Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
At the back of our garden and in the gardens beyond there are a number of different trees. Once this whole area was covered with wild forest but it has long been covered in concrete. There are still areas of ancient woodland left within the neighbourhood. In autumn the trees will shed their leaves heralding the winter when they will lie dormant until the coming of spring, their stark skeleton shapes forming an eerie picture on the landscape. Now spring is on its way and so the new leaves are forming, the branches are still quite bare but it will not be too long before they don their summer clothes. Trees can live for a long time. There is at least one tree in the Wye Valley in Gloucestershire that has probably stood on that spot for the last 10,000 years. I don’t suppose that is the only one either. Scientists tell us that by providing a home for the various birds and animals that share this space with us they demonstrate the idea of sustainable development—which acknowledges that human economies, human cultures and biodiversity are inextricably linked.
Trees play an essential role in our Christian faith, too. The Book of Genesis tells us that God planted many trees in the Garden of Eden giving a particularly stern warning to Adam: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.” Genesis 2:16-17. However, it was not too long before the serpent had tempted Eve to eat an apple from that tree with the inevitable result that they were expelled from Paradise, the Hebrew word for garden. Since Adam and Eve are symbols of Mankind their expulsion reminds us constantly that disobedience to God’s commands – sin for short - will inescapably lead to our separation from Him.
In the last few days we have been called to remember another tree, the tree of Calvary, the tree on which Our Blessed Lord and Saviour was crucified with two criminals whom I believe represent us. To the man who understood who Jesus was and who repented his sins Jesus said: “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” Luke 23:43.
During the last week as I prayed the Seven Last Words of Christ the following two statements leapt out at me. The first: “The noble tree of the Cross stands in the midst of Paradise” - exactly as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil did. The second: “By a tree we were enslaved; by a tree we are set free.” Like the two criminals we have a choice; repent our sins and be united with Our Blessed Lord and Saviour or reject Him with the inevitable consequences.
Next time you look at the trees moving in the wind remember those two trees.
For the last few years a family of blackbirds has made a nest in our winter jasmine hedge. As we hadn’t seen them this year yet we wondered if they had chosen to make a home elsewhere. However, yesterday I was delighted to see Mother Blackbird taking material to the hedge to make her nest once again. Now, recently there have been a number of magpies in the trees and on the ground around here. Some people do not like magpies; noisy chattering birds with black and white plumage and a long tail quite unlike anything else in the UK. It is true that, their challenging, almost arrogant attitude has won them few friends, but as members of the crow family they are one of nature’s waste disposal experts. However, like every other creature on this earth they need to feed their fledglings, even if that does mean stealing the eggs or the young of other nesting birds. But they have the same right to existence as the blackbird, the robin, the blue tits or any other bird that feeds from our garden. After all the magpie who threatens smaller birds and the robin who comes to sit on the spade enquiring if we have dug up any worms for him to eat, and the blackbirds are all neighbours.
In the same way, God made each and every one of us, in different shapes sizes and colours, in diverse races and religions but we are all human beings, and each person is our neighbour. But do we always treat our fellow man as our neighbour?
Should we mete out physical violence to those who disagree with us? What happened to turn the other cheek? (Matthew 5:39). Or should we cry “Send the refugees back we don’t want them here. They only want to take our jobs, our benefits!” What happened to compassion? How do we square these statements with God’s love for us? “For God so loved the world...” (John 3:16). And note here that God loves the whole world not just one part of it. St Augustine put it rather well when he said: “God loves each one of us as if there was only one of us to love.” How awesome is that? Surely rather than build walls or barriers between us we ought to be building bridges, showing respect for, and giving assistance to, those less fortunate than ourselves. Jesus sent his disciples out to be healers (Mark 6:13). As God’s disciples we too are called to heal the suffering in our world and whilst we cannot change the world singlehandedly, we can make a difference in our families, our communities our neighbourhood.
No special gift is required, so what are you waiting for?
I went to a meeting one evening last week. The venue was familiar as was the route back; out from the hall along a suburban road onto the dual carriageway which would take me home. No problems, I have driven that route so many times in the past. Driving along the dual carriageway I noticed marker boards indicating lane closures ahead. This was not unusual since at that time of night repairs to the road are often carried out when the traffic is lighter. The road narrowed as expected until suddenly we were diverted off the road altogether on to a side road. Here panic set in as everybody tried to reset their sat-navs to get them to their destinations.
Life is a bit like that sometimes. You travel along the safe comfortable path that you’ve travelled many times before. Then maybe you see a side path which looks interesting, exciting perhaps. Indeed from the outset this new path promises all sorts of good things, a better job, perhaps an increased pay packet or some recognition for all your efforts and so you follow it. Often sadly the path peters out leading nowhere; all those expectations come to nothing. You are disappointed, frustrated perhaps and left wondering how to regain the original path which now doesn’t seem so bad after all but is rather a long way off now.
But last week’s adventure was not a wandering along a side road of my own choice. This was an unexpected but deliberate diversion that had been set up since there was an obstruction on the road ahead. I was diverted away from my original course onto a different road, along an unfamiliar way.
And life is like that, too. We make our way along our nice comfortable familiar path when suddenly God calls us to take a different way. (The call may not be sudden of course; it may come as a series of quiet pin pricks.) However it comes, the way God wants us to go will be unfamiliar and thus a bit frightening, but it is the path that He has chosen for us. It is the path God wants us to take even if we do have reservations. Now, since God loves us as we are and therefore wants what is best for us it should be the path we want to take too. But the question is this, are you ready to leave your safe comfortable way of living to take the unfamiliar and perhaps frightening path God has chosen for you? Are you ready to listen to, and obey God’s call? Will you say “Here I am Lord”? And if you have can you commit to staying the course, following the road He has laid out for you whatever the dangers or difficulties? Trust in the Lord and in His might!
Spring is traditionally the time to sell one’s house. A walk round the neighbourhood reveals a number of “For Sale” boards. In fact, one of our neighbours is seeking to move house. As they have a young and growing family I suppose need a bigger house to accommodate them all. Their present house has been on the market for some while now although they have had several viewings. It is never easy trying to find the right house to call your home. I remember travelling miles and looking at a large number of houses before we settled on this one. In a way the children of Israel were a bit like that; wandering in the desert for forty years before finding a proper home, the land that the Lord had promised for them, “a land flowing with milk and honey”(Exodus 3:8). Like the Israelites of old I think that our young neighbours have now found what they are looking for in a newly built house not too far away so the children can attend the same school as at present.
When you get to my age the very idea of moving house fills me with horror. After all we have lived in this house for over forty years and are quite settled here. The thought of packing up all our belongings and “downsizing”; disposing of those things that have not seen the light of day for many years is quite depressing. (Do we really need all those old books and papers?) Nevertheless, at some stage we will all be called to our Eternal Home; and the wisest of us knows not how soon that may be, but it is getting closer!
However, we can take comfort from this morning’s first reading which speaks of a world renewed, “See, I am creating new heavens and a new earth... Indeed, I am creating Jerusalem to be a joy and its people to be a delight...” Isaiah 65:17-18.
So if God is creating a new home for us, then we must get on with the job of preparing ourselves for it by getting rid of all the clutter and trappings of this materialistic world; those things which appear to be of great value but in truth add little or nothing to our lives. When downsizing we come to realize that there is no room for much of the old stuff in the new home. So will it be with our Eternal Home. We will not be able to take the trappings of the old world with us. There will, though be room for those of us who accept God’s infinite love and mercy; for those of us who turn to Him seeking His forgiveness for past sins; for those of us who can say with Thomas “My Lord and my God” John 20:28.
What are you waiting for? Get rid of the clutter now and concentrate on what really matters; your spiritual well being!
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years