Sunday, February 20, 2011

Prayer Labyrinths?

Hello, everyone.  I just had to put this here, earnestly seeking your opinion.  So please feel more than free to comment.

It was brought to my attention that my associate pastor wants to bring a labyrinth into the church for Lent.  That is how it was stated to me.  My initial reaction was "Why?"  And for those of you who know me, you know it's because I immediately thought of the movie with David Bowie (rawr) and then a few moments later, about the Minotaur myth.  Neither of these things has anything to do with the season of Lent, or the Easter holliday.  In fact, neither image is particularly Christian.

So I opened up a search tab and typed in "labyrinth" and "bible" to see what would come up.  Wow.  After reading several articles about prayer labyrinths, I can tell you for certain that I am troubled.  I wrote a letter to my associate pastor outlining the gist of my research.  I don't think she read it as she replied that she'd like to meet for discussion and that e-mail is not a good platform for communication.  Wait, what?

She also forwarded a document for me to read prior to our meeting.  I'm guessing this is the document that got her excited about renting a labyrinth.  The website is Labyrinth Enterprises and the paper is 12 Reasons to Have a Church Labyrinth  I admit that this website did not come up in my search, at least not on the first page.

This website is all about prayer labyrinths.  They support it fully.  But I admit that questions in their FAQ have me wondering how valid is walking the labyrinth when used as a Christian practice?  The main one being "I am afraid my conservative church elders will oppose getting a labyrinth. What can I do?"

A website I did come accross had this to say.  "For added mystery, many of the labyrinths in Christian churches from the early (zealously pious and anti-pagan) times openly show their pagan origin in the Cretan tales about King Minos, without even trying to hide these heathen roots. The inscriptions mention Theseus, Ariadne, Daedalus, and Crete, or a little Minotaur appears in the center."  This doesn't sound very Christian or Biblical.

Here's another website I came across. This author also argues in favor of Christians using the labyrinth.
The page comes up as The Labyrinth in Paganism, though the author is a Christian.  After explaining his background as a mythology teacher and defining the labyrinth, he goes on to say, "The Biblical recognition of these pagan symbols is the truth that we cannot find our own way out of the fallen world to a non-destructive world. God has to enter the Fall for us to escape. Once fallen, we stay that way unless God intervenes with His Areadne thread. What paganism searches for -- stability and meaning, only Christ can supply.

"The sole consistent exception to the pagan scheme of things is thus the Biblical worldview in which the cosmos is called into being by a pre-existing, eternal Creator. A Somebody, not a something; I AM, not an impersonal divine substance. In the Biblical view, all things come from the creative power of the most real, most complete, most individual, and most personal of all things -- our Creator God. "

In this way, he goes on to say that Satan does not own these symbols, i.e. the labyrinth, mandalas, numbers, even yoga. God owns them, and it is in our use of these things that makes them right or wrong. So that "Christians can therefore recapture another shape for God by putting the labyrinth to Godly use. We can show how the revelation of God gives us the answer to the cry of the human heart felt by all peoples. One can walk the labyrinth with the intent of listening to God, of opening oneself to the Spirit of God for learning, repentance, forgiveness, or any of the gifts of the Spirit. And then the center stands for the goal of our human journey, Holy Communion, that peace which passes understanding, acceptance of our full dependency on God and our total obedience to Him, leading then also to holy communion with one another."

The main reason this article doesn't sit right with me is the inclusion of numbers. Numerology is a form of divination. I wonder, is he saying that if I run my numbers with God in my heart and my center that I will get a message from God? I have a hard time believing that. In the same way then, couldn't I do a tarot reading with God in my heart and center and get a Godly reading? Could I meditate on a mandala that I created with Christian symbols and reach a deeper Spiritual center? Just because I claim these things in Jesus name, does that them make them right? Even if Satan has no ownership or dominion over me, the fact that these things are so immediately associated with Paganism and Eastern Religion makes them untouchable for me. I am to be in the world but not of it.

Enter the Labyrinth looks at the history of the labyrinth starting with modern ideas and practices and goes back to its origins. "Labyrinths predate Christianity by over 1,000 years according to an article posted on the Web site of Grace Cathedral in San Francisco "Pathfinders: Walking Medieval Labyrinths in a Modern World." And the purpose of this article is to make Christians aware that Labyrinths are not in any shape or form a Christian practice."

I found this statement interesting, "What are Labyrinths used for; the explanations come from those using it. The Rev. Sarah Bentley of New Life Institute, a center for counseling, education and spiritual growth related to the Austin-area United Methodist churches, said she introduces labyrinths to people as a form of meditation. They are training the participant in a walking meditation."  What is most interesting is that this pastor comes from a United Methodist Church... um... yeah, that's the denomination I belong to.  What?

What I really liked in this article is the biblical base the author used to refute the use of the labyrinth. Colossians 2: 8 says "See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the basic principles of the world, and not according to Christ." Several other verses are mentioned as well. Matthew 6:6, Matthew 7:13, and 2 Timothy 3: 16.

In conclusion, the author says, "There is no basis for those who practice Biblical Christianity to embrace the labyrinth as an acceptable tool for meditation and prayer. It is inherently New Age, let them have it."

The easiest article I came across to read was at Got Questions?.org  Like the other sites I'd read, it summarized the history of the labyrinth.  It states that the Labyrinth is neither biblical nor Christian.  It concludes the article with a list of reasons why we shouldn't use the labyrinth.
1) God seeks those who will worship Him in spirit and in truth (John 4:24; Philippians 3:3; Psalm 29:2). Proponents of prayer labyrinths speak of "body worship" and the goal to employ all five senses in worship. But body worship is not a biblical concept. We live by faith, not by sight, and worship is not a sensuous, physical activity; worship is a matter of the heart, expressed in praise and service to God. For the New Testament believer, worship has nothing to do with external trappings such as lighting candles, kneeling at an altar, or walking in circles.

2) Prayer is not to become ritualistic (Matthew 6:5-8 ). Dr. Artress says that "ritual feeds the soul" and recommends repeated, regular trips through the labyrinth. If ritual were truly food for the soul, then the Pharisees of Jesus' day should have been the best-fed souls alive-after all, their religious system abounded in ritual and tradition. Yet Jesus rebuked them on more than one occasion for the deadness and hypocrisy of their religion (Matthew 15:3; Mark 7:6-13).

3) Every believer has the mind of Christ (1 Corinthians 2:16). Many who walk prayer labyrinths are seeking special insight, new revelation, or a discovery of "the God who's within" (Dr. Artress, op cit.). Such an emphasis on mysticism and esoteric knowledge comes dangerously close to Gnosticism and New Age thinking. The Christian has no need of mystical experience or extra-biblical revelation: "You have an anointing from the Holy One, and all of you know the truth" (1 John 2:20).

4) God is near to all those who call upon Him in truth (Psalm 145:18; Acts 17:27). No ritual, including walking a labyrinth, can bring anyone any closer to God. Jesus is the way (John 14:6). Repentance and faith are what is required (Acts 20:21).

5) The Bible is sufficient to make the Christian holy, wise, and completely proficient for his work in this world (2 Timothy 3:15-17). To say that, in order to find real power, we must add mysticism or tradition to the Bible is to denigrate God's Word and the Spirit's work through it.

What I have drawn in my own conclusion is that the Labyrinth is there to honor the feminine, the goddess, and I don't worship the goddess.  This is stated in all four of the articles I read.  I feel rather strongly about this subject.  All that said, I look forward to seeing any comments that any of you have about this.  I willing to entertain the idea that I may be a conservative ninny myself.  Please, this is all I have on prayer labyrinths.  Educate me.