Teens build labyrinth at Unitarian church
News Pointer Editor
January 21, 2003
A group of local teens have built a uniquely styled labyrinth at the Unitarian Universalist Church in San Rafael, building on the surge of such pathways being constructed across the Bay Area.
Labyrinths, unlike mazes, contain a single, circuitous walkway that typically brings participants to their centers, and then them back out again. They have been in use for centuries; the Cretan style was created in the Bronze Age.
“We dedicated it … to the well-being and spiritual health of all who walk it,” said Theresa Kime, reverend at the Unitarian Universalist Church. “It’s a great way to pray — it allows the mind to become calm, like most other spiritual practice.”
The church’s youth group — Young Religious Unitarian Universalists (YRUU) paid a visit to a labyrinth in Sonoma County last year, and was inspired to create one of their own on church grounds.
“I’ve always been interested in mazes,” said Mark Haumann, who designed the San Rafael labyrinth. “When our youth group went down to a fellow congregation in Santa Rosa, their youth group director showed us [their labyrinth], and we got to walk it, and it just really inspired us to create one. Julia Grebenstein, a fellow member, said this would be kind of a fun thing to make. I liked that idea.”
“There was this space on the west side of the church that, in the ’70s, had been graded and used for meditation, but when they put in the mall and highway it wasn’t very quiet,” said Alison Peattie, the YRUU group leader. “There’s this perfect round, flat space, not being used for anything.”
YRUU’s members — Haumann, Grebenstein, Alex Kerr, Daniel and Rebecca Novack, Sierra Sheldon-Lander and Ben Williams — approached the church board and asked permission to build a labyrinth on the grounds. They said yes, and the youth group held a fund-raiser last spring to raise money for construction.
Haumann based his design on a seven-circuit labyrinth he visited in Arizona. The original “has a little picture of a man in the center, and the paths are not of equal length. They extend out in a triangular pattern — they’re not parallel to each other,” Haumann said.
“I sort of moved the paths around so they were parallel, keeping the same zigzags. Doing that opened up these two spaces near the middle, so we decided to turn those into gardens,” he explained.
Haumann chose the pattern because it is close to other traditional seven-circuit designs, but left room for unique ideas. “We wanted to make something of our own,” he said.
Originally, the group planned to create the labyrinth with stones, but decided instead to outline it with rope tacked to the ground. The lawn is a regular grazing area for deer in the neighborhood, and the teens didn’t want to disturb them. The two interior gardens have not yet been planted.
“We knew the deer wanted to come in. We’re trying to choose plants [for the gardens] that they don’t eat. Hopefully it won’t be a problem,” Haumann said.
“There will also be some trees added, because it’s a really sunny spot,” Peattie said.
“This is the only labyrinth in the world, that I know of, that has beds inside that are part of the design,” said Cindy Pavlinac, a San Rafael photographer who’s visited and photographed dozens of labyrinths. “I know how hard it is to invent a new design, because people are trying it all the time.”
Peattie said all the YRUU members have worked together for a few years, and all of them have just entered high school. Haumann is a student at Marin Academy. Through the group, they’ve been through a number of courses and discussions, but this is the first time they’ve done a project that’s added to the church grounds.
“The congregation funded the whole thing, and continue to fund it,” Peattie said. “But designing it was a completely demo process. They do what they are drawn to. They’re amazing kids, very hard-working. They talk a lot about, ‘Won’t it be great in 20 years when we bring our kids here?’ It’s not just something they build, but they are committed to maintaining it and it’s used in the way they intend it.”
“We’re very lucky that they wanted to put the energy into doing this for the benefit of the full congregation,” Kime said. “It can help us calm and center and connect with what is deepest and most important — with what most people would call the sacred or the holy. It instructs and nurtures and inspires.”
Pavlinac described the YRUU labyrinth as “very sweet. I like that you have to jog around the flower beds. For someone who has walked a lot of labyrinths, you can drift off. It kept me alert.”
A number of labyrinths have cropped up in Marin in recent years, a phenomenon Pavlinac credits to the construction of the one at Grace Cathedral in 1991. Now, in addition to the one at the UUC, there’s another at the New Beginnings Center at Hamilton, another at the Community Congregational Church in Tiburon, one in Woodacre’s open space, and others at private homes and churches around Marin.
“When I starting photographing labyrinths in 1986, there were like six in America. And now there’s hundreds and thousands,” Pavlinac said.
“Labyrinths are a tool for looking at aspects of your life in a non-charged way. It really brings you into the present, which a lot of people are trying to do but it’s a continuing challenge,” Pavlinac said. “It’s non-denominational. There’s no doctrine; you don’t have to buy into anything specific … it’s just about walking.”
Although Haumann likes mazes, he said it was important that the site at UUC be a labyrinth. “It’s much more special than just a maze. With a maze, the purpose is to get you lost. The labyrinth is a single path — it quiets your body and your mind, and gives you a sense of relaxation, a time to think about things.”
This article originally appeared in the San Rafael/Terra Linda News Pointer.