Path offers spiritual journey

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Downtown food pantry created an ancient labyrinth to gather donations of food.

LEWISTON – Nobody spoke. Spiritual music flowed from a CD player and footsteps sounded softly.

Interrupted only by an occasional thump – as a box of rice or a can of beans toppled over – the meditative mood went on for about 15 minutes as the people wound along the single maze-like path marked on the floor in masking tape.

For Jim Lysen, it was a surprisingly religious act.

Before he came, he figured he’d walk the path and drop off several packages of coffee, his donation to the labyrinth’s makers, the Sisters of Charity Food Pantry.

“I didn’t expect to be drawn in,” said Lysen, the executive director of community clinical services for Sisters of Charity Health Systems. “I had a spiritual connection.”

He thought about the season, his family’s health and rebirth.

It’s exactly what the makers of this labyrinth intended.

The Catholic Church has been using the form for hundreds of years, making a literal path to illumination out of Christianity’s figurative path to God. Some pilgrims of the Middle Ages would walk a labyrinth rather than embark on a difficult journey.

Most labyrinths are larger, big enough to fill courtyards with benches in the center for quiet contemplation.

“It’s not a maze,” said Marguerite Stapleton, Sisters of Charity’s vice president for mission effectiveness. “You have choices when you walk into a maze. Here, there is only one way in and one way out.”

This one was created to mark Sunday’s conclusion of Lent. People who visit the labyrinth – in a classroom at the Bates Street food pantry – are expected to leave nonperishable food along the boundaries of the circling path.

The public is invited to visit this Friday, on the Christian holiday of Good Friday.

“We hope to fill every empty space along the path with food,” Stapleton said. If people get a spiritual lift, that’s good, too.

Similar paths have been created at churches and colleges around the country. A recent one in Boston gathered donations of shoes.

“It’s great because you can do anything with it,” Stapleton said.

On entry at this Labyrinth, people will be given a card with information about the shelter and a flier with directions on how to walk it.

There are three stages, Stapleton said.

When people enter, they are supposed to let go of distractions and empty their minds. It’s called “purgation.”

The second stage, “illumination,” happens in the center. It is a place for prayer and meditation.

The third stage, “union,” happens on the way out, as people prepare to re-enter their own paths and intersect those of others.

Carolyn Bauer, a pharmacist at St. Mary’s Regional Medical Center, used the walk’s few minutes to ponder her busy life at home, school and work.

“I thought about balance,” she said. “I thought about all I have to do in my life.”

And when the path to illumination became crowded, she thought about shortcuts and stepped over a line of masking tape on the floor.

“In my life, I have to take a few short cuts, too,” she said.

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