The Labyrinth and the Gospel
Travis Scholl, editor of our own Concordia Journal, has recently published a new book that takes us on the winding path of Mark’s Gospel. Travis’ rediscovery of the ancient labyrinth one Lenten season led him to reflect on the pilgrimage of faith, especially as one follows Him whose path leads to the cross. A devotion, a spiritual auto-biography, an invitation–Travis Scholl’s Walking the Labyrinth is an opportunity to explore more deeply the Christian journey that, beyond its many twists and turns, leads ultimately through death into life. Read the recent interview with Travis in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
David Mueller October 29, 2014
How is this not mysticism (aka enthusiasm)? This does cause me great concern.
The Rev. BT Ball October 29, 2014
Looking forward to the critical review to be published in CJ.
The publicity video says, “There is a mindlessness to the labyrinth, but there is a purpose to the mindlessness. The labyrinth, paradoxically, stirs up a new kind of mindfullness – an awareness of the path that opens its pilgrims to a deeper sense of the surroundings in which they find themselves. In short, the path of the labyrinth is the process of discovery…”
I don’t believe this the kind of “spirituality” that I would encourage the flock to purchase, or engage in.
I think I’ll keep encouraging the flock to keep seeking God where He has promised to be found – His Word and Sacraments, not on a path of twisty rocks.
ralph wetzel October 30, 2014
Jim Bender October 29, 2014
I look forward to purchasing this book. I have walked labyrinths and find the undistracting nature of the walk to be very helpful for prayer. And especially looking forward to reading about Travis Scholl’s journey of faith.
Kiley Campbell October 29, 2014
The Rev. Matthew Uttenreither October 30, 2014
Koberle states that “mysticism lives on the assurance that in the depth of our souls flows hidden springs of divinity.” (The Quest for Holiness” (7-8). The labyrinth is nothing more than rehashed mysticism. The labyrinth tells us to look at the self with the idea that you can find your path to God (which we can’t since we are spiritually dead. This sort of mystical naval gazing moves people away from the certainty of the means of grace given. As a pastor, I will steer people away from this sort of stuff which focuses on the self and instead continue to point them to the Jesus who gives himself in the means of grace and not in some maze.
The Rev. BT Ball October 30, 2014
The link is to an article from Touchstone about labyrinths. Perhaps it could be read before one delves into the book…or after.
The Rev. Bert Thompson October 31, 2014
Rev. Ball, Thanks for the link. The Touchstone article clearly reveals the pagan foundation that centers on self rather than on Christ. It’s a theology of “in Me” rather than “in Christ Jesus.”
Sharlene Miers October 30, 2014
Since when did Lutheranism become synonymous with New Age? Just when you think it can’t get any worse, it does.
ralph wetzel October 30, 2014
AMEN! AMEN! AMEN!
ralph wetzel October 30, 2014
“When you pray, pray like this: ‘Our Father…” Also, our spirituality does not depend on a crutch from another spiritual dimension, such as a pattern to deepen our faith. The Theology of the Cross is one dimensional, yet, covers all dimensions of our Christian faith, “saved by grace through faith….”
If we need a place for “meditatio” go into our closet to pray. Any place to meditate is a correct place. While walking a labyrinth to meditate can have value for some, it is borrowed from paganism, and not actually needed. While at Seminary, I often prayed petitions as I stepped up each step to class, from class, in the dorm, etc., my
labyrinth, if you will!
Dale M Kleimola November 9, 2014
Has anyone ever noticed how much of our liturgical/church year life comes comes out of a Christian baptized “pagan” tradition? Christmas, anyone?
Travis Scholl October 31, 2014
Please allow me a few clarifications regarding the book. I would like to alleviate any concerns about the “mysticism” of the labyrinth, especially since one of the last things anybody who knows me would call me is a “mystic.”
First, regarding history. Certainly in the last 30 years or so, the labyrinth has taken on certain “mystical” connotations, mainly because it has been co-opted by spiritual movements that range from New Age to more generic “enthusiasms.” Unfortunately, that has led to some misconceptions about the labyrinth’s longer history, some of which the Touchstone article falls prey to. For one, the labyrinth’s own historical origins aren’t even as a spiritual or mystical practice. Its origin is as a literary symbol, in the ancient Greek myth of Daedalus, Theseus, and the Minotaur. Matter of fact, there is no historical record in the West of labyrinths as physical constructions until we get to the Christian churches of the late-ancient and medieval periods, particularly in France, Italy, and Germany, where labyrinths were constructed as physical spaces inside churches and cathedrals. There is some evidence that they were constructed as pilgrimage sites, though how they might have been actually used is still being heavily debated by historians. Nevertheless, the Christian church saw significance in the labyrinth as a symbol of pilgrimage and prayer. In that sense, it was the church that “invented” the labyrinth specifically as a spiritual practice. Thus, the chief aim of my book was to reclaim the labyrinth as an authentically Christian practice. One could certainly argue (after reading the book) that I may have failed in this goal, and I would welcome discussion and criticism on that score. But given its longer history as a Christian discipline (similar to the Stations of the Cross), I thought it was worth a shot.
There were primarily two ways that I attempted to do this. One was to use it as a daily discipline during Lent. This meant that the practice was, for me, constrained by a broader practice of the church. This also shaped my daily practice within a larger penitential practice. In short, the labyrinth became a way for me to practice repentance daily. Of course, I certainly didn’t need the labyrinth to be able to repent for “all I’ve done and left undone,” but it became a meaningful way for me to do so during the time of the church that leads us to the cross.
The other, more important way was that, as a Lutheran, I knew the discipline (any discipline, for that matter) needed to be centered in the Word. Otherwise it would be pointless. Thus, as part of my Lenten discipline, I took the pericopes from the Gospel of Mark in Year B in the Lutheran Service Book (LSB) lectionary, and lined them up with the 40 days of Lent. To my pleasant surprise, the LSB lectionary contains exactly 41 pericopes from the Gospel of Mark, and since the 41st is Mark 16:1-8, it made for a perfect study in the Scriptures during the Lenten season leading up to the Resurrection of our Lord (which became the “epilogue,” so the speak, for the book). So, each day as I was walking the labyrinth, I was reading and meditating on Mark’s account of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.
This means that my book is really a devotional book, far from any kind of “mysticism.” It is structured in a way to be read as a devotional, and frankly, I could care less whether or not readers actually walked a labyrinth while they were reading it. The book is really simply using the labyrinth as an image or metaphor of the Christian’s pilgrimage to the cross. Ironically, many of the medieval labyrinths in Europe were constructed with eight sides as part of the church’s baptistery, so it works as a strong sacramental symbol too, and Baptism takes up a central theme in my book. As confessional Lutherans, we believe the way to the cross goes through the waters of Baptism. As such, I couldn’t help but reflect on our rich theology of Baptism in the book.
As far as the “meaninglessness” quote goes, that is actually a relatively insignificant passage within the book. It works well when the publisher is making a YouTube video to promote the book (something I had no hand in, by the way), but does not speak well to the aims of the book, which I’ve tried to express above.
In that regard, one of the answers I gave the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in the interview linked above speaks much better to the themes of the book: “Christ is the center. But when I wrote the book, I was walking the labyrinth in Lent, so it became a journey to the cross. For Christians, that’s the paradox of faith, that God in Christ would take within himself the worst suffering of a broken world so that human beings could receive a life they never imagined possible. It comes as a gift, and so that’s at the center of the labyrinth, too. The gift of life.”
Rev. Marc Diconti November 1, 2014
Rhetorical question: “Is Concordia associated with the ELCA?”
Don Neuendorf November 2, 2014
It is unfortunate that no one commenting thus far seems to have read the book. I look forward to reading it and considering it’s value in light of God’s word. Not in light of a video or of someone else’s article. Going into your closet to pray is also a spiritual discipline that has been, at times, distorted and abused. And even the Lord’s Prayer has been made a tool of pagan practices. So perhaps we ought to put the best construction on the authors work until we have had a chance to actually read it.
Dale M Kleimola November 9, 2014
I just ordered the book from Amazon. Thanks for your comment, Don.
Graeme Rosenau November 5, 2014
When I was Pastor at Mount Olive Lutheran Church, La Mirada, CA, I too had been moved by experiences of walking the labyrinth and observing its healing effects in others. One member, Joan, gave a major gift to use to install a labyrinth behind the church building. It was a beautiful setting and a place where people came to walk, meditate, and pray. We sponsored group walks and spent valuable time discussing the experiences afterward. It was related to the Law and Gospel. It was a kind of walked parable on life with God in Christ. Viewed from above, the turns formed the shape of a large cross within the 40-foot circle.
People often criticize what they have not experienced and do not understand, as some of the previous comments demonstrate. Since I retired Mount Olive Lutheran Church has undergone a name change, and a sad attempt has been made to erase the labyrinth and use the space for other purposes. The charge has been made that its use is a pagan practice. As Travis Scholl points out, nothing could be farther from the truth. Certainly not everyone will find the labyrinth useful in his or her devotional life, any more than everyone will find a prayer book or crucifix useful. But many do. They should be allowed, and their judgment left to our Lord.
Dr. Kenneth Siess November 5, 2014
This should be added to the discussion I believe
Luther called the psalter “a dark and holy labyrinth,” for as one walked its winding paths of sadness and joy, fear and faith, despair and hope, one also found the great mystery that at the center of this labyrinth was Christ himself—praying and groaning and singing for and with his people.
Graeme Rosenau November 12, 2014
Amen to Ken Siess’s comment.
Patrick November 12, 2014
Indeed the Labrynth has roots in mysticism and so what?
The important point is that the author is delving into a topic that is taboo in some Lutheran circles and many just write this off as enthusiasm. The comments seem to collaborate my point. I commend the author for asking “What does this mean?”
To quote Luther, “Grant that I may not pray alone with the mouth; help me that I may pray from the depths of my heart.” Does it matter if this praying is done via walking a Labrynth, walking down the street, at a desk, or praying in a closet? No.
I doubt the author would make a point that walking a Labrynth makes someone feel closer, or special with God because of that one act; which is the root of enthusiasm and mysticism.
In other words, I ask that we do not toss the baby out with the bathwater because this is not part and parcel of ancient traditions of the Lutheran Church. Let us make this our own and place this act in its proper context! This is impossible to do once people place a label on it.