Paths to enlightenment: Local labyrinths show the way
by Liza Roberts
photographs by Tim Lytvinenko
A labyrinth is not a maze. With a single, meandering path to a center destination, a labyrinth guides a walker along a prescribed route; it does not try to trick him or get him lost. Its path may circle repeatedly or wind back and forth before bringing a walker to its core, then sends him back out again.
Symbolic of pilgrimage, of birth, of a path to God or enlightenment, labyrinths can be considered a metaphor, a meditation, a physical manifestation of prayer, a choreographed dance.
With a 5,000-year history and roots in Christianity (the most famous Medieval labyrinth is on the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France) as well as in pagan practices, labyrinths belong to no single tradition. Today, they are widely used by people of all kinds, of all beliefs, and for all manner of purposes. With intrigue as our guide, WALTER set out to document a small handful of the many labyrinths that dot our local landscape.
The labyrinth at Millbrook Baptist Church serves as an ever-changing worship space for church members. Candlelight walks, blessings of the animals, choir concerts, prayer walks, and Easter sunrise services all take place on its gently curving outdoor paths. “Sometimes, it is helpful to think about your walk as having three parts,” the church says in describing its labyrinth. “Releasing is the walk toward the center, letting go of the details of life, shedding thoughts and emotions. It empties and quiets the mind. Receiving is when you reach the center. It is a place of meditation and prayer … Returning is the walk out, which empowers you to take what you have received and move back into the world, replenished and directed.”
1519 E. Millbrook Road
It’s a Journey
St. Mark’s Methodist Church makes regular use of its Belgian block-outlined Journey Garden Labyrinth during Advent, Lent, and other times of the year. Situated in plain sight of busy Six Forks Road, the labyrinth provides a place of quiet. Walking in, the church says, is “a time to let go of life’s tensions.” Standing at the center is “a time to be still and silent, a time to listen to God.” Walking out, finally, provides “a time to feel at one with God, yourself, and your neighbor.”
4801 Six Forks Road
Some labyrinths, like the one mown into an expansive North Raleigh lawn, provide private paths for enlightenment. Described by the homeowner as a “meditation maze,” it is also a form of environmental art. Its juxtaposition alongside Portal, a monumental sculpture by Raleigh artist Thomas Sayre (a mock-up of a piece he did for the city of Portland, Oregon), further underscores its dual role as work of art and entry point to a place of peace, symbolized by the elegant sculpture of an infinity cross at its center.
The labyrinth at Hudson Memorial Presbyterian Church is a classical labyrinth, one of the oldest recorded labyrinth designs. Seven circuits laid out with stones under tall pines lead to its center. “During your walk,” Hudson says in its message to labyrinth walkers, “you might listen to your life. Listen for thoughts and memories that rise up in you. Listen for metaphors. Listen for God. Speak with God. Take in nature. Ask for wisdom. Rest, relax, and quiet yourself.”
4921 Six Forks Road
The glass-strewn paths of the Prayer Labyrinth in the hardwood forest at New Hope Camp in Chapel Hill sparkle in autumn’s filtered sunlight. Up a small hill, past a pond, and beyond the camp’s vespers area, the labyrinth “is designed to be a place of prayer and reflection, removed from the distractions and fast pace of the world outside,” New Hope says. The labyrinth is “a place of worship, prayer, and sanctuary.”
Open to the public by appointment only; 919-942-4716; 4805 N.C. Highway 86 North, Chapel Hill
On a painted hardwood floor in a contemporary downtown chapel, Pullen Memorial Baptist Church, above, offers its members a place to pray and meditate. One of several indoor labyrinths in the area, “it combines the imagery of the circle and the spiral into a meandering but purposeful path,” the church says. “It represents a journey to our own center and back again out into the world.”
Open to the public by appointment only; 919-828-0897; 1801 Hillsborough St.
The Enchanted Forest Labyrinth in Durham is not easy to find, though it’s listed on the encyclopedic World-Wide Labyrinth Locator website. Homeowner Jill Over will email directions to any serious labyrinth pilgrim, guiding a seeker down wooded roads to her house in a clearing, and to her 40-foot wide, seven-circuit labyrinth made of stones and mulch beyond. Cairns, shells, and driftwood find their place along the hand-laid paths of Over’s charmed sanctuary.
You can contact Jill Over for directions: 919-403-3382, TomMitchellDNA@gmail.com