Did you find the labyrinth or did it find you?
It was a mixture of both! In 2007 Lutheran Education Queensland, who governs our Lutheran School system in Queensland, advertised a scholarship for projects to help students. In Australia, church school systems are very big as the Government partially funds private education. Through my work as a Chaplain in Lutheran schools, I knew that many young people and teachers liked it when I did reflective chapels, rather than high energy rock ‘n roll ones. I also knew that in the Catholic system, the Townsville diocese had a program of teaching students Christian meditation. I therefore decided to make my submission on teaching Christian meditation to students. A few days before I sent off my scholarship proposal, I heard a program on the ABC, our Public broadcaster, about labyrinths. I thought ‘That sounds interesting, I wonder if I could learn about that too?’ I did some Googling and came up with a description of Veriditas facilitator training, put it into my submission – and the rest is history.
During Lauren’s first visit to Queensland, I arranged for her to be interviewed by the same man who broadcast the labyrinth program. I was able to tell the broadcaster about how his program helped change the direction of my life!
So, I was looking for something and, in the process. the labyrinth also found me!
How has the labyrinth interrelated with your spiritual life as a Lutheran pastor?
My ministry as a pastor has been totally transformed.
I believe God made us to need stillness. God’s establishment of the Sabbath is indicative of that, texts such as “Be still and know that I am God” and Jesus’ own example of retiring by himself to pray before the big tests of his earthly ministry, e.g., walking on the water, Gethsemane, etc.
In contrast, our lives are increasingly 24/7. When I went to the US for the first time in 1979 and traveled on a bus from New York to Boston, I remember being amazed to see a mall parking lot crowded on a Sunday morning. Now, of course, it is the same in Australia.
Consequently, I think people have a growing inner need to find a path to stillness and so rediscover that they are spiritual beings. I see the labyrinth as a wonderful way to do this. As a very committed Christian, I also see this as a possible step in the way of learning about the Prince of Peace!
At the same time, the beauty of the labyrinth is that it is a totally non-judgmental spiritual tool. Because of the state funding for church schools in Australia, often only a small percentage of the students and teachers are active Christians. This means that the students and teachers who participate in my workshops are comfortable and welcome in the labyrinth wherever they are on their faith pilgrimage. The labyrinth is, as Lauren writes in Walking a Sacred Path, “a bridge of understanding between the traditional church and the non-traditional forms of spirituality that are springing up in our culture.”
My personal spiritual life has also been totally transformed. When I did my first facilitator training in Chartres in 2009, I remember saying that I felt I was being rebuilt from the ground up! By that I meant that my Lutheran heritage had been very strong on ‘doing.’ Now I was receiving a new heritage that emphasized ‘receiving and reflecting.’ Together they have given me a much more rounded and open faith. The former Dean of Grace Cathedral, Alan Jones, who spoke at my training in Chartres, was something of a midwife for my renewed and broader faith perspective. Sadly, that was the only time I ever heard him speak!
Why do you believe you have a strong calling to children and young people with your labyrinth work?
The schools were always the focus for my ministry, and I love their openness and growing enthusiasm for labyrinth ministry. The number of labyrinths in Lutheran schools is growing, as is the church’s enthusiasm for labyrinth ministry.
I love kids and young people, yet I see them growing up in a world that does not give them as much support in growing spiritually as I had. I believe I can offer them an opportunity to grow spiritually. I also love the teachers and feel closer to them than I did to the parishioners in my former parish!
Has the labyrinth been helpful on a personal level with living with ALS/MND?
Yes! ALS, or Motor Neurone Disease (MND) as we call it in Australia, is a pretty foul illness and gradually robs you of just about everything except for your faith, family, mind, and spirit! My progression has been blessedly fairly slow. I can still talk and walk a little, and my arms still work although they are weak. I also get very fatigued and need to sleep a lot.
I love walking the labyrinth. I had only walked one once before my first trip to Chartres, and the last full one I walked was in Grace Cathedral in September 2014. I haven’t done a walk in my wheelchair yet but I will! Walking the labyrinth is now difficult for me.
My ministry, however, continues strongly. I have adapted everything.
I have a canvas petite Chartres, which I used to set up but now I have instructions for others to set up and pack up. I am an enthusiastic supervisor! That’s one job I don’t mind doing – especially in summer heat!
I have a PowerPoint that I used to speak to, but now all my comments are on the slides. My son Jon has done wonderful sound animations that bring life to the presentation. He is a very talented animator; one animation visualizes the symbolism in the Chartres labyrinth. People can buy these if they are interested.
With the younger students I have age appropriate PowerPoints with written instructions that the teachers can run in their classes. I am present and go around at the end in my wheelchair to give the students a blessing with the Shanti chimes I purchased from Veriditas in 2013. Thank you, Lauren, for that idea! It always brings wonderful smiles! (As well as some embarrassment at a recent workshop when the chimes got tangled up, and I couldn’t untangle them!)
I have different workshops for teenagers and teachers. A school in South Australia recently gave me a donation to use my PowerPoint when I couldn’t be there. The principal did the workshop.
All this I can do – even with ALS! I shudder to think how empty my enforced retirement would have been without my labyrinth ministry. I often reflect that God knew what lay ahead for me and gave me an appropriate ministry to help me cope with it. What better ministry is there for a pastor who can’t speak than to lead people into stillness! I am very thankful God brought Lauren and her ministry into my life.
Please tell us about walking the Camino Portugues and how it has affected your life and labyrinth work.
In 2013, my son Jon and I walked 115 kilometers of the Camino Portugues, the pilgrimage trail from Lisbon to Santiago de Compostela, Spain. We chose this trail because it is much shorter and less mountainous than the better-known French route. I had been diagnosed with ALS several months before our walk.
The story behind our pilgrimage was a pilgrimage itself! I didn’t give pilgrimage a moment’s thought until 2009 when I went to Chartres for my facilitator training. While there I witnessed the inspiring initial moments of the annual Pentecost Pilgrimage between Chartres and Paris with over 23,000 young pilgrims.
Pilgrimage, like life, is often hard work. It’s exhausting but enjoyable with beautiful scenery and delicious, cheap food. It’s wonderful for the people you meet and the kindness of strangers. I hold our pilgrimage dear as a deep spiritual experience that brought my son and me closer together. It’s a great way to connect with people who are not churchgoers. As Jon wrote, “The Camino unites people…the walk changed me.”
Completing so much of the pilgrimage was also a miracle. I have had symptoms of MND for over two years and some sufferers barely make 12 months. To be able to complete this Camino has left me with an ongoing spirit of grace and thankfulness. God is good!
When working in the schools, I tell the story of my Camino and place the labyrinth walk within the context of a pilgrimage. It has helped my workshops immensely!
How has Veriditas influenced your labyrinth pathway?
My training with Veriditas was foundational. It provided me with a solid base, wonderful friends, and unforgettable memories. My interest in pilgrimage was also an amazing byproduct of being in Chartres at Pentecost for my facilitator training. Since then, several others within the Lutheran schools have been trained. I have also learnt a huge amount from assisting Lauren at her two workshops in Brisbane in 2010 and 2012. Watching her work is an amazing learning experience.
The school portion of my labyrinth ministry has really grown through my own work with teachers and students. Veriditas does not train facilitators specifically in this area. The Buddy walk is my favorite example. It combines preps (about 5 years old) with their year 5 buddies (about 11 years old). It came about simply because I did a prep walk and noticed that some needed someone to guide them. My knowledge of the buddy system provided the rest. It really is a joy to watch!
What do you consider your most significant challenge in your labyrinth work?
Keeping it always fresh, evolving and new! I am constantly changing my PowerPoint and updating my materials. Also, overcoming the latest problem in my mobility. I can no longer drive so getting to my workshops is always an issue.
What is your most significant challenge in your life at this time?
My MND provides a new challenge every day – it’s both an adventure and a pain!
How can we in the labyrinth community be supportive to you?
I appreciate people’s prayers, and I love to read what others are doing! I would like to make closer contact with others working in schools.
What is your current, most compelling dream for your labyrinth work?
A long held ambition was to build a labyrinth, and I have now built two -- the Stone Labyrinth at Luther Heights Camp at Coolum, Sunshine Coast, Queensland, and the painted one at Pacific Lutheran College, a kindergarten to 12th grade preparatory school. My dream is to assist others on the way, promote the labyrinth within schools and the Australian community, and build more labyrinths!
I also aim to keep expanding my ministry by developing resources that allow me to continue my ministry even when my MND does not allow me to be there in person. I have always wanted to become a ‘master trainer’ but I now know my ALS means that will not be possible. However, I believe I can assist facilitators working with young people from a distance via email firstname.lastname@example.org
Wherever you are on your own life pilgrimage
– “Buen Camino!”
by Rita Canning, Development Coordinator
Norma guiding a Good Friday Labyrinth Walk on the canvas labyrinth donated to Naples United Church of Christ.
For this month’s column, I had the joy of interviewing Norma Peltz. Norma is a Veriditas Certified Facilitator, major donor and enthusiastic supporter of Veriditas.
When did you first encounter the labyrinth?
Like all things related to the labyrinth in my life, a Spirit Whisper occurred 13 years ago. No coincidence but a 'God-Incidence' as it is often said. My senior pastor, a Veriditas certified facilitator, knew that I was going to San Francisco to help with a serious family issue. He suggested that I go to Grace Cathedral and walk the labyrinths and pray for answers. "What is a labyrinth?" I thought like so many others. And so I took the trolley car up California Street to the looming Beacon of Light on Nob Hill that we love. I walked through the magnificent bronze Ghiberti doors and knelt to pray in a back pew. I observed what I soon learned were fellow pilgrims on a spiritual journey. I walked the paths and prayed. I went down to the old book store and bought Lauren's first edition, Walking a Sacred Path, which I couldn’t put down. I returned several times then and again many more times. In the years to follow, my life was changed...my life purpose more clearly defined...my spiritual life more profound...my friendships deeper.
When did you first get involved with Lauren and Veriditas?
Soon after my first trip to Grace Cathedral, I decided to give myself the gift of Pilgrimage to Grace for my 60th birthday. Lauren was then, and is now, transformational for countless thousands of us. Much to my surprise, when I returned to Michigan, I found that our Stephen Ministry had rented a canvas labyrinth for a retreat. We started taking people who receive care to the outdoor Chartres-style labyrinth at St. John's Seminary for healing walks. With so much more to learn and explore, I went to facilitator's training in Santa Fe with Lauren. I felt empowered to do workshops and speak to various church groups. When I bought my own Chartres-style canvas labyrinth, I began a Labyrinth Prayer Ministry that was both personal and communal. I registered the labyrinth on the World-Wide Labyrinth Locator and responded to many requests for presentations and guided walks. I travelled to churches around Southeast Michigan like a modern-day Johnny Appleseed planting prayer 'seeds.' Simply said, I was inspired by Lauren to make a difference.
What 'seeds' did Lauren plant for me in the beginning and through the years? How to enrich my soul work and encounter the Divine; to appreciate the power of Dream Work; to recognize metaphor as a sign language for our journeys; to embrace the mystical; to delight in the labyrinth as a matter of the heart; to honor the diversity and richness of each person's pathway.
Do you have any inspirational stories or experiences with the labyrinth that you would like to share?
From the very beginning, my labyrinth training wove a colorful tapestry that blended with my years of Stephen Ministry experience and advanced Bible teaching...a personal trinity. Little did I know that those three components of my faith walk would strengthen me for what was to come. On March 31, 2010 my husband had emergency brain surgery with four disabling strokes to follow. Labyrinth walks were comfort – “with strength” in Latin. A life-long friend and trained facilitator said truthfully and from the heart, "The labyrinth has been the only constant in your caregiving life of continuing challenges." It's where I find peace...it's where I pray for answers...it's where I listen for “the still small voice.” Other friends walk the labyrinth and pray for my husband and me in far spread places. On those “shadow walks” we are together in Spirit. In spite of being a 24/7 Home Assisted Living caregiver, my labyrinth connection thrives. It is always "nipping at my heals" as I believe I heard Lauren say one time. My Labyrinth Prayer Ministry has never left me because Spirit has sent earth angels to make it possible for me to continue to minister to others. My labyrinth experiences have helped me let go of the past and embrace new possibilities in spite of my current limitations. It still inspires unending creativity and wonder. The labyrinth is soothing music for my soul.
Why do you donate to Veriditas?
Another question would be "How could I not?" The labyrinth is the most inclusive and ecumenical expression of faith that I have ever known. In a hymn we sing, "All are welcome in this place" and with the labyrinth that is reality. The labyrinth has given me valued “anam cara” -soul friends. It has given me the privilege and honor of knowing Lauren and appreciating the amazing Veriditas staff, board members and world-wide leadership. Fellow facilitators are special friends wherever I go. Lauren's vision and passion have made my world a more spiritually seeking place. Her graciousness, caring, kindness and humor are a gift to us all. Her “calling” to reawaken the labyrinth as an alternative/additional prayer practice reminds me of the Book of Esther whose theme is "For such a time as this." ONE person has made a difference. As I've watched the exponential spread of labyrinth walking prayer and meditation, I want to be part of seeing that the work continues. We ALL can make a difference by supporting Veriditas. My check is in the mail...I hope yours is, too.
This year in lieu of our Annual Auction, we are offering a holiday store where you can purchase labyrinth items for the holiday season. Remember profits go to support Veriditas. We have a range of items available: $1 items all the way through to a gift certificate for our Chartres Pilgrimage that comes with a hard cover photo book about the Chartres Pilgrimage and a DVD. Happy Shopping!
Did you know that if you shop through Amazon Smile, Amazon donates a percentage of each purchase you make to Veriditas at no cost to you? Simply click the link in the banner below to access our Smile.
We are excited to announce a special Anniversary Offering: A booklet of 20 Labyrinth Stories Celebrating 20 Years of Veriditas, compiled & edited by Linda Mikell. Booklet design by Anne Bull.