Labyrinth at Murray Grove Retreat and Renewal Center, a UU conference center in Lanoka Harbor, NJ. Photo by David Carl Olson

In Greek mythology, King Minos of Crete made a series of mistakes that angered the gods and resulted in the creation of a strange animal, half-human and half-bull, the Minotaur. In order to control this creation, he ordered architect Daedalus and his son Icarus to create an elaborate building of twists and turns that would contain the Minotaur. That building was called the Labyrinth.

Unlike that ancient edifice, which was a maze, the labyrinth as a pathway, usually of curved walkways, that moves in a single line. Labyrinths have been created in two-dimensional design in many cultures from India and Tibet to the Celts in their journey from the Middle East to Ireland. In the Middle Ages in Europe, an expansive eleven-circuit labyrinth was set in stone in the great cathedral at Chartres.

In the midst of the HIV-AIDS crisis, the Modern Labyrinth Movement was initiated in 1991 at Grace Cathedral, the Episcopal cathedral in San Francisco. In the decades since, thousands of communities around the world have used labyrinth perambulation as a means of non-sectarian spiritual practice.

I could just say “walking meditation,” but I use an odd term, perambulation, to consider this practice for myself. Perambulation is a term that indicates walking around to establish and maintain the boundaries of an area. In the city of Boston, there was a requirement of the City Council that one of their own be charged to perambulate the city once each decade to examine the boundaries of that Unitarian homeland. (Chief political advisor Gary Dotterman shared a thought that David Scondras, the first openly gay city councillor in Boston, offered that the perambulation should include a series of open community forums in all the neighborhoods of the city so that councillors could really hear from their constituents. I recall that the decision was to assign someone else to be the perambulator that decade.)

Retired Unitarian Universalist minister Peter Richardson proposes that his thesis of the Four Spiritualities can be applied to labyrinth walking. Using the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, he locates these Four Spiritualities in the interior function of the MBTI. These include preferences for iNtuition, Thinking, Sensing and Feeling. He names the combinations this way:

NT—Journey of Unity
SF—Journey of Devotion
ST—Journey of Works
NF—Journey of Harmony

For Richardson, the labyrinth may be divided into four quadrants, and the person walking may think about the ways that they have walked through incidents of devotion and works, unity and harmony throughout their lives. Persons considering the fullness of their lived lives may discover their own spirituality—and my then balance the ways that they exist in a rich spiritual community that includes persons who prefer many different ways of living their lives of faith, their lives of doubt.

On the Fourth Friday of May, many people will be heading to the Congregational Retreat in Pennsylvania. For those who remain on Long Island, and especially for families with children, I would like to invite people to come and construct a temporary labyrinth on our lawn. We’ll gather for a simple meal, and then share some thoughts about various labyrinths. Then we’ll work together (and play together!) to build our own. We’ll then walk the labyrinth, perhaps as the sun sets and dusk turns to darkness. And each of us will bring to this sacred perambulation our own sense of what is meaningful to each of us. Creating the labyrinth for each other helps us think of what is meaningful for all of us, together. I hope you’ll join me!

by Rev. David Carl Olson