RIDGEFIELD — Fae Jackson’s heart was set on walking the world-famous, 800-year-old stone labyrinth at Chartes Cathedral in France, but then life took an unexpected turn. When she arrived on All Saints Day, the labyrinth was closed to prayerful pedestrian traffic. She was welcome to marvel at it, but not to follow its winding path around the medieval cathedral floor.
Jackson is something of an authority on twists and turns. She’s the mastermind of a new outdoor labyrinth that was recently unveiled at the Southridge Community of Christ church, 400 N.E. 179th St., near the Clark County Fairgrounds. The labyrinth is open to all to visit and walk, anytime, she said.
“It’s a mystical way to free your mind and your heart,” Jackson said.
“We like to think of our lives as timelines that are nice and straight, but are they really like that? Not very often,” said Vancouver labyrinth scholar and ambassador Eunice Schroeder. That’s why walking a labyrinth can be such a profound experience, Schroeder said. “It’s a powerful metaphor for life. There’s something very mystical about the labyrinth pattern that really works. It’s not just going for a walk. In one setting you can experience your entire life,” she said.
“It’s a beautiful, peaceful experience,” said Peggy Hammac, another member of the Southridge church. “It’s a form of prayer or meditation, except you get to move. I’m not very good at just sitting there.”
Jackson and Hammac started pursuing the idea of installing an accessible outdoor labyrinth at Southridge several years ago. Their vision became Jackson’s husband’s labor of love. Dan Jackson is an accountant, not a builder, he laughed — but he had the know-how and the connections to get this unusual construction job done.
But first came two years of waiting for permission and money — some of it raised by the congregation via its trademark homemade pie sales, Dan Jackson said. His initial budget request was $30,000 at a time when the church was cutting back on expenses, he said. “I thought it would be a hard sell, but it wasn’t,” he said — especially after the idea of paver bricks was jettisoned in favor of concrete, which is less expensive and easier to work with.
It’s also less hazardous underfoot than pavers. “We have a lot of people with walkers in our church,” he said.
A site was selected behind the church that’s accessible via a walkway from the parking lot. Friendly local businesses offered great deals on labor, equipment, landscaping and four stone benches. An eight-man crew helped Jackson pour, stamp and stain the concrete. The final product is 42 feet in diameter with an 18-inch-wide walkway. That’s a little wider than normal, Dan Jackson said, to better accommodate walkers and wheelchairs. (Wheelchairs still don’t fit neatly inside the labyrinth passageway, but that doesn’t matter — just follow along.) To facilitate drainage, the center of the circle — where two big stones serve as benches — is three inches higher than the outside edge.
The labyrinth was dedicated in September. It’s always open for business, and illuminated overnight.
“I really like the idea that it’s open to anyone at any time,” Fae Jackson said. “You don’t need to be a member of the church. Anytime you feel the need for a moment of peace and solitude, you’re welcome here.” Or, she added, peace and togetherness; groups are just as welcome as solitary walkers.
A labyrinth is not a maze and not meant to trick or confound you, she stressed: “You just follow the path and let yourself go. It’s a different experience at different times, depending on what you bring to it.”
Nobody is tracking visitors to this labyrinth, but a few thank-you cards have arrived from folks who have given it a try, Fae Jackson said, and she’s contemplating a guest book. Schroeder, who hosts the annual New Year’s Day Labyrinth Walk at Vancouver’s First Presbyterian church with her own portable, canvas labyrinth, has posted the Southridge labyrinth on an online database called the World-Wide Labyrinth Locator (https://labyrinthlocator.com).
Dan Jackson hopes that listing will draw labyrinth lovers and the labyrinth-curious right off I-5, which is just yards away. “We’re hoping we’ll see some people stopping off,” he said.
The labyrinth at Southridge is the fourth public, accessible labyrinth in Clark County, according to Schroeder (see box).
“They are spreading. There’s a huge interest in them,” she said. “More and more people are looking for spirituality as an adjunct or even outside of religion. Labyrinths have a spiritual history that’s much more ancient than any one denomination.”