Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
One of the plants in the garden was looking a bit unhappy the other day; it hadn’t grown as well as it should because other plants had grown around it to shade it from the light. The answer was to move it to a position where it would get more light. Of course, there is always a risk in moving a fairly well established plant, since the shock of the move might kill it.
The story Mark tells in his gospel about the blind Bartimaeus (Mark 10:46-52) rather echoes the plea of our poorly plant. Being blind he too needed light to fulfil his potential. Hearing that Jesus was passing he called out to him. When Jesus asked what he wanted he replied “I want my sight back.” Now that might seem a very reasonable request, but as a blind man he had to rely on others to help him to move about. Mark says that his friends carried him to his place. As a fully sighted man he would have to take responsibilities for himself, getting a job to support his family, for example. Nevertheless, that is what he wanted and that is what Jesus gave him. But once his sight had been restored did he go off to the nearest village to celebrate? No, he followed Jesus. (Mark 10:52). No ifs or buts’ he followed Jesus.
These words also find an echo in John’s gospel where Jesus’ last words to Peter – and to us – are “follow me”. Notice that God does not say “Here you are, guys you have finished your three years study, here is your graduation certificate, now get out there and change the world”. He invites us to follow him – to be with him. He will lead us and we are to follow. And we can be sure that he will never lead us astray or desert us. But what does following Him involve? In Matthew 25:31-46 we read that the way to the Kingdom is not saying many prayers or offering many sacrifices but in feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and the prisoners. In other words we are called to make a difference in a practical way, for as Teresa of Avila (1515–1582) prayed Christ Has No Body but yours. It is up to each of us to speak out against injustice, to do Christ’s work on this earth whilst we are here. For as Matthew says: ‘The King will reply, “Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
So what happened to the sickly plant? It is now happily flowering in its new position where it is able to follow the sun. And that is exactly what we are called to do – to follow the Son. That will be reward enough.
The pretty, delicate pink and blue columbines have been joined by the glorious roses which are just beginning to come into bloom. The roses will continue to bloom all season whilst the columbine will flower for a short period, set seed and die off. We humans fall into the columbine category, I suppose; after our allotted span on Planet Earth we will return to our Maker.
I recently lost my remaining two aunts; my late father’s sisters. Not entirely unexpected really since they were both in their 90’s but sad all the same. I will always treasure their generosity of spirit to us as children but as we grew up they were always there for us. To give just a couple of examples they introduced me to the fantastically diverse world of opera with a visit to see a performance of Bizet’s Carmen at the Royal Opera House Covent Garden. And when our faithful old dog Judy died they went to great lengths to find a new puppy for my young sister. Sadly, towards the end of their lives they were not able to look after themselves properly and so had to go into a care home. But I remember them as they were.
So what is this week’s message then? It is to be found in a quotation from an old German theologian born in 1260 but it is as relevant today as it was then.
If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough.
My prayer then is to thank God for the flowers in the garden, for this bright beautiful day, for the lives of my aunts but most of all for God’s unconditional love for me.
What do you have to thank God for today?
The garden changes colour with the seasons. The bright gold and yellows of the forsythia and mahonia japonica have now faded to be replaced by the more subtle blues, pinks and purples of the lilac and the columbine.
The columbine is an old fashioned country cottage garden plant whose flowers are bell shaped. For this reason the old country folk used to call them “fairies bonnets.” Now in earlier times fairies had a reputation rather different to that portrayed by Walt Disney today. They were often seen as mischievous and indeed sometimes malevolent. It was therefore considered wise to avoid areas of woodland or springs which fairies were thought to frequent for fear of upsetting the “little folk”. Now before we scoff at such pagan ideas we must not forget that those country folk regularly went to church on Sundays. Indeed, Thomas Hardy in his novel Tess of the D’Urbervilles published in 1892 has Tess, a simple milk maid reciting the Te Deum whilst walking the dusty road to her next place of employment. Can you do that?
Here is a prayer with which some of you are already familiar:
Take, Lord, and receive all my liberty,
my memory, my understanding,
and my entire will,
All I have and call my own.
You have given all to me.
To you, Lord, I return it.
Everything is yours; do with it what you will.
Give me only your love and your grace,
that is enough for me.
What, you want me to hand over everything to you, God? Look, you wouldn’t mind if I kept back just a bit, would you? I mean, I need my car to get to work, and I need money to provide for my family and the next promotion would be very helpful as it will enable me to do... Well it would give me a bit of status that I really deserve.
Now are we not behaving a bit like those old folk, touching our caps to the fairies? Yes we know the Bible tells us that God will provide but we still want to hold on to our worldly possessions, our old ways of doing things. That may be an understandable attitude but think what He has done for you:
“For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that all who believe on Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” John 3:16.
If God was prepared to do that for us, to give the very life of His Son, does He not deserve our total commitment in return? No fudging, no reliance on material wealth; God requires our total commitment. So, are you ready and willing to say: “Here am I Lord, send me.” Isaiah 6:8. And if not, why not?
The other day someone asked me why I posted so much about the garden. I think the answer is simple really. Here one experiences the glory of God in a very small space – the birds, the animals, the insects, the flowers, shrubs and trees as well as the vegetables. And there is so much of it!
Over the weekend our new neighbours came in for a coffee bringing their 2 year old son Harry with them. As it was a warm sunny day we sat in the garden. Young Harry has a “thing” about ladybirds and wanted to see if he could find one. And so I had to help him search the leaves and plants for the elusive ladybird. Eventually he found one. His little face lit up as he watched the tiny creature race across the leaves before spreading its wings and flying off. Harry was disappointed at that but we assured him that there were plenty more ladybirds and would he like to look for one? By this time, of course, his attention was focused elsewhere – on a snail! And perhaps that is the point; not only is God’s Creation beautiful – how did He make all the internal organs for such a tiny creature and paint its shell so beautifully? - it is also abundant. God made all those creatures, big and small as well as the inquisitive little boy and the old man who huffed and puffed as he bent down over the plants to help him in his search. He made them and He made us custodians of His fragile earth and all that is in it. From His love for us God provides an abundance of His creation for us to enjoy; abundant beyond our needs or belief. How then should we respond to that unconditional and abundant love? Surely the only way is by giving our all to His purpose. After all as we are reminded by the prayer of Teresa of Avila (1515–1582) Christ Has No Body
Christ has no body but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
Compassion on this world,
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good,
Yours are the hands, with which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet,
Yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now but yours,
No hands, no feet on earth but yours,
Yours are the eyes with which he looks
compassion on this world.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.
So show the world the glory of God in all you do or say
Sorry this reflection is a bit late this week but I have had one of those “blank page” days. Anyone who writes reflections, devotions, assignments or even full blown sermons, will understand what I mean; sitting, staring at a blank computer screen whilst the clock is ticking. The deadline is looming. I must get something down on paper but nothing is coming. What am I going to say?
Even if you don’t write then there will be meetings to attend, people to meet, kids to get to school or after school activities. There is always so much to do. How are you to get everything done within the 24 hour day? As a result sometimes things are said or written that on reflection could have been expressed better, perhaps sadly someone is hurt by what we say or do, unintentionally on our part, of course but still...
The other day whilst on our way to the shops our progress was impeded by a nervous learner driver whose confidence in his own ability meant that he was driving rather too slowly for the road conditions. The frustration became too much for the car driver behind us as, regardless of the road conditions, he overtook both our car and the learner in front. His impatience was frankly reckless and could have caused a nasty accident.
Sometimes we need to pause, to take few deep breaths and take time to speak to God, to ask Him what He wants us to do; to ask for His guidance.
I found this prayer that the other day that maybe sums it all up:
The Lord is my pace-setter, I shall not rush
He makes me stop and rest for quiet intervals
He provides me with images of stillness
Which restores my serenity.
He leads me in the way of efficiency
Through calmness of mind
And His guidance is peace.
Even though I have a great many things to accomplish each day
I will not fret, for His presence is here.
His timelessness, His all importance will keep me in balance
He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of activity
By anointing my mind with his oils of tranquillity
My cup of joyous energy overflows
Surely harmony and effectiveness shall be the fruits of my hours
For I shall walk in the pace of my Lord
And dwell in His house for ever.
Toki Miyashina (The Hodder Book of Prayers compiled by Rosemary Curtis London 1997)
So what happened to the car that overtook us? We caught up with him at the next traffic lights.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years