Sunday, April 12, 2009

Tour de Labyrinth

By Steven Kopfinger, Staff Writer, Lancaster Sunday News
Photos Blaine Shahan

It's been likened to a pathway to peace. Or a pilgrimage to a holy place. Or, in Greek mythology, a hideout for the fearsome Minotaur.
Thousands of years after its creation, the mystique of the labyrinth endures. And Sunday, April 26, three spiral paths, which vary in appearance but are united in their beauty, will welcome those in search of contemplation, serenity or just good old-fashioned exercise.

Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster, 538 W. Chestnut St., is sponsoring its first "Tour de Labyrinth" from 2-4 p.m. at Lancaster Country Day School, 725 Hamilton Road; the home of Linda and David Dobbins, 6 N. Bausman Drive; and the residence of Sarah Campbell, 1053 Wheatland Ave.

The church itself is known for its own labyrinth, where meditative walks are offered the first Sunday of each month October through June, except for May 3.
The labyrinth tour is part of the church's community outreach, and reflects a Unitarian principle of personal spiritual practice, tour organizer Linda Dobbins noted.
A person enters a labyrinth, follows his or her way to the center, where one is free to stop and pray or meditate, and finds the way out along a clear path. That differs from a maze, which is designed to challenge and confuse.

"There are labyrinths all over the world that testify to their antiquity," Dobbins noted as she strolled around her own private sanctuary, tucked into a rolling yard behind her home. Built of stone and accented with red shale, the labyrinth has graced Dobbins' property for nine years.
"It's meditative. I have a lot of friends who walk it. We have gatherings," Dobbins said.

Labyrinths are found in Greek mythology; one of the most famous is sited at Knossos, on the island of Crete. There, legend has it, the hero Theseus slew the Minotaur, a man-eating creature who was half man, half bull.
Centuries later, labyrinths became established fixtures in the Christian world; a labyrinth on the floor of the great cathedral at Chartres, built around 1200 in France, draws visitors worldwide. One Christian labyrinth concept is that the pathway symbolizes a pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem.

Dobbins calls labyrinths example of "sacred geometry."

Religion-based or not, labyrinths are meant for reflection.

"When you walk this, you go clockwise and counterclockwise," Dobbins noted. "That sets up a balancing aspect."

The labyrinth also serves as a metaphor for life.

"There are twists and turns in life that are symbolized by the labyrinth," Dobbins explained.

The labyrinth at Lancaster Country Day School is more than just a place for kids to explore. It was built as a labor of love.

"The school is so fond of this," said Head of School Steven Lisk of the school's outdoor labyrinth, "that there's a replica on the floor of the dining commons," Country Day's cafeteria.

The labyrinth was inspired by one found in the historic city of Bath, England. John Jarvis, then head of school, traveled to Bath in 1986, and was impressed by that British town's labyrinth.

" 'Wouldn't it be wonderful if we did something like this in Lancaster?' " Jarvis remembers thinking. So he spearheaded a project to have a labyrinth built on the grounds at Country Day. Jarvis treasures a lovingly kept scrapbook of the labyrinth's construction, complete with photographs and carefully rendered drawings. The labyrinth opened in 1989.

Country Day's path, built with volunteer labor, covers a tenth of a mile before reaching "Jerusalem" at its center. Though inspired by Jarvis' trip to England, it's modeled after the one at Chartres and made up of some 10,000 bricks, set in grass.

"It's easy for the kids to run on," said Jarvis on a recent visit to the labyrinth, as several students scampered through on a recent sunny day.

Not far from Country Day, Sarah Campbell's labyrinth connects with nature in a special way: it's created with seasonal herb plants. This labyrinth literally blooms.

It's also functional; Campbell's labyrinth supplies the title of her business, Herbs From the Labyrinth, a Lancaster garden and herbal-products business. It once served as a source of herbs for her shop until business increased.

Campbell's seven-circuit labyrinth, the centerpiece of her garden, is Cretan-style in design. Built eight years ago, "the lines are drawn with a mixture of herbs, river stones and bricks," Campbell said. "The herbs die off in the winter, [but] we can still see the stones and the bricks. ... Unless it gets really deep, it shows up in the snow."

Campbell enjoys her labyrinth by both walking its path and being able to see it from an office on the second floor of her house.

"It helps you to find peace, to calm, and find the quiet place within," she said. "Even looking at it makes a connection in your brain."

Accented with whimsical little animal statues — visitors might find a frog and an elephant, to name two — the center of the labyrinth is an exotic sculpture titled "Omphalos," by Maryland artist Jo Israelson. It was literally rolled into the labyrinth off a truck via planks and rollers — a system not unlike the way stones might have been moved to build the pyramids of Egypt, Campbell speculated.

As the weather warms, the labyrinth grows, with plants as high as 5 or 6 feet. "There's a pretty wide variety," said Campbell, noting hyssop, sweet cicely and tulsi, or "holy basil" among its components. "You can eat almost anything" in the labyrinth, Campbell said, "or make medicine from it."

She has hosted young visitors and said that "children are not that interested in meditation. But they are still more calmed down and focused when they come out."

As for herself, Campbell said the best thing about her labyrinth is "just seeing the beauty of it all the time.

"I have the feeling of being connected to something ancient."

Or as Linda Dobbins put it, "we just trust the path!"

The Tour de Labyrinth is free. Visitors may park at the Hillcrest Road parking area at Lancaster Country Day School; directions to the other labyrinth addresses will be issued at the school. The event will be held rain or shine. Call Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster, 393-1733.

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