A Cold Winter’s Night in Ottawa

St Luke's centre Pc

Friday evening can be a tough time for some people to contemplate going out, especially in the cold and dark of an Ottawa night in December. The days continue to get shorter and the nights longer and yet it is wonderful to be able to gather around the candlelit labyrinth on such a chilly evening. Winter in northern climates can be isolating and lonely, hence gathering in community helps to remind us of our greater connectivity.

It is a pleasure to work with a team of willing labyrinth facilitators who consider it their duty to the community to make the labyrinth available to all. Susan Kehoe, Grace Amirault, Debbie Camelin and I work collaboratively with St Luke’s Anglican Church on Somerset Street in Ottawa to provide a monthly program for the wider community. St Luke’s took a leap of faith, so to speak and removed the pews in their sanctuary, and had a Petite Chartres Labyrinth installed, and now we answer the call and bring this new labyrinth to life.

Creating connections was the theme for the evening and what better way than to blend voice and breath to create our own sound setting. My friend and colleague Nicola Oddy led us and encouraged us to join in. If you are not in a choir or not a regular churchgoer where do you get an opportunity to sing these days, besides in the shower?

Nicola is a trained singer and a music therapist, and her voice resonated as if with the angels in the lofty space of the sanctuary. She offered a simple way for participants to hum or tone and then added a few simple rhythmic instruments that contributed texture, while she added the melodic line, which floated over it all. Participants quietly hummed and chimed in and the sound flowed around and through the labyrinth. Such a wonderful experience it was to feel the gentle vibrations through the body. It’s like a micro massage at the level of the bones to have the vibrations of humming or toning in the body. The effect of extended exhalation when singing, humming or toning calms the nerves and stills the mind.

As we watched the last person finish their walk it occurred to me how calming it was even to observe a labyrinth walk.

The news of Nelson Mandela’s passing had been announced just the day before and I felt moved to offer a tribute and also an occasion for participants to acknowledge his passing and celebrate his life. As an encore to our evening gathering we joined hands and walked into the labyrinth together, this time led by Nicola and her drum as we all sang an African Freedom Chant. There was a feeling of great connection and solidarity as we formed a circle at the centre of the labyrinth around a large African basket filled with evergreens, white roses and red crab apples arranged around a single white candle. Debbie spoke in Zulu, offering a blessing and thanksgiving for the life of a great human being. Others offered their thoughts and prayers as we held hands. On the way out of the labyrinth the mood shifted as we greeted each other with a “high five”. What an amazing way to spend a cold winter evening at the darkest time of the year.

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