The way people walk the labyrinth often reveals the way they approach their lives, Brown has observed. Some are determined to reach the center quickly and directly. Others meander and pause. Some stay on the path; others trespass the boundaries. In the center, some pray, or dance, or lie down and meditate.
"The thing about the labyrinth is that there's no right or wrong way to walk it," Brown says. "Every person who comes has a different experience. The labyrinth is what you bring to it while you walk."
Labyrinths have been around for thousands of years. Variations are found in just about every culture and civilization, etched into rock or clay, painted on pottery, laid out with stones on the ground or drawn in old manuscripts. There are labyrinths on ancient Greek coins, Etruscan vases, Sicilian tombs, Indonesian gold rings, and rocks and jewelry adorned by American Indians. The design is not only intriguing and pleasing, but also a symbol of something larger and more mystical.
"What impresses me is that it's preorganized religion," says Joyce Krajian, director of the church's Middleton Center, which provides pastoral care and counseling. The labyrinth "was around before people gathered in churches, synagogues, and mosques to find God, so there's something universal about this image as a metaphor for the human spirit and life's journey."
It's important to note that there's a difference between a labyrinth and a maze. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth, while full of twists and turns, has no dead ends, false paths, or cul-de-sacs. The path, once begun, always leads eventually to the center, albeit circuitously.
"There are no wrong turns," says Krajian, who calls the labyrinth "a very cool tool." "Every time you take a turn, it will get you where you're meant to be."
Krajian, 60, first walked a labyrinth 10 years ago while on a silent retreat. She came home feeling "more centered and grounded, more able to meet the demands of everyday life."
Last May, she and three other members of the church made a pilgrimage in France. Over three days, they walked with about a dozen other people the approximately 50 miles from Paris to Chartres. Leading the group was Gernot Candolini, an Austrian photographer who has studied and designed labyrinths all over the world. Much of his wisdom about labyrinths is contained in his book, Labyrinths: Walking Toward the Center. That's also the title of a weeklong program at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian, where Candolini will be appearing later this month.
"Walking with him was a profound and wonderful experience," Krajian recalls. "He kept saying, 'Are you ready to receive what the cathedral will offer?' His teaching was not didactic, but full of story and metaphor. He invited us to experience the uniqueness of each of our paths as well as the common desire of humans throughout the ages to journey deeper within themselves, to connect with the sacred, to find meaning and significance."
Linda Callans, 51, of Merion, also participated in the pilgrimage. Trained as a breast-cancer surgeon, she is now enrolled in a spirituality program at Chestnut Hill College with the aim of becoming a hospital chaplain and providing hospice care.
At the college, there's an outdoor labyrinth that she uses periodically. "It's a form of meditation or prayer that has helped me face difficult events in the past and to see that they're not necessarily bad things but just a change in direction, which actually is a good thing."
During the pilgrimage to Chartres, Callans was contemplating a major question: What is my next step?
As she walked the labyrinth in the cathedral, every time she made a turn, she saw the pulpit right smack in front of her.
"It stopped me in my tracks," Callans recalls, "and made me strongly consider whether that was where I was headed. My reaction was no, so I turned in the labyrinth and kept walking. It affirmed for me a desire for a deeper relationship with God, but on my own terms - by nurturing the spiritual life, not just my own but in others who may be at a crisis in their lives or approaching the end of life. That's what I came out with."
and spiritual guide Gernot Candolini will present several special programs at Bryn Mawr Presbyterian Church from March 24 to April 1. All are free and open to the public. Information: 610-525-0766, www.middletoncenter.org, or e-mail Joyce Krajian at email@example.com
"Well Being" appears every other week, alternating with Sandy Bauers' "GreenSpace" column. Contact Art Carey at firstname.lastname@example.org. Read his recent columns at www.philly.com/wellbeing.