Saturday, March 25, 2017
Tom Tracy - Florida Catholic
Photography: TOM TRACY | FC
FORT LAUDERDALE | Stepping through doorway curtains and into a candle-lit space inside the Bienes Center for the Arts, freshman theology student Christopher Liger could feel the business of student life suddenly melt away.
“I was there for about 30 minutes, walking (the labyrinth) and then I took a break to relax and think. It was a relaxing time to slow down and slow the mind down and calm down, and when you are in there you can feel the presence of the Holy Spirit and Jesus,” Christopher told The Florida Catholic.
He was one of the students taking part in a “Lenten Labyrinth” faith walk and prayer experience held in mid-March at St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Fort Lauderdale, as part of the school’s campus ministry Lenten programming.
The meditative labyrinth, which was surrounded by reproductions of ancient Catholic icons of Christ and Our Lady, was created on the floor of the Bienes Center, located across the street from the high school. Gregorian chant filled the space while a place for students to leave Lenten petitions was situated at the foot of a candle-lit cross.
Some of the earliest forms of labyrinths are thought to date back thousands of years to ancient Greece, while early Christian labyrinths are thought to date back to the fourth century in North Africa and 13th century Europe.
The wider student Lenten program at Aquinas included stations of the cross and Taize evening prayer experiences, open to students and the public March 15-19.
“When you are in there you can see the lines curving — it is like a journey of where you start and where you end, and with everything going on in life you’re always rushing, doing this and that, and your mind is going a million miles an hour, but you get in there, you slow down, and let life take its course,” said Christopher.
Freshman Florah Charles noted that although she probably only walked for 10 minutes it felt like a much longer time. “I felt a little bit closer to God because I got to focus on what is really important.”
The student labyrinth began seven or eight years ago in the St. Thomas Aquinas gymnasium, according to Michael McCormack, a member of the theology and campus ministry staff at the school. He noted that the students are brought over in small groups throughout the week so that the space is not too cluttered during the experience.
“A lot of people misinterpret the labyrinth as being pagan, and it certainly started that way but the Catholic Church took that in during the Middle Ages and the major cathedrals started this for those who couldn’t pilgrimage to the Holy Land,” McCormack said.
“I find it transformative personally because I do walk it several times throughout the period,” he added.
“In the students I see a seriousness, whereas you might think they will get nothing out of this. We explain to them that in the middle of the labyrinth is a single white light representing the presence of God in the middle, and the students can do whatever they want there. We ask them to think about their own journey and whatever it is they are struggling with there.”
Theology teacher Marianne Jones helped prepare the students to enter the space by having them read selected psalms placed at the labyrinth entrance. She said it’s challenging to slow the students down and to discourage them from walking the labyrinth as though they were briskly walking through a shopping mall.
“An adult could really take 45 minutes or an hour,” Jones said. “The icons and the music really help to put things in the peaceful mode.”