As soon as the children entered the room, they gravitated to the labyrinth, quickly but quietly winding along the folded spiral pathway into the center and back out again.
“They get it right away,” said the Rev. Melissa Hall. “Even if they do it as play, for children playing is serious. Play is how they understand the world. Playing for them is how they interpret their relationship with God.”
Hall is assistant rector and director of youth education at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Morristown, where parishioners recently created and decorated two canvas labyrinths. Members and visitors will be invited to walk the prayer paths on Maundy Thursday as part of their Holy Week journey.
Eight adult members gathered after the St. Peter’s midday Eucharist on March 7 to share lunch and draw the labyrinth patterns on 11- by 14-foot canvas drop cloths. On March 10, following the 9 a.m. Sunday Eucharist, church school families and other parishioners used foam stamps and acrylic paints to decorate the pathways with images of everything from angels and stars to lions, fish, ladybugs and coyotes.
A large A was painted in the center of one, an O in the middle of the other, symbolizing God the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and end. On Maundy Thursday, the two labyrinths will be laid side-by-side to allow walkers to follow one pathway, then the other in succession.
Parents said they enjoyed the intergenerational aspect of the project.
“I just think it’s great. I love the idea of ‘the beginning and the end,’” said Amanda Kielbania, who helped paint patterns with her children Carter, 7, and Jack, 4 1/2. “It’s a lot of fun just to have everybody together.”
“It was a great community experience,” said Lisa Napolitan, who decorated the labyrinths with her partner Lorraine Seib and their children, Gabby, 8 ¾, and Giorgio, 10. “Messy, but fun.”
“If children do something,” Hall said, “it gives adults permission to do something that may make them self-conscious otherwise. Kids give us a wide berth to try things that are different.”
Teaching children about labyrinths, meanwhile, gives them a new way to experience and think about prayer, she said. “We are very hierarchical in our prayer and how we teach children to pray. We always pray up. … It’s very reserved. It’s a transcendent God.”
But walking the labyrinth “is very present, internal, personal between you and God,” she said. “You’re looking down as you pray. … The words don’t matter. You’re praying with your body.”
When adults first approach a labyrinth and ask what to do, Hall tells them to say the familiar Lord’s Prayer while they’re walking. Invariably, as they move along the path, “they get lost in it,” she said. “They all of a sudden realize they’re not saying anything at all.”
Lauren Watson, 8, anticipated examining the stamped designs when she walked the labyrinth. “I think it’s really good, so fun with all the stars and the crazy stuff like the cactus.”
Gabby said she thought it would feel “like a rainbow” in her heart when she walked it.
When she walks the labyrinth, 10-year-old Madeline Beavis said, she’ll think about “my life from when I was a child to where I am now” and “people along the way.”
“For the children to be introduced to it at this age is terrific,” Napolitan said. “I see Easter right here.”