by Christine Sine
Some of you have probably noticed that my finger labyrinth features prominently on my Lenten altar this year. It is an 11 circuit Chartres style labyrinth, so named because it is modeled after the labyrinth set in the stone floor in the nave of Chartres Cathedral in France. Throughout the season this labyrinth has sat on a stand on my prayer table, prominently displayed and ready to be taken down and used whenever I am puzzling over a challenging question. I used it to guide me through the questioning process I described in this Monday meditation. It is comforting, at times challenging but always enlightening.
To be honest when I first read about finger labyrinths when I was working on my book Return to Our Senses, this seemed a very strange way to pray. Most of the articles I read suggested that the best way to trace out a finger labyrinth is with a finger from your non-dominant hand. It seemed weird but evidently research suggests that our non-dominant hand has better access to our intuition.
Much to my surprise, I found that it really did help me focus and often brought intuitive inspiration when I was grappling with challenging questions. As I “walk” my labyrinth I still often recite the prayer above which is one I adapted from a previous one I wrote for Return to Our Senses.
This week I have gone a little further and allowed the labyrinth to inspire my journalling and my preparation for Holy week and Easter. I sketched the crude labyrinth in my journal then wrote the words that have been impressed on me over the last few weeks as a pathway for me to follow as Lent ends. Out of this I suspect will come a new practice for the coming season of Easter.
Labyrinths as Pilgrimage
Labyrinths are one of the oldest spiritual tools known to humankind, dating back at least 4000 years. They became identified with the Christian church in Europe around 350 A.D. In the Middle Ages, it is believed that walking the labyrinth was often used as a form of pilgrimage for those who could not afford the time or the money to leave their homes for an extended time to walk to the Holy Land. They walked the labyrinth with the same intentionality that pilgrims did. The inward walk was a journey toward a closer sense of the presence of God, the outward walk, a journey back into the community, taking the benefits of the walk into the ongoing journey of our lives.
In its simplest form a labyrinth walk is used as a simple form of meditation for individuals and groups. Because it requires no figuring out, one can simply walk, allow the mind to quiet, and let the body take over. We may walk, dance, or crawl the path, doing what the body calls forth; there are no rules, there is no right or wrong way.
Many churches and religious institutions, including Calvin College I know encourage their congregations and students to walk the labyrinth during Lent and Holy Week as a meditative walk toward the Cross – an alternative to Stations of the Cross for many people. Here are some ideas on how to do this and pilgrim paths in the U.K. has produced this excellent brochure for a Holy Week labyrinth walk.
Finger Labyrinths for Questioning.
A finger labyrinth is similar to a full sized labyrinth you would walk except it is on a much smaller and more portable scale. The user traces the path to the centre using your finger rather than with their feet. There are many different kinds of labyrinths differing in size and complexity. Interestingly, some of the earliest labyrinths found in Christian churches are finger labyrinths, their circuits well worn over the centuries by the passage of innumerable fingers “walking” to the center and then out again.
While modern hospitals and nursing homes now advertise large and visible outdoor labyrinths, many more healing institutions are quietly bringing finger labyrinths inside. One simple reason is that many patients are confined to beds or wheelchairs. Finger labyrinths have advantages beyond convenience and accessibility. People use finger walks not just for prayer and healing, but also to get ready for meetings, break through writer’s block, cure insomnia, and for many other reasons known only to them. They provide a legitimate path for questioning and problem solving.
I love finger labyrinths – both walking and creating them and would heartily recommend them to you. They are great because of their portability. I even have one I can carry in my pocket. There are many patterns to these so you might like to download a few and experiment with how they can help you find solutions to the questions you are grappling with you. You might just like to color your labyrinth in different colors or write the words that come to you as you walk it along the pathway.
If you have time, create your own finger labyrinth, this is a meditative exercise in itself.
One of my favourite set of instructions for making a finger labyrinth is from Heather Plett who has made labyrinth design a piece of art. Another method I have not tried yet is making a finger labyrinth with play dough.
What Is Your Response?
Here is a simple finger labyrinth exercise you might like to experiment with. If you don’t own a finger labyrinth, download or draw a simple pattern.
Sit in a quiet place with your hands in your lap, palms facing upward. Take a few breaths in and out until you feel at peace in your soul.
Recite the prayer above several times and relax into the presence of God
Form a question you are grappling with or use the one I suggested during Lent What am I afraid of? Place a finger from your non-dominant hand at the entrance to the labyrinth. Prayerfully ask your question. Invite the holy spirit of God to guide and instruct you on your journey.
Trace the circuit with your finger. Stay open to whatever presents itself: feelings, sensations, memories, ideas. Pause at any time to breathe, focus on a thought or memory or just to relax into the labyrinth and your questioning. At the center of the labyrinth, sense your connection to your own center and to the the centering presence of God. Acknowledge the Holy Spirit, the heavenly counselor directing your thoughts and exploration. Relax, prayer, sing. Repeat your question and wait on the Holy Spirit to guide you.
Trace your way out, staying open to whatever comes up for you. Now you might like to change you question to What would I do if I was not afraid? When your walk is done, place both hands on the labyrinth, take some deep breaths in and out, and give thanks to God for whatever you learned and experienced.