BLOG during Sabbatical Jan - April 2019

INTRODUCTION (written in January)

[The aims of my Sabbatical include spending time with family and friends, as well as finding some rest and restoration after 8+ busy years in my current appointment. However, my main 'project' is to explore a variety of labyrinths - to find them, find out about them, and to walk them as opportunities for spiritual engagement. I plan to visit around 15 - some old, some new, some classical design, some medieval design, maybe one or two of contemporary design.  A highlight will be a trip to Grace Cathedral in San Francisco which has both an indoor and an outdoor labyrinth, and where the "founder of the modern (Christian) labyrinth movement", Rev Lauren Artress, is having me to lunch (I won this in an online auction!!). ] 

Here is a record of my 3 months - latest post comes first:

The entry below is my final one on this particular Blog. A big thank you to all those who have followed these jottings - whether occasionally or regularly.  Thank you too to those who have supported me with their thoughts and prayers as I have gone along. 

I have not finished with labyrinths (if anyone thought I had!) and am well underway with producing a book that draws on all the experience and insight I have gained during the last year of labyrinth walking, and the last 3 months in particular. I am planning what to do on World Labyrinth Day (May 4th) and how to visit labyrinths that I wanted to visit but couldn't (either because of time limitations or because they were not open before Easter). One or two people have asked me "But aren't you visiting Chartres Cathedral?" and, indeed, I originally wanted to include the most famous of the remaining medieval labyrinths. However, the Chartres labyrinth is right in the middle of the nave of the Cathedral and is usually covered with chairs. The design is uncovered on Fridays, but not in Lent!  Jen and I are hoping to go in August and thus bring a sense of completion to the project. 

If anyone would like to keep in touch with me and keep up a labyrinth conversation, please let me know. 

18.4.19.

Yesterday and today have been days of transition.  I did some work yesterday, and some final Sabbatical finishing off today - as well as taking a Maundy Service Communion at Cromwell House which has got me back in to a public speaking role again.  Before going to Cromwell House I went in to the Cathedral and walked the labyrinth in the cloisters.  I gave thanks for all the opportunities and blessings of my Sabbatical on the way in and reflected on my continuing ministry on the way out. This felt an appropriate, meaningful, therapeutic, and spiritual way to integrate the Sabbatical with continuing in God's service. 

I have thoroughly enjoyed every moment of my Sabbatical and am very grateful to the Methodist Church for the gift of time and for the financial grant that is available.  I have had 27 significant labyrinth walks on 25 labyrinths, I have visited 8 Cathedrals, I have worshipped on Sundays at 4 Cathedrals (1 in America), 2 Parish Churches, 4 Methodist Churches (1 in America), 1 informal setting and with 1 Salvation Army Corps.  I have had many meaningful conversations with existing friends as well as meaningful passing ones with strangers along the way. I have spent quality time with Jen and my family and have been able to give concentrated attention to the special weekend that included our Civil Partnership. I have read a dozen books and been able to attend concerts, plays and one operetta. Most of all I have been able to find rest and restoration and feel better equipped, and more confident, to continue in ministry for another 5 years.  God is good, and to God be the glory.

16.4.19.

Yesterday, we had a final Sabbatical day with my family. Four adults and four children (convenient ratio) having fun at Wicksteed Park near Kettering. Wicksteed - not quite a full blown theme park but has lots of rides of varying degrees of scariness - was a favourite with Rachel and Naomi when they were teenagers.  

Today, I had one of those Sabbatical days when surprising things happened - 3 of them in this case. First of all, I got to meet an American couple who my parents were very friendly with when they lived in Suffolk for 3 years back in the 2000's. Mum & dad visited Charlie & Debra in Augusta in 2008. We hadn't known how to contact them when my mum died and I had been thinking about them when I knew I was travelling to the States this year. But, then, out of the blue, they traced my brother (through LinkedIn) and asked if my mum was still alive as they were making a quick visit to England. I was then  able to communicate with them and the end result was that I was able to chat with them for over an hour in Bury St Edmunds Cathedral Refectory this morning:

The second thing that happened today was that I saw there was a lunchtime service on in the Cathedral and so decided to attend.  It turned out to be a monthly service of Healing and Wholeness (about 8 people in the congregation) and I was able to receive anointing and prayer as I come near to the end of my Sabbatical time.

The third thing was that, in passing through the nave, I noticed that they were building a lego model of the Cathedral. I paid my £1 and was able to add in a brick - there will be 200,000 of them by the time it is finished (57,000+ of them at the moment). But what caught my eye was the lego labyrinth (yes, labyrinth!) in the lego grass to the north of the building.  I knew that there had been a grass labyrinth mown into the grass there previously but there were no signs of one today. The lady with the bricks explained that they lost the labyrinth over last Summer when the hot weather affected so many lawns and grass areas.  But the makers of the St Edmundsbury labyrinth had already created their model with the labyrinth in situ. I asked if I could 'walk' the lego version with my finger and was given permission. I have been doing finger labyrinths at home but this was a very strange experience!

16.4.19.

I forgot to mention in my last blogging that, on the morning of Sunday 6th April, we worshipped with the Salvation Army in Cambridge [we had been going to go to King's college Chapel but they were on their holidays!]. This worked out really well because Ann Howlett-Foster (who works for our Methodist Region in the training department) was able to meet us and show us both the ropes and the site:

They are just embarking on a major fundraising project to develop their building so it was interesting to hear all about that. It was also good - after knowing Ann for 9 years - to see her in her Salvation Army context.  And, as we have never been to a Salvation Army act of worship, it was brilliant to be part of one. Lots of music, band playing and singing, Jen loved it!

14.4.19.

Well, rather a lot to report. Over the weekend 5th - 7th April, Jen and I spent time in Cambridge. On the Friday we took in the medieval turf labyrinth at Hilton, near Papworth.  We both walked it despite the off-putting fence!

On the Saturday, in a small informal way, we committed ourselves to a Civil Partnership in the Brooke Room in Cambridge with my daughters and Jen's sisters in support:

On the Sunday, we walked the labyrinth at Westminster College (by kind permission) with our friends Val and Chris present.  In the centre, Val (supernumary Methodist Minister) led us in a blessing on our relationship:

Monday to Friday, we participated in a coach trip to the Netherlands taking in the Keukenhof Gardens, Amsterdam (including a cruise on the canals, a visit to a diamond polishing establishment and a visit to a clog and cheese farm), the Hague (including a visit to the Museum that houses the Vermeer painting 'The girl with the pearl earring'), the seaside at Scheveningen, and the picturesque town of Delft:

Today, Palm Sunday, we attended worship at Norwich Cathedral after processing, with many others, from outside the Forum where the Dean had blessed the palms and introduced the donkey who had a key role:

4.4.19.

It is 2 years today since my mum died.  I think that she would have been very pleased to know that money that came to me as a result has enabled me to travel around on my Sabbatical, including going to the USA. And I think she and dad would also be very pleased to know that I went to Olathe and stood at the front of the church (where dad would have preached for 6 weeks in 1989) and thought of them.

3.4.19.

Strange thoughts have assailed me since returning to England i.e. 'Everything is so green!' and 'There are Spring flowers out' and 'Gosh, the roads are so narrow and they twist and turn'.  From which you may gather that where I was in the States the grass had yet to green up (it needed warmth - different sort of grass?), Spring was tantalisingly close but not yet there, and I was surprised how wide the roads were, and how straight, and how they seemed to run on and on for ever...  I am also having to re-learn my own language.  I have got used, recently, to asking for 'black tea', and 'the restrooms' and to referring to a river as 'a creek' and to tomatoes as 'tomae-toes'!

I had an absolutely brilliant time and, if I never go back to the States, I will feel that this visit in two parts (San Francisco and Kansas) was sufficient. I seemed to be constantly saying the words 'This is amazing!'  - and over so many different things. The ordinary things of life and the extraordinary. In San Francisco I did what I went there to do, that is to say, I explored and experienced Grace Cathedral and its labyrinths (with the added extra-special bonus of spending time with Lauren Artress and her partner). But, I was also able to explore and experience some of the shops, streets, and tourist sites of the city. Downsides included having to walk up some very steep hills to get to the Cathedral (or is that an upside? I'm much fitter!), having to deal with how to pass homeless people begging on every street corner, and not being able to have a proper cup of tea when I was out.  
In Kansas, Matt & Barbara could not have been more hospitable and willing to give me a good time if they had tried. They were more than happy to take me to the places I had expressed interest in, but I was also happy to join in with their ordinary lives and to go to the places, and meet the people, that were important to them (and that were within reach... it is such a big country!).  It was great - in Kansas - to experience the city where M & B live (Overland Park), to visit downtown Kansas City, to visit the Kansas Capital (Topeka), to visit two mid-western towns (Wamego and Ottawa) and to have lunch on a 240 acre property with oil wells (Susan's home in Wellsville near Ottawa) - such variety of place/environment.  It has also been great to visit three American Methodist Churches particularly the ones with an emotional connection for me - the Methodist Church in Olathe where my parents went on an exchange 30 years ago, and Valley View which I have heard about every year for 9 years since knowing Matt & Barbara. And it was brilliant to be able to speak to 65 Valley View folk (and to answer questions) for about an hour on Sunday morning about being a Methodist Minister and about Methodist churches in the UK - such a privilege and an experience.

I feel very blessed altogether to have been able to do so much on my Sabbatical as a whole, and on the American trip. It makes me feel very blessed, very privileged, and (in a strange way) very humble. 

2.4.19.

I am back on terra firma after two flights (Kansas back to San Francisco; San Francisco to Heathrow) which both worked out as they were advertised to do.  Only 2 and a half hours sleep (snatched on the plane) in 30 hours so reasonably tired and jet-lagged... but good to be home! 

31.3.19.

Today we were up early and at Valley View United Methodist Church for 8.30 am. Matt needed to attend a choir practice before the service at 9. I really like the pattern they have of an early service followed by coffee and then the adult 'Sunday School' classes. There is also a second, contemporary, service at 10.30 and those people will have had the option of Sunday School first.  The pastors Neil & Bridget Gateway were taking the service which included infant baptism. Neil preached the sermon which was part of their Lenten series using Jesus Christ Superstar. The Church band played and sang the song based on the encounter of Herod with Jesus. I was able to have a separate conversation with both Neil and Bridget - like me, they are preparing to move on in their pastorate (we promised to pray for each other).

Today, because it was a 5th Sunday they had breakfast instead of coffee in between the first hour and the second hour (well, they still had coffee...)

Today the Sunday School classes were combining and the speaker was yours truly. I think a few extra people came as well and I think around 65 people were in the room:

It all went very well. Matt & Barbara introduced me:

30.3.19.

The adventure continues... Today I visited the oldest cinema in the world still showing films, photographed a Methodist Chapel that was moved stone by stone from England to Baker University in Kansas, helped push a car stuck over a large kerb, visited (with Matt & Barbara) their daughter, son-in-law and grandson and admired over 50 axe heads and other prehistoric finds from their 240 acre property, watched my first ever baseball game on TV (well, a small bit of it), and ate the biggest ice-cream in a cone I've ever had in my life (and probably the most delicious!). This evening we watched a film about a young lady in Poland who saved 2,500 Jewish children in WW2 and whose bravery only came to light when students in Kansas found out about her and went to visit her in Poland. She was tortured by the Germans but escaped and died in 2008 aged 98.

29.3.19.

I found details of a Labyrinth in a public park in downtown Kansas City online and the next thing was to locate it in real space. We found it in the end and Matt & Barbara waited in the car at the top of the slope whilst I descended the steps and did a meditative walk. The garden beds that form the 'walls' of the labyrinth either need attention or they have surprises in store (when Spring gets going here) but, dotted about, where small clumps of daffodils - harbingers of the potential for new life.

We also went into a large shopping Mall and Hotel combined where the side of a hill has been incorporated into the complex and a fountain created.

The final stop for today's trip was the University where Matt studied Theatre and Barbara studied Music, and where they met and married in the College Presbyterian Chapel. The University is opposite the Missouri River which is currently flooded:

There has been more rain this afternoon and this evening but we have kept in the dry. A 'folk' concert this evening turned out to be more rock 'n' roll (so our ears are hurting) but it was an experience to add to the list!  The band were Scottish so bagpipes were in evidence...

P.S. I have seen my first American robin (quite different) and also birds called cardinals which are strikingly red and have a very distinctive song.

28.3.19.

Every day in America is an adventure! In spite of heavy rain on the roads with intermittent thunder and lightning, we drove first this morning to the capital city of Kansas (Topeka) and had a tour of the inside of the Kansas government building 'The Capitol':

We then drove further westwards, deeper into Kansas to a place called Wamego where we found a very nice lunch at 'The Friendship House'. Then we parked on the main street opposite the brightly coloured, and impactful, 'Wizard of Oz Museum'.  I really enjoyed looking round this which houses 2,000 artefacts telling the story of the original author (L Frank Baum), the books, the subsequent authors, the 1939 film, and other spin-offs, toys, puzzles, puppets etc etc. Furthermore, round every corner of the yellow brick road there was a model of one of the main characters so that, by the end, the visitor had met everyone who matters:

Matt and Barbara got into the spirit in the Wizard's hot air balloon:

In the evening I went with Barbara to her Stitchers' Guild.  I was made extremely welcome with lots of ladies coming to speak to me after Barbara had introduced me as her 'English pastor'. I left with a kit to make a scizzors case in the shape of a carrot...

27.3.19.

We went on a tour of the localities of Overland Park and Olathe today. This included four church buildings - pictures below. They are:

1. The previous First United Methodist Church which is where my father did an exchange with an American minister in the early 90's. The building is now an outreach centre for Grace United Methodist Church of which First United became a part).  N.B. It is really weird that the Church that my parents came to 30+ years ago is only 15 minutes drive from Matt & Barbara who are the only people I know in the whole of the United States!

2. Grace United Methodist Church (as mentioned above). Congregation size = 2,200.

3. Valley View Methodist Church where Matt & Barbara are members, and where they are involved in a number of ways.

4. The Church of the Resurrection (biggest Methodist Church in America, congregation size over 4 campuses = 20,000!) Rev Adam Hamilton has been the senior pastor since the 1990's. This picture is of the main Church which is the 3rd one that has been built on this site as the need for a bigger space has grown. 

All these churches were very large buildings on extensive sites, as were lots of other churches in the neighbourhoods.  But, Matt and Barbara's Church has been struggling and they are going through a difficult time.

For those of this blog's readers who know Matt & Barbara here are a few more photos of interest:

1. Matt & Barbara's home in Highlands Village, Overland Park

2. Matt & Barbara outside Valley View United Church.

3. A window in an apse in Valley View.

4. Barbara looking at an exhibit in an art 'museum' (gallery to us) which is on the site of the College where both Matt and Barbara worked for much of their working lives. The College is extensive - as well as the subjects you would expect, it has a Police Academy, a Dental training department, a Child Development Centre, a Railway training building (with full-size train simulator) and much, much more!

26.3.19.

I am safely ensconced in Matt and Barbara's lovely house in Overland Park, Kansas. They have given me a warm welcome and I feel at home already. Tomorrow I am being taken on a sightseeing trip of the immediate area which will include Valley View United Methodist Church and also the next city of Olathe (the boundary is just down the road) which is where my parents did a pastorate exchange around 30 years ago. N.B. Now only 5 hours behind the UK rather than 7...

25.3.19.

Today I rode in one of the San Francisco trademark street cars, said 'hi' to the heart painted by Tony Bennett one last time, and photographed the 'flower show' that is on at the moment in Department Store Macy's (Oh - and met Elvis Presley in Lori's Diner!):

24.3.19.

The weather forecast for Monday is not too good so I decided to only attend the Cathedral service at 6 pm (Eucharist on the labyrinth - long before the contact with Lauren Artress I had intended to go to this) and to make use of the sunshine again by exploring San Francisco on the 'hop on hop off' bus. I thus got to see the main tourist points including a small portion of the Golden Gate Park and the Golden Gate Bridge, which the bus crossed over.  We were advised to take off our hats and glasses so as not to lose them over the side of the open top of the double decker in the wind!  We also got a good view of the island of Alcatraz...

The Communion service at the Cathedral in the evening was liturgical but informal. The first part of the service was conducted with the congregation on chairs (two sides facing each other) to the side of the labyrinth and we then moved to the labyrinth, where the altar was waiting in the centre, and stood round the edge in a circle for the Eucharistic prayer. When the bread and wine were distributed, the four people stood at the four points where the labyrinth makes a cross (bit difficult to describe) and so we were waiting our turn along the 'labrys' (double-axe shaped space between the turns) that make up the arms of the cross.  It all felt very right and honouring of the labyrinth as sacred space although the labyrinth as such wasn't mentioned. I sneaked a photograph before the service started:

PS Imagine my surprise when the preacher was an Anglican ministerial student from Blackpool!  She is over in San Francisco for a month's placement before she is ordained.

23.3.19.

I don't think I have ever said the word 'amazing' so many times in one day!  The scenery coming out of San Francisco city was amazing, the view from Lauren and Kit's apartment (in a village especially designed for over-55's - 10,000 of them!) was amazing; the community labyrinth across the valley was amazing; walking the labyrinth with Lauren Artress (www.laurenartress.com) was amazing; sharing lunch, conversation (about labyrinths, Trump, Brexit, and our personal stories) and laughter was amazing too.  Just a few photographs:

22.3.19.

I am now 7 hours behind the UK having arrived in San Francisco Thursday evening after an 11 hour flight (and 2 hour exit through passport control and the airport!). The Chancellor Hotel is cosy and comfortable and I have spent today (Friday) catching up on sleep and making my first visit to Grace Cathedral - which is stunning inside and full of interest, surprises and spirituality. I will write more about the Cathedral at a later stage but, for now, here is a picture of the nave including the inside labyrinth which I walked (with hardly anyone else walking or crossing it) late morning:

Later: It is now 10.30 pm and I have returned from an interesting event at the Cathedral for which I bought a ticket online whilst still in the UK. It was advertised as a 'Flow Piano Sound Bath' (!) and a meditation experience. Dozens of people (mainly young but a few older) brought mats and pillows to lie on and around the labyrinth whilst a pianist and composer improvised piano music on a grand piano in the middle. The hour went very quickly and I managed not to go to sleep... I talked before, and afterwards, to a young lady next to me who is from Mexico but studying in San Francisco. She is at an interesting point in her life and she found the meditation extremely helpful and healing. Sophia joins the list of the (now many) people I have had significant conversations with on my Sabbatical - brief encounters that leave their mark on both participants. 

19.3.19.

I survived the day taking Henry to school in Sedgeberrow (near Evesham) and then collecting him, plus James from Nursery and looking after them (without recourse to the television) until Rachel & Charles returned from their day in Somerset at 7 pm. They had had a successful time with their presentation on the cataloguing system for archives they have developed (www.epexio.com) with 28 people from different institutions present, having been invited by Somerset County Archives to showcase the system that they are very pleased with.  

In the middle of the day, I spent a couple of hours with a new friend, Sarah, who has recently moved with her husband to Worcester. 

I got home late in the evening and now have 2 days to prepare for America...

Oh - and Jen has given me a lovely present.  Whilst I have been away this last time, she has sewn and embroidered a lovely labyrinth cushion:

Apart from being beautiful and creative, it is going to be very useful as another finger labyrinth. I am very very very pleased with it!

17.3.19. later

I went to church this morning in Chislehurst as Chislehurst Methodist Church is the only MC in the country to have a permanent labyrinth in its worship space (or, anywhere). The labyrinth looked as though it would be beautiful to walk but, as it makes up the main floor of the church, the chairs were of course on it for the congregation (1st photo):


However, I am glad that I was part of the morning worship as one or two of the themes resonated with the labyrinth walk I had made yesterday in Canterbury and I felt that God was speaking to me about a deeper relationship with him. I also wondered whether I was being told something by the fact that this is the 3rd service in a row that I have attended that has turned out to be an All Age one! However, this one (like the others) had plenty of content for adults and gave food for thought. We were invited to respond at the end by lighting a candle and receiving a small holographic heart (2nd photo).

The Labyrinth is part of the church's logo (3rd photo) and, from this, it can be seen that the actual design is unusual in that the way out from the centre is a different path from the way in. This labyrinth is another one designed by Jeff Saward and it is based on a water labyrinth in a palace in Damascus - very interesting and unusual.

A very nice man called Peter spoke to me before the service and was extremely welcoming, giving me a guided tour of the building when the service was over. 

Musing about Labyrinths (13): Is a labyrinth effective as a labyrinth when it forms the floor of a usable space and thus has furniture on it? This is the case at Chartres Cathedral where the chairs are only cleared on Fridays and not in Lent, which is why I am going to have to make my visit later in life... It is the case in Chislehurst and I also think of the Hospice in Oxford where the labyrinth took up the whole of the small chapel floor so inevitably had items on it. Does it have a symbolic value?  That is to say, does it make people think of their journey in life, or their journey towards God as they sit on top of it in worship? The small labyrinth in the altar area at the disused Itchen Stoke Church in Hampshire was obviously decorative (although I managed to walk it!) and thus its function was obviously intended to be a symbolic one when people came to communion. I wonder whether a church putting in a labyrinth would not be better giving it its own special space (as in Epiphany Church in Leeds) or designing the labyrinth so that chairs can go round it (as in St Michael's, Abingdon)?
All very interesting!

17.3.19. early

Musing about Labyrinths (12): I have come to the conclusion this week that the environment and placement of a labyrinth definitely affect the pilgrim's experience of it. The beautiful setting of the labyrinth at Epiphany Church in Leeds and its relationship to the altar in the Lady Chapel make it very special, impacting the way that it is walked. The Labyrinth in the Hospice in Basingstoke, whilst difficult to see on the ground, is nonetheless characterful by the way it is enclosed in a special space and the way it is walked is guided, if not directly led, by the context of the Hospice within which it is set.  The Cross that has been set in alignment with the labyrinth at Cliff College (or the other way round) makes a qualitative difference to the way that labyrinth is walked and experienced. And, similarly, the alignment of the UKC labyrinth with Canterbury Cathedral lifts - what might be described as a very good, but ordinary, labyrinth - into something really special and extra-ordinary.
My conversation with Heather yesterday fed into all this. She told me about her own background in interior design contributing to the desire, and ability, to transform a space into an inviting prayer space (by the use of cloths, candles and other materials) - somehow buildings, rooms, spaces, labyrinths, become more 'numinous', and more open for spiritual encounter, when care and attention has been paid to the environment and to the symbolic context. 

16.3.19.

Despite it being extremely windy (and a bit scary) on the motorways, I made it to Maidstone where I met Heather May for the first time - she used to run a company called 'Silent Lights' which sold, amongst other things, the Mary & Joseph figures that I used for Posada in Wymondham (2011 - 2015).  She has given me two further sets free because the company no longer operates and she knows I will make good use of them. We chatted over coffee for an hour + and compared notes on a variety of things! 

On to Canterbury and to UKC (University of Kent at Canterbury) where I spent 3 formative years (1976 - 1979) and ended up with a degree in Theology. My reason for going was not to be nostalgic (although I was) but to walk the labyrinth that was installed in 2008 by the same people that installed the Basingstoke one that I walked yesterday.  This one is bigger - 8,000 paviors made of York stone. What is particularly lovely is that the entrance (you walk on the stone not the grass) when lined up with the Centre is also lined up with Canterbury Cathedral which you can clearly see towering over the city below:

but not in this photograph!  Here is a close-up of the picture I took when standing in the centre of the labyrinth:

15.3.19.

Today I was in Basingstoke - a town I became very fond of between 2007 and 2010 and which warms me inside when I return. It is partly because of the research I did into the historical layout (before a massive car park and shopping centre was built over the historic canal and river and medieval market town); partly because it is not too big and I can find my way around (and each roundabout is known by a different name and has a different character!); partly because this was Jane Austen's home town (!) and partly because it is so cosmopolitan and full of such a varied selection of 'ordinary' people that it is easy for anyone to feel at home (including me when I was there as minister of 4 churches). 

I had a swim in the sports centre that I used to frequent before, this afternoon, visiting Glenice in her home just outside of Old Basing. In our 2 hour conversation, she happened to mention the Labyrinth that has been installed in the grounds of St Michael's Hospice in recent years. So, I had to go there next and found a large pavement type Labyrinth in an enclosed setting - basically a classical design but with 5 circuits and a large centre.  It was difficult to photograph, particularly in the fading light but here is my best shot:

The design is much easier to see on the wooden finger Labyrinth provided in the nearby sensory garden:

I have now looked it up and see that it was installed by the Labyrinth Builders in November 2010 (3 months after I had left) and designed by Jeff Saward (who led a teaching day I went to last August).  Apparently, the St Michael's Labyrinth uses 5,700 stone 'paviors'.

14.3.19.

The Superintendent's Induction Course at Cliff College was excellent.  I am more daunted than I was before, but feel better equipped...

I walked the Cliff Labyrinth for the 3rd time (that's once on each of the 3 courses I have attended on this Sabbatical) and - for the first time - noticed that there is a cross in line with the entrance and centre to the Labyrinth:

N.B. The Cross is in the centre of the background of this picture.

12.3.19.

I spent Saturday with Naomi and my two grand-daughters. Unfortunately, Jessie (aged nearly 3) was not at all well but this meant that I had the pleasure of taking Miriam (aged 1) out for an afternoon walk in her pushchair (only to Tescos!).

On Sunday I was in Sheffield and attending St Timothy's Anglican Church with friends Rosemary and Alan Anderson. Rosemary and Alan moved from Norwich Methodism a couple of years ago and now alternate their church attendance between St Timothy's (which their younger daughter attends) and Wesley Hall Methodist Church. Jane looked after me over lunchtime whilst R & A had a rehearsal for an hour long concert which I attended in Sheffield City Hall in the early evening. 

On Monday morning, I walked with Rosemary down to the Oxfam Shop where she and Alan volunteer on two days a week. It was great to be shown 'behind the scenes' and to see the work that the volunteers do. I thought the organisation and efficiency of the whole thing was amazing. Here is Rosemary with some of the clothes waiting in the basement:

N.B. I knew that Alan dealt with items for selling online but I hadn't totally taken in what this means. I have now looked at the Oxfam online shop and it is really quite extensive: take a look at https://www.oxfam.org.uk/shop.

The rest of Monday was a relaxing day and I then travelled to Leeds where this morning I went - by arrangement - to Epiphany parish church in Gipton where, in the 1990's, the wife of the curate instigated the painting of a labyrinth in the small chapel at the east end of the church. Caroline (who is on placement at the church and whom I had met at Wydale Hall) showed me the labyrinth and introduced me to the vicar. They were both very kind and left me to take photos and to walk the labyrinth in my own time:

It was interesting that when I arrived in the centre of the labyrinth, my eyes were immediately drawn along the path created by the white sections in between the turns that, in this case, led to an altar. In fact, I wanted to walk along these, and did so, to reach the altar as the climax of this particular walk. I then retraced my steps to the middle and walked out along the path in the normal way.

Late morning, I diverted from my programme (the original plan to visit Chatsworth was thwarted by the season not starting until next week) and travelled back down to Derby to spend the afternoon with Naomi and the two girls. Jessie was much better and so we were able to go out to 'Happy Hens' (run by Christians and featured on Songs of Praise recently). One hen was so happy it flew onto my knee - not the sort of experience I really enjoy!  However, it was a good outing and good to spend bonus time with this section of my family:

8.3.19.

Was stung on the finger by a very large wasp yesterday and the pain and swelling continues. I know, in the scheme of things, that this is only a very minor affliction but how did a wasp attach itself to a jigsaw puzzle inside a plastic bag inside our loft? 

Over half-way through the Sabbatical and six weeks to go. In the seven weeks already gone, I have read 7 books, swum 15 times, conversed significantly with 16 people I will remain in contact with (or was already friends with), visited 3 Cathedrals (excluding Norwich) and walked 15 Labyrinths...  Oh - and packed 7 'moving' boxes. And been stung by 1 wasp.  

6.3.19.

Today being Ash Wednesday I wanted to walk a Labyrinth if I could. Sarah and Geraldine at Piper's Mede in Holme Hale kindly let me walk their brilliant home designed and executed Labyrinth, and even gave me a cup of coffee afterwards.

I meditated as I walked on the inward path on the words 'Remember that you are dust and that to dust you shall return' (Genesis 3 v 19) as befits Ash Wednesday and then walked out knowing myself cleansed, loved and a valued human being as befits our transformative Christian faith. I reflected on the fact that we are always 'as dust', but also always being transformed into valuable people by the God who so loved the world that he was prepared to die for it (and the world includes me and any reader of this Blog...)

I had marked Ash Wednesday emotionally/spiritually but had not been 'ashed' so I went to the 12.30 Eucharist at the Cathedral (which, in normal times, I try to get to every 2 or 3 weeks). It was being taken, on this occasion, by the Dean and the worshippers were both ashed and communicated with bread and wine. I related my participation in this service with what had happened in the Labyrinth - the ashing was symbolic of the 'remembering that we are dust' and the receiving of bread and wine represented the cleansing and the transformation (but, as always, the act of communion is in itself transformative). 

5.3.19.

Jen and I had a really lovely short holiday in Guernsey. Although we were there only 3 complete days (with one day each way taken up with travelling), it felt like at least a week... We managed to fit in a 'flat' walk (from Chouet beach around the headland to Pembroke Bay and across the common); a very hilly cliff top walk (from Icart Point); a coffee on the 3rd floor of Creasey's department store overlooking St Peter Port harbour, accompanied by a seagull outside the window (the same one as 4 years ago?!); attending the Methodist Church at Les Capelles with my old schoolfriend Carolyn (not really old, she's the same age as me!); a swim each day in the hotel swimming pool; a visit to the iconic Little Chapel; and a meal with Val who took my sister and myself for Saturday morning walks when my mum had just had another baby (my dad was the minister at Salem in St PP from 1960 - 66).

Other interesting experiences included:

  • Having to wait on the small aeroplane whilst the police arrived to detain a passenger...
  • Experiencing a Hot Stones massage (1st time but not the last I hope!)
  • Sitting in the hotel's outside hot tub on Sunday morning whilst hailstones rained down on our heads...
  • Watching the waves at Port Soif on Sunday afternoon with the wind nearly blowing us off the headland...

Oh - and I don't think I have mentioned us making a Labyrinth!  We went to Chouet Beach (where my sister and I used to swim in the sea after school with our dad) and Jen and I together drew out a classical Labyrinth in a likely spot near the rocks that Ruth and I used to climb. We then each walked it before having a cup of coffee at the nearby kiosk and having to explain what we were doing to the lady behind the counter...


 

Musing about Labyrinths (11): As we were going up and down the zigzag lines of the queue (marked by tape on poles) in the airport, Jen asked if this could be described as a labyrinth?  I thought not. Surely a labyrinth has to have been designed as such? However, it could be described as labyrinthine...

26.2.19.

Today I dedicated my new Chartres finger labyrinth:

I am at home for 3 days continuing to sort 'stuff' in the garage, and enjoying a swim or two... Jen and I are having a long weekend in Guernsey (travelling Thursday) - no Labyrinths there that I know of!

N.B. Jen has pointed out that, in the blurb above, I have said I plan to visit 15 labyrinths and that I have already been to 13!  Oh well, so it was a conservative estimate...

24.2.19. later in the day

Crumbs! After writing yesterday about spreading Labyrinth good news like a wandering Celtic monk, I ended up with 5 significant conversations today with 5 different people. All at Peterborough Cathedral. First of all, I discovered from the website that - O joy of joys! - they had made a labyrinth in a garden this last August. So, when the Cathedral was open to the public this afternoon, I went in to the visitor centre to ask if I could see it.  The lady on duty (Rachel) told me she didn't know what I was talking about, maybe I should ask in the Cathedral. On the Welcome Desk in the Cathedral was Luke and he told me that people generally weren't allowed to see the Labyrinth, it was only used for special occasions. "What about a Methodist Minister who is doing a project on labyrinths?" I asked. "Well, you might be able to see it from an upstairs window" was the reply. I laughed and said that this would be better than nothing - although the website had said that visitors could walk the labyrinth if it wasn't being used by schools. A younger gentleman (Jimmy) was asked to take me back to the Visitor Centre to see if I was allowed in to the Exhibition Room to view the labyrinth from above. Over we went and Jimmy was in the process of asking Rachel when an older lady overheard and interrupted, "You can go and see it if you like". This was Kate and I nearly hugged her - "This is what I would really like to do". We all went to look at the Labyrinth and Rachel & Kate were ready to dismiss it as not being anything of importance. However, my response was "But this is really lovely!"

The ladies went back in and I was left with the 5th person who had just been chatting with the volunteers in the visitor centre. He was called Timothy and he asked me about my project. I explained and said that I was going to walk the Labyrinth which I proceeded to do.  I started off and was aware that Timothy had followed me in and was also walking it. We arrived at the centre and stood in peaceful silent reflection for a couple of minutes, once again I was surprisingly moved.  I walked out back along the path and Timothy followed me. Back in the Centre I engaged in conversation with Rachel, Kate and Timothy and talked about the Labyrinth's spiritual potential. Rachel had thought that an outdoor Labyrinth should have hedges and that the one outside the back door was too flat. Back in the Cathedral, I told Luke that I had found the Labyrinth very moving and - I think he was embarrassed by his previous stance - he repeated about 3 times that he was very glad I had been able to walk it.

O dear - I have just written all that detail (carried away by the encounters with people!) and not said anything about the morning Eucharistic service. This was on the theme of Inclusivity and, although the service sheet said that the preacher was Rowan Williams (who has apparently retired to Peterborough) the sermon was in fact given by a lady who dealt with the subject brilliantly and courageously. The whole experience was very different from that at St Paul's two weeks ago and I really felt able to worship and engage with all that was going on.

24.2.19. early

Musing about Labyrinths (10): Yesterday I met four different people with whom I had (not insignficant) Labyrinth conversations. I will remember both them and the content of what was said, and I guess that they will remember me. The chap at Alkborough definitely will because I am on his camera!  Fleeting encounters and then we went our separate ways and I don't expect to see any of those people ever again. However, the fleetingness doesn't matter - my life has been enriched by those people (two of whom I don't even know their names) and their life has been enriched by me (and my knowledge/experience of labyrinths).  In contrast, the folk at Haltwhistle Methodist Church did not engage with me at all, except to secure me a cup of coffee.  I could have been anybody and, in fact, was anybody (and represented everybody?) A chance to enrich each others' lives (however briefly) missed. 
All this is a microcosm of normal life - we pass people and meet people and engage with people and let them touch our lives and become part of our personal history (or not).  And those with whom we spend substantial periods of time are not with us for ever, or us with them. In the words of an Iona song: 'Let us walk together for a time...'

23.2.19.

I don't think since I was working for the Iona Community for 10 months in 2006 have I experienced so many interesting things in one day!  Today included all these things:

  • Leaving the Haltwhistle hotel before 9 am in order to catch a glimpse of Roman ruins and the ruins of Hadrian's Wall - which I did at Vindolanda.
  • Realising I still had the hotel key in my pocket and having to re-trace my car route in order to return it.
  • Having done that, noticing that Haltwhistle Methodist Church had a fundraising coffee morning so popped in for a coffee. N.B. Nobody asked me who I was or where I was from so it was just like getting a coffee in a cafe (a noisy one - they were very busy even at 9.45!)
  • Driving through the breathtaking landscape of the Northumbria National Park with the sun shining and the sky desparately trying to be blue... there were an amazing number of ups and downs - no wonder that people think that Norfolk is flat (even though we think it has hills...)
  • Walking through Wakefield which was packed with people - there were Morris dancers everywhere and dancing on every corner.  It turned out there was a Rhubarb Festival (now know that Wakefield is at the centre of the biggest rhubarb growing area in Europe!)
  • The Rhubarb Festival had invaded the Cathedral but their special activities did not encroach on to their Labyrinth.

  • Looking round Wakefield Cathedral which I have never been to before.
  • Enjoying a sausage and rhubarb roll in the Cathedral Cafe.
  • Talking to a lady who was interested in Labyrinths - she wants to use one for her yoga class to help with mindfulness.
  • Walking the Labyrinth and then helping another lady see where the entrance was and how to walk the path.
  • Meeting the 2nd lady back in the Cafe and asking her whether she had got to the middle. "Yes, once I had found the right path... perhaps that is saying something to me... thank you for helping me..."
  • Driving - still in the beautiful weather - eastwards towards Hull - 3 different motorways.
  • Finding Alborough and their Labyrinth which is known as Julian's Bower. It is on their village sign and in the floor of the porch of the parish church as well as the original overlooking the 'flats' and the confluence of 3 rivers:

  • Going to the Church first and trying to walk the labyrinth in the porch but it was too small and I got dizzy!

  • Talking to a man (he turned out to be called Adrian) who was also visiting Julian's Bower, he had been going to take his mum on a snowdrop walk but she didn't want to go so he had see the Labyrinth on a map and thought he would go there instead. I took a photo for him and he took one for me:

I left Adrian walking the path and I got the impression that the fact that I had walked it first - he had watched me do it from beginning to end - gave him permission to walk it too.  The same had actually happened with my 2nd lady in the Cathedral, she saw me walking and then gave it a go herself.  I felt today, having talked about labyrinths to 4 different people (there had also been the owner of the Hotel to whom I had had to defend the Peace Labyrinth - he thought "It isn't anything much") that I was like a wandering Celtic monk, spreading Labyrinth light and love... 

Musing about Labyrinths (9): Yesterday I visited two 'classical' labyrinths. They were both in beautiful settings but one I wanted to actually 'walk' and the other I didn't. The difference seemed to be the name given to the actual labyrinth and the intention of those who built it (or maintain it now in the Dalby case). I would not have thought previously that these things would make such a difference to the spiritual (or otherwise) feel of a labyrinth.

22.2.19.

Well - I did say I wouldn't walk more than one labyrinth in a day but today I have walked three!  However, the middle one was small and didn't do a lot for me although its history is interesting and it makes a good photo!  See below...

I started the day with walking the Wydale labyrinth for the 3rd time on this visit and getting it in before breakfast. I then travelled (via a Morrisons in York for coffee and necessary 'taking stock') to a quiet rural road about 13 miles north of the city where there is another of the 8 remaining turf labyrinths in the country.

Saffron Walden has the largest turf labyrinth - this one is the smallest. It is a 7 circuit classical labyrinth and, like the other turf ones, no-one really knows when, or why, it was made. The labyrinth is known as 'The City of Troy Maze' (between the villages of Brandsby and Dalby) and the sign next to it says that it is a game, only the rules have been lost!!  I enjoyed sitting by it in my car eating my sandwich lunch but I didn't really want to walk this one. The molehills on the paths didn't help but I think its secular designation and the misnomer of the name are offputting.  However!  My task is to walk the labyrinths that I visit and so I walked it before I left.  I duly got in a muddle when I couldn't see the path and had to take a section again!

I set off again to travel further northwards - the A1 is not a pleasant road... however, the Friday traffic didn't bite until I was fairly near my destination - the Roman remains (Hadrians Wall etc) at Greenhead in Cumbria.  I arrived about 4.15 pm and I was aware of the day wearing on as I set off from the car park down a rather lonely path. I walked briskly and hoped that the labyrinth wasn't too far away...  It turned out to be less than a 10 minute walk and the labyrinth looked spectacular under one of the Walltown Crags:

The black in the photo is the hard core of the paths (nice and wide) and the walls have been planted up with willow in different colours. This is also a 7 circuit classical labyrinth but this one is contemporary and has been named a Peace Labyrinth:

This one I did want to walk and walk it I did - for Peace in the world and amongst people. As I was leaving, someone else arrived - they waited for me to definitely depart and I got the impression the labyrinth walk was something they were used to doing. I reflected that, if even a few people walk this labyrinth for Peace each week, then surely that must make a difference to the world?

Staying the night in Haltwhistle.
Unnecessary information: the Centre of Britain Hotel has not cost more than a Premier Inn but I have a large characterful bedroom with - wait for it - a spa bath and a personal sauna!  

21.2.19.

The Day with Icons at Wydale Hall near Scarborough has been very stimulating and spiritually refreshing. Rev Andrew De Smet paints his own icons as well as being knowledgeable about them. He had a selection with him to illustrate his talks and to let us use them for reflection and prayer. Interspersed with the talks, Andrew painted a demonstration icon and took us through the process step by step.

As well as all this, I was able to walk the Wydale Labyrinth twice - once in one of the morning slots for reflection (when another participant was also walking) and once at the end of the afternoon (when I had it to myself).

i

I like the Wydale Labyrinth very much - it is an eleven circuit Chartres design but is more 'angular'; it has wide paths which are soft underfoot (bark); it is in the lovely setting of a walled garden; but, most of all, it has 'structure' - it has raised wooden walls and a large centre where the walker can sit before walking out again.

Musing about Labyrinths (8): I was reflecting today on the similarities between venerating an icon and walking a labyrinth. They are both spiritual 'tools' - but not an end in themselves. They can both lead the 'user' (for want of a better word) into spiritual experience and encounter with God but, in both cases, the attitude and openness (or not) of the person is key to what happens. Both tools are essentially a way of focussing the mind so that encounter can happen, without the ego getting in the way too much.  With the icon, the sense of sight is obviously paramount and, through vision and stillness, the participant can be helped to pray, meditate and, ultimately, enter into communion with the divine. With the labyrinth, the whole body is involved and so the mind and heart are freed up also to pray, meditate and, potentially, commune with God.

20.2.19.

Three busy but enjoyable days in Worcestershire with my elder daughter and family. We joined hundreds of other people at Thomas Land on Monday; visited Slimbridge (also very half-term busy) Wildlife & Wetland Centre on Tuesday; went swimming at the local leisure pool on Wednesday.  


Two boys enjoying taking photos, looking at them and being photographed...

17.2.19.

The second stage of the Supervision Course that I have attended at Cliff College over the weekend was just as emotionally draining as the first stage - no, I think more so! However, like last time, it was led in an excellent manner and I feel that if, and when, I am called upon to supervise others as a Superintendent I understand the system and will be able to do a good job. 

It was good to meet up with the same people again and to provide updates on my labyrinth experiences!  I was anxious to walk the Cliff labyrinth again and was able to do so after breakfast on Saturday morning - this time with a friend who was able to take a photo for me:

We walked together but separately (staggered times in and out) which is very companiable. When I got to the middle I looked for half a stick which I left there the last time - at the beginning of my Sabbatical. I had left it as a representation of my normal work and it was still in the position I had placed it. It remains there still. The other half of the stick is in my study at home and represents my being on this special gift of sabbatical time.

N.B. One month has gone, two to go... 

14.2.19.

Before meeting my sister, niece and great-nephew for lunch today (in Suffolk) I took a diversion to Ely.  It was such a lovely blue sky day and I have not walked a labyrinth for a week. The 19th century labyrinth in the floor of the entrance to the Cathedral has been on my list for walking. I went early enough for there not to be too many people crossing the space in and out of the church to make it impossible to walk the interesting, angular path:

A steward helpfully took my picture when I had reached the middle:

The length of the path is the same distance as the height of the tower above... I felt refreshed and energised as I walked the path out ready for my lunch, for spending time with my 86 year old uncle, and for visiting an exhibition at Gainsborough House (birthplace of the artist) - all in Sudbury.

Musing about Labyrinths 7: The preacher at St Paul’s on Sunday talked about the ‘liminality’ of gateways – the New Gate to the Temple in Jeremiah 26, the Beautiful Gate in Acts 3, the West door into the Cathedral.  Moving in to a different sort of space – sacred, prayerful, holy ground. I found this helpful with my thinking about Labyrinths: a church or cathedral becomes holy ground because it has been designed that way, because people have used it as such over the years, because the visitor or worshipper goes in with heart and mind open to the sacred. I guess this is the same for the Labyrinth - if it has been designed as such, if people have used it for spirituality, most importantly if the participant has an openness to the spiritual opportunity of the labyrinth walk.

Musing about Labyrinths 6: Two labyrinths last week caused me to ponder about whether or not a labyrinth is 'sacred space' and, if a permanent one is to be viewed as such, whether or not it should be treated in a special way e.g. not have furniture left upon it. The Sobell House labyrinth had a table and chairs on it but, then, the chapel is only small and the labyrinth covers more or less the whole floor so sitting on top of it is inevitable. I know that - famously - the famous labyrinth at Chartres has chairs upon it most of the time (I hope to visit it later this year) but I guess this is also inevitable as the design is on the floor of the cathedral nave. However, what I really love about the labyrinth in St. Michael & All Angels, Abingdon is that it is in the floor of the nave of the church but the chairs are placed around it and not on it. This means that the space is always available as labyrinth space (whether or not this is recognised by the congregation or visitors). This is a picture I took there last Summer:

However, the circle dancing (including the session to Taize chants), although it was great in the lovely space, made no reference to the labyrinth under foot and I have to admit this was a bit of a disappointment. We were dancing on 'sacred space' but not exploiting the opportunity. 

11.2.19.

Jen and I enjoyed a busy weekend in London which incorporated the 2018 Wildlife Photographer of the Year Competition at the Natural History Museum (an event we try to go to every year, it is open until the end of June 2019), my 61st birthday, attending Choral Mattins at St Paul's Cathedral, and going to the 27,684th performance of The Mousetrap!

 

We didn't know that there is a statue of John Wesley outside St Paul's:

but we did know that there is a Labyrinth tile in each London underground station!  That's 270 labyrinths that were created as an artwork to celebrate 150 years of the London underground in 2008. We tracked down 9 of them as we travelled the Tube this time round, here are three:

There was a further Labyrinth related activity to investigate and that was to go to the mis-named 'Large Glass Gallery' (it is not large nor made of glass!) on the Caledonian Road. I had been told just a couple of days before that this gallery had an exhibition called 'In the Labyrinth'.  The number of exhibits was small and there were only two items that were actually representing labyrinths themselves but we were glad we had gone. There were some interesting books to look at and Jen got an idea about creating an embroidery labyrinth.

7.2.19.

After saying yesterday that I could only walk one labyrinth a day, I seem to have done two today! But, the first one was only cursory, and the second one was unplanned...

Labyrinth (1)

I had arranged to join in with the regular circle dancing this morning at St Michael & All Angels Parish Church in Abingdon. Jen and I had been there on holiday in the Summer and had walked their amazing labyrinth (placed in the nave but with no chairs on top). We had been told about the circle dancing that takes place every week on the lovely, spacious and shiny labyrinth space. On the first Thursday of the month, it is preceded by circle dancing to Taize music - and I have just been waiting for an opportunity to go along and experience this. I was only a little late - I got lost walking from the car park - and was made very welcome by the 10 or so participants. I soon felt as though I was one of them. The movements to the Taize chants were simple and effective, matching the words as well as the rhythms. Each sequence of steps was followed by a period of silent meditation. The teacher, Elizabeth, has developed her own way of doing this. At the end of the hour, coffee was provided. Some people left, some people came, a different teacher led the more general second session. At the end of it all I was able to walk the labyrinth and to take photos:

Labyrinth (2)

The second labyrinth of the day was unplanned and unexpected. I have recently met the former Chaplain of Sobell House, the Hospice in Oxford and he told me about a labyrinth in the floor of the Chapel there that he had been involved in creating. It occurred to me, after leaving Abingdon, that I was very near Oxford and I could go and take a look. I had flexibility of time, which was just as well, because it was difficult to find, and difficult to park (the hospice is on the main hospital site). However, I made it in the end, walked into the reception and asked if I could visit the Chapel. The answer was "Yes, of course" so I was soon in a small space that serves all faiths and none and that felt very peaceful and prayerful. The labyrinth was obvious on the floor but takes up most of the floor space so unfortunately was obscured with furniture:

I took the liberty of moving the chairs to one side but left the table in the centre. The pattern was then clearer to see:

An interesting contemporary design - just right for the small space. I took my shoes off and walked it. A very strange thing happened as I walked, I immediately remembered the last time I was in a hospice and the death of my mother (nearly 2 years ago) as I slept in a chair in the room with her. This made the walk quite emotional and I was glad to see the Bible on the table in the centre opened at John 14: 'Do not let your hearts be troubled', 'My Father's house has many rooms...'

6.2.19.

Morning: I am in Exeter at the moment and am going to set out shortly in search of breakfast, the Cathedral and the Royal Albert Museum (there is a particular thing that attracts me - nothing to do with labyrinths - in both the last named), all will be revealed later...

Evening: Exeter Cathedral was a pleasure to visit at 9 am this morning with no-one else around (I do love Cathedrals!). I was able to see (and touch - don't tell anyone) the miserichord of an elephant that I have seen before and that Jen has a replica of in our home. Now, I have a photo of the real thing. The Royal Albert Memorial Museum did not have the painting I wanted to see on display but I didn't mind. It was just that last night I read the story of how Philip Mould was able to reunite one half of a painting with its separated other half (in his excellent book 'Sleuth') and when I read that it was in an Exeter Museum I hoped to be able to see it. Never mind, I will seek out 'Self portrait of the artist in his studio' by Francis Hayman another time.

After leaving Exeter I drove up into Hampshire and went to find a little church called St Mary's in a village called Stoke Itchen. I wanted to find a 'decorative' labyrinth in the apse of this building now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. Incidentally, I knew about this labyrinth from an article on the web by Jeff Saward - Labyrinth builder and general expert in all things Labyrinth (I attended a day led by him on the history of labyrinths in the Summer). If anyone is interested in this article, the link is: http://www.labyrinthos.net/English%20Church%20Labyrinths.pdf.

Another heart-warming experience for me as I gazed at the floor labyrinth in the apse of this redundant church. It was bigger than I expected and I questioned whether, in fact, it was not meant to be walked?

OK, so there was an altar table across the centre but the rest of it seemed pretty inviting. The church was no longer used (though still consecrated) and there was nobody there at that moment; I slipped off my shoes, opened the moving part of the rail and began to follow the green path. This is very special was my main thought as I followed the Chartres design whilst circumventing the part covered by the table. I reached the centre with a sense of achievement and noted a. that it had 8 petals rather than the 6 in Chartres and b. that it matched the design in the rose window at the west end:

Musing about Labyrinths 5: I have come to realise that I can't cope with more than one labyrinth in one day...  Walking - or even viewing (in the case of the Redcliffe roof boss) - one can be such a powerful experience that I need time to absorb it and then recover! Like reading a good book and needing a gap before starting another one... 

5.2.19.

As I was walking the cliff-top Labyrinth in Seaton in Devon today, I began to doubt my sanity!  It was cold, the grass underfoot was muddy, the fog meant I couldn't see the cliffs or much else, there was not another soul in sight. On the upside, I could hear the waves crashing below, the Labyrinth was an eleven circuit Chartres design (with 4 'lobes' like the Saffron Walden one), the walls for the path were made of stones from the nearby Jurassic Heritage Coast, and the circuits were arranged so that the youngest stones were on the outside and the oldest in the middle. 

Also, fascinatingly, each of the lobes had a large ammonite in them:

Musing about Labyrinths 4: Like the one in Norwich Cathedral, this one today was just flat with nothing to make it more enticing in the immediate environment. Do public ones need some sort of structure and height - either in themselves or in the environment - to make them more attractive and to add to the spiritual atmosphere?

4.2.19.

Morning: Today I am in Bristol and quite excited about seeing a labyrinth this morning!  But it is only 8 inches wide so no walking (which is just as well as it is raining...) This labyrinth is on a medieval roof boss in the church of St Mary, Redcliffe and is the only example of such a thing in this country.  I also hope to pay a visit to the New Room (oldest Methodist building in the world) and, hopefully, they do lunch...

Evening: Well, I was wrong about the walking, and also about the rain. I seem to have walked a lot - first to St Mary's Redcliffe for the roof boss labyrinth, then to Victoria Park where the roof boss was copied in 1984 as a 'water maze' and then back via the Premier Inn to the Methodist New Room (where I had my photo taken in John Wesley's pulpit - well, the lower section, I didn't dare go up to the top bit!)

Back to the Labyrinth - I felt my heart very definitely 'warmed' when I saw the roof boss. It was bigger than I expected and not too difficult to see although I had taken binoculars with me. It is a Chartres design although with the six 'petals' in the centre.

What surprised me though was that I wasn't just interested in the labyrinth but in the church as a whole which turned out to have many fascinating features (not sure why I was surprised as I love looking round medieval churches and cathedrals).  I followed a simple leaflet guide round and discovered that the design of the roof boss was repeated in a nearby park so, of course, I had to go and look. The water forms the path and the bricks the walls.  The sun came out just as I was looking at it:

Musing about Labyrinths 3: Why are so many labyrinths called mazes? But, then, the word labyrinth (or labyrinthine) has been used in the past to mean something that has many confusing paths - which is, in itself, confusing!

Aha - I have found an excellent explanation of the difference between mazes and labyrinths on the website of the National Building Museum:

labyrinth has winding, curved passages, forming a “unicursal,” or one-way path from the outside toward the center. Walking through a labyrinth, you will change direction often, but theoretically should not feel lost or confused as you wind through the space. Often the labyrinth is purposefully engineered so that it takes a long time to get to the middle, encouraging slow, meditative contemplation while navigating many twists and turns.
maze is filled with dead ends. Often there are puzzles that help you find your way and alleviate frustration, but the idea is to get lost a few times before figuring out the terrain and finding your way. Two-dimensional mazes offer the ability to see the entire course at one time, though the hardest ones will take time to solve. While labyrinths are often seen as thoughtful, peaceful spaces for quiet reflection, mazes tend to attract those more interested in solving puzzles and facing challenges.

N.B. I had an interesting conversation with a chap called Sean in the cafe at St Mary's. He wanted to know the difference between a labyrinth and a maze and was interested in my interest in labyrinths as a spiritual resource. He said he felt spiritual just talking to me!

N.B. again - a great-niece of mine (Olivia) has been born today to one of my sister's daughters.  It means that she will share a birthday with my own grand-daughter Miriam (her second cousin) who is 1 year old today.

3.2.19.

Have spent the weekend with my eldest daughter and family at their home in Worcestershire. This included a trip to a local National Trust property (Croome Court), a walk near the Broadway Tower in the Cotswolds and going to worship at the Methodist church Rachel, Charles, Henry & James attend in Evesham. Today, the preacher was retired minister Rev David Haslam and he used the gospel reading to talk about the 'words' of Jesus. Jesus was received with favour when people were impressed with "the gracious words that came from his lips" but then they wanted to throw him over a cliff when he was more challenging about God's love being for everybody! 

30.1.19.

At home this week, entertained the gasman all day yesterday!  Doing some final Sabbatical planning things, work loose end things, writing-up things. So, no labyrinths but I am looking forward to 3 next week (one of them is a roof boss!) + labyrinth tiles on underground stations. Off on a 10 day trip from Friday evening and will write again on Sunday evening.

28.1.19.

The weekend in Eastbourne was coloured by the fact that first myself, and then both myself and Jen were under the weather. I had some sort of throat infection and lost my voice (a not infrequent occurrence!) and Jen had very bad sinus'. However, we still managed a walk along the seafront, a trip to the Cinema (Stan & Ollie), and a very nice birthday meal with Susan and Denise, Jen's triplet sisters. I was able to visit a Labyrinth at Ashburnham as below. What we didn't manage was church on Sunday - I had been hoping to go back for Sunday worship to one of the two churches under my pastoral charge from 2000 - 2005, but that will have to wait. 

26.1.19.

Was able to go to Ashburnham Place (Christian Conference Centre based on an old estate with lake, orangery, walled garden etc) near Battle this morning, having previously asked permission to walk their labyrinth. Once tracked down, it turned out to be a grass one (mown paths) in a lovely setting with willow trees and colourful dogwood round the outside. It was the opposite experience to the one in Saffron Walden - that was very long and had to be walked quickly, this one was not very long and I walked it very slowly! 

Musing about Labyrinths 2: How much does the environment matter?  This one was simple (just grass) but - with the context and new planting - had character and interest. The chalk notices helped focus the spiritual mind...

Musing about Labyrinths 1: I am now certain that a Labyrinth has to have a centre (or more than one centre). The end of the path is not the end of the journey (which it is in the Derby Cathedral garden mentioned below). 

25.1.19.

Very enjoyable day yesterday as Jen and I travelled down to Eastbourne for her birthday and that of her sisters (triplets conceived and born naturally in 1958). After coffee in Angelsey Abbey (NT) we found the Rowan Humberstone arts charity for people with learning disabilities in Cambridge and collected my commissioned (very) large finger labyrinth, Chartres design.  It will be brilliant for personal use, but also for demonstration purposes in talks, workshops, etc.

We then went on to Saffron Walden and - with a great deal of pleasure - found the 'Town Maze' which, in fact, is an ancient turf labyrinth which has been preserved and maintained by generations of people in the town. It was a bit muddy, difficult to keep to the brick paths and quite long - 1500 metres. And, by this point, we were a bit short of time. So, no reflective walking here but a brisk pace back and forth, crossing segments, going round the four bastions, passing each other, ending up on opposite sides, and... suddenly reaching the centre! It took approx 17 minutes.

 

 

 

 

 

 

23.1.19.

I am looking forward to tomorrow when Jen and I are visiting the medieval turf labyrinth at Saffron Walden. It is, in fact, the largest remaining turf labyrinth in the world. I will report how long it takes us to walk it... 
Oh - and we are calling in to Rowan Humberstone Ltd in Cambridge to pick up a large oak finger labyrinth (Chartres design) which has been made to my order by a gentleman called Russell. Exciting!

21.1.19.

An enjoyable 3 days with Naomi, Nicholas, Jessie (nearly 3) and Miriam (nearly 1) in Derby. I was able to go to church with Naomi and my granddaughters on Sunday morning which, of course, I am not usually able to do. They occasionally attend St John's Anglican Church in Mickleover which is just up the road from their home. The preacher said something interesting about the reading of the day: The Wedding at Cana. He wondered whether Mary wanted Jesus to perform a miracle so that she might be vindicated over the question of Jesus' parenthood so many years before i.e. Jesus really was the Son of God and she really did conceive through the Holy Spirit. The preacher went on to say that this is not why Jesus did work the miraculous - he did it at the start of his ministry to demonstrate the transformation (water into wine) he could bring.

The Vicar who led the church service remembered me from Naomi's wedding 3½ years ago. He showed interest in my Sabbatical project and mentioned that there might be a Labyrinth at the back of the Derby Cathedral coffee shop. I was getting excited but remembered that I had been in this small garden and that it had a path tracing the life of Jesus - not a Labyrinth. However, we went for a coffee in the city today and I checked out my memory:

This conversation got me thinking about the definition of a Labyrinth. My working definition as of today is: 'A unicursal (single path) design that leads from an entrance to a centre'.  It is therefore not a variation on a straight line and, of course, it is not a puzzle or a maze.

18.1.19.

The training course in supervision at Cliff College over the last two days was excellent. An unexpected consequence was to make new friends, and new contacts with people interested in either Mindfulness and Labyrinths or both!  I find myself as a person of interest as having knowledge and experience in both these areas...

Amazingly, I was able to walk a labyrinth right at the beginning of the proper start of the Sabbatical (i.e. after the supervision course which was compulsory for my future work as a superintendent). I discovered that there is a labyrinth installed permanently at Cliff so went to walk it before I left the College. As I walked to the Centre I offered my churches and 'normal' work to God and, as I walked out, I asked God to help me leave these in his care.