One of the first labyrinths I ever walked was marked in duct tape on the floor of Chichester Cathedral. It just so happened I had found out less than 24 hours earlier that we were expecting our first child and I walked that meandering path of ancient stone full of wide-eyed disbelief and terrifying hope. Every prayer station along the way felt loaded with extra meaning. Every quote and verse was written ‘just for me’ or for my yet unborn child.
A few short years later, I held that child’s hand and walked a labyrinth etched into the paving outside a French cathedral. I wanted it to be a slow thoughtful process, reflecting on that earlier more makeshift labyrinth, but it turns out it’s hard to walk slowly and prayerfully when you’re with a four-year-old who ‘really needs a wee.’
But this is what labyrinths do. They are paths that reflect our real lives (even if, on that particular day, real life meant quickstepping it across Place de la Cathédrale). And this is what author Fay Rowland shares so beautifully in her new book, 40 Days with Labyrinths - Spiritual reflections with labyrinths to ‘walk’, colour or decorate (published Darton, Longman & Todd). With a name including the words ’40 days’ this would obviously make an ideal companion through Lent, but not exclusively so. Personally, I think I will enjoy dipping into it and walking a labyrinth or two all year round.
Similar to the labyrinths I’ve experienced in real life, the writer explains how, just when you think you’re nearly ‘there’, a sudden about-turn will force you back as far away from the centre as physically possible. She writes, “A labyrinth is a journey; a long, winding, and often unexpected path. In this, it resembles life with its sudden reversals and inexplicable detours. We can think we are close to our goal only to be turned away. Diversion heaps upon diversion. Then, when we have almost given up hope, the destination opens up before us. We have arrived! Our journey was not the way we’d have planned, and certainly not by the most direct route, but perhaps we’ve learned something along the way. Perhaps that was the point.”
My own memories of walking labyrinths confirm this. It can be frustrating, to say the least, choosing to stay on that winding path when really you just long to finish, to get there.
Like you always just want to finish. Like you always want to get there.
Yet still you make yourself follow that path because, in the end, it is the only one that will take you where you need to go. And when, after what feels like a relatively long time, you find yourself, frustratingly far from your goal, right on the outer circle, the very next turning sends you straight to the centre. It’s the kind of topsy-turvy spirituality Jesus lived by.
It always strikes me as odd that many languages use the same word for ‘maze’ and ‘labyrinth’ when, beyond the superficial appearance, they are quite different things. In a maze you genuinely can get lost, in a labyrinth you can’t. You simply need to follow the path. There is a level of trust required and there will be times when you wonder if there’s been some mistake, but as long as you stay on that road, you will make it.
Anyone can enjoy a labyrinth, but not everyone can regularly walk one. Maybe there’s not one nearby, or you might not have the mobility for all those twists and turns, but Fay Rowland’s book allows you to experience the depth and wonder of walking a labyrinth wherever you are and whatever your situation. Without leaving the house you can ‘walk’ these paths, tracing them slowly with your fingers or colouring them in. Gentle, humorous and thought-provoking all at once, this is a book of relaxed Bible reflections, each with its own attractively hand-drawn labyrinth to feast your eyes on and follow however you choose. The illustrations and the small but significant action of following the path help the reader engage more fully with the text, perfectly marrying our human need to ‘do something’ with the spirituality of stillness and reflection.
Labyrinths have been used by people of all faiths and none, as Fay explains, “In the Christian tradition, the path can represent your life journey towards God – not the neat, simple route that we might plan, but full of changes, reversals and the confusion that is common to all. Nevertheless, the path of a labyrinth always, always leads the right way.”
Having mostly experienced either temporary labyrinths or traditional circles cut into
stone or mown into a lawn, I was intrigued at the idea of 40 different ones. I wasn’t sure what difference a slight variation in the path could make. But this is where I had completely underestimated both the scope of labyrinths and Fay’s creativity. From simple to complex, from geometric patterns to more organic ones, for example, in the shape of trees (these were my particular favourites), this book offers a wide variety of paths, each with its accompanying reflection and short prayer to guide your thoughts as you ‘walk’.
There are sections covering everything from Home to Bread, from Wonder to Restoration, and within each section, stories. Bible stories of course, but also wonderful personal anecdotes full of gentle wit and humanity. Gems of wisdom. There is room for everything and space to breathe as you go.
So, grab your colouring pencils – or simply have your finger at the ready - and relax into this fascinating adventure.
40 DAYS WITH LABYRINTHS Spiritual reflections with labyrinths to ‘walk’, colour or decorate is published by Darton, Longman & Todd and can be purchased on their website: https://www.dartonlongmantodd.co.uk/titles/2368-9781915412102-40-days-with-labyrinths
Get 35% off using the code labyrinth at checkout.
The author also offers workshops in sewn or drawn labyrinths as well as full-sized labyrinths, suitable for venues such as churches, schools and wellbeing cafés.
For more information about Fay Rowland, go to fayrowland.co.uk