Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Tuesday, April 24, 2018

New labyrinth set to open on campus toward the end of September

The landscape project will appear in front of Kay Spiritual Life Center

New labyrinth set to open on campus toward the end of September

The University recently broke ground to build a labyrinth in front of the Kay Spiritual Life Center in honor of Rev. Joe Eldridge, who retired from his position as University Chaplain after 19 years of service last spring.

Funding for the project was provided through gifts from alumni, faculty, staff, students and friends of Eldridge in his honor, according to Director of Development, Annual Giving Casey Jacobs.

Although AU Unitarian Universalist Chaplain Charlotte Jones-Carroll first proposed the idea of creating the labyrinth, it was Eldridge who adopted the project and who will be honored upon its completion.

“It’s in honor of him for a number of different reasons,” Schaefer said. “One is that he was the longest serving University Chaplain that AU has ever had. He served for 19 years. He was also a presence of comfort and assurance for a lot of students. He understood the virtues of reflection and introspection and he was a very strong voice for justice, which on this campus resonates very well.”

According to Schaefer, the concept of labyrinths originated in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in the Greco-Roman world, offering an introspective experience for those who walk within them.

“They are kind of like mini pilgrimages in effect,” Schaefer said. “You walk the path, you trace the lines of the labyrinth and as you work your way towards the center, you reflect, you meditate, you just kind of use it as a devotional space. So the labyrinth becomes a tool of reflection and introspection.”

When asked about what he thought of having the labyrinth as a permanent reminder of his time and service on campus, Eldridge stressed that it shouldn’t be about him, but instead the chance for students to use it to find their inner spirits and a greater sense of wholeness.

“The focus should not be on me. The focus should be on the fact that this provides an opportunity for students to internalize an inner journey. That’s what I’d like to see happen,” Eldridge said. “I mean I’m honored that I’m connected to it. I’m very deeply honored and I think it’s a wonderful development to the University, but honestly it shouldn’t be about me. It should be about the fact that this is an opportunity for students to explore the deeper yearnings of their spirit.”

The labyrinth will reside in front of the Kay Spiritual Life Center on the quad, surrounded by new trees and benches to provide a more intimate experience for those who use it.

Schaefer said he thinks the labyrinth will introduce a new, much needed space for meditation to students, faculty and staff on campus to relieve stress within their daily lives, in addition to contributing a new source of beauty on campus.

“I think it’s going to bring an intentional space that’s meant for quiet reflection,” Schaefer said. “Given how busy AU students are, how busy they make themselves, how busy the faculty are and the staff are, the fact that the University is creating an intentional space to just sort of reflect makes a powerful statement in the midst of all of our crazy busyness to stop, pause and recharge.”

As it is not religiously affiliated or overtly religious in nature, Schaefer said he thinks the labyrinth will appeal to students who wouldn’t typically go to Kay and take advantage of the services they offer.

“I’m really looking forward to us being able to have this space because I understand that there are students and faculty and staff who will never darken the door of the chapel, and that’s OK. But what that means is that the things that we do inside the building to help alleviate stress and to help people center themselves are not going to be as available to them,” Schaefer said.

Schaefer added that the labyrinth will literally meet students where they are in the quad, and provide a means for meditation in a non-intimidating way.

“So having this out on the quad in a safe, open location where people don’t feel like they have to sign anything or join anything, you know, that they can just walk up and use this, I’m really happy with that because it means that we get to help contribute to the well-being of students in a way that is non-threatening and in a way that meets them where they are,” he said.

The labyrinth is set to open on Sept. 27, accompanied by a dedication ceremony to Eldridge on the same day.

Correction: The original story stated that funding for the project was provided by the AU Alumni Association, after it exceeded its fundraising quota over the summer. The story has been corrected to state that funding was provided through monetary gifts. 

ikaplan@theeagleonline.com


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