In his welcome to new parents last week, the president of St. Olaf College noted that no new or renovated buildings are opening this year but a labyrinth had been installed next to the chapel, which immediately piqued my interest. I have long loved labyrinths, and they featured prominently in my spiritual birth preparation book and programs. That instant I determined to walk the new labyrinth during my brief time at St. Olaf. We had driven the 740 miles from Cincinnati to Northfield, MN, to deliver our youngest child for his freshman year, a momentous rite of passage that simultaneously elicits excitement and fear, joy and grief. The emotions of this transition were heightened by our oldest’s post-college move to Chicago and our daughter’s foray to Africa for a semester abroad — all occurring within the same week as this dropoff. A labyrinth walk at least would feel familiar.
Turns out I had never seen a labyrinth like this one before! Set among a shady grove of trees in a green triangle between the art building, theater building, and chapel (closest to chapel and accessed from that side), its gravel-lined walking path is bordered by flat stones. But unusually, mounds of earth planted with grasses, shrubs, and mosses define the pathways. The effect is like stepping into a lush forest. Campus activity fades into the background. On Saturday afternoon a brief window of time opened between move-in and info sessions to walk the labyrinth. On the way in, I set my intention for Christian, and for all of us, in this time of definitive transition.
Upon reaching the center, a a wide copper bowl filled with rocks covered by water inspired a spontaneous ritual. Crouching down, I immersed my hands in the water for a few moments and then made the sign of the cross on my forehead, lips, and heart. Now what to do with wet hands? I stood to face out to the campus away from the chapel and flung drops of water all around to bless this place where my baby will reside, that he would grow and learn and thrive, then concluded by anointing my face and arms with the remaining droplets. On the walk out, I just rested in the experience and listened for wisdom; hopefulness and peace prevailed.
The labyrinth symbolism continues to percolate for me since returning home. I find it’s rather apt as the twists and turns of the labyrinth can confuse when you’re walking its path, but there really is an overall pattern even when you can’t see it. The presence of plants and grasses along with the brick, gravel, and rocks particularly spoke to me of newness and growth. So I created a portable version in the foyer of our home, a reminder in my daily comings and goings of the larger pattern of life.