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“SCHOOL WALK!”

Back in the day when I went to secondary school (as we call schooling for 11 year olds and beyond in the UK), a prefect would stand on the stage of the main hall, and instruct all present to – “School Stand!” – when the headmaster and his entourage stepped onto the stage. A muffled recital of The Lord’s Prayer and a hymn would follow, along with a brief message, which would often be interrupted by foreboding stares or screams from the hierarchy of disciplinarians who stared down from the stage. A refusal to stand when ordered spelt instant detention!

No such penalty was in store for each of the classes, from kindergarten through 7th grade, at the model Montessori School in Camden SC who marched out one after the other to walk the labyrinth that my dear host, Beth and I, had laid out in the field close to where a more permanent labyrinth is soon to be installed.

Most of the students walked – some rather more quickly than I might advise, and one or two attempting the “head over heels” approach for circling a labyrinth – but most following the gentle guidance that seasoned labyrinth facilitator Miss Beth offered for each little person as they lined up to walk the big green mat.

This was a magical time. Head teacher Dr. John and teachers including Mr Jamie were wonderful hosts. Dear Beth a wonderful companion for my day in this blessed small part of South Carolina. A few more photos and possibly the odd video to follow…Pictures here can surely speak more powerfully than any words that I might offer.

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COUNTRY ROADS, TAKE ME (AND THE LABYRINTH) WEST IN VIRGINIA

(Previously unposted : refers to journeying more than one week ago).

Being guided by doors that open and simply what feels “right” (at a heart level), the labyrinth’s journey isn’t fully known to me, often on a day to day basis. Rarely has it followed a direct line in its generally circular course, and sometimes, diversions back and forth have extended over hundreds of miles, crossing paths, and doubling back on its long and winding road. How like a labyrinth.

This past Monday, unsure where I would arrive that night, I set out westward from the motel near Fredericksburg where I had been staying. Perhaps I might stop by one of the many battlefields (both from times of the Civil War and the Revolution), I thought. Perhaps I’d make rest in Luray, or one of the popular resorts that nestle in the shadow of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

As it was, my route took me toward the mountains, but a little further south than I’d anticipated. Several stops with the small labyrinth felt right in glorious countryside, feeling as though we’d been welcomed into the bosom of the looming hills, but still firmly on the level.

Among resting points, cows stared, freshwater streams hurried toward the large rivers that would absorb them, and hawks flew above. The labyrinth cast its power, and prayers of gratitude for the many beautiful facets of Nature that surrounded us were said.

PEACE THROUGHOUT THE LAND

The expansive estate at Mepkin Abbey, SC, was once a plantation, but is now home to a monastery, retreat center, working farm, beautiful gardens, and a labyrinth. My host, the inspiring Linda, had brought me here, along with other stopping points in this quarter of the low country.

We walked the most extraordinary labyrinth, whose borders are formed of wild grasses and plants that reached close to my shoulder height – creating a very special experience of feeling protected along the path, as well as naturally attracting birds, butterflies, and other wildlife to share the labyrinth ‘s interior.

This apparent, though I suspect very carefully managed, wildness” contrasted with the pristine golf-green grass on which Linda and I later laid the LAA labyrinth, just across the way from the labyrinth that we’d just walked.

What struck me about the different spaces where we trod was that both seemed bathed in a serene peace. The monks had spent much time praying for healing in what was once a troubled place, and their prayers and other work had now given way for this calm energy. I suspect that the labyrinth too has played no small part in making this land feel restored and free of suffering. Healing – ever present wherever a labyrinth is set down.

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THE LABYRINTH AND ISLAM

Last Sunday, Pastor Doug at the UU Church in Fredrericksburg VA gave a beautiful reflection on The Qur’an, which later had me wanting to offer my labyrinth prayer for Muslims in that community and elsewhere. I held a copy of ‘The Heart of The Qur’an’ (on Kindle, the only source I had to hand) upright in my palms as I circled the labyrinth.

It occurred to me that my various approaches that I’ve made to imams and Islamic Centers along the route that the labyrinth has taken have so far not received a response (the same has been true of many churches and others too, by the way). Could it be that there’s something about the labyrinth that feels an uncomfortable fit for Islam?

In my limited research for a little book on labyrinths that I wrote earlier in the year, I’d read about labyrinths being found in Persia and other parts of the Arab world, and I was well aware of the importance of sacred geometry within the faith, but I’d not encountered stories of the labyrinth being used as a meditation space or as being considered to be sacred within Islam.

Doubtless the folks at Labyrinthos HQ and other labyrinth scholars could easily set me right on this matter, but perhaps I’m missing something that’s very obvious?

The sweeping, circular path of the labyrinth might conflict with the directional focus of a mosque toward Makkah, for example (Muslims do circle in prayer and deep reflection when they reach The Kaaba on their Hajj, but this is the ONE centre that may be the focus of their devotion).

Curious as I was circling the labyrinth, I later checked an online Qibla (compass pointing to Makkah), to see if the entrance to the labyrinth that I’d laid out pointed toward the Holy City. I was out by a full 90 degrees…the shortest, “great circle” route from Virginia actually sets off in a slightly northerly trek east, rather than a slightly southerly one as I had thought.

I would love to be able to take the labyrinth to an Islamic Center if I ever have an invitation, but maybe I’ve been unwittingly sensitive in the few approaches that I’ve made so far? Your thoughts, referrals, and advice would be very welcome here!

TOWERING GLORY

TOWERING GLORY

It was trees rather than people that welcomed the labyrinth to North Carolina. Some folks were kindly trying to help connect me here, and I’d been given helpful recommendations for seeing other labyrinths in the Charlotte area, had my route taken me there. But by the time I arrived on NC soil, planned connections in the following days further south were already well settled.

So it was that, as I have in a couple of other states where no walk had been scheduled, I just trusted that I would be led to the place where the labyrinth might make a landing.

The resting place was a grassy area close by a beautiful crescent of trees, still in full colour.

According to my calculation, the nearest town was Aulander, Bertie County, but there was no one around as I circled the labyrinth to ask for a blessing on the neighbourhood and state, and of course, for the trees that opened their arms widely to receive me.

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WAY OUT EAST

Mathews County isn’t just a stop off near I-95, I had been told before coming by Mary, one of the Labyrinth team who welcomed me and the “big green mat” into their beautiful community in this far flung part of eastern Virginia.

Being far flung – there are no stop signs in the county, no Starbucks drive-throughs – makes this a very special, tight-knit community, where newcomers are warmly welcomed. A beautiful labyrinth beside the Episcopal Church of Kingston Parish, of which Mary and her gang are fairhful members, plays an important role in the life of the community.

Located right beside the town of Mathews’ Main Street, the labyrinth is accessible to anyone at any time, and really is quite central to the community. Along with a night shelter, year round support for children and families suffering from food poverty, and even a newly started Celtic service, the “folk who live by the labyrinth” (but not on a hill) have created something wonderful by working together…indeed, many local hands were involved in installing the labyrinth, and written prayers are buried beneath it (an inspired idea of the gentle and much loved pastor Gary, who has seen many seeds planted during his watch blossom into their full glory).

The sun shone brightly as we laid out the travelling labyrinth, it’s natural colour being at home with the green grass upon which it rested, and the protective magnolia which overlooks the nearby permanent labyrinth here.

I was treated to exceptional hospitality by the two Marys, Gay, Mac, and all, enjoying fine food and hospitality, a drive out to the marshy peninsula that juts out into Chesapeake Bay (where we made a brief stop with my tiny “scallop” labyrinth), and lots of great company and laughter!

The following morning, I returned alone to walk the embracing labyrinth that I believe is having a strong, if sometimes unspoken impact on the lives of the dear people who reside here. A perfect way to prepare for a long day’s drive south.

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MUSINGS IN THE MALL

MUSINGS IN THE MALL

A shopping mall at any time of year strikes me as a very good place to site a labyrinth, but with the extra rush of Christmas, what could be more welcome?

The mall where I landed, finger labyrinth in hand, was the Myrtle Beach Mall at North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. A good place to reflect on the many shoppers, mothers with children wanting to see Santa, and shop workers trying to make the season’s sales count.

But on a Wednesday lunch time, there were surprisingly few folks around. A little window shopping suggested that this might not be the best place for me to make my Christmas shop – a smart fruit bowl for $160 seemed a little too steep for my budget, and a baby grand piano for just shy of $7,000 seemed just a little too…grand. Besides, I don’t think that my rock bottom fare with Norwegian Airlines, for my upcoming flight back to London, would let me check this onto the plane!

I declined the offer to spend $150 on some special moisturiser that a charming sales lady had insisted I try, retreating instead to something that costs nothing, other than a little time – circling the labyrinth, and reciting my prayer.

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FRIENDLY FREDERICKSBURG

The sun shone brightly, and (I would estimate) 30 or 40 folk from the beautiful Unitarian Universalist Church in Fredericksburg, VA, joined together to walk the labyrinth when I visited this past Sunday.

Pastor Doug had given what for me was a very resonant talk in the service that we’d just enjoyed together, but there were all manner of exciting thoughts and some beautiful sights to see as a happy crew of smiling people walked the labyrinth.

More photos, and more on those thoughts in a little while…

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MAKING ITS MARK

Following the large labyrinth’s starring role on The National Mall on Saturday morning, it was time for the smaller labyrinth to play it’s part.

As I have at other places, I placed the labyrinth in different locations, offering my prayer for the immediate area and the people it brought to mind – war heros and their loved ones, when close by a War Memorial, for example – and (where practical) circling the labyrinth as I did so.

I made around 10 stops in the capital, which I’ll be able to name when I can find my map. A couple of photos to follow too when I can get properly online…

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