Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
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.
For the last few years blackbirds have nested in the bushes in our garden. Last year we had two nests at opposite ends of the garden. However, we were rather concerned that they might not do so this year as our neighbours have a cat. Cats and birds do not mix. Nevertheless, this morning I saw a young male blackbird in the garden. He was happily feeding on the bugs, worms and insects the overnight rain had brought out, whilst keeping a wary eye on me watching him from the kitchen window. I hope he was scouting for a suitable nest site but only time will tell. Sure enough come evening there was a female blackbird busily feeding in the borders. It looks as if they are preparing to build a nest in which to lay their eggs, hatch and fledge their offspring. They will both need to stock up on as much food as they can to provide them with the energy needed for that task. As any parent knows raising a family is no easy job!
Yesterday was Palm Sunday which marks the beginning of Holy Week leading to the climax, the greatest feast of the Church’s year, Easter. The disciples welcomed Jesus in to Jerusalem with cheers, making sufficient fuss to cause consternation among the authorities, whilst laying down palms to smooth his way. This was the Messiah of whom Isaiah spoke, who would lead them to overthrow the hated Roman tyranny and re-establish the Jewish nation! His entry into Jerusalem fulfilled the prophecies: “Look, your king is approaching, he is vindicated and victorious, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey” Zechariah 9:9. They would also have remembered from the scriptures that Solomon, the son of David made his royal entrance into Jerusalem seated on a mule. (1 Kings 1:38). Like the blackbirds the disciples were preparing for a new era, a new beginning, new life. And so it came about, although not in the way they had expected.
The question then is simply this: How are your preparations going to receive the Messiah into your life? Are you ready to accept Him, to do His will and walk in His ways? If not, what is holding you back?
The clematis that covers the back wall of the house in summer with deep purple blooms has been in place for a number of years and so is well rooted. This means that after flowering we were able to cut it down to a few inches from the ground to enable it to conserve energy for the coming season. In the last few weeks it has been sending up stems enthusiastically towards the sky. To support itself the plant will use its tendrils to grasp onto anything in its upward path. We have provided a wooden framework against the wall to assist it, but nevertheless, it will just as happily take hold of the rose bushes growing alongside or indeed anything else within reach! To get it into some kind of shape in order to show itself off to the best advantage it does need tying in to the firm supports provided for it. A never ending task that I must get on with when the rain stops!
Perhaps our spiritual lives are a bit like that. In our race for the skies; to be recognised as someone, to acquire wealth or status, do we grasp on to anything that appears strong enough to support us, only to be disappointed when it fails? We may feel our faith is well rooted but do we need some training, some tying in to the strong support of God to support us on our journey? Almost certainly!
Now is the season of renewal so that like the tying in of the clematis bush, the disciplines of Lent will bring with them the promise of renewal. The bush will not flower for several months yet but the attention given to it will, I hope produce a much better show. In the same way, Jesus offers us that same possibility, a truly better and more fulfilling life in Christ, when we approach him with a contrite heart. As St Paul wrote from prison: “I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:14).
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years