“Solvitur ambulando...It is solved by walking,” said the fourth century theologian St. Augustine of Hippo. Today, individuals may find this advice is true in the practice of walking a labyrinth, an ancient spiritual art that has become an interfaith attraction as a result of a growing interest in spiritual formation and direction.
On May 14, Louisville Seminary will dedicate a new outdoor labyrinth that has been constructed amidst the park like setting of the campus. A brief service will be held at the site of the labyrinth at 1 p.m., and the public is invited to attend.
“We hope many individuals will take the opportunity to set aside time from busy-ness and the things that crowd our lives to journey within one’s own being and with the designer of that being,” said Dean of Students Donna Melloan, who has helped to lead the construction process along with the Seminary’s facilities department, students, and employees.
“The natural setting of an outdoor labyrinth can summon the biblical images of gardens, wanderings, new lands, hillside sermons, tombs, and walking with friends. The Louisville Seminary labyrinth invites the participant to walk an outdoor circular path, which takes many twists and turns, ending in the center. There is only one way in and one way out. Unlike a maze, which attempts to trick and challenge, the center of the labyrinth draws you in and sends you out, hopefully connected with God in some new way,” said Melloan.
Labyrinths have been in existence for thousands of years, and the Seminary’s version is modeled after the Chartres Labyrinth in France, built during the Middle Ages. Creating a permanent one on the Seminary’s campus has been made possible through the persistence and gifts of alum Rebecca Smith Ritchey (MDiv 1992), who had envisioned the possibility for years and knew that the beautiful campus would make a perfect setting for the outdoor experience. Ritchey also served as Director of Continuing and Lay Education at Louisville Seminary and is a candidate for the Doctor of Ministry degree in spirituality from San Francisco Theological Seminary. In the past year, she has helped Louisville Seminary to expanded its commitment to students’ spiritual development by providing her leadership in spiritual direction.
Denise Ruiz, a spiritual director for the Louisville Archdiocese, is one of three spiritual directors (along with Ritchey) volunteering at the Seminary who offers a series in spiritual direction and practices. Over several months she has led students in the experience of Lectio Divina, breath prayers, writing spiritual autobiographies, and the labyrinth.
“What I offer is a kind of tool box for developing personal spiritual growth that students can later use in their future congregations and ministries,” said Ruiz. “It impresses me that the Seminary recognizes the importance of integrating spiritual development with academic and practical knowledge and how all of it relates to the overall quality and preparation for ministry.”
As a result of this new leadership, the Seminary is able to offer students one to one spiritual direction sessions, during which issues of discernment and call are the focus; group spiritual direction, in which students commit to monthly meetings and the spiritual support of others; and Ruiz’s practices series, which students can experience at any time during the semester.
“I am so pleased that LPTS has set aside a space where the Holy can be contemplated and where an experience of faith can be deepened,” said Seminary alum Carol Webb (MDiv ’02), who has guided others in labyrinth experiences and is now a Seminary employee working on a Doctor of Ministry degree in spirituality. “I have been walking different labyrinths, wherever I can find them, for four years. Each person’s experience of walking the labyrinth is different, and there is no ‘right way’ to do it. As I have guided youth and their parents, I have observed how the path into the center reflects a time of struggle or burden before God. At the center there is prayer, reflection, and contemplation. Then the journey out usually reflects peace or rest in God.” Webb suggested that first-time participants should begin by turning off the cell phone and pager.
“Walking the labyrinth is a holy time, a time set apart from the business of the world and the thoughts of the mind, set apart to contemplate the Holy One,” she said.
The Louisville Seminary labyrinth is located just inside the main gates of the campus on the open lawn. It is open year round to neighborhood residents and guests.