A Walk to Remember
Oct 06, 2016 11:44AM
Labyrinth at Avondale Presbyterian Church- Kathy Mansfield
The Labyrinth Found These Charlotteans
by Kimberly Lawson
Presbyterian Hospital has one. Davidson College has another in Hobart Park. Some are found tucked away near churches, such as St. Mark's United Methodist Church, Sardis Baptist Church and Avondale Presbyterian Church. There’s even one at the McCrorey Family YMCA.
If you didn’t know to look for them, you’d probably miss the significance of these mysterious circular maze-like paths hidden in the Charlotte area and beyond. But according to the Worldwide Labyrinth Locator, there are at least 20 public and private labyrinths nearby.
While the experience of walking a labyrinth is unique to each person, there’s no question that it’s a tool that can facilitate some kind of transformation, whether it’s spiritual, personal or psychological. We talked to three local facilitators to find out how the labyrinth came into their lives.
Kathy Mansfield runs the website CharlotteLabyrinthGroup.com. She says the labyrinth first found her in the late ’90s, when a pastor at her church brought in a small Santa Rosa Labyrinth for the youth group to walk. Not long after, she and her son stumbled upon the labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral in France.
“From that moment on, I knew it had meaning and power to me,” Mansfield says. She now walks the labyrinth for her own personal and prayer meditation and had one built at her mountain home in memory of her deceased mother. She also facilitates a monthly walking group with residents from Moore Place, where they explore different labyrinths around the area together.
“If it could calm my spirit and make me be quiet and contemplative and let me connect with God, or whatever you want to call your higher being, I thought it was something I could share with others,” Mansfield says. “I believe the labyrinth is a container for the unknowable. To me, it’s sacred space.”
Another facilitator, Christina Brandt, discovered labyrinths while she was studying landscape design at the New York Botanical Garden. While designing contemplative gardens, she found herself constantly creating winding, circular paths, and an instructor suggested she look into labyrinths more.
“As soon as I saw one, I felt as though I’d come home,” she says. “My body felt electrified, and I felt as though I’d walked them for a very, very long time.”
A licensed career coach, Brandt says that people often come to her because they want an escape from corporate life. After working with them, what she finds is that what they really want is to reconnect with spirituality in some way. Now, Brandt hosts a series of workshops called The Urban Labyrinth: Finding Peace Amidst the Noise, where she helps people step away from the busyness of life by walking quietly and meditatively.
She also recommends labyrinths to individual clients. Whether it’s a public or private walk, the intent is always the same: to find peace on one’s path. “The labyrinth is a metaphor for a journey to one’s center,” Brandt says. If a person can find some message or healing there and go back out into the world using what they found, she says, they might be able to do some good in the world.
While Mansfield and Brandt are both actively helping others use the labyrinth, Toni Robinson says the labyrinth is helping her grieve. Her husband, a teacher and coach at Charlotte Country Day, passed away last November from cancer. They were together 44 years. She’s planning to build a new labyrinth at St. John’s Episcopal Church on Carmel Road in memory of him.
“I am using the labyrinth now as a tool of discernment,” explains Robinson, who just recently became a facilitator but is unsure yet of what will come of that training. “When I approach the labyrinth, I come with the question, ‘What gift do you have for me today?’ In the process of my grieving, which is significant … I have worked very hard to create for myself spaciousness to explore and heal and be present in as many aspects of such a momentous transition as I can. I think that’s my job now.”
Robinson says the labyrinth has “had a thread” through her life for many decades, from visiting France’s Chartres Cathedral in the ’70s to walking the one at Grace Cathedral in San Francisco in the ’90s in preparation for a family wedding.
Her hope is that the legacy labyrinth built in honor of her husband will touch the lives of others in the same way he did. “In this particular time of upheaval, locally, nationally and internationally, people are seeking tools for centering and calm,” she says. “And we know labyrinths can be this in a way that’s hospitable for people of any background or any faith.”