By JanMarie Sajna
I went to the concert to listen to harp music. It was October 7, 2001.
A woman billed as the Crystal Harpist was scheduled to perform at the church I was attending that year, All Souls Unitarian Universalist of Kansas City. Bored and finding retirement odd, I went – just for something to do. The music was wonderful, and the woman, gentle and peaceful.
At the end of the concert, the audience was invited to stay to walk a labyrinth that was being unrolled at the back of the sanctuary. The large piece of canvas with a design imprinted upon it was about 30 feet in diameter. I hung around out of curiosity and ignorance, as I had no idea what this labyrinth thing was all about. The Crystal Harpist began to give us some background about the history of walking prayer labyrinths and how there was a resurgence of interest in these ancient metaphors of life. She told us how these walking patterns seemed to be helping people to pray, to meditate, and to find answers to prayer.
She invited the adults to sit in a circle around the canvas labyrinth laid out on the floor. The lights in the room were dimmed to make a meditative atmosphere yet not so much as to impair visibility. She told us the children would walk the labyrinth first. Then she laughed and said, “They will run it, for that is what children do.”
I found that if I just watched the kids running through the labyrinth, they all looked to be in a chaos that would have them careening into one another. But they weren’t. My first epiphany was to recognize that what looked like chaos was actually each child following the path. It was the path that directed their footsteps. If I was able to focus on their feet, their foundation, I could see the path, but if I only focused on the individual child without seeing their path, I found myself judging how far they were from the center, from the goal.
I decided to follow one child’s progress, focusing on her and then her feet. The pathway led the child I watched close to the center and I thought, “Ah, she’s almost there!” but then the path led her back out toward the outer rim. My judgment of her progress was wrong. And the first metaphor of life (Epiphany #1) smacked me between the eyes as I realized how often I judged the progress of myself and others when I had no clue as to what their path or my path was. I was stunned in a way I’d never been before.The visual of this child’s progress was something I had never considered in my self-righteous judgments about progress, whether mine or that of others.
The path of the labyrinth was narrow, so with about 20 children running it, there were often bottlenecks. Laughing, the children would wrap their arms around each other and baby step their way past. They did this with giggling and friendship, and they did it whether they were passing someone who wanted to go slower or whether they were meeting someone going in the opposite direction.
Epiphany #2: How easy it was for them to hug one another as they maneuvered around each other. They hugged with laughter and caring, and then let go and moved on.
“ In life, how many of us do that? How often do I do that?” I asked myself. Either we demand someone get out of our way, or we hold on, not letting either them or us move on. “Why not hug in friendship and joy instead and help each other to make the transition?“
Those epiphanies were just the beginning of what I was to learn from following the path of the labyrinth
A labyrinth is a pattern with a purpose, an ancient tool coming from Christian, Jewish, Native American, Egyptian, Asian, etc. , churches and temples which speaks to a long forgotten part of us.
Lying dormant for centuries, labyrinths are undergoing a revival of use and interest in many churches.
The labyrinth represents our passage through time and experience. Its many turns reflect the journey of life, which involves change and transition, rites of passage, and cycles of nature. Different from a maze – which has dead ends and false passages – the labyrinth has a single path that leads unerringly to the center. It shows us that no time or effort is ever wasted – IF we stay the course, every step, however circuitous, takes us closer to our goal.
There is a strong connection between the labyrinth and earth energies, reestablishing a long-lost rapport with nature and with the feminine. The turns of the labyrinth are thought to balance the two hemispheres of the brain, resulting in physical and emotional healing. As reaching the center is assured, walking the labyrinth is more about the journey than the destination, about being rather than doing, integrating body and mind, psyche and spirit into one harmonious whole leading to a deep, inner experience. Thus, the labyrinth is really a tool, the physical entry point to the energy and truth that lie beyond the visible.
These excerpts are from JanMarie Sajna’s book, THE LABYRINTH EFFECT: The Many Faces of Answered Prayer, Published by Create Space, 2015,
JanMarie Sajna, a one-time Teacher of the Year, emphasized integrating the arts into life in her classes whether she was teaching kindergarteners or masters-level teachers. She is an artist, storyteller, and house remodeler who is known for her creativity, her organizational skills, and her hats. She created the Genesis House Walking Prayer Labyrinth in her garden in Independence, Missouri.
She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org