Nothing convoluted in this search
Students use Lent to search a labyrinth for God
By Patricia Kasten
Compass Associate Editor
Most of us find ourselves going round in circles for various reasons. At St. Mary Central High School, Neenah, students will spend Lent going around in circles in search of God.
Thanks to the efforts of Anne Shelley, librarian; Gail Hawley, religion teacher; Patti Christensen, former religion teacher; and students in its religion classes, SMC has a prayer labyrinth.
Shelley, who kept the project going from conception to completion, credits Christensen with the initial idea for a labyrinth as part of introducing students to different types of prayer.
"We're not all the same," Shelley said. "Some types of prayer work better for people than others."
Based on a type of prayer dating back to the Middle Ages, the labyrinth is a circular pattern - similar to a maze - that leads through winding circuits to the center. The labyrinth is not a maze, but a single path that leads in, and then back out again. A person walks at their own pace, praying - and just being silent.
The most famous labyrinth is a 12th century mosaic paved in the floor of Chartres' Cathedral of Notre Dame in France and dates to the 12th century. Many cathedrals in Europe had labyrinths and some speculate that they were devised as a form of pilgrimage, perhaps when people could not travel safely to the Holy Land during the Crusades.
Christensen, consultant for Family Ministry for the diocese, first got the idea for a labyrinth when she was campus minister at Alverno College in Milwaukee. She borrowed a cloth labyrinth from St. Paul Catholic Parish in Genesee Depot, Wis. She said that the responses, recorded in a prayer journal at Alverno, by students and general public, was amazing. Even the college volleyball team used it as their season opening bonding experience.
"When you're walking the labyrinth, along the path, back and forth, back and forth, something happens, deep in your heart," Christensen said. "If you go in, totally empty, and let God work in you, it's an amazing journey."
When she came to SMC, Christensen took her classes to an outdoor labyrinth at Congregational church in Appleton. Again, the effects were profound and Christensen knew they needed one for their school.
Shelley agreed and the two began seeking funds for an indoor, canvas labyrinth.
"Our school year doesn't really coincide with using an outdoor labyrinth," said Shelley. Outdoor labyrinths are usually mown in grass.
Since canvas labyrinths cost several thousand dollars - and after a community grant proposal by Christensen was rejected - something lest costly had to be found. Using the Chartres model, Shelley's brother, Steve, used CAD computer software and devised a scale model. They then built a compass to draw large concentric circles from the model. Students raised $500 through a Hot Drinks Mobile and bake sales to purchase 12 drop cloths, which Shelley and Hawley stitched together into three 36 x 12 foot panels, which can be joined together by Velcro strips into a 36-foot square.
Requests for donations of paint brought in pink, white and purple, which combined into a Lenten purple shade. Using Steve Shelley's pattern, students from religion classes painted the labyrinth. Their teachers also requested that students suggest Scripture verses, hymn lyrics and the names of deceased loved ones to be sealed into areas around the labryrinth's curves. The whole labyrinth was blessed at an all-school Mass on Jan. 26.
Finally, at the center of the labyrinth, they painted an Alpha and Omega.
"I wanted Christ to be the center of all this," said Shelley. "This is our journey and he's at the beginning and the end of our journey."
The labyrinth was designed with larger pathways, because Shelley and Hawley want it to be available to every parish that supports SMC. They hope that even those with walkers can maneuver it.
Hawley said the labyrinth will be part of religious education at SMC, especially during Lent and Advent, two seasons marked by spiritual journeys.
"I like to give my students the opportunity to walk the labyrinth as a form of meditative prayer," she said. "It's a metaphor for the human journey toward God. We find God in the center of our being. The labyrinth has been called 'a maze in grace,' although it really isn't a maze at all. There are no tricky dead ends. It's just one path that leads to the center."
(Shelley says the CAD model is available to any other group wanting to build a labyrinth. The canvas labyrinth itself takes about 10 minutes to set up and is available to groups for prayer use. Contact SMC at (920)722-7796. For more information on labyrinth prayer, contact Christensen at 1-877-500-3580, ext. 8304.)