The Labyrinth of St. John's Convent, Toronto
The Birth of a Labyrinth
The labyrinth is an ancient tool of prayer, and when the Sisters built the new Convent in 2004, we were excited about the possibility of continuing that tradition here.
Heather Lindsay, a landscape artist from Metropolitan United Church in Toronto, helped us construct our labyrinth. We appreciated Heather’s approach to building the labyrinth with prayer and reverence. On a cold November day in 2004, the Sisters and volunteers, together with Heather, battled pouring rain as we laid the river stone that forms the boundaries of the path. Each stone was laid with prayer, and the rainy day actually brought out the beautiful colours in the stone.
The walking path of our labyrinth is a thick layer of mulch, so it’s possible to walk in wet weather without getting muddy feet.Together with sisters and volunteers from the church we battled the pouring rain and filled in the rest with the river rocks, and require thickness of mulch.
We chose the 11-circuit pattern from Chartres Cathedral, one of the most ancient labyrinths in a Christian church. In the middle ages, people who wanted to make a spiritual pilgrimage but were too poor to afford to go to the Holy Land or other famous Christian shrines (like Canterbury), walked the labyrinth as a sign of devotion, penitence, and prayer.
We chose to place a large rock at the centre of the labyrinth, to symbolize that Christ is the centre of our life. The rock is slightly off-centre so that when you sit on the rock or stand before it, your feet are in the exact centre.
Walking the Labyrinth
The labyrinth symbolizes our spiritual journey as we move in towards the centre, letting go of whatever burdens us, and then returning by the same path freer and lighter, with the assurance of God’s love and support as we face the tasks of our lives.
Labyrinths are a powerful meditation tool. Unlike a maze, a labyrinth has only one path to the centre, so you don’t have to think about where you’re walking – you can just relax and go with the flow of the path. The many different turns have the effect of naturally slowing the body down. As the body slows and relaxes, so does the mind, and then inspiration, creativity and grace is allowed to surface. We become more aware of God’s presence, our true self and the world we live in.
There is no right or wrong way to walk the labyrinth. You can go at your own pace, even stopping to take time for awareness and reflection. Children may run or skip through. If you are emotional or angry you may go through really fast; if grieving an event in your life you will probably go at a slower pace. Let your walk help you become aware of the state of your inner being and allow God to love and support you.
It’s helpful to take time at the entrance to centre yourself. If you have many things on your mind, you might want to choose one to walk with. When you meet another person just quietly step aside to pass and then continue.
On your return journey let the insight you have become aware of seep into your being through God’s grace, and at the end of your return journey give thanks for blessings, graces, and insights received.
St. John’s Convent labyrinth is open to all people – you do not need to be a guest on a retreat. But we do ask that you phone ahead to let us know you are coming, and we can give you a leaflet with suggestions for your prayer journey on the labyrinth.