What is a labryinth? It’s different from a maze in that it has only one path (without alternative routes or turns). While many people readily link these things to alternative spirituality movements, it’s also connected to ancient Christian practices—one which is being revived (along with many other ancient spiritual disciplines) in several corners of the Protestant and evangelical world, as is noted in New Journeys on Well Worn Paths (a Christianity Today/Leadership article):
I must confess, however, that the motive for mowing labyrinths into my backyard is not so much the desire to revive an ancient Christian spiritual practice as it is to give my kids (and their neighborhood playmates) something fun to do in the backyard. My eight-year-old daughter's eyes lit up when she realized what I was doing and my three-year-old son actually got the hang of it this year. My husband, however, still thinks I'm nuts. Heh, considering the 100+ heat index while I was mowing yesterday, he may be right.
In the nearly 30 years since Richard Foster wrote the classic Celebration of Discipline, the study of the spiritual practices of the pre-Reformation church has enjoyed a growing audience. To many Protestants at the time, it seemed the Quaker theologian practically invented the disciplines, until his exhortations to solitude, fasting, contemplation, and the like fueled the study of the Desert Fathers, ascetics, and monastics whose teachings were mostly the domain of Catholic spirituality.
"A lot of Protestants have discovered we kind of threw the baby out with the bathwater in the Reformation, in terms of practices," said Presbyterian minister Marjorie Thompson, director for the Pathways Center for Spiritual Leadership. "Now we're coming back and rediscovering them, and turning to our Catholic sisters and brothers because they're the ones with the expertise."
So Protestants in increasing numbers are bringing the classic disciplines into their spiritual practice. Bible-only Baptists are finding Lent, exuberant Pentecostals are employing silence, staid Episcopalians are walking labyrinths, free churches are following lectio divina, and iconoclastic evangelicals everywhere are bringing art back into the sanctuary. Why, after five centuries of stripped-down, theologically precise worship and three decades of rhythm-driven contemporary relevance, are silence and stained glass cool again?
Postmodern church expert Len Sweet framed worship in the 21st century as EPIC: experiential, participatory, image-driven, and communal. His description applies equally to life in emerging churches as it does to the centuries-old monastic communities that birthed these ancient practices. The spiritual connection between the two is what's amazing.
The new interest in ancient spirituality is not limited to emerging congregations and a few avant garde leaders. Nor is it confined to the anti-Boomer, anti-church-growth crowd. This is more than a pendulum-swing reaction to the church their fathers built.
"There is a movement not only back to the disciplines, but a kind of instinctive, if not fully articulated desire to know the whole heritage of Christianity," said Phyllis Tickle, an expert in religious publishing and author of a best-selling series of books on fixed-hour prayer, The Divine Hours.
(Images my backyard)