Unification News for June 2005

Sacred Circle Serves Needs of the Community

by Gillian Corcoran

"This is the most wonderful thing Unification has ever done for the community" said life-long Barrytown resident and neighbor of UTS, Sandy. As she hugged me gratefully and kissed both my cheeks, she added, "It is such a blessing for our community." Sandy was speaking about the Labyrinth at UTS.

Since my husband and I built the 80 foot, outdoor labyrinth in 2002, hundreds of people from the community at large have come to the beautiful and sacred grounds of the seminary, and sought peace and communion with God as they walked the labyrinth's circuitous path.

People are drawn by the incredible sense of inner peace and well-being walking a labyrinth brings. "I don't want to leave, it's so peaceful here," is an oft heard expression as people linger, sitting beside the labyrinth, reflecting, writing in journals, or watching others as they journey through it's winding paths.

Walking a labyrinth is often described as a spiritual pilgrimage, a centering prayer or a walking meditation. Labyrinths are not mazes. The one path of a labyrinth leads to the center. Walkers can relax, trusting the path, journeying inward to their own centers as they move to the center of the design. The labyrinth acts as a mirror. All that happens within its sacred space can be seen as a metaphor for our life's journey, reflecting where we are at this moment in time, allowing us to see ourselves and our life's patterns with clearer eyes.

Three phases can be recognized when walking a labyrinth: 1) journeying inward (purgation), a time for letting go, releasing/purging, breathing deeply and being present in the moment. Everyone sets their own pace. Some coordinate each step with their breath as in a Buddhist meditative tradition. Children usually race along the path to the center, eager to be the first to arrive. Yet I've also seen a child, arms laden with lilacs- a gift she brought for the center - walking slowly in thoughtful procession, in preparation for her love offering. I have been known to charge straight to the center, beckoned by the loving embrace of God waiting to bathe me in love and light. I've shared such intimate moments of time beyond time with God in this sacred circle.

2) Arriving at the center (phase of illumination) can be a time of receiving God's love and "letting in" divine guidance. Having emptied and cleared the heart and mind during the inward journey, space is created to receive what there is for each one to receive. Every labyrinth walk is a unique experience, so what we need to let go of and what we receive varies from walk to walk. Being in the labyrinth is an intuitive experience, and each person stays in the center as long as feels right for them.

The rosette pattern, of which the center is comprised, represents God and is composed of "petals" symbolizing the six realms of creation: mineral, plant, animal, human, spiritual/angelic and mysterious divine, (order from the left as you step into the center). Spending time in one or all of the petals allows connection with the healing energies from each realm.

3) When ready to leave the center, the outward journey follows the unicursal path back out of the labyrinth (union/integration phase). The walker returns to the world, empowered to take action, often with new insights and inspirations, encouraged to take on a larger life, with more to offer.

The effects of walking a labyrinth are usually felt immediately, although occasionally they may not be apparent for some time. Walking the labyrinth promotes physical, emotional and spiritual healing. It's a good idea to walk as part of an ongoing spiritual practice. The labyrinth is a universal spiritual tool. Anyone from any religious tradition or spiritual path can walk and benefit from it.

Labyrinths first called to me five years ago when reading, "Walking A Sacred Path" by Dr. Lauren Artress. Since then I've walked almost a thousand times, beginning with one painted on canvas laid out in a gymnasium. For a year I walked an outdoor labyrinth at a Dominican Sisters retreat center. It was during a labyrinth retreat I attended there, that God called me to build one. At the time, I was Director of Admissions at UTS, and I requested the use of some land upon which to build a labyrinth. A beautiful, serene spot was found by dowsing, and the task of drawing the design and building the labyrinth was begun.

It took Chris, myself and volunteers almost a year to complete the labyrinth. The design is outlined in bricks, two thousand five hundred of them Ð we became expert brick foragers. The grass path is wide enough for a lawn mower, which provides the added bonus of a labyrinth walk each time the grass is cut! We are in the process of creating a beautiful, interfaith meditation garden all around the labyrinth, with plantings, benches and statues. Please contact Gillian at walk4peace@earthlink.net for ways in which you can help with this ongoing project.

Historically, one of the earliest labyrinths found is carved into a Neolithic tomb in Luzzanas, Sardinia, dated around 2500 BC. Silver coins minted in Greece between 300 and 70 BC are imprinted with labyrinths, and the first known Christian labyrinth reaches back to a 4th century basilica in Algeria where the words "Santa Eclesia" (Holy Church) are found at the center. In Italy there is a 9th century wall labyrinth at the St. Lucca cathedral; Christians traced the pathway with their finger before entering. One of the most famous labyrinths is found in Chartres Cathedral in France (about an hour from Paris). It was built in the 12th century as a place of pilgrimage for Christians who could no longer travel to Jerusalem due to wars.

The sense of pilgrimage, of journeying to the center, taking time out from our busy lives to reflect, pray, and renew, is increasingly being recognized as necessary in our world today, thus explaining the recent resurgence in the building and walking of labyrinths. People are seeking inner peace and labyrinths provide a path to attain it that many can walk.

A neighbor who lives around the corner from us in Red Hook, walked the labyrinth for the first time a year ago. It was one week after her mother passed to the spirit world. She said, "it was the most incredible experience of my life. I absolutely felt my mother walking with me, we talked to each other and she comforted me greatly. The sunset was gorgeous, like God personally painted the sky for us." She is now a frequent walker, and has brought her two grown daughters to walk with her. She has thanked me many times, with tears of gratitude, for building the labyrinth.

Working with the labyrinth has opened doors for me and provided many ways to substantially serve the community. Since October of last year I have facilitated labyrinth walks and made various presentations on labyrinths at numerous events including:

o Women and Spirituality Conference, Dutchess Community College, keynote address to 180 participants

o Community of Hope, group of 25 newly commissioned lay chaplains, Church of the Messiah, Rhinebeck

o Healing the Waters of the Earth, Tsunami Relief Labyrinth Walk, Interfaith Chapel, UTS

o Seeds of Transformation Conference, Bard College (provided a World Peace Labyrinth & educational display)

o Clermont Garden Exchange

o Two newspaper interviews: Poughkeepsie Journal and the Middletown Times-Herald

o A proposal to a local hospital to build a labyrinth and healing garden (currently being considered)

o Retreats and monthly SoulPaths healing arts workshops at UTS

o Monthly full moon labyrinth walks, and other special occasion walks eg Earth Day, Summer Solstice, Autumn Equinox, Candlelight Vigil on 9/11, International Day of Peace - at UTS

The energy of the labyrinth and its positive effects on people's lives, including my own, continues to grow. I am deeply grateful for this calling and encourage you to come and walk the labyrinth at UTS, or to find a labyrinth near you, so you can experience yourself all labyrinths have to offer. I want to close with special thanks to Dr. Hendricks for his support.

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