Friday, June 11, 2010

Walking the prayer labyrinth: calm meditation without the supernatural

The labyrinth, a life-size pattern leading to the center area, has ancient roots but was adopted by Christianity as a prayer-tool.  The patterns exist on several European cathedrals, and the prayer labyrinth has been experiencing a resurgence lately.  The basic idea is to walk slowly through the path while praying, reach the center, pray some more, and then pray as you walk out.  By itself, this can be a calming way to spend some time, and if we substitute meditation for prayer, can be secular. 

But the religious are perpetually on the march and the prayer labyrinth is also a means for recruitment, and it carries with it the usual religious baggage.  The head of Faith, Hope and Love Ministries describes using prayer labyrinths to spread the word:
Prayer is bringing hope, healing wounds, and transforming lives in some of the most troubled places in the world. From Bulgaria to Rwanda, Congo to Myanmar, my wife Jill and I have the opportunity to talk with many different people who suffer from poverty, war, oppression, hunger, disease, and sexual violence.
Around the world, they build labyrinths and take people through them, with powerful, if perhaps exaggerated results:
For example, one construction worker at HEAL Africa compound (Goma, Democratic Republic of Congo) said, "When I prayed the labyrinth, I realized that even though there are many challenges, and different things happen, the important thing in the spiritual life is to keep going. Perseverance is necessary." A young man in scrubs told Jill, "As I walked, I saw the way was long and very difficult. Then I realized that what needed to change was my attitude. The way was long, but I had the possibility of choosing what I thought about it." After another walk, a woman waiting for a fistula repair surgery after being raped, wanted us to know, "This is the path of my life. I am walking to God."
The results, as described, are certainly inspiring.  But the Reverend makes clear he is not interested in only a mental lift through calm meditation:

They walk, they pray -- without liturgy, with few instructions -- and they find God. Some rediscover Jesus and find great encouragement from his experience of suffering and message of hope. Most simply sense God's presence or hear a pertinent word from the Holy Spirit that comforts, encourages, or strengthens them to carry on.
An apt analogy may be to the motivational speakers who use the trick of fire-walking to hook and to inspire their followers.  It's not really related to the rest of their presentation, but they can amaze the crowd and spin it as part of their own system.  And so the meditation labyrinth became the prayer labyrinth, and those that enjoy the experience associate it with religion.  But the activity and its results are not, however, linked to religion (outside of the Reverend's claims).

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