When I attended the Central Seminary faculty retreat at Conception Abbey a couple of weeks ago, I found myself in the bookstore on a rainy Friday afternoon. My plan to walk around the grounds was not practical, so I began browsing the book shelves for something to read until dinner. Labyrinths: Walking Toward the Center by Gernot Candolini caught my attention. I bought the book and spent the next hour in a comfortable chair and gaining a new appreciation for the power of the labyrinth through the eyes of an articulate and impassioned practitioner.
Candolini is an author, photographer, and designer of labyrinths and gardens who lives in Innsbruck, Austria. He pulls the reader into the book by sharing his unfolding love affair with the labyrinth and the practice of pilgrimage. To Candolini, “[t]he labyrinth is a sacred tool for knowing; an image that connects us to God, the world, and ourselves.” Although of ancient origin, it has proven adaptable to many traditions including Christian contemplation. Among other things, the author sees the labyrinth as a symbol of Resurrection, the ebb and flow of the Christian life, and a pilgrimage to a holy place.
The labyrinth is a perfect antidote to modern thinking. Candolini explains,
“When I sketch a new labyrinth, I generally begin by laying out the boundaries of the paths. At first everything always looks a little confused. But once I’ve finished the design, there comes a moment of delight: how clear, how formally beautiful, how complete the whole appears in its finished form. When I’m looking at nature—I’m a biologist—I often have the same experience: so many things appear disordered in their parts, but are revealed to be perfect when seen as a whole.”
Candolini shares observations that are both encouraging and challenging. He notes, for example, “I’m comforted in knowing that, even in an uncertain world, I can feel secure; even in the most uncertain times, I can believe that I am in the firm hands of God.” He also says, “On a path two great crises await you. The first comes when the magic of the beginning has vanished. The second comes just before the goal. Both ask the question: Do you really want this?”
This is a wonderful little book. Candolini’s illustrations, personal experiences, and spiritual insights helped me to a more complete understanding of the labyrinth and motivated me to walk one!