Labyrinth to be constructed by end of May

  • The labyrinth that will be built May 30 at the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew won’t be exactly like the one in Elise Schlaikjer’s yard, though she has helped plan the Community Labyrinth Coalition project. Above, Susan Mareneck, Maggie Sweeney, Sandy Brown and Elise Schlaikjer walk her labyrinth in Greenfield.  STAFF FILE PHOTO

  • An example of what the community labyrinth could end up looking like. CONTRIBUTED PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 5/6/2019 10:46:40 PM

GREENFIELD — After two years of planning, the city is going to get a labyrinth, where anyone and everyone can walk — and maybe even find some peace.

The Community Labyrinth Coalition has been working for the past two years to raise awareness about how labyrinths can be used to find peace, healing and spiritual growth, and to plan the one that will be built on the Episcopal Church of Saints James and Andrew campus on Federal Street at the end of May. 

Becca King, a coalition member, said one of the reasons the church campus was chosen is because it is centrally located, so is accessible to so many.

“People will be able to stop by during their lunch hour, or any time of the day or evening,” she said.

A labyrinth is a one-course path — one way in and one way out — with no decisions to be made, unlike a maze that is a puzzle intended to amuse and deceive. A labyrinth is a geometric pattern that has a well-defined pathway that winds its way to the center. 

King said a labyrinth is meant to calm and center people, not make them work. Made of grass and brick, she said it will low-maintenance.

Labyrinths have a history that goes back more than 3,000 years to ancient Greece, and it encourages contemplation, much like yoga or walking meditation, which King said is exactly what the coalition hopes will happen for those who walk it.

An informal St. James group has had monthly labyrinth walks for the past couple of years through a 30-foot diameter portable one provided by Elise Schlaikjer in the parish hall. Currently, the community is invited to walk the indoor labyrinth on the fourth Sunday of the month from 4 to 5:30 p.m. King said that might continue when the weather isn’t good.

“This is going to be a volunteer-built labyrinth,” King said. “It will be on the side lawn of the church, close to schools, the Elks, the RECOVER Project and the downtown.” 

In a letter to her parishioners, Rev. Heather Blais said, “We are excited about this project. We are particularly moved by the wide network of relationships the coalition has built with many community organizations and leaders … We believe the opportunity of walking the labyrinth will provide healing benefits to many of our neighbors and will, in turn, broaden and deepen our connections and our mission of the ministry to the wider community.”

King said 25 people have volunteered, so far, to build the labyrinth on Thursday, May 30. The group will begin at about 8 a.m. and King said they hope to be done around 4 p.m. A light lunch will be served. She said people can still volunteer by calling 413-773-3925 or emailing:

Lisa Moriarty, a labyrinth professional whose organization, Paths of Peace, has installed dozens of labyrinths all over the country. She will lay it out the day before and direct volunteers in the building of it on May 30.

Coalition member Maggie Sweeney said, “It is our hope that this tool for de-escalation, meditation and connection will provide a path to engagement with community neighbors who might not choose a traditional worship practice, but who do have the desire to access a place of quiet renewal and proximity to others.”

King said she believes the city is ready for a permanent outdoor labyrinth. She said Mayor William Martin is planning on being at the church May 30, along with state Rep. Natalie Blais, D-Sunderland, Greenfield Council on Aging Director Hope Macary, Greenfield Recreation Director Christy Moore, Northwestern District Attorney David Sullivan and more.

“If you build it, they will come,” she said. 

King said the cost of the labyrinth is $10,000, but using volunteers to build it will lower that cost to $5,000, which it received from the Episcopal diocese and through pledges. She said the design includes seven paths. 

“A labyrinth is a metaphor for the journey to your deepest self, with a broadened understanding of who you are within and out in the world,” King said. 

She said it is a symbol of wholeness, and as someone moves toward the center, he or she focuses on letting go of worldly attachments and things they attempt to control. When they reach the center, they can linger and reflect on their lives and relationships, including with God. When they return, they move out into the world again. 

“We’ve got lots of wonderful support for this project,” King said. “We’re ready to go. This has never been done in Greenfield. It’s wonderful, because it will be open and free to the public and, it’s nondenominational, for everyone.”

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