Is the labyrinth a pagan thing?
A question that is asked by some Christians of a certain theological bent is can a follower of Christ use a pagan thing like a labyrinth? For me, this question betrays certain theological assumptions and a particular worldview, but it is nonetheless a valid, worthwhile and essential question to ask if you have a labyrinth in your campsite, school, aged care facility or church.
My response as someone who has led hundreds of people through the labyrinth and attended labyrinth conferences with Pagans, Wiccans and Christians alike would be; no, the labyrinth in and of itself is not a pagan thing. What makes an object pagan, Christian or Callithumpian is how it is used, what content is used with it, and for what purpose? For me as a college pastor in a Lutheran school I am enthusiastic about students and staff experiencing the labyrinth because it is an opportunity for them, especially people who have little connection with traditional forms of church, to experience a spiritual practice which can be focused on Christ, scripture, prayer and contemplation. These deeply Christian practices are part and parcel of labyrinth walks I lead.
Yes, the labyrinth is a unique thing used by people of differing and sometimes pagan spiritualities. Yes, the labyrinth has been used by many cultures for different purposes throughout the history of the world such as fertility rituals and to ward off evil. And yes, the labyrinth has been used by Christians from the time of the early church to the medieval cathedrals of western Europe and to the many and varied places they are now built.
It is not the place alone that determines the spirituality of the labyrinth but the purpose of walking it and the content used to enable that person to walk it meaningfully and receive something from it. A Christian organisation that uses a labyrinth to encourage faith in Christ, prayer, meditation in the scriptures is using the labyrinth in a God honouring way that is not pagan or idolatrous.
When faced with this question of the appropriateness of the labyrinth for Christians, it is crucial to be mindful of Paul’s advice to Timothy in the New Testament Church. In the first five verses of First Timothy chapter four Paul reminds us of this theological reality; nothing in all of God’s good creation is intrinsically evil in and of itself. In these verses Paul writes that some Christians will renounce the faith by paying attention to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons through the hypocrisy of liars who forbid certain practices which God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth. He then goes on to say that everything created by God is good, and nothing is to be rejected…for it is sanctified, made holy, by the word of God and prayer (1 Timothy 4:1-5).
The labyrinth does not have any power over people. It does not have any evil, malicious intent. Nearly all people who use the labyrinth whatever their spiritual background would say that the labyrinth is for healing people and bringing blessing to their lives. What is important for the faithful Christian though is that the labyrinth is used with scripture and prayer to encourage its walker to centre on Jesus Christ.
Blessings in Lutheran schools are often used at the end of chapel services. This comes from the historic liturgy where Lutherans have traditionally used two biblical blessings to conclude worship services. The Aaronic blessing from the brother of Moses in Numbers 6:24-26; "The Lord bless you and keep you. The Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you. The Lord look upon you with favour and give you his peace." And the Apostolic blessing of Paul from 2 Corinthians 13:14; "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." These are beautiful blessings to use.
Another blessing used in my school is when a teacher is in front of a class and they greet students. The blessing that the teacher says is; "Good morning Year 3 and God bless you". The students respond; "Good morning Mrs Saegenschnitter and God bless you". This is indeed a blessed way to start a lesson.
Yet another blessing I have discovered recently which I use with staff and it would be appropriate with senior students is below. It is sometimes attributed online as a Benedictine or Franciscan blessing but it is neither. It was originally written by a Benedictine nun, Sister Ruth Fox for a graduating class of the Catholic college where she was chaplain. She called it a "Non-traditional Blessing" and added a prayer at the end of it. For more information about it's origins; www.thesacredbraid.com/2016/07/22/a-non-traditional-blessing/
May God bless you with discontent with easy answers, half-truths, superficial relationships, so that you will live from deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, abuse, and exploitation of people, so that you will work for justice, equality, and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you will reach out your hand to comfort them and to change their pain to joy.
May God bless you with the foolishness to think you can make a difference in this world, so that you will do the things which others tell you cannot be done.
About this site
"Meditations & Musings" is my humble attempt to share what I have found useful in ministry in an Australian Lutheran School setting. It contains chapels, devotions and other resources I have written, used and adapted in my K-12 school context. If you would like to also share your ideas, resources or start a conversation about mission and ministry in your church- school location, feel free to contact me.
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