NEW ALBANY — For the second year in a row, a New Albany church is bringing an ancient spiritual tradition to the community, open to all regardless of faith.
The Labyrinth, a meditative path to prayer, opened at Centenary United Methodist Church in New Albany several weeks ago and will remain available to all through Easter. It is a large, geometrical walking path with one entrance and exit and four quadrants representing the four gospels.
The practice originated at the Chartes Cathedral in Paris in the 12th and 13th centuries and is now used worldwide. It was brought to the New Albany area by Rev. Harriett Akins-Banman, who began leading the church in 2015. She first learned about the labyrinth in seminary and felt an instant connection.
“It is very dear to my heart,” she said. “When I was shown the design, it was like a design I already knew — kind of this instant connection.”
Bobbie Baird, office manager at Centenary, said before it was brought to the church, she didn't have experience with it but has now walked it “many times.”
“It's very rewarding for me to take the time [to meditate,]” she said. “Sometimes I don't ... sit down and really meditate — I'm in a hurry, life happens.
“When you walk this, there is nothing else to do but to think and to pray. It's very relieving to your soul.”
LEAVE IT AND WALK AWAY
It is recommended that the first time a person walk through just to get the lay of the design, just to understand what it is and get acquainted with it, Baird said. The second time, the person might choose a word or idea to concentrate on.
“The purpose is when you get to the center, if you have things that are bothering you that you really want God to answer, you stop in the center and leave it there and walk away,” she said.
“It's a very spiritual tool — it's meditation. It has nothing to do with a particular religion; anybody could walk this. It's just a path for prayer.”
After her initial introduction, Akins-Banman was led to study the labyrinth further, learning under the Rev. Dr. Lauren Artress — founder of the Veriditas, a Worldwide Labyrinth Community — in both Paris and the states.
“What I loved about the Labyrinth is as a prayer tool,” Akins-Banman said. “The image of a single path to a center that returns out again is over 4,000 years old and is found in every culture. So we're talking about an image, an archetype that is found worldwide long before there was communication among us worldwide that had some sort of sacred connectedness to us.
“I love the connectedness that we have with one another through the ages.”
SPIRITUAL TOOL FOR ALL AGES
She said she also appreciates its usefulness as a spiritual tool for people of all ages and walks of life. She will be teaching two classes on walking the path Tuesday, Jan. 31. She recently introduced the practice to Centenary's children.
“The first time [they walk through], they're laughing and they're full of energy,” she said. “The second time, you can see them quiet down and the third time — this little boy and his sister were going to every turn in the labyrinth and kneeling down to pray.
“They just get it.”
The path to prayer has also been used to help with Alzheimer's and other memory issues, Akins-Banman said.
“Some of the testing shows that when we walk the Labyrinth, it makes us engage our brains and our body in a way that makes our brain go from left to right side,” she said. “That's one reason scientists and spiritual researchers believe that we get such a feeling of peace or feel that we've had openness within us.”
The Labyrinth is also accessible to people who may not be able to walk the path itself — there is a wooden board known as a lap labyrinth with the exact shape, that a person can use in the same meditative way only tracing with their finger.
HAVING A HOLY MOMENT
Before coming to New Albany, Akins-Banman said she got the opportunity to connect by helping another person make the walk she couldn't make alone.
“There was an older woman who loved the Labyrinth but had a stroke and could no longer walk it,” she said. “And so she asked me if I would walk it for her.”
Akins-Banman said yes, though she wasn’t sure if it could work.
“She sat her chair at the entrance and watched me walk the Labyrinth,” Akins-Banman said. “After I was able to get my ego out of the way — 'am I walking too slowly, too quickly, am I really helping her?' — it really became that same kind of experience for her that she was walking it.
“There was the connectedness of being in prayer with one another using this ancient tool that one of us walked physically and one of us walked metaphorically and spiritually.”
During the two upcoming class sessions, Akins-Banman will first go over the history and sacred geometry of the Labyrinth, and she will invite participants to walk the path.
“And then at the end, we'll process as much as people want to,” she said. “I think when we have holy moments it's often good just to let them sit inside until we're ready to speak them. We don’t have to give them away.
“[The Labyrinth] is just a gift we have that helps us connect body, mind and spirit together. It is for all faiths. It's not just a Christian instrument.”