The ‘Labyrinth Experience’ in South Belfast

When Pastor Gary Gilley was our guest here in March 2006 to address a number of issues, including what has come to be known as ‘The Emerging Church’; he highlighted how in many instances churches and fellowships are now ‘supplementing’ or in some cases virtually ‘replacing’ the reading and preaching of the Word of God with more visual, sensory-based experiences designed to somehow induce an almost mystical ‘experience’ of ‘God’.

In recent times a couple of Methodist Churches in South Belfast have hosted what were termed as ‘The Labyrinth Experience’. In each case those presenting this ‘experience’ have ‘dressed up’ rooms in the church complexes in such a way as to appeal to and address the senses and to supposedly ‘picture’ some aspect of a spiritual relationship with God. Ideas such as ‘the journey so far’, ‘the God who knows and loves’, our ‘relationship’ and what He ‘reveals’ will hopefully be ‘conjured up’ by the use of partitions and curtains, devotional aids such as the well-known ‘Footprints’, photos of people and communities, water bowls, pebbles and an open Bible.

Having spoken to one very sincere Christian lady who is known personally to me and who went through this ‘experience’ she stated that she found it, as a ‘primer for prayer’, to be a stimulating experience. She felt too that those presenting the ‘experience’ genuinely wanted to somehow attract people who might otherwise not darken the door of a church. In these days of falling church attendances I can fully understand their motivation.

The question is – is this the right ‘way’ to address this problem? A very helpful ‘warning’ ministry is called ‘Let Us Reason’ and I want now to quote extracts from one of the articles on their website that was written by their Director, Mike Oppenheimer. I have also supplied the website link should you wish to read the entire article.

Extracts from article by Mike Oppenheimer on

http://www.letusreason.org/Nam30.htm

Walking the labyrinth has become a popular spiritual exercise across the country and around the world. I first read of it in Leadership Magazine, a Christian publication and became a bit concerned – since looking into it further I’m definitely concerned.

Labyrinths are said to been used for over 3000-3500 years (depending who you ask), accurate dating has been difficult. We are told by those who promote their use that Labyrinths are ancient and have been a part of the sacred landscape through human history. Those who use the labyrinth describe them as a pattern with power and a purpose. They are called “divine imprints,” that symbolize an archetype of wholeness. The Labyrinth is said to encourage healing, clarity, and peacefulness. There are claims of profound experiences as they affect the people who use them by connecting them with the deepest part of themselves. Labyrinths can often have a particular “specialty” in healing, improving ones health or alleviating symptoms of certain diseases.

From the Catholic Encyclopedia — Labyrinth is a complicated arrangement of paths and passages; or a place, usually subterraneous, full of windings, corridors, rooms, etc., so intricately arranged as to render the getting out of it a very difficult matter…

Early Christians took a vow to visit the Holy City of Jerusalem at some point in their lives. During the middle ages the Crusades made travel to Palestine unsafe, so they used other means to honour their commitment. Labyrinths were used as a substitute pilgrimageexperience for the holy land. Adopted by the Roman Catholic Church, Labyrinths were offered to the congregation as a way of fulfilling their vow to visit the holy land and nicknamed it the “New Jerusalem.”…

we find that the origin of Labyrinths are from pre-Christian days. This is what we need to pay attention to – what were they used for before the Roman Catholic Church adopted them for their contemplation and pilgrimage substitute to the Holy land. Labyrinths predate Christianity by over 1,000 years…And the purpose of this article is make Christians aware that Labyrinths are not in any shape or form a Christian practice.

“The labyrinth has its origins in ancient pagan rituals, most famously at Knossos in ancient Crete, where one was located in the basement of a palace where the mythic man-eating Minotaur was said to roam….Modern disciples of the labyrinth propose that ancient Christians used the labyrinth as a means of spiritual meditation. Scholars insist there is absolutely no evidence of labyrinth walking by Christians (M. Tooley, September 2000, Maze Craze. www.touchstonemag.com ). So if these were practiced by other religions and cultures that are of a non Christian origin, what kind of value would they have to offer a Christian who is supposed to have all that he needs in Jesus Christ according to the Scripture?…

A labyrinth is unicursal – this means there is one open, unobstructed path the walker follows into the centre and back out again. A labyrinth has only one path leading to the centre and back out again with no dead-ends…We are told that the labyrinth is a tool useful to people of all religions or no religion…R. White writes, “Walking the labyrinth supposedly promotes spiritual awakening and deeper inner knowledge. Followers testify to arousal of feelings (good and bad), renewed creativity, brain re-mapping and energy production. Labyrinths have taken their place next to sacred circle dances and sweet-grass ceremonies taught as rediscovered ancient practices to enhance spiritual growth”(White, R. Aug. 15, 2000. Walking the Labyrinth: New Age Fad or Traditional Technique?http://www.christianweek.org)…

What are Labyrinths used for; the explanations come from those using it. The Rev. Sarah Bentley of New Life Institute, a centre for counselling, education and spiritual growth related to the Austin-area United Methodist churches, said she introduces labyrinths to people as a form of meditation. They are training the participant in a walking meditation.

Meditation is the process of quieting the mind, various methods can be used to bring a consciousness change so that you still your mind, and you become uncontrolled conscious. Meditation is a spiritual practice of many eastern religions. We are told that by clearing a space within the mind, and allowing yourself to experience whatever emotions or thoughts surface during your walk you come out with a labyrinth experience. Your questions can be answered…It becomes apparent that although this is taking place inside some churches,it really is a non-Christian practice. Many new Agers claim they are not into religion, but practice spirituality. With these types of descriptions, one may wonder what does this have to do with Christianity? The answer is -Nothing…

One of the major initiators in reviving the labyrinth in our time is Rev. Lauren Artress…Dr. Artress states, “The labyrinth provides a sacred space where the inner and outer world can commune, where the thinking mind and the imaginative heart flow together… a space to listen to our inner voice of wisdom”. She goes on to speak of the experience of walking the labyrinth in the following manner: “Walking the labyrinth is a spiritual discipline that invites us to trust the path, to surrender to the many turns our lives take, and to walk through the confusion, the fear, the anger, the grief that we cannot avoid experiencing as we live our earthly lives. The labyrinth is a place where we can open ourselves to the Holy Spirit. We can ask for guidance and pray for ourselves and our loved ones.”

Certainly one is able to do this without a Labyrinth, the early church did not depend on this vehicle to help them with their spirituality. Jesus already instructed us how to be open to his leading and his answers so why do we need to use this other religious device?…

Dr Lauren Artress says, “To walk a sacred path is to discover our inner sacred space: that core of feeling that is waiting to have life breathed back into it through symbols, archetypal forms like the labyrinth, rituals, stories, and myths.” This has nothing to do with practicing Christianity and everything to do with other spiritual practices that Bible tells us not to participate in…

What does the God of the Bible have to say?

Can one seek or come to know God by a Labyrinth walk? It may be the latest fashion in spirituality touted as a spiritual tool of meditation and prayer but is it for a Christian? We are told in Colossians 2: 8: “See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ.” Some are trying to justify this as a Christian tradition. In fact it couldn’t be, not just because it is not found in the Bible, but because it goes against everything the Bible and Christianity teaches for one to practice true spirituality. Walking through the Labyrinth is not a rediscovery of a lost form of Christian spirituality but pagan spirituality. Though it may be reformed and repackaged to our modern times, we can be assured it has nothing to do with Jesus who gave man the true spiritual way of life.

I don’t think one can Christianise this practice, nor justify its use. Especially with what we have already discovered how it is being used. Is it pleasing to God that we walk labyrinths when He has told us not to take up pagan practices?…

Walking meditation and stopping to quiet oneself is not promoting prayer. Not all that is claimed to be spiritual, is good or from God. We are told as Christians to test the Spirits. Do we now need experiential prayer elements? Did Jesus look for a Labyrinth to teach people to pray? What happened to going into our rooms to pray quietly (Matthew 6:6)?…

[Lauren] Artress does not withhold her rejection of the straight and narrow way found within Christianity. She explains the labyrinth is more forgiving and leads its followers forward in a flawless path. God’s word states you cannot walk the wide road and claim to follow Christ who says HIS way is the narrow road and has nothing to do with a Labyrinth. In Matthew 7:13 Jesus tells us the only way to practice a spiritual life is to enter into life through the narrow gate because the wide and easy road leads to destruction. This does not mean entering a labyrinth to walk its path…

The very reason people end up using labyrinths and other such methods to find their spirituality is because they are not holding and promoting the word of God, which is all one needs to be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work. Though it is currently fashionable for “Christians” to participate in walking Labyrinths along with other religions, it is a clear sign the Word of God is not being upheld but is being replaced with subjective feelings, through New Age spirituality…

This cannot have any spiritual benefit for a Christian, but one can possibly have a relaxing time as they enjoy the walk…There is no basis for those who practice Biblical Christianity to embrace the labyrinth as an acceptable tool for meditation and prayer? It is inherently New Age, let them have it.

The use of ‘’The Labyrinth Experience’ may have seemed to those both promoting and hosting it to be a good ‘way’ to kindle some interest in spirituality and prayer. In the light of Mike Oppenheimer’s report, the words of Proverbs 14:12 come to mind “There is a way which seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death”.

Near the end of his life, Joshua gave this advice to God’s people – “Now therefore, fear the Lord and serve him in sincerity and in truth” – how were they to do that – Joshua continued “and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the river and in Egypt, and serve ye the Lord” [Joshua 24:14].

I would recommend this advice to anyone who today is contemplating either holding or having ‘The Labyrinth Experience’.

 

Cecil Andrews ‘Take Heed’ Ministries – 3rd July 2007

 

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