Labyrinth VII – Unification Theological Seminary

Our labyrinth hunt is taking us further afield.  The Unification Theological Seminary (UTS)—unknown to me before this trip—is situated almost an hour away on the east side of the Hudson River, in Barrytown.  The buildings are fairly impressive; the grounds are well-kept and beautiful.

In the first parking lot, we stopped a couple getting ready to hike who directed us up the road.  “The labyrinth is on the left,” the man said.  Of course, we missed it and ended up driving around the site, eventually passing some homes.  Two people and a dog were out in their garden, so we asked again.

From the way he spoke, the man seemed to belong to the place.  “We’re fixing it up,” he said of the labyrinth.  “Some of the bricks have sunk into the ground.”

Following his directions, we managed to find it.  After the peace pole, we spotted the overgrown labyrinth.  The entrance is marked by a pretty, vine-covered gate.  And yes, the bricks are buried and yes, it was so hard to discern the paths and turns that I eventually gave up. 

However, I spent a happy half hour swishing through the weeds, looking hard for the switchbacks, and reading the signs posted at the four compass points and in the center.  And for all that walking, I only found one tick on my white pants.

This labyrinth is an eleven-circuit one in the Chartres cathedral style.  It’s big, eighty feet in diameter.  Over on one side is a memorial bench. 

Once we got back to the car, we explored other monuments.  I was getting the drift that this place had a long history, and I was curious to look it up online later.

We met the hikers again and learned that the UTS was founded by Sun Myung Moon.  That name sounded familiar, but I couldn’t remember anything about him. 

Here’s the UTS profile from its website (https://uts.edu/about-uts/profile-of-uts):

The Unification Theological Seminary [UTS] prepares its graduate for professional careers in the ministry and in public leadership. UTS serves as the Home of Thought for the teachings of Unificationism. While at UTS, all students master the teachings of Christian tradition and learn about the core underpinnings of the World Religions. UTS confers four accredited graduate degrees: Doctor of Ministry, Master of Divinity, Master of Religious Education and Master of Arts in Religious Studies.

UTS has a gifted, respected faculty from differing religious backgrounds and denominations. UTS fosters an ethos of faith and of living for the sake of others. The seminary’s more than sixteen hundred graduates serve in a broad array of missions in the church and in public leadership. Many go on to pursue careers in interfaith organizations, in education, journalism, law, medicine, politics and business. UTS graduates have gone on to pursue doctoral studies at Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Chicago, Columbia, Vanderbilt, Graduate Theological Union, and other top educational institutions.

Apparently, UTS is still viable, but classes are currently held online.  And yes, it was indeed founded by Sun Myung Moon. This part of the UTS history is from the same website:

Less than three years after he began his ministry in the United States in December 1971, Reverend Moon initiated plans for the establishment of his young church’s first theological seminary. For this purpose, in 1974 the church purchased the campus of St. Joseph’s Normal Institute, a Christian Brothers boarding school located in the Hudson Valley that had recently closed. Dr. David S. C. Kim was appointed to establish the Seminary and lead it as its first president. President Kim assembled a faculty and staff, and on September 20, 1975 UTS welcomed the first class of 56 students, who enrolled in a two year Religious Education Program. In 1980 the Seminary added a three year Divinity Program to better prepare students for ministerial leadership.

Sun Myung Moon’s biography is surprising.  Here’s an excerpt from The Guardian

( https://www.theguardian.com/world/2012/sep/03/moonies-sun-myung-moon-dies )

Moon founded the church in 1954 amid the ruins of South Korea and promoted a mixture of Christianity and his own conservative, family-oriented teachings. He preached new interpretations of lessons from the Bible, and fused elements of Christianity and Confucianism – outlining his principles in his book, Explanation of the Divine Principle, published in 1957.

In later years, the church built a business empire that included the Washington Times newspaper, the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan, Bridgeport University in Connecticut, as well as a hotel and a car plant in North Korea. It acquired a ski resort, a professional soccer team and other businesses in South Korea, and a seafood firm that supplies sushi to Japanese restaurants across the United States.

Moon seems to have made some questionable moves in his long life.  However, the Seminary appears to be an accredited college that has hosted, in its past, many illustrious speakers.

At the end of our visit, we had not only found a labyrinth and a lovely place, we’d also had our curiosity piqued and learned some new history.

In Book III, Awakening Magic, Prince Emric must avert a war by relocating the faeries’ labyrinth.

Accord

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What is more optimistic than a maple tree?

Who else produces a myriad of mini-helicopter children

only one of which might—possibly—take root?

*

What is more reassuring than a river?

Its destination fixed, conversing with itself

and anyone else who cares to listen,

always, always running to the sea.

*

What is more adaptable than poison ivy?

Who else appears in so many guises?

Masquerading as a vine, it climbs

toward the light.

At ground level, it sends runners in all directions,

covering an area

the size of a car, two cars, a parking lot.

It says, go on, touch me.  I dare you.

*

In the dream, I had two black snakes in a box.

They pushed off the lid,

so I took them into my hands.

Oh, the feel of the smooth, cool scales

coiling around my wrists,

sliding through my fingers.

I took them under the maple tree

and let them go.

Labyrinth VI – Fair Street Reformed Church

My husband needed a COVID test at his doctor’s office in Kingston (NY).  So…as long as we were in Kingston, I thought we might as well check out the labyrinth at the Fair Street Reformed Church.  Fair Street is in the old part of Kingston with interesting houses that probably date back to earlier days when Kingston was the capital of New York. 

The labyrinth was just steps away from the sidewalk.  The bricks outlining the path appeared to be made of granite and were slightly above ground level.  There was a plaque at the entrance with some suggestions, including this provocative quote:

The point of a maze is to find its center.  The point of a labyrinth is to find your center.

This labyrinth had six circuits and was medieval in type, according to the WWLL.  The placement of the bricks that formed the circuits was clever.  The turns were formed by an elongated X.  I especially liked the way the bricks formed the six-petaled rose in the center.  As far as I could tell, the only bricks that had to be cut were those that made the end points of the petals’ edges.

For all its simplicity—or maybe because of it–this design was really pleasing.  However, the paths were a little too narrow for comfortable walking.  I suspect the location dictated the width, because the labyrinth was on the lawn between the church and the sidewalk.

It was hard to find inner silence on that busy Monday morning in the center of Kingston.  I was halfway into my walk when along came a city worker with a rolling metal cannister, collecting the money out of the parking meters.  Oh, the rattling and clinking! 

It wasn’t a peaceful location—for me, anyway–but I will store away the design as one to possibly replicate someday.

*

Book V, Growing Magic, available soon from Amazon or http://www.handersenpublishing.com

What I Wanted

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At eighteen, what I wanted most

was for my mother

to come to my graduation.

She didn’t.  She couldn’t.

She wouldn’t be seen,

so sick and thin.

*

At 70, I dream that she comes

to my graduation

held in an echoing cafeteria

with rows of folding metal chairs.

She comes with my father.

She wears a bulky, padded brown coat.

She is always cold, carved out by cancer.

*

My mother and father wait and wait.

But I have forgotten the paper

with my speech.

I’ve left it at home.

The ceremony goes on without me.

It ends.

Parents and students straggle

out of the building.

My time is lost again.

Labyrinth V

Hyde Park, N.Y. is on the east side of the Hudson River.  It is where many rich folks built their mansions.  Hyde Park is home to Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s “Springwood,” as well as his Presidential Library and Museum.  The Vanderbilt Mansion is in Hyde Park, too.  But we were there to walk the labyrinth at St. James’ Episcopal Church.

The church was closed due to COVID, but the labyrinth was easily found in the walled yard beside the church. 

It shares the space with a cemetery, a crypt, and several venerable, majestic trees. 

The labyrinth is a simple brick-lined path in the grass.  It is thirty feet in diameter in the classical style.  There was nothing particularly special about the construction of this labyrinth, but the location was the most peaceful, pleasant spot I’ve been in so far.  Maybe it was the presence of the cemetery that influenced the atmosphere. 

After we walked the labyrinth, we sat on the bench beneath the arbor and absorbed the calm. 

This was a place where time was altered.  Perhaps it was the age of the church and graveyard that spoke of the continuity of nature and the cycles of seasons. We felt welcome.

Grail Center Labyrinth–May 15

Word of advice regarding a labyrinth walk:

Do not bring your husband who has vascular dementia.

He cannot remember that this is a sacred activity.

A silent activity.

I send him in ahead of me. 

I wait.  Close eyes.  Find my question.

Slow step.  Heel to toe step.

*

He makes silly Halloween noises when he passes me.

I’m in a bubble, I tell him. Be quiet.

He walks fast.  He sits on a bench. 

He says, People leave stuff here.

Sssh! I hiss.

Slow step. Heel to toe step.

*

Focus, I tell myself, focus on your question.

He repeats, People leave stuff here. 

I give up on the spiritual and focus on the material.

Stones delineate the paths.

The makers have laid down weed deterring cloth

fixed it to the earth with spikes

and metal washers the size of doughnuts.

Then a layer of mulch on the cloth.

Slow step. Heel to toe step.

*

I examine the trinkets visitors have left.

A beaded bracelet and one made of string.

Several cartoon character plastic toys

A dream catcher

A row of scallop shells

A painted red word: peace.

Slow step. Heel to toe step.

*

I am in the center

sacred leftovers jumbled at my feet.

What was my question? 

A laminated photograph of a young man

Latino. 2000-2019

A card about suicide prevention.

Is that my answer?  Gratitude?

*

Get away! Get away! he says, swatting at gnats.

The stone walls stand witness.

Trees breathe green.

Scent of honeysuckle

On a rush of wind

A spatter of rain

Slow step.  Heel to toe step.

*

So many seekers walking

I hold them all within me.

As they hold me

And this bumbling, noisy man as well.

Labyrinth IV

The 15th of May was warm and sunny. We set off to find the labyrinth at the Grail Center in Cornwall-on-Hudson.  Listed as a retreat or conference center, the Grail Center “welcomes to the public to use the labyrinth during daylight hours, and to respect any retreat participant activities that are going on at the time of your visit.” (Worldwide Labyrinth Locator).

The Grail Center proved to be a large, tall house with two circular drives, one in front and one in back.  We drove past the front door looking for a sign of some sort, but there was none.  We drove around the back circle where four cars were parked.  Still no notice indicating the location of a labyrinth.  We drove around to the main entrance again, and I got out to investigate. 

The top portion of the Dutch door was open.  I peered into a spacious foyer where a wooden statue of a peaceful seated woman caught light from the windows.  “Hello!  Hello!” my voiced echoed.

I heard women talking and laughing, but no one appeared.  Not yet willing to give up, I went out to the car and parked it in the back with the others.  Then, finally, a young woman came out, asking, “Can I help you?”

She graciously directed us toward the labyrinth, and also answered my questions about the Grail Center.  It was in use today or possibly rented for longer by the Rural and Migrant Ministry. (http://ruralmigrantministry.org)  I was torn—I wanted to learn more about her organization, but I also wanted to see the labyrinth.  That, after all, was the reason we had come.

Off we went, down the hill, following a somewhat indistinct path past two cabins that I supposed housed retreat participants.  On our left was an empty stone niche that had once, I guessed, held a religious statue.

The path came to a T and we went to the right, because I could see part of the stone wall that was in the photograph in the WWLL. 

We skirted along the higher part of the stone wall which had a low archway built into it. 

This doorway was blocked, but further down there was an arch where we entered.  It felt to me like discovering an ancient ruin.

My printout stated that “The Grail Labyrinth is a five-circuit labyrinth adapted from the Tarry Town Labyrinth at Temple Cowley, Oxford, England.”  It measures thirty-eight feet across.

At the entrance was a tile that read, “Enjoy the journey.” 

On a podium was this quote from Rev. Dr.  Lauren Artes’s book Walking the Sacred Path:

The atmosphere of this labyrinth and the place itself felt welcoming and warm.  Even though the actual labyrinth and the stone walls were worn and in disrepair, the energy of the walkers felt young, especially because of the items many had left on the stones lining the path.

The poem in the following post captures my experience, so I won’t elaborate on that part.

This was my favorite labyrinth so far.  I appreciated the setting: the crumbling stone walls, the surrounding woods, the mysterious path leading there. 

As we often do, we donated to the labyrinth’s sponsoring organization.

Welcome, new followers!

Labyrinth III

The weekend following our first labyrinth hunt, we scooped up my good friend in North Salem and set out for the labyrinth at the Garden of Ideas in Ridgefield, Connecticut, not far from her house.  Three fancy cars were parked in the driveway.  The Worldwide Labyrinth Locator (WWLL) said the property was always open, so we left the car and followed a path around a storage shed that led into a beautiful garden. 

            We passed a couple of outbuildings, nicely maintained.  On the left was a patch of graceful fiddlehead ferns.  On the right a pond glittered in the afternoon light.  We wandered further, finding no labyrinth, but a profusion of flowers and shrubs. 

            A voiced calling out stopped us.  “Can I help you?”

            “Yes!” we called back.  “We’re looking for the labyrinth!”

            “That was closed a year ago,” he said.  “This is private property now.”

            “Sorry,” we apologized, only slightly embarrassed about traipsing around on someone’s land.  It was such a pretty place that I didn’t feel too badly for trespassing. 

            Our next effort was more rewarding.  At least we found the labyrinth at the King Street United Church of Christ in Danbury.  It took a while to locate the labyrinth on the opposite side of the parking lot. 

Much of it was overgrown.  As labyrinths go (in my limited experience) this one was disappointing, mostly because the stone-lined paths were obscured by grass. 

I tried to follow the circuits but couldn’t see some of the turns. 

           

It was again a half-successful hunt, but the tracking offered its own excitement.

Here are suggestions for walking a labyrinth from https://www.monroecc.edu/

Labyrinths are a walking meditation and are often seen as metaphors of our life. The walking meditation can be used for reflection and problem solving with the daily issues. When walking a labyrinth, we discuss the three R’s. Releasing, Receiving and Returning/or Reflection.

  1. Before you walk, pause and take a few moments to quiet your mind and become aware of your breath. Allow yourself to find the walking pace your body wants to go. Do what feels natural.
  • Releasing- As you enter the labyrinth, you follow the path to the center and try to develop a relaxed, calm state that releases concerns and quiets the mind. This is the time to open the heart and quiet the mind.
  • Receiving- Upon reaching the center of the labyrinth, on this labyrinth it is called the center rose. The rose symbolizes beauty, love and enlightenment. Each petal symbolizes the aspects of creation; mineral, vegetable, animal, human, the spirit world and the mystery of the unknown. The center of the rose is place of rest. This is a place for meditation and or prayer. This is a time of openness and peacefulness; you experience or receive what the moment offers you. Stay here as long as you feel the need.
  • Returning/Reflection- You choose when to leave the center, following the same path. This is a time to review and consider the healing forces at work and how they may apply to your life.

Heartfelt

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I live a life of mystery

says the golden vixen

sliding through waving grass,

feeding on the small and furry.

Crepuscular creature,

I am a secret heartbeat,

shadow mover, home unknown.

*

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Who named me bleeding heart?

I am the echo of the luna moth,

a winged flower with twisted tail.

Don’t link me to that sad sacrifice.

I can almost fly.

*

I stand in the mud and clay,

says the crone,

to which I will return.

The heart aligns with its eternal image.

As above, so below,

and I, in the middle,

heart rent open,

a conduit for grace.

Labyrinths II

My exploration of labyrinths in our area began early this May.  I printed out twenty-five of the Worldwide Labyrinth Locator (WWLL) pages listing labyrinths within fifty miles.  It was a rainy day, so we chose to drive to nearby Goshen and visit the First Presbyterian Church.

I used to live in Goshen years ago, but I never paid much attention to the massive church right in the center of town.  The Labyrinth Locator offers a lot of useful information about each labyrinth listed.  This one in Goshen is public, outdoors, and permanent. The WWLL tells where to find the labyrinth (33 Park Place) and when it is open (always), whom to contact, the style (medieval), the materials (brick/paver) and the size (20 feet in diameter).

We parked on the street and easily found the labyrinth in a gated, well-cared-for garden.  In front of the labyrinth was a memorial wall and a bench honoring (past?) members of the congregation.  At the entrance stood a pole with a plaque suggesting guidelines for walking the labyrinth. 

This was my first labyrinth walk, and I must admit, I spent more time speculating on the cost and labor involved in the making of it than in finding my inner peace.  It was meticulously made, with stones cut to size so the paths would be even.  On a sunny day, we might have stayed longer, but it was drizzly and cold, so we moved on.

Another labyrinth listed was not far away in Middletown, so we headed to the labyrinth at the Abundant Life Farm.  The directions were accurate except for the part that said, “The property is clearly marked with signs.”  There were no signs for Abundant Life Farm, only several No Trespassing notices, and another about the presence of a guard dog.

I’m sorry I didn’t take pictures of this strange place.  It had three ramshackle, empty buildings, and a large farmyard with a herd of friendly goats. One white goose watched us warily. No dog appeared.  We communed with the goats for a while.  Nobody came around to complain about our possible trespassing, although we were careful to stay close to the road. I peered around but couldn’t see anything that resembled a labyrinth.  I renamed the site “The Abandoned Life Farm” and worried a bit about who was taking care of the goats.

We left for home, figuring one out of two labyrinths was pretty good for that day.

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