Become a digitalPLUS subscriber. 99¢ for 4 weeks.

The magical, winding world of labyrinths [Commentary]

I'm a fan of obscure and somewhat-silly holidays (National Ice Cream Day, Talk Like a Pirate Day), so I thought I'd tell you about one lesser-known and even lesser-observed holiday.

This past Saturday was World Labyrinth Day (sponsored by David Bowie – just kidding. Kudos to you if you get that reference.)

I was probably one of the few people to get excited about something pretty esoteric like that, but I've actually been kind of fascinated by labyrinths for a long time.

It started in Minnesota, where I decided to check out a labyrinth near a college in Saint Paul.

When I got to the place where the labyrinth was supposed to be, there was nothing but a big, grassy field.

I asked an elderly nun sitting by the side of a building for directions, as it were.

"It's right there," she said, pointing back at the field.

I scanned the grass, like maybe something was going to materialize out of thin air - a "Field of Dreams"-type labyrinth, perhaps?

"Just keep going and you'll find it," she reassured me.

Sure enough, the labyrinth was mowed down into the grass, and you couldn't see it until you were practically on top of it.

After that, I just liked the idea of looking for labyrinths. It seemed like a kind of adventure.

I've found labyrinths in San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C., and Delaware (in Lewes, which is a super-nice, tiny town near Rehoboth, if you're interested).

When I worked for The View newspapers (now defunct, sadly) in Howard County, I went a couple of times to the labyrinth at Bon Secours Spiritual Center in Marriottsville, which was also very well-designed and I think pretty heavily used.

Harford County is pretty slim in the labyrinth department. Last month, I wrote about a labyrinth set up by Bel Air United Methodist Church just before Easter, with a Stations-of-the-Cross twist.

Other than that, there are no permanent labyrinths here, according to LabyrinthLocator.com (although there's one just past the border in Monkton. That makes the Bel Air labyrinth especially unusual.

For a while, I lived in Baltimore right by a large and well-designed labyrinth (on the site of the former Memorial Stadium). It was called "Thanksgiving Place" and featured pergolas, benches and a line from psalms on the ground - obviously no substitute for an actual stadium, but pretty fancy for a labyrinth.

I must say it was a big selling (well, renting) point for me. I liked walking through it on my way to other places, and I was usually the only one doing it. I think most of the kids in the neighborhood thought it was just a fancy design in the ground.

Once I was walking through it while a boy, maybe about 10 years old, rode his bike in and out of the circles. He rode up to me, intrigued by what I was doing.

"Do you have to figure out how to get out?" he asked. I explained that no, it was a labyrinth, not a maze, and there was nothing to solve. The boy rode away, not interested in something that wasn't a game.

(A fun bit of trivia: The Jim Henson movie "Labyrinth" is really about a maze, not a labyrinth. Still a great movie, though.)

Labyrinths obviously have Christian roots, or at least are mostly associated with places like medieval cathedrals. I'm not Christian, so I prefer walking on ones that are more "non-sectarian," but I'm happy to find any kind of labyrinth.

I think in recent years they have also gotten more secularized, for therapeutic or recreational purposes.

I showed my mom a fairly new labyrinth at Hannah More Park in Reisterstown, and she loved it. My parents like walking a lot in general, so I think my mom liked the idea of "going for a walk" in the labyrinth, without actually having to go far. She said it was therapeutic because you don't have to think, just follow your feet, which makes sense to me.

It's traditional to meditate or contemplate something when you get to the center of the labyrinth, but I usually don't.

Sometimes I stand in the center and look around. The world outside the labyrinth is just a few feet away. I could easily take just a couple of steps to get there, but instead, I take a completely circuitous route.

A labyrinth is, actually, the least direct way of getting from point A to point B – the total opposite of how you usually want to travel. And, like the game of baseball, the only "goal" is to go back "home."

To me, a labyrinth reassures you that no matter how winding or crazy your life might seem, it's actually still organized and beautiful. You might feel like you're just walking in circles, but it's all part of, well, a bigger circle.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
Comments
Loading