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A Mazing Grace

Across the country, people searching for peace of mind and spirit are walking in circles--in churches, backyards, even a prison.

March 31, 2000|JOSE CARDENAS | TIMES STAFF WRITER

It produces different results for everyone--or perhaps none at all.

But most who walk the configuration drawn on a church floor or carved in someone's backyard are looking for guidance as they navigate the path of real life.

Gerre and Dick McKenna began walking a labyrinth at a Presbyterian church in Palos Verdes to deal with his cancer. In the process of meditative walks on the winding path to the center and back, they aimed to make sense of the twists and turns, the good and bad, all that's confusing about the world.

"It's letting go of the anger and finding a kind of acceptance and calm in the midst of that," said Gerre, 69.

For the Record
Los Angeles Times Monday April 3, 2000 Home Edition Southern California Living Part E Page 4 View Desk 1 inches; 35 words Type of Material: Correction
Wrong name--In an article that appeared in Friday's Southern California Living, a Torrance church with what is thought to be the only permanent, indoor labyrinth in the country was misnamed. It is Christ the King Lutheran Church, 2706 W. 182nd St.

The labyrinth--versions of which go back as far as 4,000 years--is a circular path that leads to a center and back out. Sometimes it is laid in stone; these days traveling labyrinths are even made of canvas.

The labyrinth's current popularity in the U.S. started in the early 1990s but has exploded in the last two years, with churches, hospitals--even some schools and prisons--building them.

Helen Curry, president of the Labyrinth Society (http://www.labyrinthsociety.org), said that almost 200 people attended the group's first international meeting in Denver last year.

"I'll certainly say it's a spiritual tool," says Lauren Artress, canon for special ministries at San Francisco's Grace Cathedral, who is credited with energizing the movement. "There are other ways you can understand it . . . something that reduces stress, increases creativity. All that is really about connecting mind, body and spirit."

Grace Cathedral operates the Worldwide Labyrinth Project and a Web site (http://www.gracecathedral.org) with a labyrinth locater that includes about 300 around the country.

Most are in churches. But some turn up in unexpected places. A Long Beach chiropractor has one. Pacifica Medical Center in the Bay Area has one. A women's detention center in San Jose has one. Schools in the Philadelphia and Santa Fe school districts have them.

Some think labyrinths have the potential to transcend individual goals and become meaningful to larger groups.

"We needed something like this for the healing of the community," said Loraine Martray, chairwoman of the Columbine Peace Labyrinth Committee, a project of the Columbine Unitarian Universalist Church in Littleton, Colo.

The church has an outdoor property a couple miles from Columbine High School--site of last year's school shooting--and is raising money to build a labyrinth that could cost as much as $100,000.

Annemarie Rawlinson, 58, of Palos Verdes, submitted a proposal for a labyrinth to the parks and recreation department in San Pedro--one that perhaps could be carved into the grass at a park, one that could bring the area's multiethnic population together.

At Christ the King Unity Church in Torrance, an elaborate labyrinth built two years ago--believed to be the only permanent indoor one in the country--is intended to unite the congregation with the larger community, said pastor Dale Krumland.

"Really, it's a different way of doing Evangelism," he said.

Last year, architects for the new Cathedral of Our Lady of the Angels in downtown L.A. visited Christ Unity, Krumland said, because the Los Angeles Archdiocese was contemplating installing a labyrinth in its much-anticipated building.

Georgiana Lofty, a Long Beach psychotherapist, holds workshops at Christ Unity and has a Web site (http://www.sacredwalk.com) that gets about 2,000 hits a month, she said. She also has a labyrinth outlined in rocks in her backyard.

"In general, people . . . are searching for a means to get a closer relationship with God . . . or get closer to their higher power. People are looking for meaning in their life," Lofty said.

There is no dogma associated with the labyrinth. A person simply brings their personal thoughts, spiritual needs--maybe a specific problem, or an important life decision to be made.

One starts on the path, taking steps as fast or as slow as one wishes, until reaching the center, symbolic of reaching the most intimate part of oneself. A person spends reflective time there, then walks back out--hopefully with renewed strength.

"It provides time to focus on love, forgiveness," says Eli Lund, 33, who lives in Long Beach and teaches elementary school in Carson. "Usually you don't have time to reflect on the spiritual part of you . . . when you slow down, all of a sudden you notice that the wind is moving the palm, the leaves are dancing . . . the beauty of the world and its simplicity."

"Walking the labyrinth is a way of cleansing the mind of all the clutter that we have daily," said Regina Ide, 40, a Long Beach legal secretary who walked a labyrinth to help her decide whether to undergo major surgery. "It gave me the quiet to make a decision."

Ide even took a "finger labyrinth"--a pattern carved on a hand-held board--to the hospital. "I've had an incredibly easy recovery. . . . It's really focused me on healing instead of concentrating on the negative."

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