On Fridays, Cannon Chapel is a study in religious contrast.
On the first floor, a gospel choir rehearses. Modern lyrics about
Jesus roll in and out of crescendos, and hand clapping peppers the
verses. In between songs, casual conversation surfaces and laughter
The singing flows upstairs, to a monastic scene where a circular
Labyrinth mat on the floor is surrounded by delicate votive candles
and trod upon by a group of five sock-clad women.
The scene is essentially the same every Friday at noon, when Cannon
Chapel hosts its weekly Labyrinth Walk.
By definition, a labyrinth is a system of intricate passageways
and blind alleysa confusing maze, but spiritually the Labyrinth
Walk has become an increasingly popular religious addition to standard
prayer or traditional worship.
The Labyrinth Walk is not a maze, but a circular path with no blind
alleys or surprise turns. There is no wrong or right way to walk
a Labyrinth, and there is just one way in and one way out.
Participants walk a path that leads to a center circle, and once
they reach that circle, they retrace their steps back out of the
maze. While walking the path, they can meditate, pray or think about
anything they want.
The women walking the Labyrinth at Cannon Chapel dont talk
to each other; they walk along the green lines, carefully meandering
about. Some walk with their arms hanging by their sides, their palms
outstretched and facing the khaki mat. Others are not even aware
of their postures and concentrate only on their feet, the path and
their journey on the mat.
They eventually all arrive in the center of the circle, kneeling,
standing or sitting cross-legged. The five are in the small space
together, but deep within their own thoughts. The only noises in
the room are a few sniffles, an occasional deep breath and the muted
rehearsal of the choir.
Emory has had its own Labyrinth for two years, purchased through
funding from three Candler Offices (Women and Theology and Ministry,
Church Ministry Continuing Education, and the Chapel) as well as
Emory Universitys Office of the Dean of the Chapel and Religious
Life. The idea for the Labyrinth came from Beth Cook, an ordained
Methodist preacher and director of church ministry. She first had
heard about the practice from a friend, who had met Lauren Artress,
a San Francisco-based Episcopal minister responsible for promoting
the modern-day Labyrinth practice. At the time, Cook was working
at a church helping people find their own prayer pathsas well
as looking for her own.
The need for personal prayer and meditation became much stronger
for Cook when she later battled cancer and she saw the two as key
elements in her healing process. I was sustained more by the
prayers of others than by my own prayer [during that time], and
the Labyrinth represented that I just had to do the praying,
Cook said. Its metaphorical meaning at that point became so
Emorys Labyrinth is a onepiece, hand-painted mat, spanning
36 feet in diameter. Theology student Theresa Ladrigan sets up the
Labyrinth each week and said even its preparation is meaningful.
As I unfold the Labyrinth I contemplate the many journeys
of prayer which the Labyrinth has given birth to, and I offer my
own prayers to those who will walk the Labyrinth this day,
Ladrigan said the number of Labyrinth participants varies from
week to week. Sometimes, there will be one person walking, while
other weeks sometimes as many as 20 men and women will walk the
One of the most interesting things about the Labyrinth is that
each walk is different for each person, she added.
Fellow theology student Kristen Terrell-Wilkes said the Labryinth
is a way for her to slow down and get back in touch with herself
and her relationship with God. Biology department employees Tonya
Davis and Larraine Forrestor said their weekly walks are an extension
of their already strong religious faiths. Candler student Juanita
Bergacker said the walks have become a way for her to examine issues
in her life and reach solutions to problems.
The Labyrinth is different from traditional Christian religious
practices in that there are no prescribed prayers to follow or actions
to take. Confession isnt involved, baptism isnt required
and the absolution of sin isnt necessary; its simply
an avenue for self-guided reflection.
These differences are what drive its popularity. Signs advertising
Labyrinths of all kinds are seen in front of area churches of various
religions. During Lent, Cook said she will meet with seven congregations
to discuss the use of Labyrinths in Christian prayer life.
Younger churchgoers demand options like the Labyrinth, Terrell-Wilkes
said. They want more from religion than just the Sunday service,
and a Labyrinth is an easy, accessible religious outlet.
But do older generations see the Labyrinth as a new worship option,
or is it something they dont want in their parishes? There
are older generations who are wideopen to this, Cook said.
Theyve been hungry for it all their lives but the church
hasnt been a place where they can live that out., she
[The Labyrinth] is a whole person experienceits
body and soul, and it doesnt separate the two as we are tended
to do in Western religion, Cook continued. Each day
we understand more and more about the connection between body, mind
and soul, and the Labyrinth becomes a place where the whole person
The Labyrinth Walk is held in Cannon Chapel every Friday from noon
to 2 p.m. It is free and open to participants of all religious backgrounds.
For more information, call 404-727-6225.