When I saw “Introduction to the Labyrinth” on our Sacred Dance schedule, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I’d come across the labyrinth before, in my literature classes of long ago. After all, I had a bachelor’s degree in English and a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing, and knowing Greek mythology and such names as Daedalus and King Minos of Crete was necessary to understanding certain works of modern literature. The supreme artificer Daedalus created the labyrinth at Crete, a maze-like structure to contain the Minotaur, a creature with a bull’s head and a man’s body born of a woman and a white bull. Daedalus’ design was a punishing abode, with passages that ended in cul-de-sacs or the central chamber where the Minotaur awaited his victims. You didn’t want be one of the seven youths and seven maidens who were annually thrown into its confines to appease the Minotaur’s hunger for human flesh.

It was Theseus who slayed the Minotaur at the heart of Daedalus’ labyrinth and brought a halt to the annual bloodshed. But our Sacred Dance labyrinth masking-taped onto the carpet of our seminary’s Great Hall was not an entrapping maze, but one based on the labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral in France. It was circular in shape and a single path wound its way to the center. Our object in entering the labyrinth was not to slay the monster at its center, nor did we need an Ariadne to help us find our way out. Our object was to walk the whole path—no short cuts, or cutting across a line to get ahead of someone—and to arrive at the center where our instructors had placed some “gift” of creation–smooth stones glistening with intricate patterns, seashells, flowers, leaves. We were to pick up one of the gifts of creation and return by the same path.

We gathered at the perimeter of the labyrinth and slowly filed around it, all the while looking in on the circuitous path to the center where the gifts of creation lay. One by one, we entered the labyrinth.

The path went back and forth and around, just like my life.  At first it approached the center of the labyrinth, where the instructors said the center of myself was supposed to be.  Too quickly, the path swung toward the outside of the labyrinth, far away from myself, far removed from the heart of creation. Too slowly, the path began to swing back toward the center.  At times I was alone in a quadrant, and the next moment another student/pilgrim on the path passed by me, close enough to touch.  Sometimes we were walking in the same direction; sometimes we were walking in opposite directions.

I was overcome by a great compassion for all of us walking the labyrinth:  we were all alone, and we were together.  We were fellow pilgrims, on our way to Jerusalem with Jesus.  Sometimes I felt like skipping like a child; at other times the shadow side of myself would be there and I just wanted to remember the next turn in my life.

In Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool, Dr. Lauren Artress calls “an archetype of wholeness, a sacred place that helps us rediscover the depths of our souls,” “a powerful spiritual tool that would lead us to our own center,” “a tool to guide healing, deepen self-knowledge and empower creativity.”

I don’t remember what I picked up when I got to the center of the labyrinth, but I do remember the act of bending over to pick up my gift of creation.  I stooped to receive my gift. Perhaps what I picked up was a fragile leaf.

When all had returned from the center, the instructors had us again circle the labyrinth and look inward.  I remember being overcome with emotion.  I wanted to put my arms around the labyrinth, to embrace it as it had so lovingly embraced me.

But the labyrinth was twenty feet across, too much to gather in one pair of arms.

The amazing thing was that the labyrinth had made me feel so precious, so accepted, so whole.  Not a bit of my life was thrown out; all, even the darkest, most shameful moments of my life, were precious to who I was.  I suddenly understood that God loved me, loves me now, and always will.  I may have to put on airs for people around me, but I don’t have to for God.  In God I can walk in the Light.

I also understood that not only my life, but all lives were in the labyrinth. Each of us is separate yet connected to all others and fully in God’s embrace. All of us are precious in God’s sight.  We are so loved by God.

My Sacred Dance class taught me a couple of other things as well:  That it’s all right, even necessary that our imaginations be fully engaged and at play in our lives. We must make playful use of symbols, symbolic actions, movements and patterns, to tell the story of our own and our community’s spiritual life.

After all, the Holy Spirit is playful. The Spirit blows us here and there, even to places of darkness, as when Jesus was led after his baptism to the wilderness of temptation. We must have the courage to befriend those parts of our lives we tend to relegate to the shadows. That’s the way to true wholeness in our lives.

I wrote a hymn, “The Amazing Grace of Life,” to capture my experience dancing in our Sacred Dance labyrinth. It’s musical setting is Dove of Peace CM.

I danced into Life’s labyrinth,
I danced, I danced, I danced.
We touched each other passing through
This precious thing called life,
This precious thing called life.

I danced into the center, stooped,
I stooped, I stooped, I stooped.
I grasped God’s gift within my hands,
And stepped my journey home,
And stepped my journey home.

I put my arms around God’s maze,
I wept, I wept, I wept.
All grace was in the maze I learned,
And God was with us too,
And God was with us too.

I danced the amazing grace of life,
I danced, I danced, I danced.
I drank and ate with you and you,
God’s gift eternal life,
God’s gift eternal life.

I danced into Life’s labyrinth,
I danced, I danced, I danced.
We touched each other passing through,
This precious thing called life,
This precious thing called life.