Into the Labyrinth: The Road to Emmaus

Traditionally, the labyrinth is an uncluttered opportunity for centering prayer. It usually consists of a single path that leads into the center and back out. There are twists and turns, switchbacks, and apparent setbacks that actually take you further along the path to your goal, but feel like moving in the wrong direction. Unlike in a maze – the labyrinth’s choose-your-own-adventure cousin – if you simply walk the path in front of you, you will get where you’re going. Labyrinths are often found outdoors or in relatively bare chapels with an altar and candles that welcome people to come and unburden themselves of whatever they’re carrying, yoke themselves to Christ, and practice walking in the spirit. It is a lovely form of sacred space: simple yet suggestive. The idea presented below is not intended as an improvement over a traditional labyrinth. We borrowed the labyrinth motif because it brought to life the sense of realization while in movement, the walking epiphanies of the story of the disciples meeting Jesus on the road to Emmaus. As such, it would be appropriate to set up during Epiphany or during Lent – when we wander the desert not to lose ourselves, but to find our center – as well as when we did it: during the season of Easter, before Ascension, when this story originally took place.

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A labyrinth of the everyday – trompe l’oeil outside Chartres Cathedral

Road to Emmaus Labyrinth

Luke 24:13-35

Our[1] labyrinth consisted of a huge drop cloth on the floor marked in a variation on a classic labyrinth pattern.[2] With staggered starts, the labyrinth could accommodate four or five people at a time. We set up eight compact, numbered stations along the path – five going in, one at the center, and two going out.[3] Two readers (one reading the script, the other the scripture passages throughout) recorded an audio tour with music as follows. People were given headphones and a cheap, one-button mp3 player and invited to pause and play and go at their own pace. In this script the numbers correspond to the track number.

  1. “Welcome”

Welcome to the Emmaus Road Labyrinth. Here we enter the story of two disciples meeting the resurrected Jesus as they walked along the road to a town called Emmaus. In a sense, we’ll be walking along with them as we progress into and back out from the heart of the labyrinth. A labyrinth is not a maze. A maze is a puzzle to be solved. A labyrinth is a path to be followed. Walking a labyrinth is a completely different exercise than running a maze. Here there is no fear of being lost. The labyrinth externally enacts the internal experience of centering. Spiritually, it represents space set apart, or sacred space, in which we are drawn into the center, to the recognition of the presence of God, then return to the world blessed and changed by the experience, and better equipped to be an agent of blessing and change.


Each station in the labyrinth has one track on this audio guide. Go at your own pace. This is a time to walk in the Spirit, swap stories with Jesus and listen for the voice of God in your life. If the words or music become a distraction, feel free to pause, skip ahead or ignore the recording entirely. Enter the labyrinth and continue walking until you reach station one.


  1. “Station One (going in): They were kept from recognizing him” Luke 24:13-16

Jesus’ followers then and now have different perceptions of who he is and what he came to do. The disciples’ false perceptions of Jesus kept them from knowing and loving him for who he is. They thought he was a teacher, a revolutionary, a ruler; they thought he was dead.

It is difficult to recognize the presence of God when God doesn’t act according to our assumptions. St. John of the Cross called this the dark night of the soul. He saw it as a time in which, despite all appearances and perceptions, even though it feels like stumbling around in the dark, the soul grows in faith and intimacy with Christ Himself, rather than with illusions of Him.


Open the flaps to see images of the Jesus we think we know. Ask him to reveal himself so that we may love him as he truly is.[4]

Music: “The Dark Night of the Soul” by Loreena McKennitt


  1. “Station Two (going in): Downcast” Luke 24:17

The Seder is the traditional meal and central celebration of Passover. To read about the origins of Passover, please pause this recording and read Exodus 11 & 12 marked in the bibles here. The entire extended family is to come together. Throughout the meal, they retell the Exodus story in the first person as if they had been one of the slaves freed from Pharaoh’s bondage. The bitter herbs, horseradish here, are eaten to remind the participants of the bitterness of slavery.  Are you downcast? Where are you experiencing bitterness? Taste the herbs and let the words of Psalm 22 be your cry to heaven.


  1. “Station Three (going in): Storytelling, Part 1” Luke 24:18-24

The disciples on the road were consoling each other by telling stories and remembering Christ. On index cards, write about a time in your life when you met with God. Pin them to the storyboard. Read others’ stories and allow others to read your story.


  1. “Station Four (going in): Storytelling, Part 2” Luke 24:25-27

Now Jesus tells his story, explaining his work throughout the ages, establishing and re-establishing relationships with his people. Flip through a bible and take some time to hear God’s story of constant provision and love. The lectionary bookmarks and bibles are free for you to take with you.

Music: “Jesus’ Blood Never Failed Me Yet” by Jars of Clay (light) or Gavin Bryars (strong)


  1. “Station Five (going in): Welcoming the Stranger” Luke 24:28-29

The disciples welcomed Jesus though they did not yet recognize him. Who is the stranger walking along the road with you now? Have you ever encountered Christ in or through a stranger? Have you ever been that stranger? Consider these questions as you watch the video.[5] Pause this program and use the headphones attached to the monitor.


  1. “Station Six (center): Breaking Bread” Luke 24:30-31

Here in the center of the labyrinth, Jesus meets us and offers sustenance for the journey outward. Break bread with Christ. Join in this prayer from “Six Recognitions of the Lord” by Mary Oliver as you take and eat.


Oh, feed me this day, Holy Spirit, with

the fragrance of the fields and the

freshness of the oceans which you have

made, and help me to hear and to hold

in all dearness those exacting and wonderful

words of our Lord Christ Jesus, saying:

Follow me.


[minute pause]

When you are ready to begin your journey back out into the world, take a card and exit out the corner opposite from the one you entered. Practice walking prayerfully.


  1. “Station Seven (going out): Burning Hearts” Luke 24:32

What is Christ saying to you on the road? What does scripture say about Jesus? What does it say about you? Have you looked recently to see? Light a candle and pray for the scriptures to be opened to you, for the words to burn within your heart.


What words from the scripture cards or from your bible reading do you want burned deeper into your heart? Write them onto a paper heart, tack it to a candle and take it with you. Light it at home, while it burns pray that the scriptures will be opened to you and your heart opened to them.

Music: “Listen” by Michelle Tumes


  1. “Station Eight (going out): Returning to Jerusalem” Luke 24:33-35

Where is your “Jerusalem?” Where will you now return and share what you have experienced? Who can you talk to about what you are learning about Jesus?

Christ is risen! Take a cross to give to a friend as a reminder of Christ the Lord, alive and walking with us.



[1] You know you have a successful collaboration going when no one can remember whose ideas were whose and they’ve become too interwoven to attribute them separately anyway. I got to write the script, but the experience as a whole was thought through and produced by everyone in our alt worship planning group: Cristie Kearny, Deb Hedeen, Judy Naegeli, Trisha Gilmore, Cathy Stevens, Heidi Estey, Kirk Heynen, James Kearny and Anika Smith.

[2] Ours happened to have one path leading in to the center and a different path leading back out, but generally I would recommend the Half-Chartres (basically the inside half of the design at Chartres Cathedral). You can find instructions for making a 12’ x 12’ version at “Karen’s Small Labyrinths” The size shown there would be sufficient for people to use one or two at a time with a single station in the middle, but wouldn’t accommodate what I’m describing here. Ours was about 4 times that size, maybe 25’ x 25’.

[3] The stations should be clearly numbered with the station number and the track number and labeled “going in” or “going out” so as not to confuse anyone. Remember they are all actually set up on and around a flat, open surface, so they will not be laid down linearly. If you use a single path labyrinth, people will be walking by stations 7 and 8 on the way in, but should only stop at them on the way out. We set up stations on small, low tables and music stands so they wouldn’t pose as obstacles by taking up too much space. Café tables would work nicely for the stations you can place around the outside of the circuit. Ideally, if someone’s standing at a station, another person should be able to pass them without stepping completely off the path.

[4] Our artists made this interactive piece. You can create your own by making a collage poster of images of Jesus or roles people think of Jesus playing: the miracle worker, the rustic shepherd, the white-suited televangelist, the revolutionary in a beret, the pacifist at a sit-in, etc. Then overlay the poster with another piece of poster board and cut flaps in it that open onto the various images.

[5] We commissioned a videographer and a high school student in our congregation to collaborate on a video of different kinds of people. You could make your own using stills of people in your church and neighborhood or footage from mission trips. Or you could download something along the lines of The Work of the People’s “Stranger” ( or LifesongMD’s “World Faces” (


Consider the Groundhog

“Presentation in the Temple” by Fra Angelico. Come to think of it, in these portrayals with the swaddling clothes and halo, Jesus does look like a candle. Do you think he ever sees his own shadow?


By some strange coincidence, February 2nd is both the rather goofy custom of Groundhog’s Day and the rather more solemn feast of Candlemas, a holiday celebrating the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple, his Meeting with Simeon and Anna, and the Purification of Mary. Random, right? Not at all. The two are intimately connected. (The Super Bowl, however, is a moveable feast and so, no matter what anybody tells you today, not particularly related to this episode in the story of divine revelation.)
Christians have been observing the interconnected events commemorated by Candlemas since the 4th or 5th century. Mary took Jesus with her to the temple to be dedicated as the firstborn and for her own rite of purification 40 days after he was born according to Jewish law. According to the New Testament Simeon recognized that the child would be a light to the Gentiles, hence the candle motif and the Eastern church’s name for the day: Hypapante, or “Meeting.”

As Candlemas falls close to the midpoint of winter, it accrued additional cultural significance in many countries. It marked the really, truly bitter end of the Christmas season, when all the decorations must come down and people mentally moved on to wondering when they could safely plant some more food already. Around this time the wild beasts, dormant during the brunt of the season, would tentatively emerge to gauge if the worst of the weather had passed or if a longer winter’s nap might be in order. In the UK, folks expected to see anything from wolves to snakes to bears, but badgers were somehow singled out as nature’s forecasters in this regard – I’m guessing because they made for less dangerous viewing. Badgers apparently being in shorter supply in Germany and the New World, the Pennsylvania Dutch made do with a woodchuck or groundhog.

So Punxsutawney Phil is essentially the Easter Bunny of Candlemas.

Incidentally, if you’re one of the 3 in 7 Americans who can never remember if seeing his shadow means six more weeks of winter if it’s the other way around perhaps it’s the French influence. They have contradictory traditional sayings which predict that a sunny Candlemas, or Chandeleur, portends the final hour and/or the first of forty more days of winter. What the French can agree on, however, is that crepes must be eaten today or dire consequences will ensue.

Making crepes the chocolate bunnies of Candlemas.

Different traditions focus on different aspects of the day, so if you’d like to get observant, you can start almost anywhere:
• Light candles and have crepes for dinner. (The French wheat industry thanks you!)
• Host a Wives’ Feast. (This and “Women’s Christmas” on Epiphany are opportunities for people of a certain gender who may find themselves standing in the kitchen for most of the holidays to sit down and talk about something other than oven temperatures and dietary restrictions.)
• I realize no one’s ever thought of this before, but how about a pancake breakfast at church?
• Have child dedications during service and/or a special blessing or time of prayer for the newborns and new parents in the congregation.
• Pass out candles during the benediction to symbolize carrying the light of the world out with us as we go. Invite people to carry and light them in a dark place or as a symbol of their holding a dark place up in prayer. Or set up candles around the room labeled with various “areas of life” (health, finances, relationships, work, etc.) and offer a “Meeting” time at the end of the service. Invite people to light their candle in some area of life in which they want to see Jesus and send people out with them lit. (According to tradition, anyone who makes it home with the candle still lit won’t die that year: BONUS!)

Celebrating Epiphany: CMB

Here in France we’ve already celebrated, doling out some little Christmas presents that arrived late, and letting the youngest sit under the table to call out who got the next piece of the King Cake.
galette des rois
Surprisingly, she chose herself last and the fève turned out to be a ceramic wolf with a surfboard. I used the powers bestowed on me by the silver paper crown I won finding it to pack the girls off to bed as soon as possible after all that, as it was also their first day of school here. Eight straight hours of French were taking their toll and they have to get up and do it again tomorrow.
So you’ll have to go on without us this year, but those folks who have a few more hours left in the day (or who relish the thought of some holy tagging under cover of darkness) should check out this lovely tradition and the modern German take on it as chronicled by the equally lovely Susan Forshey at the Contemplative Cottage.

Epiphanies Part 2: …And Where It Settles

Click here for Part 1.

Epiphanies have to do with seeing, in the deepest sense. A spotlight comes on and shines on something that has been there all along and, as if for the first time, we truly see it. The work of the artist is to train one’s eyes to see and communicate it such a way that others see it as well, to witness and bear witness. Flannery O’Connor wrote, “Your beliefs will be the light by which you see, but they will not be what you see and they will not be a substitute for seeing.” We require light to see, which is why light is a primary metaphor for describing epiphanies: realizations come to light, connections are illuminated, and so on. Following Christ in the world depends heavily on having eyes to see and ears to hear. Artists have a particular calling to make what they see visible to others, but we are all called to live as witnesses – to see and hear and make what sense we can of God’s presence, action, and guidance – and to respond accordingly.

A quiet consensus has formed in this show – that the light by which we see enters through the cracks and crevices and that it settles, well, just about everywhere, really – everywhere we have trained our eyes to see and taken the time to look. Poet Mike McGeehon sees the light settling in the enforced pause of disparate souls at a stoplight.

In all of us here

in the 40-second meeting,

settling into our seats

for a moment together

where the intersection is.

– from “Where the Light Settles”

by Mike McGeehon

Photographer Leslie A. Zukor has a theophany by the natural light of the natural world

"The Burning Bush" by Leslie A. Zukor

“The Burning Bush” by Leslie A. Zukor

while Ron Simmons digitally enhances his photographs to reveal the prismatic refractions surrounding saints making visible all the colors hidden in the light itself.

"Apparitions" by Ron Simmons

“Apparitions” by Ron Simmons

Alison Peacock sees a heavenly father in the earthly. The young Seeker in my poem and in the beautiful collage Trisha Gilmore created for her knows God’s presence before she can articulate it in

the cheek-roughness… of this… tree I can’t name… but… I will someday

– from “Seeker” by Jenn Cavanaugh

in Mars Hill Review 22 (2003)

Autumn Kegley paints her revelling revelation of the joy-filled life. Karla Manus encounters such a life and sees her relatively comfortable, joyless self in stark relief. Elizabeth W. Noyes returns again and again to the return of the full moon in which she catches sight of “infinite possibilities for echoing what is poetic, magical, mysterious and whole in the human heart, and mine.”

In curating this show, I’ve recovered a season. Between the times in which we wait for God to come and prepare for God to act, we have been given a time to train our senses to recognizing God’s presence and present work among us. In the years to come, Epiphany will be for me a time to focus on seeing God in the world, recognizing Christ in others, and becoming more receptive to the connections the Spirit makes.

The Epiphanies group show will be open at Capitol Hill Presbyterian Church of Seattle until February 14th. You can call the church office to make an appointment to see it during a weekday, join us for a service: Sunday, 2/10 @ 9:45 am or Ash Wednesday, 2/13 @ 7 pm, or drop by during the Capitol Hill Arts Walk, 5-8 pm, 2/14. See our Facebook page for more information and pictures

Epiphanies Part I: How the Light Gets in…

About twice a year our church’s arts group plans a themed group show. We identify a theme that corresponds to an upcoming liturgical season or sermon series, send out a call for submissions, offer prizes so modest they hesitate to call themselves that, and work with what comes in. If you’re looking for a creative faith-building exercise, I recommend the practice.

Our current show is “Epiphanies,” in which eleven artists and poets reflect on those a-ha moments of connection, recognition, realization, and revelation. Now that it’s all put together, though, a secondary theme seems to be emerging: Cracks. The chorus of Leonard Cohen’s “Anthem” runs

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

For me this show has become about how the Light gets in and where it settles. Cohen’s chorus has long been a favorite of mine and our friend Matt Whitney alluded to it while he was installing his piece which uses the various textures of sidewalk cracks to form a received word.

"Clairvoyance" by Matthew Whitney

“Clairvoyance” by Matthew Whitney

Next to it we posted a poem of mine in which the tears and fissures that threaten our faith become themselves a source of hope.

                Miss Vera Speaks
They ask how she grin through that face with that life.
I say I’s never shielded from nothing
‘Cept dying young.


People deep bruised by something
Talk like the world should end.
Won’t catch me dying every day like that.


‘Cause I seen them once
Just once – the cracks in the universe –
Thought I’d fall right through.


‘Stead I laughed – said some kind of God
Put up with a tattered-old place as here
Gotta have some grace for me.
 –      Jenn Cavanaugh
(originally published in America Magazine in 2007)

When it comes to hanging these shows, we often find ourselves strategizing about how best to disguise the myriad holes, blemishes, and outright failings in sanctuary plaster. At the artist reception on Sunday I was joking about how the condition of the walls was starting to inform our artistic decisions overmuch, and a few of us got looking at this tableau:

Noyes Epiphanies Cracks

Photo by Elizabeth W. Noyes. “She Crawled Like You Out of the Wreckage” by Carrie Redway. “Swarm” by Robroy Chalmers. “Wall” by Church + Use + Time

This patch of wall we’re usually so anxious to conceal became part of this piece by Carrie Redway about the Fall and Eve’s anguished banishment from Eden and of the permanent installation by Robroy Chalmers that speaks to our congregation so eloquently and wordlessly of the Spirit’s movement in our midst. Our church building has been in continuous use since 1923. That wall has come by its imperfection honestly. Why hide it? Why not let it inform our artistic decisions?

More next week…

Poetic Liturgy for Epiphany

Here are a few of the prayers I’ve written or arranged for our Epiphany service on Sunday. Next week I’ll share an image or two from the group show we’ve put together for the season.

Prayer of Confession:

Please join me in a responsive prayer of confession. I will read the light print and we will read the bold print together.

God, like the magi, we are unlikely traveling companions in the faith.

Some of us are wanderers, some of us are pilgrims,

But we are all strangers in strange lands.

We all speak different dialects.

We struggle to communicate with one another,

Much less with the locals.

God of Holy Mystery, our language fails

when we try to describe even your signs,

much less your Self.

And yet we blabber on in lingo

that has lost its meaning for us

and complain when the world doesn’t understand.

God, forgive us.

Instead of babblers, make us heralds, revealing You as creator of all.

Holy Spirit, we confess that even the most seasoned travelers among us

Make poor decisions when it comes to preparing

For the journey of faith you’re leading us on.

We draw our own maps that have no bearing on reality,

We carry the wrong equipment and refuse to abandon it,

Or we pack along amusements that distract us from all there is to see,

So it’s as if we never left our couches.

Spirit of All Truth, you give us all we require

for the journey, equipping, empowering,

teaching, and guiding us.

And yet we burden ourselves and others

with extra baggage unsuitable for pilgrims

that weighs us down and wearies us.

Spirit, forgive us.

Instead of tourists, make us emissaries, revealing You as wise, true, and faithful.

Jesus, we remember the gospel stories,

All the ways people approached you and left changed

And we see ourselves in them.

Some of us come like the shepherds with nothing but wonder and a capacity for joy.

Some of us come like the wise men with little frame of reference for who you really are

Or with gifts that seem inappropriate at the time.

Some of us have been waiting for you all our lives,

Some of us are just hoping vaguely for a miracle to heal us,

Some of us have left your presence sad because we can’t leave something else behind,

Some of us have committed violence in your name

because we’re still not sure what you’re about, even though we’ve walked with you for years.

Lord Jesus, you come to us

as God and as a fellow human being

inviting us into new life made whole.

And yet we pursue whomever, whatever we want

calling it by your name,

making sacrifices you don’t require,

holding tightly what binds us when you’ve told us to let go,

offering anything but the hearts you came to win.

Beloved Child of God, forgive us.

Instead of wayward children, make us disciples, revealing you as Savior of all.


Declaration of Pardon for 3 readers: 

text:“Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks” by Jane Kenyon,

liturgical arrangement by Jenn Cavanaugh

3: I am the blossom pressed in a book,

found again after two hundred years….

1: I am the maker…

2: the lover,

3: and the keeper….

2: When the young girl who starves

sits down to a table

she will sit beside me….

1: I am food on the prisoner’s plate….

3: I am water rushing to the wellhead,

filling the pitcher until it spills….

1: I am the patient gardener

of the dry and weedy garden….

2: I am the stone step,

the latch, and the working hinge….

3: I am the heart contracted by joy…

the longest hair, white

before the rest….

2: I am there in the basket of fruit

presented to the widow….

1: I am the musk rose opening

unattended, the fern on the boggy summit….

All: I am the one whose love

overcomes you, already with you

when you think to call my name….


Offering Prayer

It is the season of revelation… that which was waiting is now revealed… that which was hidden is now out in the open… that which was obscured is now clear… that which was masked in complexity is now plain to see… that which was reserved is now accessible to all… that which was bound in criteria is now free… that which was hope is now reality… Into the darkness has come light… the light has been revealed and it is love! We see now that every good and perfect gift comes from you and that you give us these gifts to be a blessing to others. Accept our gifts, Lord and make use of them to make your love of the world visible to all.


Closing Prayer & Benediction: based on Psalm 74:9, 12

The world says: “There are so many stars, how can you follow just one?”

The enemy says: “’We are given no signs from God;
no prophets are left,
and none of us knows how long this will be.’”

“But God is my King from long ago;
he brings salvation on the earth.”

 God of all creation, you give us signs from which to get our bearings. Help us
recognize them. Spirit, give us wisdom to know the direction you’re leading and the strength to follow. Lead us to Christ and through us manifest Christ to world. Amen.

Follow the star, go in peace, serve the Lord.