Labyrinth Created at the Shrine of St. Therese, Juneau Alaska

by Janis Burns Buyarski

rights to this article are reserved by the author. Janis Burns Buyarski email: photos (c) by Ed Buyarski. Article reproduced here with permission from the author by

click thumbnails for larger image.

On June 29th and 30th, a host of volunteers gathered at the Shrine to build a Chartres style labyrinth. A what?, you might ask. A labyrinth is a pattern of concentric rings, carefully connected to create a single path. Walking a labyrinth is an ecumenical spiritual tradition that has been found in countries all over the world. During the Renaissance era, the Church created the Chartres pattern and constructed them with stone pavements within their cathedrals, or their monastery gardens as a walking meditation. Labyrinths are used for walking prayer, much like a Rosary Trail or the Stations of the Cross.

stheresa_chapel.jpg (26276 bytes)Last March, the Shrine board of Directors approved construction of the labyrinth, and the planning for it’s construction began. Youth volunteers began hauling rocks during youth service days at the Shrine in April and May. A letter was sent to pastors of churches in the Juneau-Douglas area, and an article was run in the Juneau Empire. Inviting many people to join in the effort, made the labyrinth a community wide event. All through June, youth and camp counselors from Camp Fun in the Son also helped carry rocks from the Shrine beach to the future site of the labyrinth. There was some heavy work needing to be done with large equipment, and it kept getting delayed by other priorities. Finally in mid-June, the earthwork began, none to soon. In just over a week the garden berms were ready and the interior circle for the labyrinth was level. Gravel was hauled and compacted, and then the design was painted and checked for accuracy. We were ready for the volunteers, and waited in hopeful expectation for good weather and the people to come.  From the beginning of the Shrine, youth and adults, – all friends of the Shrine, carried cobbles from the beach for the construction of the Shrine Chapel, the Stations of the Cross, and for the foundation on the retreat Lodge and cabins. In helping to tote cobbles to form the labyrinth design, this century’s volunteers built on the history of the Shrine, living out the "little way of labors in love" like St. Therese. Labors of Love that keep this Shrine going.

Image74.jpg (17750 bytes) Finally on June 19th and 30th, God provided good weather and many willing volunteers. Over the course of each workday there were between 40 and 50 people working on this project. Some stayed for an our or so, and some stayed for a full day. The volunteers were of all ages, and sizes. Among the youngest were pre-school children who enjoyed pushing the wagons and hauling empty buckets to be filled with more sand and gravel. The children were also among the first to tramp down the sand paths to help make them firm for walking. People more senior in age hauled rocks, gravel and sand. Thanks to the many workers, construction went quickly. It was a lot of hard work, yet the spirit of the group was filled with gentle teasing and laughter as the work progressed. The first day cobbles and gravel were placed. The second day there was sanding the paths, outlining the lunations, and cleaning up the construction site for the dedication ceremony at 3 p.m.
Image75.jpg (16729 bytes)  "All that God has created and sustains, all the events God guides, and all human works that are good and have a good purpose, prompt those who believe to praise and bless the Lord with hearts and voices. God is the source and origin of every blessing. By this celebration we proclaim our belief that all thing work together for the good of those who love God. Almighty and everlasting God, by your design for us you have given us the temporal blessings we need, in order to bring us the blessings of eternity. Grant that, in obedience to your law and will, your faithful may always use this labyrinth in a spirit of Christian faith and gratitude. We ask this through Christ our Lord." prayed Bishop Michael Warfel, who officiated at the dedication of the Merciful Love labyrinth.
Image76.jpg (40313 bytes)The labyrinth is named in honor of St. Therese. St. Therese knew from Childhood that Jesus desires to be loved for Himself and above all other things. She spent her life offering such a Love to God. At the beginning of her autobiography, Story of a Soul, St. Therese writes, "I shall begin to sing what I must sung eternally: "The Mercies of the Lord."

A labyrinth,  was built in the cathedral at Chartres, France in 1201. In 2001 at the Shrine of St. Therese, we celebrate 800 years of the use of labyrinths by the Christian church in the spiritual practice of walking prayer and meditation. This seems to be a time of renaissance for the Labyrinth. People around the world are rediscovering peace of mind from this form of walking meditation. When you walk a labyrinth, you can step out of linear time and experience the eternal now. Labyrinths are mysterious because no one knows exactly how they provide a transcendent experience of connection and clarity.  People of faith, and people longing to re-connect to faith walk labyrinths. In a time when many people are seeking ways to integrate psychology with spirituality, the labyrinth creates a sage, open space where the inner and outer meet and become one. A space where meaning is recovered, self is discovered, peace of mind and soul is restored.

Image78.jpg (33539 bytes)Labyrinths are part of the mystical traditions which looks for a more personal connection to the Divine. It works as a centering exercise and is part of the church’s tradition of praying through moving the body. One who walks a labyrinth must slow down preventing a race to the center. It allows the pilgrim to slow racing thoughts, and rest in the presence of God. The labyrinth evokes a sense of life as a journey. Sacred journeys are found throughout Scripture, and pilgrimages were popular in medieval times. Even now, labyrinths are a metaphor our life long journey. A labyrinth is a place people on a spiritual journey: seeking reconciliation; in times of transition; searching for meaning or purpose; needing to tap their intuition or creativity; or seeking physical, emotional or spiritual healing.
Image79.jpg (33874 bytes)As people make their way through life, they experience success and failure, ecstasy and anxiety, times when they are in touch with God, and times when they may feel distant. While the strait journey might be the shortest, it is not necessarily the most beneficial for the soul. The path in life may not be straight nor simple, but when they keep faithfully to the path, they do find the center, who is Christ the Lord. At the closing rite, each person was invited to sprinkle flower petals as they walked the labyrinth path. This was in honor of St. Therese. Each evening in the convent garden, St. Therese and her novices used to gather up the rose petals and throw them at the crucifix in the garden. These were their little offerings to Jesus at the end of each day. And so the flower petals were our little offerings to God, that the Merciful Love labyrinth might be a blessed place for prayer and meditation.
"Blessed be your name O Lord, you are the fount and source of every blessing and you look with delight upon the devout practices of the faithful. Draw near, we pray, to those who use this labyrinth, a symbol of their faith and devotion. Grant that they may also strive to be transformed into the likeness of Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you forever and ever, Amen." Bishop Michael Warfel, June 30, 2001

rights to this article are reserved by the author. Janis Burns Buyarski email:

article reproduced with permission from the author by

related links  the web site for the Juneau Diocese, it has links to other parts of the State.  here is the web site for Juneau, and it has links to most of  the State of Alaska. - photo gallery