published Sunday, October 16th, 2011

A spiritual path

The Rev. Betty Latham walks through a new labyrinth at the Church of the Nativity, an Episcopal church in Fort Oglethorpe.
The Rev. Betty Latham walks through a new labyrinth at the Church of the Nativity, an Episcopal church in Fort Oglethorpe.
Photo by Jake Daniels.

A labyrinth is often thought of as a maze or a place to get lost, according to the Rev. Betty Latham. Instead, she said, it should be seen as a place to be found.

The Church of the Nativity, the Fort Oglethorpe, Ga., congregation where the Episcopal priest is rector, will dedicate a new outdoor labyrinth following its 10:30 a.m. 45th anniversary worship service today.

"You walk it when your heart is heavy," Latham said of the closed circuitous path leading into and back out of a dedicated center. "You walk it when you want to let something go. You walk it to offer joy and thanksgiving for the blessings of God. You walk it to get rid of anger [and] for discernment."

The Church of the Nativity's labyrinth, built by the Craig Design Group landscape architectural firm, is 82 feet in diameter and has plants forming the seven circuits surrounding its 42-inch path.

Latham said the idea for a labyrinth came three years ago after congregation members determined -- following work with a church consultant -- that they desired more personal spiritual growth and further outreach to the community. Since then, she said, each vestry -- the annual business body of the church -- has made it their one goal.

"They've saved church funds in order to be able to afford it," the rector said.

Glen Craig, owner of the Craig Design Group, said he had designed mazes but never labyrinths, so he did some research after being selected to do the project.

To create the pathway, on a former ballfield behind the church, he said, workers removed all existing soil to a depth of 3 to 4 inches and laid down geotextile fabric.

Drain rocks were placed on top of the fabric in conjunction with three drilled pipes, which allow water to drain. Another layer of geotextile fabric then was added, and that was topped with granulated gravel.


Among other labyrinths in the area:

Alexzanna Farms, 315 Walker Road, Wildwood, Ga. (by appointment).

Bright School, 1950 Hixson Pike.

First Presbyterian Church, 581 Hillcrest Circle, Etowah, Tenn.

New Hope Presbyterian Church, 7301 Shallowford Road.

St. Francis Episcopal Church, 7555 Ooltewah-Georgetown Road, Ooltewah.

St. Paul's Episcopal Church, 305 W. Seventh St.

St. Timothy's Episcopal Church, 630 Mississippi Ave., Signal Mountain (indoor).

Finally, perennials such as salvia, sedum and daisies were planted to form the 14-inch mulched and mounded circuits, and vines, monkey grass, other ground covers and rocks were put down to soften the edges of the pathway, according to Craig.

At the center of the labyrinth are a large Canterbury cross stone, installed by Wichman Monuments, and plantings of itea, a colorful flowering shrub native to the area and often found in healing gardens.

Latham said the church wants the labyrinth to be available to the community just as the ballfield -- used before a parking lot had to be extended -- was before it.

"Labyrinths are not for everybody," she said. "You kind of have to give it a shot. It's different things for different people. The main thing is intentionality. It's an intentional walk with our heavenly Father, an intentional time set aside for you and God. You need to be a seeker."

Walking a labyrinth is a three-pronged experience, she said.

"You go to [walk] the labyrinth, and you release whatever is on your mind," Latham said. "You receive what God wants to tell you [in the center]. Then you return into the world enlightened in some way."

Latham said one doesn't rush through the path but "kind of lose yourself in it."

"I have walked many labyrinths," she said, "and have always found [them] to be a wonderful spiritual tool. You walk it to let go and let God."

Butch Shaver, who headed the church's labyrinth committee, said he begins his walks through the pathway with a prayer of thanks to God.

"As I walk," he said, "my prayer becomes a conversation with [God]. I approach the center stone and kneel, and as I kneel, a feeling like no other comes over me. I know at that moment I am in the presence of God."

about Clint Cooper...

Clint Cooper is the faith editor and a staff writer for the Times Free Press Life section. He also has been an assistant sports editor and Metro staff writer for the newspaper. Prior to the merger between the Chattanooga Free Press and Chattanooga Times in 1999, he was sports news editor for the Chattanooga Free Press, where he was in charge of the day-to-day content of the section and the section’s design. Before becoming sports ...

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