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  • Karl Thunemann

Recovering My Lost Past

Updated: Jul 28, 2021

Deep into writing posts for this blog, I stumbled across an image that has prompted me to take a wholly new tack. I had planned to open with an essay about my initiation into Transcendental Meditation. It’s been written—it’s still part of the blog—but please read this first.

I hired a Wix expert to design the blog, and she told me about the free images the company offers to its subscribers. So there I am, scrolling, scrolling … when this image leaps up at me. Look—it’s on the screen where you can see it. Wix labels it “rock maze,” but peer more closely: Why, it’s a labyrinth, hand-fashioned in the style of the famed labyrinth in the cathedral in Chartres.

But this labyrinth—this “maze”—is quite different from its forebear at Chartres. The design is roughly identical but falls short of Chartres’ testimony to its own permanence. Constructed in the 13th century, it clearly intended to be with us forever. At our waterside labyrinth a male figure is well within the design, moving toward the water, consumed by the short passage that enters the center of the labyrinth. His pilgrimage is nearly complete!

When I first saw a tiny image of this installation, I supposed it to be built on the shore of a lake. This probably reflects my great affinity for lakes. When I got around to enlarging the image, it seemed to be at a seashore. Nothing wrong with that, but it vanquishes the idea of permanence. Every time a good-sized storm brews up, it will scatter the components of this labyrinth. The retreating waves will sweep some of the rocks back into the sea. If the creator of this design would keep it, he or she will have to assemble a new collection of markers and painstakingly lay them out after every big storm. Perhaps this monument has already been swept away. But even a fleeting monument can be of great spiritual value.

“Still the labyrinth remains essentially spiritual.”

I have a history with the Chartres labyrinth—well, with the multitude of replicas it spawned. How did it begin? I draw a blank. I suppose I could ask my wife how it came to be that suddenly we were immersed in the idea of the labyrinth, finding many occasions to visit them. But I insist on using my own resources. I look labyrinths up on the web and land squarely in 1995. That’s when Lauren Artress, godmother of the labyrinth in the 20th century, published Walking a Sacred Path: Rediscovering the Labyrinth as a Spiritual Tool. Artress called the labyrinth “a watering hole for the spirit and a mirror of the soul.”

People walking the labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral

Why was I so absorbed? Looking at the Artress quote, I guess that I was already zeroed in on spirit, yet quite a way from thinking about the soul. Plus, I had a theological quibble. If you watch your step, once you enter the design you can take yourself only to the center. To me, this marks our labyrinth as intrinsically monotheistic. In 1995 I was about halfway into my meandering conversion to Taoism. Taoists can choose among several holy texts and customs: No need to worry about finding the “one way.”

Still the labyrinth remains essentially spiritual. I love approaching it with such priming sentences as I am open to receiving guidance about …  or Where do I need more clarity in my life? And I like visiting churches that maintain labyrinths, even those marked on canvas to be rolled out for special occasions.  In all their convolutions, these designs provide a context in which people of divergent spiritual beliefs can come together. I found a list of dozens of labyrinths in my state alone. I’ve visited only a handful. I could go on a pilgrimage!  You could look them up in your state. Here’s the link:

Rediscovering the labyrinth suggests a Loving-Kindness resolution for me: By visiting labyrinths may I connect with other seekers and dive deeper into my own soul.


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