The labyrinth is located on the lawn between the Hall of Sciences and Madison Avenue.
A labyrinth is a visual representation of a journey. It has a single path that turns to make a larger circuitous pattern, and participants are intended to walk forward until they reach the center. It is not possible to be lost; unlike a maze, a labyrinth has only one direction. While walking on the path and concentrating on its turns, the participant loses a sense of his or her surroundings. This concentration induces a meditative state and permits the mind to wander, no longer anchored in a particular time or setting. As the labyrinth pattern moves in and away from the center, the participant might think that he or she is close to the end but then is brought out to the edge again. Such a struggle– the anticipation of reaching the end of the labyrinth and disappointment– is a reminder of the difficulties of anyone on a journey.
The labyrinth form has a history in many parts of the world. It is perhaps best known in the West at the French medieval cathedral of Chartres. The Chartres labyrinth dates from the first half of the thirteenth century. Its original function is not well documented, but it may have been intended for those who wished to obtain the spiritual benefit of a pilgrimage journey but who could not make the physical trip. The artist of the Drew labyrinth, Gabriele Hiltl-Cohen, based her design on the Chartres pattern.
Labyrinths are found today in a variety of settings, including in churches and in nature. The Drew labyrinth, constructed of recycled bluestone, is an experiential outdoor classroom for understanding past and current spiritual practice, as well as a site where individuals might seek personal renewal. In its setting between the Hall of Sciences and Madison Avenue, near the edge of campus, the labyrinth is on the Drew campus but near the town of Madison. The many donations that funded its construction reflect the collaboration of Drew students, staff, faculty, alumni, and Madison residents.
(Statement by Professor Heather Elkins written in support the construction of the labyrinth.)
The teaching practices of the Theological School have engaged students, staff, and faculty in patterns of spiritual formation from its founding in 1867. We now offer courses and certification in Spiritual Formation, and one Master’s program with a specialization in Spiritual Formation and Spiritual Direction. Newer disciplines such as ecological renewal, interfaith studies, and the liturgical arts have been added to the classical ones of spiritual direction, pilgrimage, prayer, and lectio divina. A permanent labyrinth at Drew would provide an ancient/modern structure to integrate these embodied practices.
This structure of embodied learning would offer the interiority of a personal pilgrimage for members of the Drew community. Staff, students, and faculty could find time and space within the structure to catch a breath, calm a mind, and heal a heart. It would also provide a truly universal university space, a place of geo-piety in the Forest for future communities of learning. The construction of the labyrinth could bring together people of the various schools and programs and model the Drew Identity on tangible level. The other community influenced by this project would be those in Madison and the greater New Jersey area. The proposed location by Brothers’ College provides both privacy and public witness. Drew’s open gate policy would encourage a town/gown relationship through this “pilgrimage” space that could enhance both communities as they walk A/Way together.