Labyrinth Walks for Lent, Holy Week, and Easter

February 11th, 2014

If your church has a labyrinth the period of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter provides a great opportunity for beginning a practice of labyrinth walking. The suggestions provided in this article can also be used when “finger walking” finger labyrinths, as well.

There are three primary types of labyrinth walks, each a little more structured than the previous category.

  1. Open walks
  2. Themed or focused walks
  3. Guided walks

Keep in mind that a labyrinth is not a maze. A labyrinth has only one path that one walks from the entrance to the center, and then walks the same path returning from the center to the entrance, which is now an exit. For this reason the labyrinth is often referred to as a “unicursal” pattern.

Because of this, a labyrinth walk naturally organizes itself into three phases, regardless of the degree of structure provided for the walk.

The walk from the entrance of the labyrinth to the center

This phase of the labyrinth walk is often called “releasing.” (The classic term is “purgation.”) Let go of what burdens you. Let go of the details of your life. This is an act of shedding thoughts and emotions. Allow your mind to empty and become quiet.

The time spent at the center

This phase of the labyrinth walk is often called “receiving.” (The classic term is “illumination.”) Spend some time and be open to what you may hear, feel, or experience. Stay there as long as you like. The center is a place of meditation and prayer. Receive what is there for you to receive.

The walk from the center of the labyrinth to the exit

This phase of the labyrinth walk is often called “returning.” (The classic term is “union.”) Express gratitude for the walk and for the insights you received, whether you are aware of these insights or not, at this point. Be open to thoughts or intuitions concerning how you might integrate the labyrinth experience into your daily life as you leave the sacred space of the labyrinth.

If you add to these steps some time for preparation before beginning a walk (e.g. reading some scripture, reading a meditation or a poem, reading a script for the walk, etc.) and some time following the walk for integrating your experience (e.g. journaling, doodling, sitting quietly beside the labyrinth, etc.) you really have a five-part walk.

  1. Preparing
  2. Releasing
  3. Receiving
  4. Returning
  5. Integrating

These three-part or five-part structures will be helpful to you as you walk the labyrinth or as you develop materials to assist labyrinth walkers during Lent, Holy Week, Easter, and beyond.

Open Labyrinth Walks

Open labyrinth walks are just that: individuals or groups are invited simply to walk the labyrinth as they choose. Either no additional guidance is provided, or general guidance can be provided regarding the three or five parts of a labyrinth walk described above. People can be reminded that the labyrinth is a tool for prayer, reflection, contemplation, meditation, celebration, fun, problem solving, and personal growth. People may be reminded that the labyrinth often is seen as a metaphor, or a symbol, for the journey of life.

Lent is a good time to begin a new practice of daily or weekly labyrinth walking. The Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress differentiates a practice from a discipline. She says,

“A practice is more flexible than a discipline. A discipline is usually done at a certain time each day. There are specific methods or techniques to enter into it. The practice of labyrinth walking is guided by what you need from the walk. … Use a labyrinth when it calls you. When you want the benefits of a quiet mind, a prayerful heart, a release from controlling behavior, find your way to a labyrinth.” (Artress, 2006, pg. 6)

At Harmony Grove UMC, where I coordinate the Labyrinth Ministry, on occasions I have issued the following invitation.

Start Something New for Lent

“This year don’t give something up for Lent. This year start something new: the spiritual practice of walking the labyrinth daily or weekly.

Harmony Grove’s canvas labyrinth will be available in the Chapel at all times during Lent and Holy Week. Anytime the church is open, the Chapel will be available for prayer and meditation and the canvas labyrinth will be available for walking. The outdoor labyrinth is always available.

Every week during Lent and Holy Week a new, short meditation will be available to guide your prayer, meditation, and labyrinth walk. You really don’t need to ‘know’ anything to walk the labyrinth; however, information about the labyrinth is available in the Chapel and at the outdoor labyrinth.”

Themed or Focused Labyrinth Walks

Themed, or focused labyrinth walks go a step beyond open labyrinth walks in providing suggested structure for walks. Usually a themed or focused walk will provide some suggested material to read where the labyrinth is located. This could be as simple as providing some general information and descriptors for Lent, Holy Week, or Easter, and suggesting that people read this material before they begin their walk. It could be suggested that they choose a topic or phrase or topic from the material provided and use this to guide their walk.

Lent, Holy Week, and Easter provides a wealth of material with which to focus labyrinth walks. For this reason, these periods are good times to encourage people to begin a practice of labyrinth walking. Again, the materials you provided can be structured around the three or five parts of a labyrinth walk described above.

Do you need some ideas to jump-start your creativity? Here are some suggestions.

  • The Lectionary readings for Lent: Each week provide copies of the scripture specified for that Sunday of Lent beside the labyrinth, along with general suggestions for the labyrinth walk.
  • Lenten Meditations: Select one of the many sets of daily meditations available at this time of year, such as The Upper Room Daily Devotional Guide, the Daily Guideposts, or another series. Have copies of the meditation booklets available near the labyrinth, along with general suggestions for incorporating the meditations into a labyrinth walk. For example, it might be suggested that one sit quietly, read the meditation, and then spend some time in reflection. Then choose a word or phrase from the meditation that particularly speaks to you and repeat that word or phrase as you walk the labyrinth. Or begin walking the labyrinth and see if a particular word or phrase from the meditation suddenly pops into your mind. If so, go with that and see where it leads, following the three-part structure. The word or phrase might change or morph into something completely different as you walk.
  • Lenten Studies: This time of year publishers make available Lenten studies, particularly for use by classes and small groups. Each week’s study topic could be used as a focus for labyrinth walks that week in the same manner as suggested above.
  • Create your own: As your own Lenten practice, exercise your creativity and commit to writing a meditation for each week of Lent, Holy Week, and Easter. Use these meditations as themes for labyrinth walks, as described above.
    Also, perhaps a labyrinth walk or two would bring additional ideas to mind. Before you walk the labyrinth, simply set an intention for allowing creative ideas and then walk the labyrinth. Be careful that you don’t program your walk regarding what you “should” receive. Simply walk with openness to new ideas, and respond to the gentle nudges and leadings of the Holy Spirit. When you finish your walk(s), spend some time beside the labyrinth making notes of any ideas that might have come to mind. Don’t develop them or evaluate them at this point, just capture the ideas.
    At Harmony Grove UMC, we usually hold our Easter Sunrise Service on or near the labyrinth. Prior to or following the service, people are encouraged to use the labyrinth to make a metaphorical “Journey to the Tomb.” What are your thoughts as you make your way to the tomb (the walk to the center)? What are your thoughts as you are at the tomb (your time in the center)? What are your thoughts as you make your way back from the tomb (the walk out from the center)? What will you do with/about these thoughts?

Guided Walks

Guided labyrinth walks are very similar to themed or focused walks, except that much more structure is provided for each phase of the walk. A guided walk comes very close to being scripted, with suggested steps for each of the three or five aspects of the labyrinth walk. Developing guided labyrinth walks takes a lot of time, and many people don’t like to have that much structure provided for their labyrinth walks. For developing guided labyrinth walks, the same types of materials as suggested above can be used. Examples of two styles of scripting guided labyrinth walks using the Lectionary Reading for the First Week of Lent (Matthew 4:1-11) are attached to this article.

Regardless of the type of labyrinth walk you choose to emphasize as you begin your Lenten practice of daily or weekly labyrinth walking, or make it available to those in your church, you will find a rich supply of material available to be mined for ideas. Use your creativity, walk your labyrinth, share your thoughts and ideas here! Would you like to see some scripts for specific themed, focused, or guided labyrinth walks around different topics published here?

Artress, Lauren. The Sacred Path Companion: A Guide to Walking the Labyrinth to Heal and Transform. New York, NY: Berkley Publishing Group, 2006.

Note: Whenever the people of a church are considering purchasing or building a labyrinth, I suggest that they construct a temporary labyrinth first, either indoors using masking tape, or outdoors using marking paint. That way the church can see if a labyrinth fits into a particular space, or if they might prefer a different design before they spend money and time. Also, sometimes it is possible to borrow a portable canvas labyrinth from another church. There is some good information in the Resources section of the Labyrinth Society website. Additionally, there are step-by-step instructions for constructing a masking tape labyrinth on the Labyrinth Society website. This is a fairly complex design, however. There are smaller, easier masking tape labyrinths that can be made. Please contact John if you have other questions about this.


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