Spirituality is, hence its description, a deeply personal and individual experience. People feel closeness with God through a variety of different activities and everybody’s relationship with faith is different. For this reason, the Anglican Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in St. John’s provides a variety of different experiences to help people strengthen their spiritual relationships with God in different ways. Two examples of this are our Sundays@Seven services (which were highlighted in the November print issue of Anglican Life), and our labyrinth; they both serve different and specific spiritual purposes. I sat down with David Buley and Susan Cummmings to discuss the spiritual importance of both things and how these experiences can strengthen spirituality and spiritual connection.
“In my curation of what we do…how does the opportunity to sit in the silence or in darkness…how does that slow us down to take time to sit and listen?” asked Buley. The art of silence, of presence in our minds and ourselves, is quite the lost art in modern society, long since replaced by the art of doing what we are told. Our Sundays@Seven seek to do the opposite. Buley said, “This is a sense of spirituality to find its own way, without being told that now you’re gonna have a spiritual encounter.”
As for the impression Buley hopes his services have, he hopes for immersion. “I guess one thing is an opportunity to immerse ourselves in different musics that perhaps would be more challenging at the 11am service…it’s an opportunity to just experience things and then say ‘oh that’s another piece of God’s grandeur, another piece of creation, another piece of this world.’” Our 11am service, for context, is the sung Eucharist from the Books of Common Prayer and Common Praise, including spoken and sung prayer with lessons, a sermon, and communion. He believes musical spirituality can help us access that higher knowledge and closeness with religion without disputing what the Anglican faith believes, and can help individuals improve their connections with God, the world, and each other.
Next I met with Susan Cummings, regional manager in pastoral care, ethics and bereavement services with Eastern Health, as well as the person largely responsible for the installation of the Cathedral’s outdoor labyrinth. When I asked her about the purpose of the labyrinth, her response was quite interesting. “I wish we knew! I mean, labyrinths are at least 3, 4000 years old…and of course all that history is shrouded in mystery.” Labyrinths have been assigned many different purposes, from a representation of great odysseys in classical Greece to a representation of religious pilgrimage in Christianity in the middle ages. Contrary to mazes and other puzzles, the labyrinth is a straightforward design with one entrance and exit, meaning it requires no problem solving. Cummings said, “the only decision that you have to make is whether or not you want to walk”.
Because of this open-ended design, the modern day uses of the labyrinth are as unique as those who choose to walk it. “What draws us, I guess, is key to answering [what are some uses of the labyrinth]…there’s such a thing as a labyrinth practice…it’s like a mandala, a pattern for our own life’s journey.” The labyrinth helps separate past, present and future by encouraging its walkers to live in the present moment; the present thought. “It’s an intuitive practice, really,” said Cummings, “Reasons are as many as there are individuals. What would draw us, you know?”
Because of this open-ended use, the question of what impact a labyrinth could have on personal spirituality became inadvertently biased. To remedy this, Susan Cummings reached out to several friends who walked labyrinths frequently and asked them about the labyrinth’s impact on their personal spirituality. Answers were widely varied and individual. The included Holly, who said that the imagery of the labyrinth has “captured her imagination,” and that she employs the labyrinth to help her “get in touch with her truth.” Bernadine said that the labyrinth enables her to feel “refreshed and [with] a better outlook on…life.” Joan said that the labyrinth causes “a sense of problem solving [to arise],” which enables “a deeper connection with all.” Finally, Robyn said, “meeting the labyrinth was like meeting a new friend,” and that in the labyrinth she “felt both free and held.” It’s plain to see that the labyrinth means so many things to many different people, and can help people heal and learn in a variety of different ways.
Both the Sundays@Seven and the labyrinth are fantastic ways to increase spiritual closeness and relationships with God. Both offer opportunities to deepen personal connection with the personal spirit and with God as well, in ways more personal and less technical than a traditional Eucharist. There are still many other different ways to strengthen spirituality, so do what is best for you!