St. Gabriel Episcopal Church's new labyrinth offers a quiet place for community to stroll
by: Jonathan House, The Rev. Lou Ann Pickering of St. Gabriel the Archangel Episcopal Church in Bethany holds a grooved model of the labyrinth used by people who cannot walk so they can follow the path with a finger as they pray.

St. Gabriel the Archangel Episcopal Church has created a new Community Labyrinth to serve as a peaceful place for Bethany neighbors to gather.

'We're hoping the neighbors around us will come and walk it,' said The Rev. Lou Ann Pickering. 'The labyrinth offers wonderful metaphors of the journey of life.

'You can walk it alone or walk it in community. It's a place to be quiet and find peace.'

The public is invited to join in a dedication of the St. Gabriel Community Labyrinth at sunset Friday night and walk along the spiraling path for the first time.

The dedication begins at 6:55 p.m. with a candlelight blessing at the church, 17435 N.W. West Union Road. As guests walk the labyrinth, Suzanne Cerddeu will play her harp.

'Hopefully it will be a beautiful experience for people,' Pickering said.

Perfect space

Creating the labyrinth in the circular courtyard of the church has been a dream for the St. Gabriel congregation.

'We had the perfect space and it seemed to fit the building so much,' the vicar added.

The St. Gabriel Community Labyrinth, created for the church by artist D.C. Donohue, is a replica of the 11-circuit labyrinth designed into the stone floor of Chartres Cathedral in France around 1220 AD.

'The faithful would pilgrimage to the cathedral, and the last leg of the pilgrimage would be the walking of the labyrinth,' Pickering said.

Labyrinths are considered in many cultures and faith traditions around the world to be walking meditation pathways. Unlike mazes, the pathway of a labyrinth circles to the center without wrong turns or dead ends, allowing the mind to slow and quiet.

'It's a journey, where you take one step at a time,' Pickering said. 'If you keep your eyes on the path, you'll find your way and get to the center. Then, you find your way back out. You can trust that the path will get you in and out. It mirrors the twists and turns we take in our lives - it's a wonderful metaphor in that way.'

Symbol of hope

Pickering walked her first labyrinth in the early 1990s when she attended a chaplain conference in San Francisco.

'I was absolutely enchanted by it,' Pickering said. 'It's a lovely way to walk and meditate.

'Sitting still in contemplation isn't always easy for me. So, moving along an ancient, wonderful pattern is a wonderful way to stay connected to my prayer. Walking my first labyrinth was a gift of profound measure for me.'

Pickering considers the labyrinth to be a tool for prayer.

Twenty members of the St. Gabriel congregation walked the labyrinth last Sunday.

'Everyone moved at their own pace,' Pickering said. 'It was a lovely dance of community.'

The church plans to incorporate use of its labyrinth to celebrate Thanksgiving, Christmas, welcome the New Year and before weddings, the birth of a child or other events in people's lives.

The labyrinth will also provide a way for the church to connect with its neighbors.

'It's a symbol of hope to me of a community working together, trusting in the journey we're all on and trusting in the Creator who fills our lives with so many gifts in so many ways,' Pickering said. 'It's a place where everyone is welcome to come at any time.'