In the early months I would go out to where 7 yards of gravel were piled in my driveway. I would line up my wheelbarrow, pick up my shovel, and move 10 scoops of gravel from the pile to the wheelbarrow. Then I would push the wheelbarrow into my garden area, and dump the gravel. I would do it 10 times. That was my daily limit. The experience was so rhythmic and so hypnotic that I would want to keep going. But I knew my body would appreciate the discipline of stopping.
Sometimes I didn’t move gravel. Instead, I would rake the gravel I had moved until it was relatively flat. Then I would pick up the 10 pound, wooden-handeled, steel tamper and pound on that gravel until it was compacted into place.
Sometimes I moved bricks, carrying them two at a time, and placing them on the level gravel, until they formed a circular path. I would cut the ones I needed to, so the path became seven circuits, radiating outward from a central, round stepping stone.
And that is how, over the course of six months, I moved about 1500 bricks, 7 yards of gravel, and three truckloads of dirt. That is how I built a labyrinth.
Last winter, in the Before Time, I got inspired to change the garden area just off my porch. It used to have raised beds with brick paths in between. At least that was how it was designed by the couple who used to live here. But under my very opposite-of-green thumb, that area became an overgrown weed patch that I would try, maybe twice a year, to beat back with a weed whacker. Sometimes it could almost look nice. But it never thrived.
As the wood surrounding the original beds broke down and I had to make some decision to either replace them or redesign the space, I came across a labyrinth designed from bricks. Could I build that?
Maybe I could. With the help of friends.
I began with Margaret, who is a landscape designer and master gardener. Leaning on her expert advice, I measured out the space and drew up plans. “Just remember, bricks don’t bend” Margaret warned me as she reviewed my sketches of those circular paths. It is a reality that became increasingly clear to me throughout the project. But early on, “bricks don’t bend” was just a concept.
So on I went, sketching, planning, assembling supplies. I reached out to friends who have that “labyrinth” vibe- contemplative yet practical, and willing to work. I was going to host a “labyrinth build” day. Together this small group of friends and I would spend a day immersed in mys tery as we laid out bricks in a seven-circuit pattern. At the end of the day we would place the final bricks and together we would walk the labyrinthine path. I was looking forward to a full day of work; physical, spiritual, communal. And I planned to have that all done in time for Lamb Day, in early May, when everyone would be invited to walk my new, lovely garden labyrinth.
So that’s what I had planned. We now all know how 2020 plans have gone. When the virus shut down came in March, all I had was a pile of bricks and an empty space. And no one to help me build my labyrinth.
I know we all spent that first month scrambling, making contingency plans, doing the best we could. I spent that time getting internet to my farm, learning how to do Bible study with zoom connections, and figuring out how to worship in community when the community could only gather via computer.
In the meantime, my empty garden area started growing weeds again.
Which brings me back to the beginning of this story. I am sitting at the computer, at one more meeting, and realizing this shut down is going to last a long time. I am realizing there will be no labyrinth build day, no in-person Lamb Day, no gathering together at all for a long time. And if there is going to be a labyrinth in my garden I will have to build it myself.
It turns out the physical discipline of the building is an excellent way to balance the emotional and mental exertion of so much screen time and on-line connecting. And when I heard from friends who were enjoying puzzles as a way to take a mental break from screen time, or from the boredom of isolation, I came to think of the labyrinth as my big, heavy, three dimensional jigsaw puzzle.
So day by day I have been putting together this puzzle. I got about a quarter of it done when I realized my measurements were off. So I took it apart and started over. When the suspicion I had from the beginning that I didn’t have enough bricks to finish was confirmed, a neighbor offered some bricks she had piled by her garage. When this bricks didn’t quite match, I took apart the outer pathway and reconstructed it completely from her bricks. It turned out to make a lovely contrast with the other circuits.
Finally, after six months of work, with interruptions for other farm work like lambing and repairing a sceptic system, all I had left to assemble was the final, inner circle. I measured and remeasured. I cut bricks and broke them and cut again. I pounded more gravel, leveled, and pounded again. And just one week ago, I laid the final brick.
Those of you who know me know my love of labyrinths. I love the way they twist and turn until those who walk them are just disoriented enough to be uncertain- yet knowing the path is a faithful one, and they will make it to the center and back out again if they just keep walking. I love the way every labyrinth reminds me of that deep spiritual truth. My brick labyrinth is just another iteration of many I have walked. Here on the farm, made of cedar or of straw. Drawn on a piece of canvas on the floor of the chapel of our church. On a beach on the sacred Scottish isle of Iona, made of seaweed.
The truth is we are all walking a labyrinth right now- knowing we are on a path of twists and turns, not quite sure of the path. And each of us is called, in our own way and together, to take the next faithful step.
When I finish writing this, I will go out and walk the labyrinth for the first time. Of course, it won’t be the first time. I have walked these circuits over and over, laying bricks, pounding gravel, moving bricks, sweeping gravel.
But today’s walk will be my first intentional walk on the finished labyrinth. It will be the walk I planned on taking with a group of friends when I first imagined a labyrinth build. It will be the walk I hoped folks in my congregation would take on Lamb Day. It will be those walks, but of course, it will be a different one too. We are in such a different time now.
I believe this is the time labyrinths are made for. They remind us of the mystery of life, of the truth that none of us can be certain where we are on the journey, and of the call never-the-less to take another step.
I am not sure what I will do with those stuck times, now that my brick puzzle is done. I suspect that I will go out and tend the labyrinth, sweeping off the leaves or adding gravel where it needs some. Maybe I’ll work on the much smaller and more manageable garden that I am planning to surround the outer edges of the brick circuit. Mostly I think I will simply go out and walk the labyrinth. Sometimes I will walk it thinking of you all. Sometimes I will walk it simply embracing the mystery. Sometimes I will walk it just to see what comes up. But always, with you, I will take the next faithful step.