CHATHAM – Chatham’s labyrinth at Chase Park, a gift from the town’s seven churches and its clergy association five years ago, centers many people with its gentle invitation to walk its path as a form of meditation and prayer. And now it’s about to take center stage as the focus of a workshop led by one of the world’s labyrinth experts.
On June 17, Dr. Lauren Artress of California, an ordained Episcopal priest, spiritual director, and marriage and family therapist, will be in town to conduct a daylong workshop on the theme “EarthRise: Co-creating a More Peaceful Planet, One Step at a Time,” followed by a two-day training for those who would like to become facilitators, or guides, for people who want to know more about walking the labyrinth.
Artress has just returned from one of her twice-a-year trips to the cathedral of Chartres, France, site of one of the classic medieval labyrinths where she prays and studies. (Some European people in the Middle Ages walked the labyrinth as a symbolic pilgrimage to the Holy Land; Artress has selected “Earthrise” as her theme because of the iconic photograph of Earth as seen by astronauts.)
A labyrinth is a path arranged to carefully planned proportions fitted within a circle. Because it guides the walker safely into its center and out again, it is not the same as a maze, which is a puzzle meant to confuse walkers with tricks and dead ends. The Chatham labyrinth is a replica of the one at Chartres, a cathedral built in 1200.
The Chase Park labyrinth came to town in 2012 as a direct result of the 300th anniversary theme, “Find Your Way in Chatham.” The Rev. Anne Bonney, a member of the clergy association, had her first encounter with a labyrinth when, on a sabbatical in 1999 to learn about contemplation, she studied at several places including Chartres, which coincidentally was having a festival to celebrate the labyrinth.
Something about walking the labyrinth “drew me in,” she said, including the way the colors from the stained glass windows fell on the floor where the labyrinth is laid out. So it came to mind when the clergy were looking for “a spiritual gift to give” on the 300th anniversary of the town, and it became the group’s unanimous choice.
Then someone suggested Chase Park as a location, Bonney saw it as “the perfect place.” The clergy association presented their idea to the park and recreation commissioners, who were so enthusiastic that they even offered to clear the land. The selectmen, despite some concern about future maintenance and other objections, gave their unanimous approval. Since then, Bonney said, the labyrinth has attracted donations from First Night Chatham, other fundraisers, and anonymous donors. The labyrinth “has an energy to itself…it can tell you a lot about how you move through your life.”
Artress, the visiting teacher from California, had her own first experience with a labyrinth “many years ago” when she walked an “informal, painted” one at a conference she attended. She was attracted to the experience, and knew of the one at Chartres, which she decided to visit.
At that time, in the early 1990s, the Chartres labyrinth had fallen out of favor and had been closed for walking for “250 to 300 years,” she said, explaining that “you had to move the chairs set on it to use it.” But, as the pastor in charge of spiritual care at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco, where the AIDS crisis was peaking, Artress said that she recognized the labyrinth as “a pastoral tool that stays in the non-verbal” as people dealt with sickness, death, and grief. She came to the Cape to bless the Chase Park labyrinth on its opening day in July 2012.
The Grace Cathedral’s labyrinth opened on New Year’s Eve of l991-92. Since then, it has been counted as one of about 6,500 around the world in 80 countries, with about 4,000 in the United States.
It’s the symmetrical proportions of the labyrinth and the gentle guidance it gives to the walk that are thought to make it effective in encouraging intuition and a sense of harmony and energy. The Chatham specimen measures 44 feet in diameter, with a 16-inch-wide path. A full walk around it equals a third of a mile.
Artress’s non-profit organization, Veriditas (a word that means “greening”), offers on its website a worldwide labyrinth locator, compiled through its network of trained people.
Pilgrim’s Landing is is coordinating the event with Veriditas. They offer labyrinth walks – some centered on natural events such as solstices or holidays such as Thanksgiving – children’s and youth activities centered around the labyrinth, print and media resources, and educational programs.
“It’s in a public park, so everybody can own it,” said Danielle Tolley, executive director of Pilgrim’s Landing, and whose mother-in-law, Dawn Tolley, and Rev. Bonney had spearheaded interest in a Chatham labyrinth. The labyrinth workshop – or even just a simple walk – is an opportunity, said Tolley, to “open your heart and receive guidance on the questions that we’re living with, right here in our own beautiful back yard.”
The fee for the June 17 workshop is $175, including lunch and snacks. Most of it will be held at Pilgrim’s Landing at the Munson Meeting complex, with a walk at the labyrinth, weather permitting. The workshop is a prerequisite for those who want to move on to the two-day facilitator workshop ($700, including materials).
More information is available from Pilgrim’s Landing, 508-945-1304 or pilgrimslandingcapecod.com, or through the national Veriditas organization, 707-283-0373 or veriditas.org.