Over the weekend, I completed a project I had been planning for nearly a year, constructing a butterfly labyrinth at my college's kindergarten. With my daughter's help, I marked out with tape the shape of the butterfly, painted it green and then pulled off the tape to reveal the butterfly. The butterfly is a particular shade of green to match the Richmond Birdwing Butterfly which is native to the subtropics of eastern Australia. The butterfly, which was near extinct, is attracted to a particular vine we have growing in the rainforest on our campus. With the help of senior students, we hope to plant some of the vines around the college and kindy. The butterfly is also special to us as a community, especially at this time of the year because of the Christian symbolism of new life and resurrection. God has perfect time because there has been an abundance of butterflies flying all along the Sunshine Coast over these recent autumn weeks. In coming weeks, I look forward to leading children through this butterfly labyrinth and link together for them these aspects of our local environment and Christian spirituality. Enjoy this one and a half minute video of the construction process. Thanks to the Pacific Early Learning Centre Director Julie McCosker and of course my daughter Ella.
This year I have had the joy of walking the labyrinth with our college kindy kids. Three of four times a term starting in term two I have led our two kindy age groups through a simple temporary spiral labyrinth. To do this I have shifted some furniture in the two kindy studios then used my labyrinth making tape dispenser on the floor to make a four, five or six spiral labyrinth. Then when the kids are ready and sitting on the floor together I pray with them or tell a bible story as an introduction. Then I position myself on a small stool at the entrance of the labyrinth with a chime. I ask the kids to wait until they hear the chime before they walk. Once they get into the centre they are invited if they wish to close their eyes and take three deep breaths before they walk the same way out again. It's been amazing to see how these young children each walk the labyrinth in their own way but also how engaged they can be in walking it, slowing down, practicing stillness, and being mindful of the silence and their breathing. With modelling and repetition even the youngest of the three year olds have been able to do it and find meaning and benefit. Check out this PowerPoint presentation which shows how I have been doing it at Pacific Early Learning Centre. Thank you Julie McCosker our ELS Director and the Kindy families for permission to use these photos and videos.
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.
As indicated on previous posts, making a temporary labyrinth is easy. Whether on a carpet, wood, or lino floor, a temporary tape labyrinth is easy to install with the right tool. I regularly make these labyrinths at camps, in our early learning centre and in classrooms. In this video I am using a packing tape dispenser I have modified on a long handle to make a simple six circuit spiral labyrinth in a kindergarten setting. With this tool I can make it in a couple of minutes and not break my back. Even the youngest of kids can walk it and the best part after they have each had a go at practicing stillness is that I invite them to help me rip up the tape off the floor, which they love.
The late Pastor Rick Zweck wrote this poem/prayer which is pictured below. He wrote it for people to reflect on as they walk the labyrinth. I have continued this tradition at Pacific Lutheran College and prayed it with students and staff as they walk the labyrinth he helped establish at the college. Rick's prayer touches upon so many parts of the Christian life in particular, I always find poignant his words;
You have created rivals - you will find companions.
You envisaged enemies - you will find brothers and sisters...
Set out! You were born for the road - the pilgrim's road...
Go! God already walks with you!
Recently I organised this prayer to be put on a plaque and installed at the entrance stone to our outside labyrinth at Pacific. It is a fitting reminder to all who stumble across our labyrinth why we encourage it use; because those pilgrims who seek God often discover that God already walks with them on the journey of life.
At an Australian Labyrinth Network Gathering I was blessed to join a group of people to learn how to paint a seven circuit Petite Chartres labyrinth. Labyrinth creator Lisa Gidlow Moriarty from Stillwater Minnesota was our teacher. It took an evening and a day to pencil the design on the canvas, put down the paint tape along the pencil marks, and then carefully paint the fields, centre and outside lunations. It was an inspiring creative time to join others in community to paint this beautiful canvas labyrinth.
Today I had the wonderful experience of introducing the labyrinth to 4 year old children at my college's early learning centre. In consultation with their teacher we asked the kids to walk the labyrinth in pairs holding hands. The children were getting used to working this way in their kindy routines so it was a perfect way to have them walk their first labyrinth. I prayed with them then guided them into the spiral labyrinth's entrance. It was fascinating to observe how they walked it. Some of them walked along the line rather than in the middle of the path. Some got lost along the way to the centre. In the centre I asked each of the children to take three deep breaths before they started to walk back out. Some children rushed back out of the labyrinth. Some swapped turns of who led the way and who followed. Some walked side by side rather than in front and behind. All of the children walked the labyrinth quietly in appreciative silence. It was beautiful to watch their minds and bodies encounter the labyrinth for the first time and for them to do so companied with another child, hand in hand.
I recently made some temporary labyrinths on a Year 7 Camp. It was the first time I had made an indoor labyrinth and it was very easy to do. So easy, that with the right equipment, I used up 150 metres of masking tape!
On the first night of the camp we had 60 girls spending sometime in reflection and journalling followed by the labyrinth walk. We were in a carpeted dining room and because of the number of girls I made three labyrinths of masking tape on the carpet. To do this I had to purchase a particular style of packing tape dispenser from Officeworks which I could modify. What I did was take off the short plastic handle from the metal base plate and screw it to a longer wooden handle at the right angle for me to walk with it to roll the sticky side of the tape on the floor.
The labyrinth pattern that I followed from the centre out was a six ringed spiral which was then adjusted to provide an entrance, a parallel short path and two 180 degree turns. The labyrinth was easy to make with the right equipment and a hand drawn pattern to follow. On the second night when it was the boys turn to walk them, it was a delight to see some of the Year 7 boys kneeling in the centre praying. What a witness to the other students who were new to our school!
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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