutes to God and ask that he guide your thoughts and emotions as you walk with him through your past and future. “The Lord makes firm the steps of the one who delights in him.” (Psalm 37:23)
Imagine yourself as the walker in the labyrinth. First you will walk the path which leads from the start of your life to the present. As you move the walker, consider what has brought you to where you are now – the aspects you rejoice in and the aspects you regret. Take your time, there is no hurry.
When you wish, come to the centre, where there is a change of direction. Stay here as long as you like, and consider how the change makes you feel. Bring this to God, the shepherd of your soul, who walks with you through the green pastures and quiet waters, and also through the valley of shadows.
Continue your journey through the second half of the labyrinth, secure in the arms of him who will never leave you or forsake you. (Deut 31:6) When you reach the end, commit your way to the Lord, take up the daily concerns that you laid aside when you started, and walk out into your future knowing that you are not, and never have been, alone.
Happy New Year!
No, I’ve not gone mad (not this time anyway), nor am I leaping ahead of the ‘C’ word (15 weeks, folks, just 15 weeks). Students, schoolkids, parents and teachers all know what I mean – it’s the start of term!*
Starting new things can be … challenging. Going to uni, moving up to a new school, starting school, even starting ice-skating lessons, which I and my daughters did today for the first time** – all of these can be nerve-wracking for those doing them and those watching.
I have one daughter starting Sixth Form this year and another moving up to senior school, and this brings mixed feelings of pride and wistfulness: They look so smart, so tall and grown-up. My babies aren’t babies anymore. Where did all the time go?
Gone are the days of pram-rides and afternoon naps, of bedtime stories and dressing up, of (thankfully) poopy nappies and jam sandwiches on the carpet. (Though glittery mermaid pencil cases are still in, apparently.)
There’s an era that has passed, and with that passing comes change. Some things are better (no more jam sandwiches on the carpet, and if there are, they can clean it up themselves), others are worse (earlier start, more homework, expensive textbooks), but most are simply different. A new start from something good to something else good.
When Jesus unrolled the scroll the temple and began to read it out, he was announcing a new start. “Today this Scripture is fulfilled in your hearing”, he said (Luke 4:21), and proceeded to open the eyes of the blind, unstop the ears of the deaf and provide living water in the desert. It’s a theme that runs throughout Isaiah – a new start!
But that new start was not without its challenges. It certainly wasn’t popular with the authorities, and I wonder what it was like for the formerly-blind and the newly-hearing? The lame who could now walk – what did they do? They’d have lost their income as beggars and I’m guessing they didn’t have any jobs to go to. It must have taken quite a lot of getting used to.
Not that the change was not a good one, it was just … well … a change.
Change can be a challenge – even good changes like water in the desert. Who does God think he is, mucking about with the eco-system? Darned cheek!
I wonder what the changes are for you? What is passing and what is starting?
When good things pass we rightly mourn them, but the fruit of those good things continues in us and is never lost. Similarly, when less-good things pass we rejoice (or just breathe a sigh of relief) and lick our wounds. But the scars of those wounds can (to mix my metaphors) bear fruit of compassion, mercy and wisdom when we deal with others similarly scarred. It’s the harder times, I find, that teach me more.
A New Year is often a good time for a look back and a look forward. With my children I look back to where they’ve come from, how they have grown and developed, and I am amazed. I look on and wonder what will be in 3 years – they’ll be so different by then – in 5 years, in 10.
And what about me? Can I look back and thank God for how he has grown me? Knocked off a corner here, smoothed a rough edge there? What will he have done with me in 3 years – will I be so different by then? – in 5 years, in 10?
With John Newton, we can say “Though I am not what I ought to be, nor what I wish to be, nor what I hope to be, I can truly say, I am not what I once was.”
Join me on the adventure, and Happy New Year!
*except for southern hemisphere readers, whose school year started in Feb (ish), and haggis-munchers who went back in August.
** In case you are wondering, I was very worried about falling and smashing my knee while skating (we older ones don’t bounce as well as kids). As it turns out, although I was rapidly outpaced by the 5-year-olds and was the only one still hugging my polar bear at the end of my first lesson, I accomplished my goals of 1) remain upright, 2) move, 3) stop. My eldest daughter, however, got moved straight from level 1 to level 4 and was practicing ‘backward crossovers’. Oh well, decrepitude comes to us all eventually.
Isaiah 35:4-7 American Standard Version
Say to them that are of a fearful heart, Be strong, fear not: behold, your God will come with vengeance, with the recompense of God; he will come and save you.
Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf shall be unstopped. Then shall the lame man leap as a hart, and the tongue of the dumb shall sing; for in the wilderness shall waters break out, and streams in the desert. And the glowing sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water: in the habitation of jackals, where they lay, shall be grass with reeds and rushes.
How to make your own labyrinth
This labyrinth makes a delightful project for an evening or a part-by-part activity over a few sessions, and requires no specialist techniques or materials. It is suitable for all; children and adults, women and men, ‘crafty’ and not. You could make these in a home group or youth club, or as a class activity. This design has a captive ‘walker’ which cannot get lost, so this would be very suitable for use in a prayer station or for children.
You will need
- A piece of felt
- A piece of thin, gauzy material, the same size
- A glass ‘nugget’ or marble
- A soft pencil
- Yarn or embroidery thread
- Needle and pins
- Paper for the semi-circle templates
Start by making a template of semi-circles, 3cm apart. So the first has a radius of 3cm, then 6cm, then 9cm and so on, depending on how big you want your labyrinth. (Mine fell off the edge of the paper a bit – oops!) Cut out your template around the largest semi-circle and along the bottom. Mark the centre clearly.
The double spiral of this labyrinth is made from concentric semi-circles. It is like a target, but with the top and bottom halves off-set by 3cm.
Pin the thin fabric to your felt and place the template on, a little to the right of centre. Mark where the centre of the template is. I have marked it with crossed pins. You will use this as the centre of all the top semi-circles. Use the soft pencil to draw around the top curve of your template.
Now mark the left-hand end of the smallest semi-circle (where the pencil is pointing). This will be the centre of all the bottom semi-circles. I have marked it with another set of crossed pins.
Turn the template upside down and centre it on this new mark. Draw around the template again.
This should not make a complete circle! Your two semi-circles should be off-set by 3cm, the top one more to the right and the bottom one to the left.
Now trim the template to the next line and repeat. Centre it on the first mark (the one on the right) and draw around the curve. This should sit inside your first line, 3cm inside it all the way. Then turn the template upside down, centre it on the left mark and drawn the lower curve.
Keep trimming and drawing the concentric curves until you reach the middle. Your labyrinth should now look like this.
Stitch along these lines with yarn or embroidery thread. I have used three shades of purple. You can join lengths by tying a neat knot on the back.
When you have finished the sewing, mark a line of pins about 1cm outside the outer line of stitching, tapering the gaps at the open ends off to nothing.
Trim the fabric at the line of pins.
Fold the felt over the thin fabric and sew it down all around to neaten the edges. Add the glass nugget or marble to one of the tapered gaps as you sew it closed.
American Standard Version (ASV), Public Domain
John Newton: The Christian Spectator, vol. 3 (1821), p. 186