St. Stephen’s Episcopal’s new labyrinth is open to people of all faiths
Labyrinths have captured the human imagination since prehistoric times. Their intricate circular paths, demanding focus to walk, are considered archetypal by theologians and psychologists. Now, Sebastopol has its own labyrinth, thanks to St. Stephen’s Episcopal Church, which built a large, permanent labyrinth on its grounds in mid-October.
The Rev. Christy Laborda Harris, who has been the priest at the church for the last eight years, called the new labyrinth “a walking prayer.”
“It means trusting one’s path,” she said.
Laborda Harris said her congregation has wanted to create a labyrinth for at least 20 years, periodically forming committees to study how it could be done.
This year, the church contacted Lars Howlett, a labyrinth expert, to help them design it.
“The congregation knew it wanted one based on the famous labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral so it needed to be 40 feet wide,” Laborda Harris said.
The Chartres Cathedral labyrinth, built between 1215 and 1221 A.D., requires the walker to walk all four quadrants before arriving at the center rosette, which represents enlightenment.
Modern design considerations played a part as well.
“It needed to be flat and accessible to those in wheelchairs, and we wanted it to be made from natural materials, so it is blue stone and gold gravel,” Laborda Harris said. “We wanted it to have lasting impact.”
Even before the church built the labyrinth, they had already prepared a site for it — a section of the church grounds set aside as a place for outdoor worship.
“So many people find their connection to God through nature, it just made sense,” Laborda Harris said.
Occidental Arts and Ecology Center (OAEC) held a permaculture class at the church, which resulted in a design for the outdoor “sacred space” that included a place for the future labyrinth. A later OAEC class helped plant and create the new garden design for the site. All that was left to do was build the labyrinth.
The church hired a contractor to build a rock and concrete bed foundation, then the congregation began work in earnest, with volunteers laying out the labyrinth itself. First they laid directional stones with written prayers and then Laborda Harris held a special blessing for the site on Oct. 13.
“The labyrinth is surrounded by prayers,” she said.
It took a week of work to complete the labyrinth.
This week, after Sunday services, worshippers streamed out to walk the path.
How does one walk a labyrinth?
According to Harris, you center yourself, then enter from the east and walk it however you want, as slowly as you wish, with whatever focus and prayers you bring with you until you reach the center, facing west. You can stay in the center as long as you need. Then you thread your way out again.
“We want people of any belief, on any spiritual path, to feel welcome to come and walk it, Harris said.
“The labyrinth is something that goes back so far, it transcends Christianity. The people are ecstatic,” she said.