Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
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.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years