Chapter 4 The Labyrinth

18th March 2020


I am in the labyrinth of life

Glendalough is fortunate to have one of three surviving labyrinth stones from ancient Ireland.  Its origins are in the medieval period but the exact date is not known.  It is known as the Hollywood stone because it was discovered lying face down on the ground near Hollywood in west Wicklow in 1908.  It is now on display in the Glendalough Visitor’s Centre and is well worth seeing.  It is possible to sit with it there for a time in silence and prayerful reflection.

Because it was found on what is now known as St. Kevin’s Way, it was associated with the experience of pilgrimage.  We can imagine pilgrims walking on their way to Glendalough stopping to reflect and pray where this stone was placed.  The area marks the beginning of a difficult phase of the journey over the mountains.  The design incised on the stone illustrated the complexity of the journey ahead. After spending some time with the stone recalling some of the outstanding moments of joy and sadness in the journey of life already completed, it is possible to go outside to the open space between the Visitor’s centre and the river where an enlarged replica of the labyrinth stone is laid out on the ground for those who would like to walk it and allow their feet to guide their memories of the story.

The labyrinth is a powerful symbol of the journey of life and walking it either alone or in a group can be a real prayerful meditation.  There is a place for everybody in this experience whether they are beginning the journey or coming towards the end; going in one direction or the opposite way, religious or non religious.  Everyone is different but each one is included in the sacred web of life. Pause at the beginning of the path and focus on the intention and purpose of this walk which is about to begin. Perhaps the focus will be on gratitude for a blessing or favour received.  It may be on a problem, a worry, an illness, a breakdown in personal and family relationships or a longing for healing and forgiveness.  Perhaps the reflection will be concerned with the great environmental and social problems we are experiencing at this time. Breathe deeply and trust the Holy Spirit to guide and support you as you begin to recall and relive your story through the labyrinthine way

The entrance path goes inside the labyrinth to a journey of seven circles. The first three of these are expanding to the largest circle on the outside. This symbolizes the journey of the first half of life which is an exploration of the experience of life to its outer limits. In this part of life we seek to establish our identity and find our place in the world. In these circles it is possible to look on the journey of life through the ten years of childhood in the first circle, to teenage years in the second circle, to young adulthood which is the largest circle.  The events and circumstances of those years, and the people that we met along the way, shaped how each one of us was formed as a person.  Recall them all with gratitude.

When the outer circle is completed, the rest of the walk continues in ever diminishing circles to the very centre of the labyrinth.  This reflects the reality of life.  In the earlier stages we need to make our way to the outer limits to make new discoveries and have different experiences while in the second half of life we tend to find answers to big questions within ourselves. At the centre of the labyrinth it is good to stop and look back and listen to the personal story that echoes in our thoughts and feelings.   At the heart of that story and everyone’s story there is the truth of who each person is in God’s eyes. The real presence of God is felt within at that moment.

Returning from the centre of the labyrinth it is possible to look around at everything with new eyes and understanding.  The surrounding hills emerged in their present form at the end of the last great ice age ten thousand years ago. The trees and bushes that grow in abundance on the hillsides live in harmony in the midst of diversity. It is possible to get to know them and call them by their name.  The human imprint is seen in buildings and especially in the magnificent round tower which has stood guard over this beautiful place for the past one thousand years. It is a fitting monument to the presence, courage and creativity of our outstanding Christian forbears.

The pilgrim might leave the labyrinth with a heart full of gratitude for the experience of being alive, inheriting the faith and spirit of a proud people who believed in a God who permeates all creation, lives within us and who is a mystery beyond anything we can hope for or imagine.  The way ahead can only be full of hope and expectation for the privilege of participating with our creator God in everything that is happening now and in all that will happen in the future.

“Paying attention is a simple form of prayer, largely visual and aesthetic. But to encounter any plant, flower or creature – to become a naturalist – to be with them in the real world, lifts the experience onto a different plane of appreciation. No words are adequate to encapsulate the encounter, ….but it is prayer at another level”  (John Feehan – Reflections of the presence of God in creation, p. 20)


Spiritual Practice

  • Listen to the poem “Roads” by Ruth Bidgood on the CD
  • Pilgrim Psalm 121 A psalm of ascents
  • Use the image of the Hollywood stone in the picture to review the experiences of each day in a consciousness examen.