Students at Ohio Northern University have been working on painting a new canvas prayer labyrinth for use by the student body. Labyrinths have been used in Christian churches since the Middle Ages—the most famous example being in the floor of the Cathedral in Chartres, France. Every labyrinth has a pathway that winds back and forth within a circular pattern, leading toward the center. Unlike a maze, there is no way to get lost in a labyrinth, and pilgrims walk the same path out as they walk in. The center of the labyrinth is designed as a space where pilgrims can center themselves in God’s presence, let go of worries and troubles, and emerge from the labyrinth with a new perspective.
ONU has had an outdoor labyrinth for many years, built by the previous chaplain, Rev. Vern LaSala, and the campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity. Current chaplain, Rev. David MacDonald, said that it became clear last year that a decision needed to be made about the outdoor labyrinth. As he said, “Over the years, it became difficult to maintain the labyrinth, so last spring the Religious Life staff decided it was best to let the ground return to its natural state and look toward another way to help the campus community encounter the labyrinth experience.”
The canvas labyrinth was purchased from a company in Indianapolis, IN, which specializes in making portable labyrinths. The canvas came pre-cut and sewn into the desired octagonal shape, with the circular labyrinth drawn in pencil on the canvas. The lines of the design were then painted in by students, faculty, and staff, over a multi-day period, with volunteers painting while listening to meditative music, making the act of creating the labyrinth as spiritually fulfilling as walking the labyrinth will be. Olivia Metzger, a third year Biology major, found the process of painting the labyrinth to be a blessing. “It was actually really peaceful. We had some music playing, and it was kind of relaxing just to sit down and have one task, and just focus on that,” she said. Olivia looks forward to introducing other students to the practice of walking the labyrinth. She was excited that students were part of the process of painting the labyrinth, as she said, “Because it will help them reach out to the other students they know on campus, and allow them to maybe use this as part of their groups’ programs.” Olivia also looks forward to using the labyrinth herself, and believes that it will help enhance her prayer life.
The new labyrinth was purchased with funds from a West Ohio Conference Campus Ministry Grant. “As a United Methodist-related university, it is extremely important to us to maintain our connection to the church,” said Chaplain MacDonald, “and we are grateful for the support of our conference, district, and local churches in offering campus ministry to all the students at ONU.”