You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
The weather has been fine over this last week and so you will not be surprised to find me in the garden. You may think from these last few blogs that I am a champion gardener and expert in the growing of all things. Of course I am not. Nothing I grow would win an award at the local flower show nor would the plot itself win a prize for best kept garden. I am simply a toiler in the field, a steward of his Master’s vineyard. The garden is largely flowers and shrubs, unlike my eldest son who is able to keep his family supplied in fruit and vegetables throughout the year from his.
Everything is growing apace at this time of year so that it is hard to keep up with it all. I am conscious that there is much to do out there just now but I also need to share these thoughts with you.
We have some new kids on the block this week. Some years ago my daughter and her brothers bought us a rose bush, Rosa 'Madame A. Meilland’, for a wedding anniversary. Madame is now firmly established in her plot by the front door of the house welcoming friends and visitors alike with her golden flowers which she exhibits joyously throughout the summer. Now the thing about Madame is that she is always the first rose to come into bloom although the others quickly follow her. It’s almost as if she is calling to them “Come on, wake up it’s time to show the world what we can do and how beautiful we are!” And that surely is the message of Pentecost. As Madame and the other roses are nurtured by the sun and the rain so we are nurtured by the Holy Spirit. Let us now go out and show the beauty of God’s Creation in our lives by our thoughts, our word and our actions.
Here is Madame A Meilland and the wallflowers
After last weeks stroll down memory lane we return this week to the garden.My wife and I are rather fond of lavender. Of course, its scent evokes memories of our late grandmothers and aunts as it was a favourite perfume in those days but it is also an easy shrub to grow. Each year it produces masses of beautifully scented flowers above silvery-grey foliage. In summer those scented flowers attract the honey bees that drink up the nectar whilst at the same time pollinating the plant.
The other year we planted a row of lavender shrubs interspersed with some other bedding plants. The overall effect was quite pleasing. The next year we were less pleased with the border as the lavender had grown well but the other bedding plants had been smothered. You see, unfortunately lavandula, to give it its proper name, can be a bit of a thug. We learned that if left to its own devices at the end of the flowering season it has a tendency to take over the ground nearby, strangling any thing that gets in its way.
Now, the General Confession of the Church of England includes the words “we have followed too much the devices and desires of our own hearts”. Just as the lavender is an easy plant to grow and indeed is a very beautiful one so our “devices and desires” can be easy to follow and indeed may hold a prospect of something beautiful at the end. Equally like the evergreen lavender those desires will remain with us. Now of course there is nothing wrong with desires, after all we all strive for a better life for ourselves and our children, but like the lavender they need to be controlled. Our life must be like a complete garden, not one overrun by lavender bushes or any other plant but one where each plant has its place to grow and develop its full potential. There is a fine line between wants and needs. God knows our needs just as He knows our desires. He will fulfil those needs but desires are another matter.
Last week we spoke of memories. This week we have another, rather earlier and from a much darker time.
I was at school when Winston Churchill made his announcement on the radio at 3pm on Tuesday May 8th 1945 that the war with Germany was over with effect from midnight that night. That day would be known as VE Day. I was safely tucked up in bed when the revels began at midnight outside Buckingham Palace and indeed all over the country. Now there’s a phrase we had not been able to use for a number of years “safely tucked up in bed”! No more rushing down into the cold damp Andersen shelter dug in the garden when the air raid sirens sounded. No more black out curtains at the windows to stop the lights being visible to enemy bombers. Not that I appreciated any of this, my short life had only known war; not the horrors of occupation, thank God, but the fear of aerial bombardment and later the terrible V2 rockets whose engines cut out before they glided to their target. If you counted to ten you knew you were safe; this time anyway! Living so close to London as we did many houses, shops, factories and etc locally were destroyed; so many people were killed, injured or left homeless.
Now it was all over! An overwhelming sense of euphoria swept through the nation, tinged with sadness, of course. The war in the Far East against Japan would continue for several months yet – our troops out there felt they were the ‘forgotten army’. It would take some time for members of the armed forces to return to civilian life; indeed many would never do so whilst all who did return bore the scars, physical or mental, of their ordeal.
For a five year old child the best thing was the promise of a party! A party in the street!
On the appointed day all the neighbours brought out tables and chairs to set in a row down the centre of the street. Tablecloths were laid and a spread was prepared for the children. It wasn’t much as everything was rationed by the Government and had been since 1940; food, clothing, well everything really. I think we had sandwiches, bread and a smear of butter or bread and unsweetened jam, not both. I seem to remember tins of spam courtesy of Uncle Sam but whether we had any at the party I can’t recall. Someone had made a cake from ingredients saved from her rations using dried egg powder, of course. There were no sweets as they were not de-rationed until February 1953 whilst sugar remained on ration until September of that year. There was a fancy dress competition which tested the skills of mother’s needlework; and games for the children. Someone produced a wind-up gramophone and so there was dancing in the street. It doesn’t sound much, does it, but everyone enjoyed themselves.
The message? Thanksgiving that the war was over and gratitude to Almighty God for bringing us through those terrible years. But also the knowledge that nothing would be the same again and that there was a need to build a better future; a world of United Nations. And I thank God each day that He has allowed me to survive to tell the tale and to do His Will.
I had this blog all worked out before I sat down to write it. It was to be a piece about the lavender shrubs we had planted in our garden. But maybe we’ll come back to it another day because it seemed that someone tapped me on the shoulder and said: “You mentioned those raucous wallflowers shouting their approval from the borders of the garden when Madam Camelia first showed herself in her new pink gown last week. Why don’t you tell people about them?” So here goes.
When my father in law died we were going through a very dark time in our lives. A particularly aggressive form of cancer had taken hold of a most important member of our family. As a result she was unable to be with her father in his last hours on this earth. Ultimately his house had to be sold and life went on as before. However, before the sale we went round his garden to collect some of the seeds of his favourite wallflowers. It is these seeds which now flourish in our garden. Each year they return in their gaudy colours to brighten up what would otherwise be a bare plot of earth but they bring back memories too. Not sad ones but good memories. Yes, those wallflowers remind us of the dark time in our lives but they also remind us of a loving father and a safe family home.
At a particularly difficult time in their journey through the desert the Israelites came to the banks of the River Jordan which they had to cross to get to the Promised Land; they had no idea what awaited them. They felt even worse when Moses told them that he would not go with them. But, he said to them:
“Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid or terrified because of them, for the LORD your God goes with you; he will never leave you nor forsake you." Deuteronomy 31:6 NIV
Many years later in a letter to the Hebrews, the author picks up on this theme when he writes:
‘Do not live for money; be content with what you have, for God has said, “I will never leave you or desert you.” So we can take courage and say “The Lord is my helper, I will not fear; what can man do to me?” Hebrews 13:5-6 REB
So the wallflowers remind us that God is always with us, through the dark times as well as the good. He will never leave us or forsake us. Thanks be to God.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time work for a number of years