Labyrinths predate Christianity and are found in many major religious traditions and cultures. Some experts believe that the Christian meditation labyrinth had its origins during the time after Saint Helena, the mother of the emperor Constantine, journeyed to the Holy Land in the 4th century. Europeans who could afford to do so made such a pilgrimage their goal, and for those who remained at home, walking a labyrinth emulated a holy journey by leading them, symbolically, through a maze-like network of foreign lands, finally reaching Jerusalem at the center, and returning home again.
St. Philip’s labyrinth had its origins as a “dream” during the Mission Discernment process in 2008, when parishioners dreamed of what God was calling St. Philip’s to do and be and what we needed to accomplish that. One of the four task forces that came out of the “dream-catching” sessions investigated building a multipurpose building and a labyrinth. The stumbling block for moving ahead with the labyrinth was determining how to fund the project. A few years later, St. Philip’s 75th Anniversary Committee, having planned and organized a multitude of exciting and inspiring events, turned their attention to the labyrinth project. They had the inspiration of selling commemorative bricks to help fund the project, seeded by a donation of some of the remaining funds disbursed from their treasury at the end of the 75th Anniversary year.
The labyrinth “ground-breaking” took place on December 22, 2011. The octagonal labyrinth at Amiens Cathedral in France was the inspiration for our labyrinth. Work started on the labyrinth in March 2012, and it was blessed by the Rt. Rev. Kirk Smith, Bishop of Arizona, in April. To date more than 250 bricks have been placed, many of them in memory of loved ones or commemorating a special person or occasion.
The Plaza has always been a place for relaxation, with the central fountain and shaded, grassy areas. Visiting artists often paint scenes of the 75-year-old Joesler Church, the fountain, and La Parroquia, which was once a well known Tucson restaurant. The newly renovated fountain and the labyrinth have enhanced the area.
The labyrinth is often visited by parishioners and visitors to campus, who sit and enjoy the ambience provided by the fountain or walk the labyrinth contemplatively (it takes about 20 minutes). The journey from the outside to the center of the labyrinth can be thought of as a journey from the world into one’s interior. Before entering the labyrinth, one can pray or meditate, then slowly follow the path in ever tightening circles to the center. The journey from the center back to the outside of the labyrinth takes one back to the outside world, hopefully refreshed by the experience.
The labyrinth has also been used for several special events. During Mental Illness Awareness Week, October 7–13, St. Philip’s Mental Illness Ministry, along with the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Southern Arizona, hosted the National Day of Prayer for Recovery and Understanding. Among the activities was an evening Candlelight Vigil Service on the labyrinth. In addition, St. Philip’s Labyrinth Committee has sponsored two very successfull Full Moon Labyrinth Walks in September and October. About 55 people enjoyed the labyrinth experience, followed by soup, cookies, meeting each other, and sharing feelings about the labyrinth. The Full Moon Walks have been so successful that we will continue them at each full moon, the next ones being November 28 and December 28 at 6:30 p.m. They will continue on in 2013.
The Advent Festival of Lights service on Tuesday, December 4, at 7 p.m., will end with candlelighting and a journey through the labyrinth. After some time for personal reflection, potluck dessert and coffee will be offered in the Murphey Gallery.
St. Philip’s labyrinth will be the focus for an Advent Retreat Day on Saturday, December 1, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Entitled “To Walk a Sacred, Holy Path,” the day will be an inspiring combination of learning, practice and reflection around our labyrinth, led by the Rev. N. Jean Rogers and Dr. Kevin Justus. During the retreat, participants will discover the history and inspiration for labyrinths through two lively retreat talks by Kevin Justus. The morning talk, “Soaring Heavenward—Understanding the Lost Language of the Gothic Architecture: Chartres and the Creation of Heaven on Earth,” will trace the development of the Gothic style from the Abbey of Saint Denis to Chartres. Participants will seek to apply what they discover about these sacred environments to their own lives. The afternoon talk, “The Cathedral of Amiens, St. Philip’s In The Hills and the Continuity of the Christian Tradition: Developing the Liturgy of and the Iconography for St. Philip’s Labyrinth,” will explore Amiens Cathedral and its unique history, from inception to completion—and its inspiration for the labyrinth at St. Philip’s. Following each of the talks, Jean Rogers will invite retreatants to discover how the labyrinth can help participants rediscover the depth of their souls and will offer methods for use while walking and praying the labyrinth. Each participant will receive an Anglican Rosary, prayerfully created by a St. Philip’s parishioner, with instruction for how to use the rosary for contemplative prayer. These sessions will be followed by time spent experiencing the beautiful St. Philip’s labyrinth. $25.00 retreat fee includes materials and lunch. Scholarship assistance is available. To register, visit the Adult Formation table in the Perry Garden on Sunday mornings, or contact the Rev. Greg Foraker.
—Tom Cross, Labyrinth Committee Chair