Thursday, September 13, 2007

How this labyrinth came to be: Grief and Serendipities, everywhere

To the Friends of John McGill: The story of how the labyrinth came to be

We had no idea what we were getting into when we started, (metaphor of our life journey?) in order to do it right and also beautifully. Here, for you, is the story of what happened, from first conception to the present. It is an amazing series of serendipities, many happy accidents which just happened to happen at precisely the pregnant moment.. “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear. “ Zen saying.

My deep grief for John (and all that he and N and J missed) really surprised me (about which I wrote to his friends) & went well into April. Sometime about then, or early May, Janette just happened to be reading a story in which a labyrinth made a huge difference in the hero’s life. She was aware that we had once constructed a temporary one here years ago for a Spiritual Growth Network workshop as I had talked about it. So the concept and practice was not new. Her new interest was a surprise.

Within a few days, it came to me: what if we built Labyrinth to honor John? ( John had wanted his Memorial Service held here. He and I had often walked under the trees, talking. He had attended several of our SGN group meetings,) Janette liked the idea so we started wondering aloud: 1) what model to use, 2) where find the expertise required, and 3) where to place it, and 4) what the expense might be? We did not know what we were getting into in early May.

I started internet research on labyrinths and soon discovered that a pair of friends here in Lexington had built one in their back yard, via Worldwide Labyrinth Locator. Besides, they were already engaged in our Fierce Landscape prison ministry program. Serendipity. I was also intrigued by the history, use and relevance for our times when no one and no agency teaches us to value the inner journey. Probably my monastic background simmering. Did a “desktop search” and found a clipping from the NY Times on the growing popularity of labyrinths saved in my files, dating to 1994.

Viewing Barbara and Turner Lyman’s backyard labyrinth, I thought it both an acceptable form AND workable project. Turner, ex-IBMer, welcomed the idea of designing another--another happy accident, and soon was drafting templates. Actually many designs to fit the final site. Turns out he had the skill, the energy, the enthusiasm as well as the craftsmanship to not only adjust the design to a particular site incorporating three trees, but also do the precision craftsmanship for construction. Another lucky find. Angels are hovering.

Late May we started looking at potential sites. Barbara came over and with Janette and Turner, we walked around assessing various possible sites. I liked one. They didn’t. Once we got to a certain place, they said “This is it, This has the right ambiance.” Again, serendipity, in terms of outcome. But a large long woodshed full of firewood bordered a whole side of the area. I was not keen on the spot. I was not keen to move the logn woodshed 5 x 7 x 25 feet long). It had been my pride and joy since my stepfather and I, he now gone, had built it and repaired it. Its closeness to the house and its largeness was helpful enough to keeping two fireplaces in deep winter.

Janette–& myself--very reluctantly--finally decided that the woodshed had to be moved --together with one large tree plus the grove of Rose of Sharon around it This was large piece of work --ended taking two weeks, first to move all the stored firewood, and then, with chainsaw and axe to dissemble the shed.. We actually had to hire it hauled off because of all the tar paper roof and backing.

But when this was accomplished, the unforeseen vista of the entire “lower 40" as we call it opened up between the chosen place and the gazebo.. One can see the beauty of this vista from the west side of the labyrinth, where we have also planned to make it handicap accessible road, so one can drive right up Several more happy accidents.

Turner had to work in three trees to the design. I had adaptations to Turners original draft and so we worked together, easily and quite well, to incorporate the trees. Janette happened to be reading an article about gardens which suggested a cairn and asked me if I knew what it was. I said yes and rushed to the Internet, and we saw immediately the synchronous area where a 4th tree would have been for balance would fit perfectly for a Cairn area. So Cairns got included. She has always loved rocks and stones.

Design wise, I wanted an ascending labyrinth, to a Zen Garden center, so this meant 1) lots of figuring, (some geometry) a week of scraping and tilling the area, with my old garden tiller, to prepare the soil, spraying and ground cover to kill grass, weeds & roots. Then finding and bringing in dump truck load of fill dirt (10 cu yards) and another load of mulch, (each 10 + cu yards), spreading all this, shaping it, leveling it, pressing it, rolling it, before Turner could put down the piping.

Fortunately for my old knees and back, I was able to find and hire some good labor, (ex-offenders eager for work) for several days of shoveling and leveling and rolling of a rented large roller, to press it all down and shape it. We just worked on it every day, doing what we could for the next step, with no idea when we might finish.

Then finally, in mid July, the surface was finally prepared for Turner’s careful placement, shaping and laying down of the planned lines with pvc piping, after making and installing anchors for the many turns. This took about two weeks. All the big staples were measured and hand cut for this job here. Janette was already planning landscaping.

Janette and I had gotten into talking about CAIRNS in the spring and having researched the subject, began to plan to incorporate idea of one, then several cairns into the labyrinth. She had a family reunion the last of June, our turn to have it at our place, and she asked each family member to bring a rock for a family cairn. So this became part of the Cairn area of the labyrinth. Happy coalescence of many ideas from many sources.

Landscaping was complete by mid August in time for our friends in the Spiritual Growth Network of Kentucky, to have a first blessing and to bring stones for an SGN memorial cairn--an appropriate celebration for an anniversary of 18 years of our SGN meetings here..

Only when I started taking pictures in August did we realize that we had chosen the perfect place not just for surrounding vistas. Surrounded by trees on all sides, sunlight dances, flutters and slowly kisses all parts of the labyrinth during the day.
dancing Sunlight upon the shadows make the labyrinth a strikingly sensual place, a fairy tale, Camelot place. Another happy non-intended accident.

We were able to both develop and incorporate a small garden next to the northwest corner, and happily use stepping stores of Tennessee quartz from another recent patio project where we just happened to have some left over, to form a path through the garden.

You know that favorite song of mine, Send in the Clowns, “Where are the clowns? Don’t bother, they’re here.”? (Hah, so true!) Where are the ANGELS? Don’t bother! They are here.They are HERE.

It remains amazing to us how everything has come together, just happened, to help create such a place of stunning beauty; the story Janette happened to be reading to suggest and spur our previous interest in labyrinths, friends, help in hauling off the old wood shed, finding the dirt necessary, and then a supplier nearby of the mulch needed, and so many things, one would almost have to say there has been angelic assistance in this project. I suspect John is smiling, maybe laughing? Our birthdays were both in July and we used to celebrate them together, usually with lunch at Don Pablos, a favorite spot. Janette and I are still in wonder, amazing at how it all happened so conveniently.

I think Turner Lyman is a genius with what he has done with this space, but I also think all of us were touched by the genie in the stunning result. It is still mesmerizing just for us to sit and contemplate the whole of it Privately, it is even more “magical” for me because 32 years ago this very space was simply a small open clearing when I began to plant most all of these trees, over 100 around here. (Janette has created more than ten gardens) And since this space is next to the Wedding Chapel garden where many many couples have vowed their love,, maybe someone will choose this Zen garden at the center of the Labyrinth for their vows of love.. Janette and I began landscaping this area in 1975, and we love sharing the result of our loving work with others.

I plan to add a few other touches, later, that one of my totem spirit-guides has revealed to me, (Hummingbird) , but not yet, maybe next year. Janette has been enormously supportive and generous, not just in planning, but advice, work and landscaping. We plan to offer this to the public, by appointment, later, probably on Saturdays only. We want it to bless others. “Beauty only visits, never lingers.” -John O’Donohue.

I doubt I would have been willing to put in this kind of intensive work enduring painful knees (surgery upcoming) without being influenced by O’Donohue’s tapes on Beauty, which I still love. Celtic Spirituality. The outdoors is the thin veil of all that is sacred and divine and holy, and endless vistas for contemplation of the mystery of love and life. We are always surrounded by the Cathedral of Nature. The way the sunlight plays with, around and through this place is simply awesome.

September, 2007

In retrospect, I never imagined I could have such grief. Honestly, I wept more than I want to admit during March and April. First for all John’s losses, what his fears of fathering cost him, then for all that fear cost Norma and especially Justin. To walk intimately with someone over that period of time and not know their deepest secret and worst fears til the very end is some pilgrimage in itself. With all the pain of his loneliness which I knew, I never even guessed this secret. Yet I am honored that he chose me to begin the healing. There is a passage here from Belden Lane’s The Solace of Fierce Landscapes:
In the beginning you weep. The starting point for many things is grief, at the place where endings seem so absolute. One would think it should be otherwise, but the pain of closing is antecedent to every new beginning in our liv es. (P. 25)

I could hardly believe the deepness of my grief. Then I realized I was also weeping for me and mu own losses. When vainly, I tried to share this with my jail birds, they could not, would not grasp it. Then once more, I realized how closed and protected they had to be, from all those they had hurt so repeatedly. There were times when I felt as if I was grieving for all the lost love between fathers and sons in all of human history. And then some of my own lost loves.

If anyone had suggested maybe something wonderful can come out of this, when you let yourself feel so deeply, I might have laughed in their face, or maybe walked away in disgust at fairy tales or wishful thinking. Yet, a kind of miracle did happen. Serendipities everywhere. Some might say Angels were present.

While built to honor John, with the main cairn dedicated to John, this Labyrinth is also dedicated to and blessed with the Song of Mary found in the first chapter of the gospel of Luke. Mary in 9 verses celebrates the convoluted pilgrimage, the labyrinthine ways of her people, her community of faith haunted by God’s love. This song, which includes all the themes of the Old and New Testament, and in a sense summarizes the entire Bible, is also my song, memorized some 40 years ago for a homily to my monastic community. “My soul magnifies the Lord, my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, for He who is mighty had done great things to me, and Holy is His Name.” .. Mary’s human journey ended with her holding the body of Jesus--the Pieta of Michelangelo. But that great sadness was not the last word. Her faith became a model for the church and a model, summons and challenge for us. Pain and loss is not the last word.

Thanks for listening. The Labyrinth offers in graphic form the metaphor that Life is a circuitous journey. The upright patrin stone markers offer that there are road signs and signficant turning places for us. The cairns suggest that our journey is full of losses and discoverys and we are in a flow or network of many relationships. The labyrinthian ways of my friend John McGill are honored in this construction and capped in the cairn dedicated to him. September 22, 2007.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Invitation, 9/22

Norma, Justin, friends and relatives of John:

Mark, Tom, Beverly, Nancy, Billy Reed and John’s cousins: David, etc.

Re: Dedication of Cairn and Labyrinth in memory of John McGill.

From: Paschal Baute

Date: Aug 22

John wanted his Memorial service here at our retreat center on Winchester Road. We are now ready to do this this, simply with ourselves.

The best time this fall for a visit for Norma and Justin seems to be September 22, Saturday. Can we plan on that day to be here in Lexington? Meet here to dedicate the cairn in John’s memory and together bless the labyrinth? Please bring a stone to John’s cairn, for the space reserved in the labyrinth. After placing the stones, we may linger a bit, walk the labyrinth if you choose and will probably share some lunch here or nearby.

I am really proud of what we have been able to do here, Turner Lyman, my wife Janette, and Barbara Lyman. It was 4 months of planning and work, but also a work of love. 24 truckloads and almost 200 hours. Pictures do not do it justice. You have to see it, experience it, and perhaps also, walk it. Your presence, in John’s memory, will bless it much more. I have a blog on various aspects of the project listed below.

Please mark Saturday, 9/22 on your calendars at 11:00 a.m. Come down the outside stairs to the lower patio and we will gather there.

Driving Directions below. Plan about a half hour from most places in Fayette County unless you are already near Hamburg or the East Side of town.

Our sponsoring group, the Spiritual Growth Network of Kentucky, an interfaith group encouraging deepening the personal spiritual journey, just completed our 18th anniversary on August 18, and offered their blessing. Also the latest picture is also posted on the blog. See

Directions to our home and retreat center, 4080 Lofgren Court, last subdivision, and last house before Clark County on Winchester Road, US 60. Turn right into court and first gate on your left, follow parking signs.

Lofgren Court is 5 miles east of Man o War extension, past Hamburg, and turn right or east on US 60, Winchester road. From downtown Lexington, or points on New Circle Road, figure 9 miles east of Eastland Shopping Center and New Circle Road on Winchester road. From points west, stay on I-64 toward Ashland past Lexington, get off at Bluegrass Station exit, turn right come 1.3 miles to US 60, then left about another 3 miles, Lofgren Court is last subdivision on US 60, Winchester Road before Clark Co. From points East, come 5 miles west from light at Van Meter Road in Winchester, to first road on left after reaching Fayette County.

In the meantime, be well.



I am posting this invitation on the blog, so if you misplacde the directions, but bookmark the blog, you will be able to pull up directions later easily. Title of post: INVITATION, 9/22

Monday, August 20, 2007


See picture posted on right. The archway is the entrance. Total size is 45' x 45'. Type: classical, with seven circles. Zen garden in the middle with bench faces East. The small garden in right foreground is about 60' from Amazing Grace Wedding Garden, towards the lake (toward your right) . The gazebo which can be seen in the Wedding site photos is in the woods to the East of the Labyrinth (to your left) . Cairns can be seen in foreground.

Appointments for walking can be made by telephone (859) 293-5302. These are usually scheduled for Saturday mornings.
More pictures at

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Labyrinth Blessing and Dedication, August 18, 2007

Officiant Paschal Baute, August 18, 2007

Welcome, (brief history, Janette and I, Janette and Barbara, Turner and I...) This is already a sacred place made holy by about 160 couples pledging their love, with thousands of their families and friends here praying for them and celebrating their love.

SGN’s sponsoring of the Labyrinth offers to the faith community and spiritual friends the experience of walking a labyrinth as a method for deepening their personal spiritual journey. Such encouragement has been the mission of SGN of Ky for now 18 years.. SGN had its first labyrinth walk here about ten years ago. Today SGN cele brates its 18 birthday. Wow.

The history and mythology of the labyrinth dates back at least 4,000 years. Ancient and new labyrinths can be found all over the world including the native Americans of the Southwest. Contemporary labyrinths have been built in such diverse places across the United States in cathedrals, churches and retreat centers.

Today we come together to dedicate this labyrinth. Maybe each of you might have a personal intention or invocation when we pause at the end. Then SGN members and friends will place their stones on the SGN cairn. We will return for lunch and then have the time after lunch for private walking.

Dear Creator and Inner Spiritual Guide, our God, be with all of us today as we dedicate and set apart this Sacred Path.
Grant that those who come to it seeking your wisdom may find it.
Grant that those who come to it seeking your healing, may receive it. Grant that those who come with guilt and fear may be freed for transformation, and become able to reconcile the past and be released to walk into the future celebrating the gift of their own life.
Grant that those who come as a pilgrim seeking whatever answers they need, may find within a ready source of love, power, and peace.
We ask you to hallow + bless + and sanctify + this labyrinth with your benediction, and grant that it may allow your faithful to magnify by praise and work your Loving Presence among us.

In our fast paced society we often rush, seldom take time for the inner life, Make this stroll here with our souls, a sacred place--a place of peace and joy, a place of love and healing, a place of understanding and knowing.

May the outward beauty of this place summon each of us And to the inward beauty of each heart. As we reach the deep center of our awareness, we accept that our life journey has been incredibly unique yet often similar to others.

When we stand at the center of our lives, we accept that like each flower, we are a gift to the universe, like pollen-bearing stamen, an effloresence bloom, each a unique flower offered to the universe, full of fragrance and fertility.

May all who walk this labyrinth be balanced, centered and grounded; have peace and happiness; be healed according to their needs; have their hearts filled with unconditional love.

May the energy of this labyrinth always be pure, full of light and love. May the experiences of all who walk this labyrinth be for their highest good.

Finally I dedicate this labyrinth with the great Journey song of the New attributed to Mary, read, sung and prayed by every monk, nun and priest every day for the last one thousand years. (Recited here in plain chant.)

Amen, Alleluia.

Sunday, August 12, 2007


"One of the oldest images of the mystery of life, death,
transformation and return is the labyrinth,
. . . in which we fear to lose ourselves."
–E.C. Whitmont. The Symbolic Quest.

"No agency today helps us discover who we are --from inside out.
The labyrinth has that kind of power."
- Paschal Baute.

Although there is no right or wrong way to walk a labyrinth, there are a few tips and guidelines to help make it more productive. These are taken from The Sacred Path Companion (A Guide to Walking the Labyrinth to Heal and Transform) by Lauren Artress, (Penguin, 2006)

1. Take Off Your Shoes, symbolically. Leave behind at least some of you everyday pre-occupations. The Labyrinth itself does not transform, but the way one walks it has the power to enlighten, illumine and heal. Quieting the mind and focus of thoughts can be done individually or as a group. Your aim is not to be distracted from your intuitive flow as you walk.

2. Begin with an intention, perhaps a question for your inner life, your heart, your life’s journey, some wondering. What you hold close to your heart is sacred. If you have a dream you do not understand, walk the dream, beginning with “Oncve Upon a Time...”

3. Find your own natural pace. Walk with as much sensory awareness to the total experience as is available to you at each moment. Product people only arrive. Process people arrive with new awareness. If you meet someone on a path, do whatever seems natural.

4. Remember the labyrinth is not a maze. It is not designed for you to get lost. If you lose your way in you will end up back at the entrance. If you lose your way out, you will end up back at the center. Simply start over. Life is full of distractions.

5. Recognize metaphors, or word - pictures. Aristotle said the highest form of brain function is metaphoric thinking. When we are thinking metaphorically the microcosm reflects the macrocosm. Experience becomes a way of teaching us about th bigger picture, life itself.

7. You can never step in the same river twice, so the saying goes. This is true of labyrinth walking. Each journey into the labyrinth will be different.

8. The lion at the entrance represents the hidden lions that keep us from seeing, hearing or grasping what we are not ready to admit. Each of us has hidden lions. Our brain functions out of awareness to keep us from responding to actual facts and things we are not ready to hear or see.

9. Reflecting on the Walk. Some walks can be significant and offer valuable insights. Others ca be like dreaming, lazy, and unfocused. Some method of nonverbal reflection can deepen the meaning of the walk. journaling is the most accessible way. You can bring your journal with you and take it into the labyrinth if you wish.

10. Be comfortable with your walk. Occasionally some find it tiring or exhausting. It is best not to stop but to continue whenever possible. Be aware of your dreams afterwards. Reflect on your experience. Each experience is different.

You can celebrate rites of passage, joyful occasions, a holy day, or change in season by walking the labyrinth. Because the walk is non-denominational, it can be a welcoming multi-faith tool.

Compiled by Paschal Baute, July, 2007

Symbolsim of This Labyrinth

Symbolism of this Labyrinth

The archway portal at the entrance represents the doorways of your life, body and soul: family origin, teen years, high school graduation, job, love, marriage, parenting, and particular relationships. This Portal challenges the invited to understand the mystery of one’s life from outside in and inside out. Who is the person who is you?

The LION at the entrance to the labyrinth represents the Hidden Lions that guard the gates of our awareness, pre-screening what we will notice and pay attention to. Our minds work outside conscious awareness to pre-select what we will notice. Perhaps a best example is the denial of a person with addiction. They simply refuse to attend to evidence, including pleas of loved ones that they have a problem. All sorts of reality is pre-screened by our minds.

Upright stone markers, or patrins, are Rorschach markers in our lives, on which we can project various steps, stages, guides or visions. For one person a marker might stand for Family Influence, for another Church or the Commandments, for another a list of preferred virtues, for another an important relationship or turning point or new direction. You decide.

The cairns or collection of stones represent people and influence of particular persons or events. Three cairns here are family, one particular friend, and a special group of spiritual friends. The several cairns signify the complexity of the networking of our particular histories.

Plants within the labyrinth are not the flowering kind. The labyrinth experience invites the walker to discover the flowers within, budding and emerging.

The Zen garden in the center is simple and round. One can rest there with whatever one holds closest and therefore sacred in one’s heart, appreciating a core value of one’s life that has emerged from many turns.

© Paschal Baute, 2007


The Cairn
“I will bring a stone to your cairn,” - a Scottish blessing.

A CAIRN is a gathering of rocks and stones, often done by primitive people, to commemorate an event, a battle, a burial, or ritual. Cairns date the to Bronze Age. Probably the most famous cairn is Stonehenge.

Cairns take many forms and vary from loose, small piles of stones to elaborate feats of engineering. In some places, games are regularly held to find out who can build the most beautiful cairn. Cairns along hiking trails are often maintained by groups of hikers adding a stone when they pass.

The word cairn derives from the Scottish Gaelic (and Irish) cairn which has a much broader meaning, and can refer to various types of hills and natural stone piles. Cairns can be found all over the world in alpine or mountainous regions, and also in barren desert and tundra areas as well as on coasts. Below are examples.

Here at the Retreat Center of the Spiritual Growth Network of Kentucky and close to the Amazing Grace Wedding Chapel, we have chosen a space in the Labyrinth for a Cairn dedicated to the memory of John A. McGill. At the dedication in the fall of 2007, John’s friends were invited to bring stones for his cairn.

In some regions, piles of rocks used to mark hiking trails are called "ducks" or "duckies". These are typically smaller cairns, so named because some would have a "beak" pointing in the direction of the route. An expression "two rocks do not make a duck" reminds hikers that just one rock resting upon another could be the result of accident or nature rather than intentional trail marking

In Greek mythology, cairns were associated with Hermes, the god of overland travel. According to one legend, Hermes was put on trial by Hera for slaying her favorite servant, the monster Argus. All of the other gods acted as a jury, and as a way of declaring their verdict they were given pebbles, and told to throw them at whichever person they deemed to be in the right, Hermes or Hera. Hermes argued so skillfully that he ended up buried under a heap of pebbles, and this was the first cairn. --Reference: Wikipedia and other Net sources.
© Paschal Baute, 2007