A few weeks ago, I attended the Invite Welcome Connect Summit in Sewanee, Tennessee, at the invitation of Mary Parmer. Just as the conference came to a close, I met a lovely lady named Audi Barlow. Audi works as the Director of Children and Youth Formation at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church in Ivy, Virginia. She saw a labyrinth prayer card that I had on the Forward Movement table and shared that she created a low-budget labyrinth activity with the kids at her church. I love labyrinths too, so I asked Audi to share her labyrinth project with the Grow Christians community. As a follower of Grow Christians, she happily agreed. You’re gonna love it!
MGM: Audi, what inspired you to incorporate labyrinths in your formation offerings?
AB: Today’s children are growing up in a super accelerated fast-paced lifestyle that is in part driven by multi-tasking; with screens and devices at the core. How do we counter that? It’s not enough to tell them to slow down; we need to provide them with tools. As people of faith, we know the importance and value of mindfulness. Mindfulness is rooted in our spirituality.I feel that labyrinths serve as a way to emphasize how, in quiet moments, we can become more mindful. With mindfulness, we create space. I want to help children recognize that it is in that space that they might draw nearer to God. It is in that space that they might sense peace.
Several times a year, our church offered labyrinth walks, but seldom were children included. I believe that with proper instruction, care, and thought many “adult worship things” are ideally suited for children. I also believe in exposing children to as many parts of prayer, worship, liturgy, praise, and making them totally and completely corporate into the body of the church. So when our church decided to purchase our very own portable floor labyrinth, I urged them to choose one that would be kid-friendly, and they did! Now, when our church takes our retreat to Shrine Mont, the children are delighted to walk the stone labyrinth.
MGM: How are labyrinths used in your formation ministry?
AB: I seek multiple opportunities a year to provide education and exposure to all types of labyrinths. During Vacation Bible School each summer, we make sure to offer an activity using our floor labyrinth. This year’s VBS also included a make-your-own finger sand labyrinth. In our children and youth formation classes, we do units on prayer, and we cover the history of labyrinths and their purpose as a form of prayer. We show a variety of ancient labyrinths, modern labyrinths and then we encourage the children to design their own.
We provide finger labyrinths in each of our 40 plus Quiet Bags for children. I created yarn finger labyrinths because it was too expensive to purchase a labyrinth for each bag, and there weren’t many options available commercially.
MGM: Sounds awesome! How exactly do you make finger sand labyrinths?
AB: We purchased small plastic resealable containers to which we
added about 2 cups of fine play sand. Separately we made a mold of a labyrinth by designing a very simple labyrinth pattern to which we glued medium-gauge rope to a cardboard base trimmed to fit inside the plastic container. When the mold was placed face down into the sand and them removed, it left a pattern that the children could then trace with their fingers. The sand labyrinth speaks to multiple senses, and with guidance, children slow down their movements to feel and see the sand shift yet keep its shape. Explaining to them that these are sacred and ancient prayer forms helps the children to understand their significance.
To make the yarn finger labyrinths for quiet/busy bags, you need a copy of a simple labyrinth design. Glue the labyrinth pattern to a sturdy piece of cardboard. Trace the outline with a layer of wet tacky glue (not a glue gun). Before the glue is dry, apply yarn atop the glue making sure to dab glue on the ends of the yarn to prevent it from unraveling. Glue a copy of some basic labyrinth language to the back of the cardboard to remind children how to use the finger labyrinth.
MGM: What unexpected blessings have you experienced from the labyrinths?
AB: Being witness to children and youth engage in labyrinth use and making the connection that labyrinths are a way to calm the mind is a beautiful thing. I’ve had several unexpected blessings revealed to me from labyrinth use. A child commented that she didn’t think of a labyrinth as a tool, but more like a precious gift; something God had given her. God meant for it to be cared for, enjoyed, and used again and again.
Another child shared that they can better hear what’s being said during the church service when they’re tracing the labyrinth with their finger. This past Christmas, I observed an autistic child struggle to control his bodily impulses while waiting for his part in the Pageant. He became more serene and calm when offered a finger labyrinth. The labyrinth served as a soothing device, and the parents asked me where they could purchase a labyrinth for their home.
Thank you, Audi, for sharing this activity! If you plan to create these for your ministry, please share with us how it worked.
Photo credits: Allison Liles and Audi Barlow