Inside Turns

Labyrinth at St. John's Cathedral, Knoxville, April 2024 (Photo by Luke Frazier)
Labyrinth at St. John’s Cathedral, Knoxville, April 2024 (Photo by Luke Frazier)

(Today’s article is by recurring guest writer and relatively recent Knoxville transplant Luke Frazier.)

One of the advantages of aging (and I find myself on the hunt for them these days) is having chunks of time and experience to consider, and to reconsider in new contexts. Verily things return to you in seasons, and if you catch it just right, the thing that you weren’t quite finished with yet presents itself as another opportunity. Perhaps that means growth, or some measure of acceptance, or a way of being okay with a loss. Maybe it just means you get to renew a feeling or relive possibilities. 

Labyrinth at St. John’s Cathedral, Knoxville, April 2024 (Photo by Luke Frazier)

One easy example is hearing a song or piece of music you love that you hadn’t heard in quite some time and the rush of emotion that overtakes you. Such things can flatten time and simultaneously expand horizons. In the midst of now is then; in the echoes of ghosts are current companions. It’s a hug that lasts, a deep breath, a loose garment that wears just right. Recently I felt the seasons turn and labyrinths returned to my life.

Labyrinths are places of walking meditation. They might be stone or brick if they are outside; inside they could be painted on wood or printed on canvas and rolled out for use. According to the nonprofit organization Veriditas, labyrinths are, “a path of prayer and an archetypal blueprint where psyche meets Spirit. It has only one path that leads from the outer edge in a circuitous way to the center. There are no tricks to it and no dead ends.” The Labyrinth Society adds that labyrinths date back more than 4,000 years and are used symbolically. “Many people find that the simple movement of walking the labyrinth’s curving paths allows their minds to become more peaceful and prayerful.”

Labyrinth at St. John’s Cathedral, Knoxville, April 2024 (Photo by Luke Frazier)
Labyrinth at St. John’s Cathedral, Knoxville, April 2024 (Photo by Luke Frazier)

I’ve had a thing for labyrinths for a while, though I can’t remember when it first started. The deepest I went was about 15 years ago when I volunteered as a labyrinth attendant at Trinity Cathedral in Cleveland. I was responsible for setting up the thick vinyl canvas in one of the side areas off the main altar, lighting candles, and welcoming anyone who showed up to walk. I had just gotten divorced and I was looking for things to fill my time while I missed my son. Mostly I sat there lonely, and eventually drifted away from doing it.  

When I moved to Knoxville the first labyrinth I saw was at the UT Gardens off Neyland Drive. It didn’t draw me to walk, but I liked knowing it was there. Then I bumped into one out at the Episcopal Church of the Ascension on Northshore Drive while there for something else and walked it once. There are seven  labyrinths within 10 miles of downtown Knoxville that are listed on the World-Wide Labyrinth Locator, four of them at Episcopal Churches. The one at St. John’s Cathedral on Cumberland Ave is closest to me, and the one that drew me back into repeat walks. 

Labyrinth at St. John’s Cathedral, Knoxville, April 2024 (Photo by Luke Frazier)
Labyrinth at St. John’s Cathedral, Knoxville, April 2024 (Photo by Luke Frazier)

St. John’s labyrinth is a Medieval style Chartres Cathedral replica made of brick and paving stone that measures 42 feet. It was built by Marty Kermeen and dedicated in September 2001. It sits in a pretty courtyard and the overall effect is subtle. You won’t have trouble following the path even though the material colors blend in with each other. 

The first time I walked at St. John’s I felt like I was under the microscope. The area is not large and there are office windows that look over the courtyard and pedestrians passing on Cumberland Avenue. Although you might read that there is no one correct way to walk a labyrinth, I’ll go out on a limb to say that worrying about being observed by others is not optimal mindfulness. It just pointed out how rusty I was. 

Labyrinth at St. John’s Cathedral, Knoxville, April 2024 (Photo by Luke Frazier)

Subsequent times got better, meaning I felt more connected to what I was doing and was able to hold an intention in my heart as I was walking. This Chartres replica style of labyrinth has more curves than many classical designs so you end up turning more with tighter focus. There are longer stretches as you transition from side to side. Paying attention to your breath and dimming the brain noise deepens the feelings of purpose. My most recent walk was barefoot and that ended up creating a stronger effect as I felt the uneven surfaces, noticed bright green plant tufts poking up through some cracks, and listened to wind whooshes.

I like the Veriditas statement that there are no tricks or dead ends with labyrinths, unlike mazes, or life in general. When you start the journey, you know you will be led to the center, where you can pause in the knowledge that you know the way out. You can let go of figuring it out and just follow the path, surrender to the direction. 

I never could have predicted the direction my life took, and the chunks of time I now have available for reflection are filled with circumstances and situations that both rankle and amaze. Never saw Knoxville coming, now we’re preparing to head further south and get closer to the coast. Now Labyrinths have reappeared as a tool to interpret the experiences that make up the moments that make up the markers defining this day from the next. In the curves of the St. John’s courtyard there is really just one thing to keep straight: if you walk to the center you have an opportunity to find peace. 

**World Labyrinth Day was earlier this month, Saturday, May 4. For more information visit HERE.