Pierre du Pont, who built Longwood Gardens, once said his religion was a “non-practicing Episcopalian.”
“Just like me,” I told my wife.
“You were never an Episcopalian.”
“You didn’t know it. I non-practice lots of religions.”
The early du Pont family church was Christ Episcopal Church in Greenville, near the Hagley Museum, just off of Kennett Pike. It is a charming rural church, tucked back in the woods off of a road that is little more than a country lane. The du Ponts are mostly gone, and as most churches, it is open to the public either to attend services or just to visit, as I did last summer. When I was there on a warm weekday morning, they were preparing for an event and the church was bustling with activity. The friendly young pastor (I assume by his clerical collar, but without a jacket in the heat) directing the preparations answered my questions about the church and welcomed me inside to take photos. He was almost an exact copy of the vicar in the old British comedy series, “Keeping Up Appearances.” I expected to be accosted by Mrs. Bucket herself. You can visit the church if you want to know more, but you may not be as lucky as I was to find him.
This posting is not primarily about the church, or even the du Ponts, but about the labyrinth on the property.
The labyrinth was the first I had ever seen, but I had already broken off my conversation with the vicar (if that’s his proper title, no offense intended), and I was exploring on my own. A plaque explains in religious terms that it is meant for contemplation, and, for the non-spiritual alpha personalities, how to get the most out of the experience. I did walk part of it, and found it was pleasantly conducive to contemplation, a good addition to any church. I plan to return just for that. (Some Internet references say such labyrinths are for meditation, as this plaque suggests, but “meditation” sounds like work, something with a goal requiring preparation, practice, and effort. I prefer “contemplation.” To me, that means just letting your mind freely settle on whatever it wants (hopefully something good), and that is more my experience.
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“Real Estate Comes Full Circle,” by Amy Gamerman. The Wall Street Journal, 12/18/2015.
I was reminded of the church by this WSJ article that reports a labyrinth is now a trendy addition to many upscale homes. Some are simply spirals of different heights of grass (not easy to cut or to maintain). Others are stone paths set into the ground. They are not puzzles, but compact walking paths without the distractions of dogs and neighbors, and changing scenery, all pleasant features of a walk, but distractions nonetheless. Whether they are spirals, as shown in the WSJ, or folded like the one at Christ Church, all you need to do is follow it one step after another, and relaxing thoughts will flow without effort. (On the second time. The first time is like the first read of a book: you are getting a feel of the experience.)
I am all for a labyrinth. I often feel sorry for the many people whose homes are buried deep in a development with no place to take a short walk on a warm summer evening. A labyrinth right in their own back yard would be much more useful (and cheaper) than, say, a tennis court that is only used for part of the year and will stand empty once the kids are gone. I would build a labyrinth for myself, if I needed one, but I already take a quiet, nightly walk around and through the Unitarian church property across the street, almost every evening. (I am also a non-practicing Unitarian.) They display a creepy, larger-than-life bronze statue of a modern jeans-clad, bare-chested meditating young man meant to inspire contemplation, but it is thankfully tucked behind shrubbery and is generally ignored. It scares my grandson (me, too, actually). Better they had built a labyrinth.