April 18, 2005
Karen B. Eldridge, Director of News and Public Information
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With encouragement to slow down, to listen and to trust and follow God, the Maryville College community dedicated its prayer labyrinth in a ceremony held April 11 on the grounds of the House in the Woods.
More than 50 people sat or stood on the lawn of the House in the Woods to listen to the five platform speakers and later, to walk the labyrinth.
"The 10 years I've served on the national staff coincide roughly with the period of the great upsurge of interest in the labyrinth as a spiritual tool. And I have found myself asking, ‘Why the labyrinth? Why now? Why not some other arcane practice like fasting, or Gregorian chant? Why this strange walking around getting nowhere?" said the Rev. Kristine Haig, associate director of the Presbyterian Church (USA)'s Office of Spiritual Formation, who gave the dedicatory address. "One of the reasons labyrinth walking has caught on, I think, is because we live in a culture in which we have lost our way, have lost our souls, and by the grace and mercy of God we are trying to find our way home again."
Haig, who talked about some of her own memorable labyrinth walks, shared some of the history behind labyrinths and told those in attendance that while the practice may seem "New Age," it is actually very "old age."
"In Christian use, labyrinths are associated with the great Gothic cathedrals of medieval Europe," she explained. "One of the few remaining and best-known examples is the labyrinth inlaid in the sanctuary floor of Chartres Cathedral in France, which dates to about 1200 A.D."
Haig pointed out that a labyrinth's circuitous design is much like a journey of faith.
"Looking back, it is often full of unexpected twists and turns – and rarely an experience of linear progress like ‘climbing Jacob's ladder.' And so the experience of walking a labyrinth feels somehow ‘true.'"
The labyrinth, designed by Stuart Bartholomaus of Knoxville and constructed by Kin Takahashi Week volunteers during the summer of 2004, is a circuitous path outlined in bricks. Unlike a maze, which includes dead ends and false alleys, a labyrinth has one continuous, narrow path.
Its design was funded by the College's Initiative on Vocation. Said Dr. Bill Meyer, executive director of the Initiative on Vocation, during the April 11 ceremony: "During our summer youth retreat a few years ago, we realized that we wanted to offer young people and others an active but quiet form of prayer and reflection. The ancient Christian practice and tradition of the labyrinth is one valuable way to engage in such active and quiet prayer."
Meyer pointed out that the labyrinth and its location complements both the House in the Woods and the Initiative on Vocation.
"Four years ago, when we submitted our Initiative on Vocation proposal to the Lilly Endowment, we asked them to help us to remodel and to reclaim this beautiful House in the Woods as a valuable place for quiet reflection and meaningful conversation," he said. "Over the past three years, we have used this House precisely for those purposes. Through our Initiative on Vocation, we have held numerous retreats, ranging from advisor/mentor retreats for Maryville College faculty and their students to summer youth retreats for high-school church youth to the clergy retreat held here today.
" … So we decided to build a permanent labyrinth in this often shaded and usually quiet corner of the yard."
Dan Greaser, Maryville College alumnus and vice president of the College's Board of Directors, spoke on behalf of "K.T. Week" volunteers.
"This project symbolizes the spirit of all of the Kin Takahashi Week participants – over 100 last summer – who willingly donate their time and talents to Maryville College, making the buildings and grounds of Maryville College better," he said, adding an invitation for those in attendance to join returning volunteers for K.T. Week 2005, scheduled for June 13-17.
Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state‘s third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for its academic rigor and its focus on the liberal arts, Maryville is where students come to stretch their minds, stretch themselves and learn how to make a difference in the world. Total enrollment for the fall 2013 semester was 1,168.