I enjoy walking labyrinths. Labyrinths are maze-like structures that have been used as spiritual tools for centuries. There are many of them around, and I am in the habit of trying to visit a lot of them. For more information about labyrinths, check out The Labyrinth Society.
I just spent three days at Holy Cross Monastery in West Park, New York, on an individual retreat. I spent much of the retreat reading Parker Palmer’s book The Promise of Paradox, and reflecting, praying, and journaling about it. Holy Cross has a labyrinth, and I expected to walk it while I was there. However, with all the rain we’ve had lately (and the snow, for God’s sake), it was mighty muddy and squishy. Some sections were just plain puddles. I walked it the first day, but it was quite a challenge, and not a very holy or mindful experience. Plus, it was just so hot out while I was there, I just wasn’t in the mood to hang out outside much.
I discovered something in the common room at the monastery. Leaning against the wall, near the board games, was a 2-foot wide wooden finger labyrinth. A finger labyrinth is a small-scale, portable labyrinth that you “walk” by running your finger through the groove. I picked it up and examined it. This one was a Chartres-style labyrinth, a replica of the famous 11-circuit labyrinth in the cathedral in Chartres, France. It was hand-carved by a company called PaxWorks. I had never used a wooden finger labyrinth like this before, and I was excited to try. I put it on a desk, and treated it the same way I would a regular labyrinth. I closed my eyes, centered myself, and focused on a question. (The question this time was, “How can I rest in God?”) I placed my finger in the groove, and kept my eyes closed. I found it rather difficult the first time — my finger kept slipping, and when I’d reach a corner, sometimes I wasn’t sure which way I was going. So I tried it again, this time going more slowly and keeping firmer pressure with my finger. It was remarkable — I found the same kind of mindfulness, the same flash of insight, the same peaceful connection, that I often find when walking labyrinths.
I am considering getting one for myself — it might be a good substitute on days when it isn’t feasible to get out to a “real” one.