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Labyrinth offers some a chance to clear minds

December 05, 2005|by KAREN HANNA


With hands clasped behind her blue denim dress, Diana Foley studied her stockinged feet Sunday as she turned serpentine loops across the floor of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Hagerstown.

Services for the day had ended, but the melodic music in the background and the purple pattern beneath Foley's feet begged reverence and quiet.

Every month, the church offers people of all religious backgrounds the chance to bare their souls - and their feet - in contemplation as they trace the path of a labyrinth.


"This is not a maze. A maze is a puzzle to be solved. This is not a maze. The only decision you have to make is to enter it. Once you enter it, you will reach the center," Foley explained in hushed tones above the sound of recorded chants playing on a stereo. "Some people consider it a metaphor for the twists and turns of life."

Outlined with purple paint across six drop cloths, the path of the labyrinth snakes in a circle 22 feet wide. People who walked the labyrinth Sunday began the journey by taking off their shoes. The rise and fall of their chests fell into cadence with their feet as they looped from the start to the center, returning step by step to the start.

Sunny Harrell, who has attended the church since 1984, said the experience of walking through the labyrinth helps find solutions to problems that are gnawing at her.

"I think walking the labyrinth is a way to slow down my busy mind and find the answer within my inner self," the Hagerstown resident said.

Foley, who became a certified labyrinth facilitator after attending a workshop, said the practice appeals to people across a spectrum of faith. For Buddhists, the experience is a kind of "walking meditation," while for medieval Christians, walking through a labyrinth could represent the journey to the Holy Land, Foley said.

The Cearfoss Pike church offers two labyrinths. A brick path outside is modeled after a labyrinth found in ancient Crete, while the drop cloths, which Foley helped design for a New Year's Eve celebration last year, depict a labyrinth styled after one laid in the floor of the 13th-century Chartres Cathedral in France.

Pat Vogel, who is not a member of the church, walked across the drop cloths in her socks Sunday. She said she first walked through a labyrinth while on a trip to Arizona in February. The very next day, the Martinsburg, W.Va., woman and her daughter walked it again.

A hospice nurse who at first worried about getting in the way of other participants, Vogel said she has come to appreciate walking the labyrinth as a chance to clear her head of clutter. That's something hospice patients have to do, she said.

"It's mostly the experience, and it's at a soul level, and we're in a lonely world. We need a way to nurture souls - ourselves and others," Vogel said.

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