You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
The antirrhinum plants are coming into bloom now. Each stem has a mass of deep purple, red or white flowers along it which the bees love. Children used to call the plant snap dragon, from the shape of its flowers. As it is much easier to spell, I will use that name!
It is a sad fact that dragons have had a rather bad press over the years in most cultures, usually being linked in some way with evil. In the Bible the serpent appears in the book of Genesis and also in Revelations where it is described as ‘that old serpent, called the Devil, and Satan’ (Rev 12:9 KJV). In his book The Hobbit, J R R Tolkien describes the evil dragon Smaug as “the great worm”. In this country we may not have serpents or dragons but we do have a variety of worms. But, rather than being evil, the earthworm does a great deal of good, taking down the rotting leaves into the ground to fertilise it, and by burrowing in the earth aerates it, with the result that plants, crops, shrubs and trees can grow and flourish. Indeed, without the humble earthworm the ground would be sterile. As it is, the beautiful flowers of the snap dragon provide the bees with the nectar they need, the bees pollinate other plants and the blind, unattractive earthworm fertilises the soil, so that each has a vital part to play in God’s Creation.
In the same way, you and I have a vital part to play in bringing God’s Kingdom on earth, for: ‘Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it.’ 1 Cor12:27 NIV, and like the plants, the bees and the reptiles we each have different skills, attributes or characteristics to bring to the task just as St Paul reminds us: ‘As it is, there are many parts, but one body.’1 Cor12:20 NIV. In other words we need to work together. Sometimes we may not feel that we have anything to offer, yet: ‘On the contrary, those parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable’1 Cor.12:22 NIV. I doubt that the snapdragon flowers, the bees or the earthworm realise the part they play in the Grand Design, yet their involvement is essential. So is yours and mine, however great or small our contribution!
Seventy five years ago, on the 6th June 1944, Allied troops landed on the beaches of Normandy. D-Day as it became known marked the start of the liberation of Europe from its Nazi oppressors. Many lost their lives and many more were wounded under heavy fire in the assault, but the objective was achieved. Ceremonies in this country and on the Normandy beaches have taken place over the last few days to remember, to honour and to give thanks for their sacrifice.
Yet as the politicians hurry back to their offices and the veterans return home, wondering if they will ever see the beaches of Normandy again, let us remember that, since the end of World War 2 there has scarcely been one day when there has not been war in some part of the world. Since nations now have enough fire power to destroy the planet several times over, there is a danger of war by accident, perhaps resulting from an overreaction to some perceived provocation. In her speech at the recent State Banquet the Queen reminded her audience that “after the Second World War the US and UK worked with their allies to build an assembly of international institutions to ensure that the horrors of conflict would never be repeated.” She went on to say that “whilst the world has changed we are forever mindful of the original purpose of these structures; nations working together to safeguard a hard won peace.”
At Pentecost we remember fire of the Holy Spirit alighting on the disciples empowering them to spread Jesus’ message of peace. As Christians we too have the Holy Spirit to guide, guard and support us on that same mission. Will you join me in prayer?
The pretty, self-seeding aquilegia is an old fashioned country cottage garden plant with delicate pink or blue bell shaped flowers. The old country folk used to call them “fairies bonnets.”
In earlier times fairies had a reputation rather different to that portrayed in cartoons today. They were often seen as mischievous and indeed sometimes malevolent will o’ the wisp creatures. Children were warned to avoid areas of woodland or springs which fairies were thought to frequent for fear of upsetting the “little folk”. They were told that if they did meet a fairy in the woods then they should doff their cap as a sign of respect – and leave the area hastily! The 19th century saw a resurgence of interest in the supernatural so that the publication of a photo purporting to show fairies in a wooded area of a garden provoked excitement among the intelligentsia. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle, the author of the Sherlock Holmes novels, took it seriously. It was, he said, proof of the existence of “something out there…” Of course, the photo was a hoax, but before we pour scorn on them maybe we behave a bit like those old folk, touching our caps to the fairies. We still want to hold on to our worldly possessions, and indeed increase them, even though these may prove to have no real substance.
The point is that God knows our needs and will give us enough to satisfy them; our wants are a different matter. Remember what Our Lord said: ‘Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? Yet not one of them is forgotten by God. Indeed the very hairs on your head are all numbered. Do not be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.’ Luke 12:6-7(NIV)
The aquilegia, the fairies bonnets will quickly fade demonstrating just how illusory our wants are; yet once ripe their seed pods will explode distributing seeds to form new plants across the garden. Our wants are still there!
As we sat in our friend Ruth’s garden the other evening the scent of a particular flower wafted over us. Ruth explained that it was the scent of the swathe of Erysimum plants which grew in abundance across the garden. The name by which most people know Erysimum, by the way, is wallflower since it will grow wild on walls or cliffs. Ruth explained how those plants came to be in her garden:
“That year had started badly,” she said, “my husband had been made redundant - just after Christmas, but before the bills came in! Later in the year I had been recalled to hospital as there was ‘an anomaly’ on my scan. That ‘anomaly’ turned out to be an aggressive tumour that required urgent surgery. Then whilst undergoing chemotherapy after surgery I received a phone call from Dad’s neighbour to tell me that Dad had been taken into hospital having fallen at home. In fact he had broken his hip; not a good sign at his advanced age but the operation to replace his hip was successful, for which I was grateful. Despite that he was never to leave hospital as pneumonia took its toll.” She paused for a few moments before going on, “The one thing I regret more than any other was that I was unable to visit him to be with him in his last hours. My immune system was just too weak and the medics advised against it. It really was a very dark time. There seemed no end to our troubles; Jim had not found a job yet and the debts were piling up. Everything was going wrong; I couldn’t take any more! I remember in my floods of tears crying out as Jesus did: ‘My God, My God why have you forsaken me’ Psalm 22:1.
Dad’s house had to be sold, of course but before we put it on the market I gathered some of the wallflower seeds from the garden. They were favourites of his and I wanted to have something by which to remember him. When we got home we scattered the seeds across the garden and, well, you can see the result. Each year they produce clusters of fragrant flowers in eye-catching colours. From early Spring into Summer they provide weeks of massive splashes of colour. Not only do they call to mind the good memories I have of my late father every time I look at them, but they also assure me that ‘The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it’ John 1:5 NIV. That is so very comforting.” With that she bustled off to make some more coffee.
So the wallflowers have a message for our friend Ruth, but it is one from which you and I can take comfort when everything threatens to overwhelm us; darkness cannot prevail against the light that is God.
There is a clematis growing on either side of the arch leading to one of the seating areas in the garden. Each is in bud and indeed one has already started flowering with big deep purple flowers. Its companion will soon produce flowers of a dark chocolate colour. They have been in place for a few years now and so have strong roots. Since they flower on this year’s growth they can be cut right back at the end of their season. Now, one of the characteristics of the clematis is that it is an enthusiastic climber grasping hold of anything in its efforts to reach the sky. Thus it needs to be tied in to a strong support. These two use the arch for support but one of the other clematis plants in the garden scrambles through a nearby rose bush.
Now since from a Franciscan point of view Sister Rose and the vigorous young Clematis are part of God’s family in the same way that we are, it is not surprising to find we have the same characteristics, to some extent. There will be times when we need the support of a friend or neighbour as well as times when we can provide that support. Perhaps all a friend needs is an unexpected telephone call from you to cheer up her day. A quick “Thanks for your help” might make a shop assistant’s seemingly boring day more bearable. Maybe you can visit a friend even if it means listening to a story that you have heard a thousand times before. On the other hand perhaps you are young Clematis revising for your end of term exams and wishing you had paid more attention to lessons back in December. Don’t keep things to yourself, ask for help there is no shame in that.
Whichever role you are called to take today remember Jesus’ words: For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them. Matthew 18:20 KJV. What better place to be!
It is so easy to experience the glory of God in the garden for there is always an abundance of birds, animals, insects, flowers, shrubs and trees as well as vegetables that He created. Perhaps that is why I write about it so often!
Some while back we took coffee in the garden with our neighbours and their 2 year old son. The young lad was naturally inquisitive as all children are at that age. He wanted to find a ladybird. So I helped him search the leaves and plants for the elusive insect. When we eventually found one his little face lit up as he watched the tiny creature race across the leaves before spreading its wings and flying off. He was disappointed that it flew away and so I suggested we search for another one. But ladybirds were no longer interesting. A snail had attracted his attention instead! God’s Creation is amazing, just look at the delicate patterns on the snail shell or consider the tiny organs sustaining the ladybird. And notice that each snail, ladybird and flower is unique, just as we are; for He also made the inquisitive little boy and the old man who huffed and puffed as he bent over the plants to help him in his search. There is an old hymn that says: ‘He made their glowing colours, He made their tiny wings’. From His unbounded love for us God provides the wonder of His creation for us to enjoy.
How then should we respond to that gift given to us with unconditional love? In the very first Chapter of the Bible we are told that God made us custodians of His fragile earth and all that is in it. (Genesis 1:26-29) Yet we do not seem to be playing that role very effectively since our lives and actions are driving climate change, which is already having a devastating effect on our planet. To take just one example, in April 2019 Arctic sea ice reached a new record low extent. In this month it averaged 5.19 million square miles, 479,000 square miles below the 1981 to 2010 long-term average extent. That is roughly the area of Spain and more than five times the area of the UK. Unless we do something to stop that change now, much of the world will be under water very soon.
We must take our responsibilities seriously for if we do nothing there will be no ladybirds or snails to fascinate our grandchildren, nor gardens in which to see them. Laudato Si!
As you walk along the path to our house you will see, in a sheltered spot near the front door, a sturdy, well established rose bush. Over time we have planted other roses, so that there are now six different varieties growing together happily in the front garden, along with everything else. But this rose is rather special for some years ago our children bought it for us as a wedding anniversary present. Each year it is the first rose to come into flower and will produce an abundance of deep yellow flowers throughout the season. Indeed, very often, if the weather is mild, it will still be flowering in December! What a wonderful gift our loving children gave us.
Truly we, and every passer-by, can see the glory of God’s Creation in that rose. But equally we are reminded each day of that other gift given freely and with unbounded love by our loving Father: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 (NIV)
It produced its first flower during this week and I think that is where I saw God that day.
The kitchen windows offer a great vantage point to observe the birds in my garden going about their daily business. Provided I stand back from the window they take no notice. If, however, I move too close to the windows then they scatter to the safety of the nearby trees. They see a shadow, something that is unknown to them, something which frightens them. They don’t need to be afraid of me, I would not harm them; but they do not know that. It is their natural instinct to fly away when confronted with a perceived threat; even if there is much needed food to be had on the ground.
As I have said before, quoting St Francis, ‘nature is the first bible’ so that in those birds we can perhaps see ourselves. When faced with a threat, a shadow, something unknown, or perhaps something really terrifying we have the same flight or fight mechanism built in as they do. Yet sometimes those mechanisms do not seem to work. At that time we need to remember that God made us who we are and that He loves us unconditionally. God is there, waiting for us with open arms, we only need to call on Him. He will hear our cry and will respond; maybe not in the way we expect, but He will respond. Take heart from the words of the 23rd Psalm: 4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. (KJV) The important point I urge upon you is this: “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me”. The author of the Epistle to the Hebrews confirms this point quite clearly when he says: “... for he hath said, I will never leave thee nor forsake thee” Hebrews 13:5. It is those words that we need to hold on to. God who created us always wants what is best for us. He is with us now and forever and will never leave nor forsake us.
The birds of the garden may not be able to read the Bible or take comfort from it but we can and we must trust in the Lord.
On Holy Thursday we read the Evangelist’s description of the Passover meal that Jesus shared with His disciples, an event we now call the Last Supper. At that gathering a most unexpected event took place. Jesus, whom the disciples rightly called, Rabbi, Master, Teacher, Lord, 4 ….. got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. 5 After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him. John 13:4-5 RSV. Later Jesus goes on to say:14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. John 13:14-15. In other words He gave His disciples a mission.
In a prayer Cardinal John Henry Newman wrote many years after that event, he says: “God has created me to do Him some definite service. He has committed some work to me which He has not committed to another. I have my mission.” Indeed, we all have a God given mission, however young or old we may be, for through Baptism, we are committed to living a life of service and it is up to us to do it “ that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ” 1 Peter 4:11(AKJV). We may not know yet what that mission is and indeed it may not be the one we expect. That will naturally fill us with apprehension but when the Trappist monk Thomas Merton wrote: “And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road” he gave us the assurance that we will not be undertaking it alone, for God will walk with us at every stage of the journey. We can be confident about that.
Let us then be led by Jesus’ model to affectionate service for those soiled and weary from life’s journey. That must be our mission in this life for remember “Christ has no body now on earth but yours; no hands but yours; no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which the compassion of Christ must look out on the world. Yours are the feet with which He is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which He is to bless His people.” St Teresa of Avila (1515-1582). So it is up to each and every one of us to continue Jesus’ work in this world. May the Lord walk with you.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years