The most striking difference between a labyrinth and a maze is the path. The single pathway into and out of the labyrinth encourages us to enter with reverence because we recognize that the end is the same as the beginning. Only life experience at its most fundamental can be characterized that way. That awareness makes us focus. In the labyrinth we are urged forward without regard for choices or direction. The beginning will eventually become the end, although there is no way to know how long the walk will take. There is also no way to prepare for what thoughts or feelings, images or whisperings of the heart we might find along the way.
In a maze there is mystery and fun. Direction requires discernment and making good choices if we are to enjoy the experience. Whether walking, running or hiding in a maze, our actions are not prescribed or predicted by the pattern. Solving the maze takes our attention. The maze distracts us from the rest of our concerns. It encourages us to play. All human cultures construct mazes, just as they create labyrinths, but the purpose of each type of garden or structure are not similar.
People seem to require the renewal we get as we walk in labyrinths and wander in mazes. Time spent in them relieves the urgency of living. Each is a means of learning about us. Each offers encouragement to the seeker, the weary, the puzzled and the unwell. Each changes our frame of mind, our behaviors and our spirits.
The labyrinth urges reflection and for some, meditation and prayer. The maze urges relaxation, freedom and play. They both call us away from life as usual for a period of time. We benefit from listening to those calls to be well and fully human. Some of us believe we should pray often, laugh and play more because it’s the way to love one another.