In 2008 Nancy Goodwin’s husband Craig came home with a wild idea: to change their backyard into a vegetable prayer labyrinth. Not long after, when he showed up with a sod cutter intent on recreating the layout of the maze on the floor of Chartes Cathedral, she realized he was serious.
We knew little about labyrinths at the beginning of this adventure, but as our plan emerged from the freshly revealed dirt we learned how they served as alternatives to long and risky pilgrimages to Jerusalem in the medieval church. Labyrinths were prayerful pathways meant to foster attentiveness and patience in their travelers, with each twist and turn leading closer to God at the center. Each turn the traveler takes is an occasion for reflection: am I turning away, or am I getting closer? And how could these questions help me pay attention to God’s voice in my life?
As the garden labyrinth grew it began to have a greater impact on the family than simply helping to put food on the table. Just like the medieval prayer paths, it became a place of spiritual lessons.
Our family established a rule early on: you have to walk on the path. No shortcuts. This helped nurture the growth of the plants, and also caused me to slow down and be careful. This was often an inconvenience, especially when running into the garden to grab some basil or chives for dinner. But every time I was tempted to skip, hop, and jump over the rows, I was forced to slow down and ask, Why am I in such a hurry? It forced me to pause and to remember to give thanks for all the beauty and new growth along the path.
Along with slowing me down, my work tending to the garden has helped me pay attention to the soil of my life. It is a way of daily living out the parable of the soils that Jesus teaches about. I especially relate to the soil Jesus describes as choked by thorns (Luke 8:7). That’s the weedy soil, and believe it or not I’ve come to be grateful for the weeds in our labyrinth.
How I used to hate to weed! I used to be so overwhelmed by the weeds that I’d turn in my gardening gloves for coffee and a magazine on the front porch. But I’ve learned to take one patch of earth at a time and I’ve learned the value of preparing the soil. When you’re pulling weeds, you’re not making something grandiose happen. All you are doing is preparing the soil for something to happen. The result is largely out of our control — it is God who makes the garden grow. But what we can do is prepare the soil as best as we can.
And often I came to realize it’s not just the soil that needed tending.
Read the rest of the story about the Goodwin’s “Backyard Garden of Grace” in Christianity Today.