Sister Rose McKeown’s vision for Taylorville Memorial Hospital has finally come full circle.
You can often find her walking the curves of it.
For the past decade, McKeown, the hospital’s pastoral care chaplain, has wanted to open a labyrinth for patient, staff, visitor and community use. The spiral-like pathways encourage contemplative walking and inner peace, and McKeown hoped the tool could ease the sometimes-stressful hospital environment. This May, the hospital gave her use of the old gift shop, and steadily people have come to reflect in the winding pathway.
“That movement helps something happen within us,” McKeown said. “For each person it’s different, and each walk that we make is different. … You don’t need to have a problem, but sometimes you just need to settle down and refocus.”
Twists, turns of life
Labyrinths have roots in Greek mythology, but a number of faiths have adapted the maze-like pathways as a spiritual tool. McKeown believes the labyrinth can provide clarity regardless of religious beliefs.
“It’s just a metaphor of life’s journey,” she said. “It’s twists and turns, and in life we have twists and turns. It’s the one path that all humans walk.”
A large canvas printed with a pattern of sharp 180-degree turns covers much of the floor in the old gift shop. McKeown said that walking the turns attunes the body and the spirit to the movement of nature. Walking to the center of the labyrinth is almost like pacing back and forth, but with an actual purpose.
“If you look at the top of our head, it’s a circle,” she said. “If you see water go down the sink, it’s a circle. Walking this way is walking in sync with the way the planet moves.”
Janell Foor, a pharmacy technician at the hospital, has started walking through the labyrinth before she heads home for the evening. The space gives her a daily opportunity for personal meditation and prayer. Foor uses the curves of the labyrinth to mentally prepare herself to face personal struggles. By the time she reaches the center, she’s ready to reflect on what might be bothering her.
“When I get there, sometimes I have a lot of things to say,” Foor said. “I personally can really feel the healing as I’m walking around.”
McKeown said the labyrinth has mostly seen use from staff members. Foor has introduced it to a couple of her colleagues, and she said it’s slowly gaining popularity. Still, both would like more visitors to take advantage of it. They believe the space could be comforting for a patient who just received unsettling medical news or a family member waiting for someone to come out of surgery.
Eventually, McKeown hopes to create a larger labyrinth outside on the hospital grounds. She’d like to have enough space for more rings in the labyrinth to lengthen the walk. The current labyrinth is smaller than a typical one, so she often walks it a few times before finally stopping in the center to pray.
In the meantime, she’s thrilled to have the space in the old gift shop. Natural light flows over the labyrinth from windows on three walls. She’s set up a small stereo to play instrumental music.
She’s also left a stack of journals on the counter where walkers may write what kind of clarity they find in the labyrinth. It’s a small record of the peace the room has brought in just a few months.
“It’s a very personal thing,” Foor said. “The tears flow as you’re walking around, and it just all washes away.”
Contact Maggie Menderski: 788-1526, firstname.lastname@example.org, twitter.com/MaggieSJR.
PHOTO: Janell Foor, a pharmacy technician at Taylorville Memorial Hospital, walks the hospital’s labyrinth before she heads home for the evening. The labyrinth is in the old gift shop. Ted Schurter/The State Journal-Register