- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 7, 2005

Before Jane McKeel of McLean walked a labyrinth, she had heard great things: “It helps you find your center, tap into creativity, and if you’re in a transition, it can help you get a calmer perspective. I thought, ‘How can walking in circles do all these great things?’ ”

Then she tried walking one.

As local churches of all denominations, clinics, hospitals, and even homeowners, are laying out labyrinths, more Washingtonians are experiencing its lure.

Often confused with mazes, labyrinths are not puzzles; they have only one way in and one way out. By following the spiral path, you can’t get lost. The three-part process consists of walking to the center, being in the center and following the same path back out.

Many are painted on canvas. Others are created from rocks, bricks or mosaic tiles. Depending on the walker’s pace, the size of the labyrinth and the number of circuits or turns, a walk can take between 10 to 50 minutes.

“The first time I walked a labyrinth, I felt good. It took a second time to wake up,” Ms. McKeel says. Now, she looks to the labyrinth as a tool for meditation and problem solving.

“Once I had a deadline for writing a report for school in a subject where I usually don’t have any trouble, but I was stuck,” the former teacher says. “I walked the labyrinth and came home and had all these ideas. The labyrinth stirred my creativity.”

When Ms. McKeel volunteers at labyrinth walks at the Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, she advises new walkers to let go of preconceptions. When people need guidance, she and other volunteers suggest that people bring a favorite line of poetry or a word such as “peace,” “illumination,” “acceptance,” or a traditional mantra such as “Lord, have mercy on me” into the labyrinth.

“We can’t promise a dramatic walk, but whatever you do get, the labyrinth has given you,” Ms. McKeel says.

While some consider labyrinths “new age,” their origins can be traced back thousands of years to patterns on coins from Knossos, Crete, rocks in Pontevedra, Spain, and on the wall of a church in Algeria. The Hopi medicine wheel and the Man in the Maze represent two of many Indian labyrinths.

In the Middle Ages, many Christians who couldn’t travel to Jerusalem walked the labyrinth symbolizing a pilgrimage to the Holy Land.

The most famous medieval design, embedded in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France, contains 11 circuits or concentric circles with the 12th turn leading to the center, a rose-shaped area for rest, prayer or meditation.

The modern labyrinth movement began in the 1990s at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco. The Rev.Lauren Artress, a canon for special ministries at Grace and author of “Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool,” says, “We’re seeing a proliferation of labyrinths in the United States. I think they’re meeting the demands of our time. People need something to help understand their quiet place within.”

David Tolzmann of Baltimore has been building labyrinths since 1995 and is one of the leading builders of them in the country.

“The revival in labyrinths started in Episcopal churches, but I’ve built them for lots of mainline churches — Lutheran, Methodist, Catholic parishes. I even built one for a Southern Baptist church. I never would have predicted that one,” Mr. Tolzmann says.

As a house of prayer for all people, the Washington National Cathedral’s sponsored its first labyrinth walk in 1993 and dedicated its labyrinths in September 2002.

The National Cathedral’s canvas labyrinths follow the Chartres design. On the last Tuesday evening of every month, the cathedral unfolds at least two canvas labyrinths that weigh more than 100 pounds each. As part of Crossroads Evenings, hundreds of people gather at the cathedral to walk the labyrinth.

With a harpist playing or singers chanting, visitors silently remove their shoes. They don’t wear shoes in order to keep the labyrinths clean (clean socks are available to wear).

“Our walkers cover a range of ages, and they come for all reasons,” says Terri Simpson, pilgrimage coordinator at the National Cathedral. “Sometimes groups of people will come to say goodbye to a friend who’s leaving the area or to offer prayers for someone experiencing health difficulties.”

The National Cathedral’s two canvas labyrinths measure 36 feet in diameter. . Some people walk methodically, heel to toe. Some linger at the turns in the path. Some walk with their hands clasped behind their backs. Others walk with their hands in the front, palms together in prayer. Some people weep when they walk.

Simpson of the cathedral. “Sometimes groups of people will come to say goodbye to a friend who’s leaving the area or to offer prayers for someone experiencing health difficulties.”

While the National Cathedral is the one of the most popular places to walk a labyrinth, one of the newest labyrinths has just been completed at Brookside Gardens in Wheaton Regional Park.

Michael Clarridge of Kensington led the volunteer effort to create this outdoor space near the park’s Bridge of Understanding.

He says a lot of people who walk the grounds at the gardens expressed curiosity about his labor of love, made of white, black, gray and bronze stones strategically placed in circuits. Some people even volunteered to help build the 35-foot-wide structure with pathways that are 18 to 20 inches wide.

That’s what Marsha Bisker of Silver Spring did.

“If someone told me I would enjoy lifting rocks, I would have fallen to the ground laughing and holding my stomach,” Ms.cqsker says. “I’m just not use to doing all this physical labor — digging, hammering in rocks — but building the labyrinth has been kind of a spiritual experience.”

Building a labyrinth for Johns Hopkins Hospital “opened up possibilities for other places. I’ve produced them for other hospitals, seminaries, schools and spas,” Mr. Tolzmann says.

“The biggest decision for people is to enter the space. Find your own pace. I never walked one until I built one. Some, like me, walk very fast. Others walk very slowly. Do what comes naturally and see what happens,” Mr. Tolzmann says.

• • •

Theresa Walker of Washington participates in labyrinth walks at the National Cathedral and at Bon Secours Spiritual Center in Marriottsville, Md., about five times a year.

“It’s a special occasion for me,” she says. “I take time to be reflective and let go, and I do get a sense of the sacred. I’ve never experienced anything dramatic, but ‘you never know’ is my theory.”

Karen Rowe of Alexandria knows. She looked to the labyrinth during a major life transition. Ms. Rowe leads daytime journeys and candlelit meditations through the labyrinth in the healing garden tucked away behind the Whitman-Walker Clinic off Lee Highway in Arlington.

“Where we once had fallen trees, poison ivy, bramble and honeysuckle, we now have a sacred space,” she says. “One summer evening, I laid on my back in the center between the rocks and looked up at the fireflies, the stars and the blinking lights from airplanes between the tall trees. I felt joy.”

Sally A.S. Michael of Arlington turned to the labyrinth at Whitman-Walker for healing after experiencing a stroke.

“My physical therapist loved the labyrinth. I was learning to walk again, and the labyrinth’s stones offered uneven texture,” she says. “It tested my balance a bit, but having sacred space under my feet made the ground feel solid.”

While he’s never prescribed walking a labyrinth, Dr. Andrew Angelino, says, “It can be useful for some people to spend time meditating. The labyrinth provides a structure.”

Dr. Angelino, medical director of acute psychiatry at Johns Hopkins’ Bay View Hospital, says, “Hospitals always have some kind of chapel, usually stuck in a corner. It’s useful to have places like that. Labyrinths can take it one step further.”

Patients, staff, visitors and people in the community circle the 60-foot-wide, brick path labyrinth behind the hospital.

• • •

Lisa Berg built her own labyrinth behind her home in Fairfax Station. For 21/2 months, she collected hundreds of quartz crystal, black stones and even pebbles from the woods and creek in her back yard. In a clearing surrounded by tulip poplars and pine trees, she laid out rocks creating a circular pathway, 21 feet across with seven circuits.

Sometimes Ms. Berg sings when she walks. Other times she walks with a thought such as “gratitude,” “forgive,” “love yourself” or “dance.” She calls her labyrinth “heaven on earth.”

Pamela Bowles of Manassas was surprised when she faced pain from her childhood when she started walking labyrinths in 1999.

“I can’t say issues went away, but I can deal with them better,” she says. “When I was a child, my parents divorced and there was some abuse. At first I was frightened when this came back to me on the labyrinth. But as I walked, I thought about my past and decided not to get blown up by it. I’ve strengthened my family relationships and my parenting. Sometimes situations become clearer between the lines of the labyrinth.”

For anyone considering a labyrinth walk, Ms. Bowles says, “The best way to learn about the labyrinth is to walk it.”

Looking for a labyrinth?

“We used to loan and rent our labyrinth out all the time,” says Robert Buckman, member of the Unitarian Universalist Church in Arlington and a former vice president of the National Labyrinth Society. “Now the demand has diminished because there are so many labyrinths in our area.”

This following list contains just some of the labyrinths in the Washington area. All labyrinth walks are free, except where noted. Outdoor labyrinths are generally open to the public from dawn to dusk. Dates for special programs and indoor walks are listed.


• Brookside Gardens, Wheaton Regional Park, 1800 Glenallan Ave., Wheaton. Phone: 301/962-1451. The outdoor labyrinth is open from dusk to dawn. There is a labyrinth workshop from 10:45 a.m. to 12:15 p.m. Sept. 22. Registration is required: $5

• Takoma Park Presbyterian, 310 Tulip Ave., Takoma Park. Phone: 301/270-5550. Walk: 6:30 to 9 p.m. Sept. 21.

• Bon Secours Spiritual Center, 1525 Marriottsville Road, Marriottsville. Phone: 410/442-1320. The outdoor labyrinth is open daily.

• Unity Christ Church, 111 Central Ave., Gaithersburg. Phone: 301/947-3626. Walks are available at the indoor labyrinth from 6 to 9 p.m. Oct. 13 and Nov. 22.

• Johns Hopkins Bayview Medical Center, 4940 Eastern Ave. Baltimore (next to Johns Hopkins Geriatrics Center, off Mason F. Lord Drive). The outdoor labyrinth is open daily.

• Mount Hope Historic Residence, One Cheverly Circle, Cheverly. Phone: Elizabeth Tuckermanty at 301/773-6716.

• Cedar Lane Unitarian Universalist Church, 9601 Cedar Lane, Bethesda. The walks will be from 2 to 4 p.m. Nov. 13 and 6 to 9 p.m. New Year’s Eve. Phone: 301/593-6334.

• Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, 801 Chase St., Annapolis. Visitors can attend at special event at the outdoor labyrinth, “Understanding & Accessing a Tool for Health & Wellness,” from 7 to 9 p.m. Sept. 14, 21 and 28. Fee: $30. Phone: 410/263-5544, Ext. 10.

• St. Luke’s Episcopal Church, 6030 Grosvenor Lane, Bethesda. The outdoor labyrinth is open daily. Phone: 301/530-1800.

• Prince of Peace Presbyterian Church, 1657 Crofton Parkway, Crofton. The outdoor labyrinth is open daily. Phone: 410/721-2313.

• First United Methodist Church, 6201 Belcrest Road, Hyattsville. Phone: 301/927-6133. Visitors can walk the labyrinth every fourth Sunday of the month from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m.

• St. Anne’s Church, 5100 Ridge Road, Damascus. Visitors can walk the labyrinth from 6:30 to 9 p.m. Sunday. Phone: 301/253-2130.

Washington, D.C.

• Church of the Epiphany, 1317 G St. NW. Phone: 202/347-2635. Visitors can walk the indoor labyrinth every Wednesday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m.

• Washington National Cathedral, Massachusetts and Wisconsin avenues NW. The indoor labyrinth can be walked the last Tuesday of every month from 6 to 9 p.m. Phone: Cathedral Center for Prayer and Pilgrimage, 202/537-5246.

• St. Thomas’ Episcopal Church, 1772 Church St. NW (St. Thomas’ is located off 18th Street between P and Q streets.) The outdoor labyrinth is open daily, and light is provided at night. Phone: 202/332-0607.

• “Dance of the Labyrinth,” Sandra Wasko-Flood’s studio, 57 N Fine Art, 57 N St. NW. This interactive labyrinth will reopen in mid-September. The Living Labyrinth for Peace Inc. fundraiser will be held at 7 p.m. tomorrow at Potter’s House Bookstore and Cafe, 1658 Columbia Ave. NW. Phone: 703/360-5233.


• King of Kings Lutheran Church, 4025 Kings Way, Fairfax. Phone: 703/378-7272. The indoor walk can be done from 7 to 9 p.m. Sept. 25 and Oct. 23.

• Unitarian Universalist Church of Arlington, 4444 Arlington Blvd., Arlington. The outdoor labyrinth is open daily. The indoor labyrinth is open for special events from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday and 7 to 8:30 p.m. Sept. 21. Phone: 703/892-2565.

• St. Francis de Sales Catholic Community, 37730 St. Francis de Sales Court, Purcellville. The outdoor labyrinth is open daily.

• Warrenton United Methodist Church, 231 Church St., Warrenton. The outdoor labyrinth open daily. Phone: 540/349-8636.

• Whitman-Walker Clinic of Northern Virginia, 5232 Lee Highway, Arlington. The labyrinth, behind the clinic in the Healing Garden, is open to the public during daylight hours. Phone: 703/531-4936.

• Trinity Episcopal Church, 9325 West St., Manassas. Phone: 571/338-8551.

• Burke Presbyterian Church, 5690 Oak Leather Drive, Burke. Phone: 703/323.9448.

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