Solvitur ambulando – it is solved by walking – the wise counsel from St Augustine in the 5th Century. I heard those words 30 years ago when the ancient practice of labyrinth walking was being reintroduced in San Francisco’s Grace Cathedral. But what makes labyrinth walks sacred – portals to the divine? After all, at one level a labyrinth is just a canvas with a few hand-painted lines or a spiral created by a few stones arranged on a beach.
The answer was given to Elijiah in the Hebrew Bible when he asked where was God? Elijiah found God not in the wind, or the earthquakes or the fire but “in the sound of sheer silence” (1 Kings 19 v11-13). There is something important and fundamental about quietening the noise and the cacophony of the outer world, pausing for a while, and switching off our phones. There is also the important practice of quietening inside. The simple practice of mindful walking around a labyrinth allows many of us, if even for only a moment, to surrender to the sound of sheer silence, to hear the voice of God within. You may have other words to name this Ultimate Mystery.
And I’ve found that in this communal practice of labyrinth walking that I experience the paradox that I walk alone and always in the company of others. I walk in the company of others in the here and now; I encounter others, pass others, walk alongside strangers and friends on the labyrinth path, and on the path of life. I also walk a path of life that other beings have swam, crawled and walked before me, stretching back 4.5 billion years. I walk in solidarity with and gratitude to these ancestors. And I walk with the knowledge that others will follow, and the choices I make moment by moment, have consequences and shape in small yet significant ways the path that others will inherit.
And the sacred? The remembering that we are not alone, that we are not separate from one another, that we belong, that we are graced by God if only we would pause and listen…Solvitur ambulando.
Join us on 21 November at St Augustine’s in Brighton (advanced booking required) or drop in on the afternoon of New Year’s Day at the Church of the Good Shepherd Shoreham Beach for a labyrinth walk to mark the turn of the year.