By Sarah Stiefvater
When Barbara Rowe recently struggled with a personal question, she walked through her problem — literally.
For Rowe, who works at Washington and Lee University, walking through the newly completed labyrinth at the R.E. Lee Memorial Episcopal Church in Lexington helped her find answers to a personal dilemma.
“Part way through the walk, a particular answer settled on me like a beacon,” Rowe said. “It can be alarming and exciting.”
A labyrinth is a circular winding walking path used for many purposes. Labyrinths have been around for a long time, Rowe said.
“Labyrinths are ancient methods for contemplation and connecting with one’s spiritual self,” she said. “It can be a sacred space where individuals can connect with a greater good and allow inspiration and inner peace to arise.”
The Rev. Tom Crittenden, rector of R.E. Lee Episcopal, agrees that labyrinths are spiritually powerful.
“Labyrinths have been an important part of spiritual humanity – not just for Christians – for centuries,” he said.
The church held a soft opening Feb. 1 to commemorate the labyrinth’s completion, after two months of work and an expenditure of $26,000.
There are many types of labyrinths. R.E. Lee’s mimics the medieval style of the labyrinth at the Chartres Cathedral in France, one of the better-known examples in the world.
While labyrinths were not designed for one religion, or any religion at all, the medieval style incorporates many Christian themes and symbols. For Christians, the center of the labyrinth represents God, creation and healing.
At a meeting introducing the labyrinth to the community, Burr Datz said people walk labyrinths to connect with the divine, to get a renewed sense of well-being and inner peace, or just to start the day off well. Datz is Catholic Campus Minister for Virginia Military Institute and Washington & Lee University.
As walkers leave the center to exit the path, Datz said, they can think about their experience at the center.
“You can reflect on any insights and connections that may have come to you, as well as integrate new insights and possibilities into your life,” Datz said.
The next phase of the labyrinth is construction of a surrounding meditation garden. Once the garden is finished, the church will hold a dedication ceremony. Crittenden says more money is needed to create the garden.
“We’ve currently raised $26,000 in gifts and pledges,” Crittenden said. “We need $5,000 to $6,000 more to complete the project.”
Crittenden believes the meditation garden will open in the spring, but until then Rowe encourages community members to visit the labyrinth, even just to enjoy its beauty.
“There is no one take-away; it’s a very personal experience,” she said. “One can leave feeling more peaceful, more energized, renewed in spirit, and more. Or it can just be a pleasant walking
experience in a beautiful space.”