Trinity Square Labyrinth, Toronto

As I stepped onto the path I was struck by its width and ease of use.  Here I was, walking the paved path of the Chartres style labyrinth at Trinity Square in downtown Toronto.  I had a sense of spaciousness as I walked. Three factors contributed to my spacious state.  Firstly, the flatness of the labyrinth.  Secondly, the expanse of the space in which the labyrinth was located.  Thirdly, my contented state of mind.

Toronto labyrinth

The first step of many on the Toronto Public Labyrinth.


I had chosen to walk in solidarity with friends at home.  People were gathered for the Inaugural Australian Labyrinth Gathering being held 7-9 April 2017.  Had I been in Melbourne I would have participated. However, I was in Canada for a month.  There was the  conference of Spiritual Directors International to attend.  This was preceded by a Holy Week Retreat at the Loyola House Retreat Centre in Guelph.

Walking a Labyrinth is Delightfully Different Every Time

A wide and even pathway made it easy to walk briskly.   I was walking faster than usual, because it was only 1° centigrade.  With a crisp breeze, despite having rugged up, I felt the cold.  That morning I awoke to snowflakes slowly wafting through the air yet melting before they touched the ground.

Slowing  down my pace for the corners is usual.  On this wide path I did not need to.  I appreciated the easy stride and momentum that I gathered as I walked. Usually I relax for a while in the centre.  Not today, I  gave in to the chilly air.  Returning on the path on which I had come, I took a few photos.  Then quickly headed back indoors to join the Torontonians  using the Underground Path to navigate the city.

Elizabeth Delbridge enjoying the spaciousness provided by the Toronto Public Labyrinth, Trinity Square, beside the Eaton Centre.

Walking a labyrinth is delightfully different every time, depending on the context, both external and internal.  External context is made up of factors such as the location, time of day, structure of the labyrinth and the people around you.  Internal context is about how we as individuals are making meaning in our lives at that point in time.

Walking a Labyrinth as Metaphor for Life

Since 1996, when I began this practice,  I have learned that what I experience as I walk, is a metaphor for my life at the time.  For example, when I felt lost or disoriented on the labyrinth, I was disoriented in some aspect of my life.

I have experienced the truth of the saying attributed to Augustine of Hippo.  He said, “Salvator ambulado” meaning “It is solved by walking.” This walking meditation has  frequently helped me to untangle some aspect of myself.

So today, to have a sense of spaciousness reflects the state of life I am currently in.  The decision to step aside from parish ministry to focus on spiritual direction is proving to be a good choice.

I am enjoying the unfolding of my new life.   The combination of offering personal spiritual direction, studying to upgrade to a Masters of Arts (Spiritual Direction) and developing the Sustaining Spirit Space blog is fun.  As is being in Toronto.  And about to embark on an eight day retreat in a beautiful country location.  Not to mention the conference and being with my “tribe” of spiritual directors.

The words of a Shaker hymn come to mind.  Words of affirmation about being “where you ought to be” in “the place just right”.

Simple Gifts was written by Shaker Elder Joseph Brackett, Jr. (1797 – 1882) in 1848. It was first published in The Gift to be Simple: Shaker Rituals and Songs. Simple Gifts was a work song, sung by the Shakers, an offshoot of the Quakers.

The Road to Paradise

Back to the labyrinth.  Having walked the Toronto Public Labyrinth to mark the beginning of the Australian Labyrinth Network, I plan to walk the labyrinth at Guelph to mark its end.  This will also mark the beginning of my retreat.   Entering a labyrinth to begin a retreat reminds me one of the early symbolic names for the Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth.

Walking Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth

An 18th century engraving of people walking the labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral, France. These days the labyrinth is covered by chairs, except for the aisle. Every Friday from 10 am to 5 pm from the Lenten season (usually around end of February) to the “day of the saints,” the 1st of November, the chairs are removed to offer access to visiting pilgrims.

“Le chemin du paradis” means road to paradise, or the heavenly Jerusalem.  In this understanding the entrance symbolises our birth and the centre of the labyrinth symbolises our death.  The path or road between the two is representing both the ordinary one-step-in-front-of the-other aspects of life as well as the challenges we face along the way.  While the returning way out symbolises purgatory and resurrection.

Walking the Labyrinth, Chartres Cathedral

Pilgrims walking the labyrinth in Chartres Cathedral, taken in 2010. The photo faces the altar, a similar perspective to the above engraving. It is deliberately blurry to protect the anonymity of the pilgrims.

The Great Three Days of Holy Week

This Sunday we read the Palm Gospel of Jesus entering Jerusalem.  We journey with him through the intimacy of the last meal with his disciples.  Then we observe the betrayal in the garden.  We witness the politically expedient behaviour of the authorities.  Together we walk with Jesus through the streets of Jerusalem to the agony of the cross.  We follow to the cold darkness of the tomb.  Finally, we are as surprised as the women are at his resurrection appearance in the garden.

The “Le chemin du paradis” understanding of the labyrinth follows a life, death, new life pattern. This is the same pattern represented in the Easter Triduum or Great Three Days of Holy Week.  The” life” of Jesus is marked on Thursday, the “death” of Jesus is marked on Friday and the “new life” of Jesus is marked on Sunday, (not forgetting the transitional, in between, space of Saturday.)

Next week, being on retreat, will be a liminal space for me.  I will be journeying through the Holy Week stories in silence, allowing them to speak to me as they will.  My spirit will be open to the movements of God’s Spirit within me, having detached myself from the normal responsibilities of my life.  No writing of a blog post!  See you the other side of Easter!

Curious about labyrinth walking as a spiritual practice?  Or wondering about how to sustain your spiritual life?  Contact me today to book your free 20 minute spiritual direction phone conversation. Together we can explore what spiritual direction could offer you.