At first glance, it looks like a maze. But the circular, concrete path outside the Holston Valley Outpatient Center is not a place to get lost.
Instead, the prayer labyrinth – just the second of its kind in the region – is a place where peace is found.
“Some people think this is new age, but it is really old age,” said Dr. Gary Metcalf, Wellmont’s director of pastoral care. “Prayer labyrinths have been used for thousands of years.”
A prayer labyrinth is a single, spiraling path of concentric circles that walkers follow to the center and then retrace to the exit. Unlike a maze, which offers constant choices and dead ends, a prayer labyrinth features a single path to the center and back.
Prayer labyrinths date back at least 4,000 years and are used worldwide as meditation and relaxation tools. Nearly 100 hospitals around the country, including Johns Hopkins Medical Center and M.D. Anderson Cancer Center, offer prayer labyrinths.
“Walking through the labyrinth is symbolic,” Metcalf said. “As you walk to the center, you release your problems and struggles, and you leave your burdens in the middle. When you go back out, you cleanse yourself of those problems and burdens. It is a very personal way to renew strength.
“It’s a spiritual tool, and we are all spiritual beings.”
Patients, families and employees regularly use the outpatient center’s prayer labyrinth. The labyrinth is open to the public as well. The region’s only other prayer labyrinth is located at St. Mary’s Church in Johnson City.
Lindi Scharfstein, Wellmont project manager, said the prayer labyrinth is another example of the Wellmont’s Planetree philosophy of patient-centered healing.
“Labyrinths are all about meditation and centering,” Scharfstein said. “Walking through the prayer labyrinth is healing for a lot of people because you get the chance to just stop and reflect.
“People can really benefit from going through it because it is so relaxing.”