In the labyrinth at Bon Secours Spiritual Center, life slows and becomes still. One is on the ultimate journey - a journey of healing, a journey of prayer and meditation, a journey to meet God.
Since its opening in 1999, the labyrinth at the Marriottsville center has remained a popular destination for people of all faiths in Howard County and beyond.
"That labyrinth has had someone on it since a half-hour after it was finished," says Sister Carol Marozzi, director of the spiritual center.
"It's very popular," agrees Sister Sharon Goodremote, whose office overlooks the labyrinth. "Almost every time I look out, I see someone - or more than one person - walking the labyrinth.
"Some people take a half-hour, some an hour. Some just walk, some stop and ponder ... and when the spirit moves them, they move on," Goodremote adds. "It's a powerful instrument. ... People come here just to use the labyrinth."
A replica of the labyrinth mosaic built in the floor of Chartres Cathedral in France between 1194 and 1220, the labyrinth at Bon Secours commemorates the 175th anniversary of the founding of the Bon Secours congregation. The 50-foot-diameter structure, which consists of 11 concentric circles of Appian paving stones with a six-petal rosette in the center, is in a quiet, open area.
"This is something that's free. ... Anybody can take advantage of it. It crosses all faiths and all denominations," Marozzi says. "It's our gift to the community."
She notes that during the dedication ceremony, the labyrinth was blessed by a rabbi and several Protestant denominations, as well as by Roman Catholics. "They all blessed our labyrinth because it's for all people. ... I'd like people to know everybody is welcome."
The Rev. Andrea Wiegand, associate pastor at First Lutheran Evangelical Church in Ellicott City, frequently walks the Bon Secours labyrinth.
"I go there because it's a wonderful way to take a journey without having to go too far," Wiegand says. "It's a beautiful, quiet place but also a connection to the past and to the spiritual journey of others."
Wiegand notes that in the Middle Ages, people who could not make pilgrimages to the Holy Land would walk the labyrinth in a church as a substitute.
"It's a pilgrimage," agrees Goodremote. "To walk mindfully seems to draw people."
To her, the labyrinth connects body, mind and spirit. "Walking is something everybody has to do. ... It's a great gift but also a great responsibility. It's OK to be a whole, physical human being on the journey."
Says Wiegand, "It's so metaphoric. God speaks to you in what you see on that journey. One day, I walked it barefoot. It was hot and painful, but fairly quickly you get to a shady spot. ... It's not far to see how this is like life."
Goodremote also speaks of the metaphoric nature of the labyrinth. "A woman was going into the labyrinth and saw people were seemingly `getting ahead of her,' so she rushed ahead and got done early. She realized she lives her life this way, that she skips over things to get to the end. ... Even doing it the `wrong way,' you learn about life."
Walking the path, you release your problems. "If you just trust the path, you will get to the center," Goodremote says. "It's a trusting that you will be led to the center and that you don't have to do anything, just walk."
At the center rosette, people often speak of experiencing a sense of lightness or of being lifted up. As if to underscore the relation of body and spirit, people leave physical mementos there, such as seashells, polished stones and pebbles.
A thick, waterproof yellow notebook tucked into a compartment under one of the benches near the labyrinth is almost filled with the thoughts, prayers and impressions of those who have completed the walk.
The labyrinth appeals to people because it is a form of prayer, Marozzi says. "People enter a labyrinth the way they would enter prayer, with an empty spirit, ready to receive."
It's not a magical thing, she says. "It's a need to be silent not just for the sake of silence ... but this is what people sometimes miss in prayer - listening to what God says. The labyrinth lets you do that."
Says Wiegand, "It's a layered spiritual experience, a place to be open to God to speak to everything. The more you're familiar with the path, the more you're open to it."