- Does the climate change when you cross the threshold of your church? NWLC featured artist, David Baloche invites you to stop at the threshold of worship … it’s a call to preparation for a deeper encounter.
Imagine this: parishioners have been walking for days, making the pilgrimage to Chartres cathedral, until finally they arrive at the threshold to find … warm smiles, hot coffee, and Dunkin’ Donuts®. I’m not saying it wouldn’t be a welcome treat after a long journey, but it kinda kills the gravitas.
To maintain this gravitas, labyrinths were placed outside the entrances to cathedrals. In his book, Through the Labyrinth, Hermann Kern notes, “The devout were first supposed to internalize the labyrinth—with all its implications—by walking its path. Only then were they intended to continue to the inner sanctum.”
There’s a marked difference between the two approaches: one says, “Welcome;” the other asks, “Are you ready?” For fear of making hasty generalizations or sweeping assumptions (perhaps your church offers tea and cookies, perhaps protein-boost smoothies, perhaps nothing at all!), I pose the question: Has the modern church lost its reverence for thresholds?
“I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved” (John 10:9 NIV). That seems like a pretty important gate. And as Pope Francis reminds us:
A holy door or porta sancta has been used since the fifteenth century as a ritual expression of conversion. Pilgrims and penitents pass through it as a gesture of leaving the past behind and crossing the threshold from sin to grace, from slavery to freedom, and from darkness to light.
Who would’ve thought walking through doors could be so transformative?
And yet, we experience this all the time. When you enter a library (not Barnes & Noble), when you enter a government building (not the DMV), when you enter a cathedral, the atmosphere changes. As you cross the threshold, there’s a hush, a reverence for the space and what takes place in that space. Anthropologist Anthony F. C. Wallace goes further saying, “…the temple, shrine, church, etc. is set up in such a way that it creates a sense of ‘differentness’ which leads to a feeling of altered consciousness.”
Does the climate change when you cross the threshold of your church?
If our bodies are temples and temples are temples, then why isn’t everything in between a temple, too? Why can’t the humble shack of a church I grew up in become as reverent as the Vatican? Why can’t the quiet and intimacy of a closet be as sacred as the confessional?
I’ve been told by voice teachers that if you’re having trouble reaching a certain note (e.g. high D—am I right, gentlemen?), it’s probably an issue with the preceding note. If you’re having trouble in church, you might want to look at the preceding moment—the threshold.
The approach to worship, prayer, study, and meditation should be just as important as the practice itself. If we choke the approach, we won’t be ready for the encounter. As comparative religion scholar Mircea Eliade observes:
The dividing structure between sacred and profane space…serves the purpose of preserving profane man from the danger to which he would expose himself by entering it without due care. The sacred is always dangerous to anyone who comes into contact with it unprepared, without having gone through the ‘gestures of approach’ that every religious act demands.
When we first set out to create Labyrinth, the primary objective was to address anxiety—Scriptures that speak to anxiety, music that soothes, etc. And while I hope these songs will offer comfort during times of chaos and despair, I don’t intend the music to be a salve or an opiate—a way to escape our problems; rather, the songs are a reminder that as we journey through life’s labyrinths, we are not alone.
Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. (Psalm 23:4 NIV)
The labyrinth is not an escape—it’s an encounter.
Standing at the threshold of the labyrinth, there are two choices: enter or retreat. You might recall Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when he, “… fell with his face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will’” (Matthew 26:39 NIV). So, he entered the labyrinth, he journeyed through the dark maze—twists and turns, torture and crucifixion—and when he reached the center, Christ descended into hell. It can be an arduous and painful journey; nevertheless, we are called to enter and reminded that we are not alone.
In Greek mythology, Theseus entered the labyrinth to slay the Minotaur, but he was not alone. Ariadne stood outside the labyrinth with a spool of yarn so that Theseus, thread tied around his waist, could find his way out. In the darkness, there is a guide, there is a way out.
Crossing the threshold into the unknown is both fascinating and terrifying, but the reassurance that I am not alone gives me the courage to enter the labyrinth.
And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow – not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. (Romans 8:38 NIV)
I teach rhetoric to high school students. Whenever there’s confusion about evidence or arguments (and there’s a lot these days), I always take it back to the text. Analyzing, paraphrasing, and interpreting are all great skills, but nothing cuts through the mire quite like quoting verbatim from the source. I think the same can be said of the Bible. There are nearly infinite interpretations and analyses that have accumulated over centuries, but it all comes back to the source.
Labyrinth takes it back to the text, utilizing verbatim Scripture to craft musical meditations that cut through the mire. Labyrinth is not an interpretation; it’s a conversation.
It’s a conversation between the past and the present, the ancient and the modern.
It’s a transgenerational conversation between father and son, a new musical translation of Scripture.
It’s a personal conversation between who I was and who I am, when I was stuck in the depths of the labyrinth and when I found the Ariadnean thread that led me to the light.
It’s a multilingual musical conversation. Many of the songs are inspired by classical composers – Satie, Ravel, Debussy – but incorporate modern orchestration. It’s like if Beethoven and Lauren Daigle had twins and gave them synthesizers and miscellaneous brass instruments as play toys.
It’s an inter-scriptural conversation between translations written across millennia. For example, in “Come To Me,” Proverbs 3:24 dialogues with Matthew 11:28 in over six different translations. In “My Help Comes From The Lord,” Isaiah 41:10 communes with Psalm 121:1-2. In “The Peace of God,” Philippians 4:7 converses with Proverbs 3:6.
It’s a dialogue about rituals and symbols, exhuming ancient practices and reexamining their relevance and power.
This is what Labyrinth seeks to do: to remind listeners of the terrifying and fascinating power of God, to prepare us for the journey into the unknown, to acknowledge the difficulties ahead and remind us that we are not alone, to offer words of comfort and encouragement when we are in the darkest of valleys, to give us the courage to …
Enter the Labyrinth.
(David Baloche and his father Paul Baloche will lead worship at NWLC in Virginia. This experience will bring worshipers into the labyrinth, a place to encounter God and his infinite love. Register today!)
Listen to Labyrinth on Spotify:
 Kern, Hermann. Through the Labyrinth. Translated by Abigail H. Clay, ed. Robert Ferré and Jeff Saward. Munich: Prestel, 2000. p. 106
 “Resources for the Year of Mercy: The Holy Door.” Federation of Diocesan Liturgical Commissions
 Wallace, Anthony F. C. “Rituals: Sacred and Profane: An Anthropological Approach”, in Ways of Being Religious: Readings For a New Approach to Religion. p. 160
 Eliade, Mircea. Patterns in Comparative Religion. The World Publishing Co. Cleveland, OH. 1958. p.370
 Saward, Jeff, ed. “Caerdroia: The Journal of Mazes and Labyrinths.” Labyrinthos 45 (2016): 13-14. “If one imagines a labyrinth in three dimensions, it would also be possible to leave the labyrinth from the centre by rising, as Daedalus left Crete with wings, or by descending, as Craig Wright has suggested medieval theologians understood that Christ did symbolically from the centre of the labyrinth when he went to rescue the dead.” (Craig Wright, The Maze and the Warrior. Symbols in Architecture, Theology, and Music. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001, pp. 7378. This relates to the phrase in the Apostles’ Creed, “…He descended into hell…”)