Peace be with you: Prayer labyrinths offer moments of reflection and tranquility

It’s Holy Week, and I’m standing in the commons at Knox Presbyterian in Hyde Park, studying a simple-looking maze with a complex meaning.

“A labyrinth is not a maze,” says the handout at the front of the sanctuary. Whoops. Truth be told, I knew this, but without knowing the history, it’s hard to view them as anything else. What I didn’t know is that labyrinths all over the city, in plain sight, yet largely unnoticed. And that they can be used for more than just prayer.

“There’s so much interest in meditation and mindfulness in our culture these days, and yet I notice as I pass by the labyrinths that are around town that usually I don’t see them in use,” says Reverend Adam H. Fronczek, Pastor and head of staff at Knox.

The labyrinth at Knox was on loan for the week, and is owned by the Presbytery of Cincinnati, a coalition of about 70 Presbyterian churches in the area, which passes it around to its local congregations.

When it arrived at Knox, Rev. Fronczek decided to invite the parents of Knox Preschool to try it out.

“Even though — at least at this point — it wasn’t going to be a permanent instillation for us — one of the reasons that it was interesting to me for us to host the labyrinth during Holy Week and to reach out to preschool parents, for instance, and say, ‘Hey, come and give this a try if you’d like to,’” he says. “It’s been my observation that these are all over the place, it’s an easy way to get into mediation in kind of a non-threatening, welcoming way.”

His email to the parents cinched it for me: “Walking a prayer labyrinth is a simple, meditative practice that goes back hundreds of years and has roots both within and outside of Christian tradition. It’s great for busy people who need a little help slowing down and being mindful — like a lot of us parents of young children.”

Amen. And that’s how I found myself at church on a Tuesday morning.

For me, I wanted to take a meditative approach, but I didn’t know where to begin. Rev. Fronczek gave us a basic, easy-to-follow rundown before we began. The idea is to release, receive, and return, he instructed. As you start the maze and head towards the center, you release anything thing that is keeping you from connecting you with your creator. When you get to the center, be prepared to receive anything that your creator is trying to tell you in this particular time and place. Then it’s time to return to the rest of your life with the wisdom and perspective that you gained while in the labyrinth.

“There are no dead ends, no tricks, no puzzle to work out,” continues the pamphlet. I didn’t know that. “There is one path to the center and back out. As we walk along, sometimes it will seem that we are nearing the center, only to be sent out wide in an unexpected direction.”

I decided to modify it a bit and — this was the hardest part — to actually slow down and quiet my mind, at least on the way out. On the way in, I thought about a few personal issues that have been bothering me. In the center, I stood still, facing the large leaded windows appropriately bathed in light. I can’t say that I received a message, but on the return, I decided to focus on gratitude, which is much harder than it sounds when you’re attempting it for a solid 15 minutes, and a helpful exercise when constantly focused on a never-ending to-do list.

According to The Labyrinth Society, “A labyrinth is a meandering path, often unicursal, with a singular path leading to a center. Labyrinths are an ancient archetype dating back 4,000 years or more, used symbolically, as a walking meditation, choreographed dance, or site of rituals and ceremony, among other things. Labyrinths are tools for personal, psychological, and spiritual transformation, also thought to enhance right-brain activity. Labyrinths evoke metaphor, sacred geometry, spiritual pilgrimage, religious practice, mindfulness, environmental art, and community building.”

So, as it turns out, I wasn’t so far from the labyrinth’s origins.

Since then, I’ve explored three others around the city, with a list of more to find. The World-Wide Labyrinth Locator is also a useful resource. It’s a great activity solo, but it’s also an easy way to engage kids in the art of meditation.
Labyrinth at Smale Riverfront Park (Inspired by Barr Foundation)“With young kids, when you see schools that are adopting mindfulness practices, or yoga practices or anything like that, a lot of the time with little kids, it’s just a combination of just an intentional opportunity for silence, which they don’t get much of,” says Rev. Fronczek.

Another church staffer noted that kids might not handle it in a way adults view as “mindful” way because children unwind differently. But running through a path and taking a break at the center helps quiet their minds after a long day at school.

However you do it, says Fronczek, it’s a great way to let go of some things that are stressing you out.

“It’s an opportunity … to experience embodiment in an intentional way,” he says, “even if there’s not an intentional mental exercise going on.”


Read more articles by Jessica Esemplare.

Jessica Esemplare is the managing editor of Soapbox Cincinnati and a graduate of Syracuse University’s S.I. Newhouse School of Public Communications. Shortly after completing her degree in magazine journalism, she began covering local and regional topics at The Cincinnati Herald and, later, as an editor at Ohio Magazine. Her writing has also been featured in U.S. News and World Report.