St Emmanuel’s Episcopal Church in Eastsound has a labyrinth. They didn’t the last time I was there. While I was wandering around town, waiting for the verdict on High Tea, I saw it. The gate was open and the deliberate swirls were too tempting not to walk.
Labyrinths are not mazes. Mazes are puzzles. They contain tricks; dead ends and what John Crowley brilliantly names “snakes’ hands;” passages that loop around and end up back where you started, like a snake eating its tail. A labyrinth is a passage. Follow it, and it will take you to the center. Turn and follow it back, and it will lead you out to the beginning.
This labyrinth looks familiar. I don’t think it’s the famous one from Chartres Cathedral, but it is certainly one I’ve seen before, associated with churches.
One story about labyrinths is that they were created for people who didn’t have the money to go on a pilgrimage. At one time, pilgrimages were the In Thing for Christians. It was like early tourism. Some people would do Pilgrimage on $5 a Day; sleeping rough, carrying no money, relying on the kindness of strangers, but as it became more popular, wealthy people decided they didn’t want to do it that way. It became quite a business. If you couldn’t leave your fields or your job for a year to go to the Holy Land or someplace, maybe you could go to your church and walk the serpentine whorls and loops laid out on the floor, while you meditated on your life and God’s purpose for you.
I walked this one. I didn’t think about any of that stuff, though. I was still dealing with some leftover adrenaline and worry from Joan’s first phone call. I made myself look at my feet and pay attention to each step. I was mindful of my breathing as I did this. This is one way to walk a labyrinth. There are many ways. You can walk one backward. You can dance one. You can skip the passage and leap across the lines, if that’s what you want. I wanted to just walk the passage as it was laid out.
A woman came out of the church and watched while I was doing it. I apologized and said I hoped I wasn’t trespassing. She said no, they loved to see people walk it. She said it was very new to them, only completed last month. They are having a dedication the first weekend in May.