There’s a fine piece in Smithsonian today about labyrinths, which put me in mind of Sewanee’s own version of the mystic maze (about which more below). As Jennifer Billock, the author of the Smithsonian piece, writes about the spiritual engagement with this unique classic structure:
Historically, walking a labyrinth is associated with religious and magical experiences. Their many ins and outs are often associated with mythical figures, and in the past they were walked as devotional activities, mini-pilgrimages or atonements for some sin. Nordic pagans coursed the paths as a way to overcome difficulty, reinforce protection and bring good fortune. These days, walkers choose labyrinths for a meditative experience of repetition and slight concentration contained in a small circular package. The journey is a personal one—everyone gets something different out of the winding walk.
She quotes David Gallagher, director of The Labyrinth Society, who says, “I can’t tell you what a specific individual should expect to experience. Ask anyone who’s interested in labyrinths and you’ll get different answers.” The Society’s elaborate webpage–it’s actually well-organized, so I’ll avoid comparing it to a maze–notes that May 6, 2016 was World Labyrinth Day, which, in all the hubbub about Sewanee’s graduation, I seem to have missed; I’ll try to catch it next year, I guess. I note too that the society maintains a labyrinth locator that does not contain the one in Abbo’s Alley (or the other one I know of in the area, at St. Mary’s*).
I’m quite fond of our local labyrinth, and have often incorporated it into lectures about Theseus and the Minotaur. You can see one of my sons, when he was very young, playing in it above. A few years ago, I wanted to know more about this labyrinth and wrote to the person who knows the most about the Alley, Louis Rice, to find out more. He responded,
Trink Beasley’s son, Battle, a priest in Nashville ,collected the bricks and also laid out the design.Several volunteers put the bricks down and the Alley crew cut the brush and cleared the trees from atop the stone out-cropping. This was all done about 2000/01. You will note the area below is named “Trinks Terrace” in her honor.
I wrote to Father Beasley, who is rector at St. Mark’s in Antioch, TN — there is in fact another labyrinth there , one which can be found in the Labyrinth Society’s locator. Battle’s gracious response to my inquiry:
So glad to hear someone uses and enjoys it. Actually it was my mother Trink Beasley who wanted a labyrinth in the alley and asked me to put it there. I became interested in labyrinths around 1995. The one here at st. mark’s I didn’t put in but can claim to be the inspiration for the previous rector who I introduced to labyrinths.i too find them wonderful places for reflection and prayer. Thanks so much for sharing with me. Peace battle
According to the St. Mark’s website, Battle leads a labyrinth walk on the second Saturday of every month. I’ve copied his thoughtful reflections, which might be of use to you as you walk the mystic path in Abbo’s Alley.
There are three stages of the walk:
Purgation (Releasing) ~ A releasing, a letting go of the details of your life. This is the act of shedding thoughts and distractions. A time to open the heart and quiet the mind.
Illumination (Receiving) ~ When you reach the center, stay there as long as you like. It is a place of meditation and prayer. Receive what is there for you to receive.
Union (Returning) ~ As you leave, following the same path out of the center as you came in, you enter the third stage, which is joining God, your Higher Power, or the healing forces at work in the world. Each time you walk the labyrinth you become more empowered to find and do the work you feel your soul reaching for.
Guidelines for the walk: Quiet your mind and become aware of your breath. Allow yourself to find the pace your body wants to go. The path is two ways. Those going in will meet those coming out. You may “pass” people or let others step around you. Do what feels natural.
*Postscript. My understanding is that Battle Beasley made the St. Mary’s labyrinth, too! Also, my friend and former student (and former babysitter!), Emily Senefeld, tells me that there’s also a labyrinth in the Crump Pavilion at the Dubose Conference Center!