Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
Last Sunday evening was bright and sunny so we went for a walk. On our way we passed a chap working in his front garden. Naturally we greeted him which struck up a conversation. After a short while it became clear that his memory was not quite as good as it had once been. He would sometimes forget words or place names or how to complete a sentence. He had had an operation on his head he told us apologetically.
However, in his garden he is able to be the man he always was. After all, the plants, animals and birds are not concerned whether he can recite passages from Shakespeare or make complex mathematical calculations. So far as Mr Robin is concerned Man is simply something that turns the soil over to reveal juicy worms for him to eat. In his garden he is not judged, the plants have a survival instinct so that they will grow so long as he does not do anything too drastic to them. There he feels safe, he has a refuge, and he does not have to pretend.
That is something to think about. In God’s garden we can all feel safe for as the Psalmist says in Psalm 46:1 God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in trouble.
And leading on from that we remember Jesus’ injunction in Matthew 11:28
Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
So then, God loves each of us just as we are, we do not have to pretend to be something different or better than we really are. He cares for us all; His arms are open to receive each and every one of us. Thanks be to God
In amongst the row of lavender bushes is one pretty dianthus plant, a member of the carnation family which is flowering well this year.
Unfortunately the rest of the dianthus plants along that row have died off so that it looks quite lonely where it is; in fact I had quite forgotten that it was there at all. But it is very attractive and as long as we give it some room to flourish and look after it I am sure it will be ok.
That little plant seems to illustrate the fate of too many people in our cities, towns and neighbourhoods nowadays. It is so easy to get lost in the crowds of people all rushing to get somewhere. It is also all too easy to forget those whose only friends are the flickering images on the TV screen; those who never leave the house and may not speak to a real live person from one week’s end to the next. The tendency for us all nowadays is to drive home from work, park the car on the driveway, go indoors, draw the curtains and switch on the TV. The result is that we never notice the twitch of the neighbour’s curtain opposite as they look out on the world of which they feel they have no part. How sad that they should feel that way. But what can we do about it? Or rather, what should we do about it?
The answer surely is that as with the dianthus we need to look after them. The second great Commandment instructs us to love our neighbour; but what does that mean in practical terms? I think it means that we need to remember that there are some things that are so much more important than the “stuff” of our material life. Things like family and friends, of course but also compassion and respect for others. So next time you park the car on the driveway have a look across the road give Mrs Smith a wave. Better still, make time to go across and have a chat because words are important.
Of course, the garden is not just a piece of ground in which flowers, shrubs, trees and vegetables grow; it is a living organism supporting life in all its forms. In amongst the glorious roses, peonies and all the other flowers there is room for a host of insects and snails, slugs and bugs but also, bees and birds.
Over 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 we wondered if they had chosen to make a home elsewhere. So yesterday I was delighted to see Mother Blackbird taking material to the hedge to make her nest. Of course, I do not know if she had nested there last year but perhaps that does not matter. What is important is that she trusted us enough to build a nest, lay her eggs and raise her young chicks here in our garden because she felt safe.
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. Like every other creature on this earth they need to feed their young even if that does mean stealing the eggs or the young of 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, so we really can’t complain.
Yet despite the threat from the magpies and indeed the other predators lying in wait for her to hatch her chicks Mother Blackbird has built a nest in our garden.
And perhaps we can learn from her. As she trusts us not to disturb her nest so must we remember that we can safely place our trust in the Lord. We can be confident that the doubts, the fears, the worries and the troubles which the magpies represent can have no effect on us if we do.
‘Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.’ Proverbs 3:5-6(KJV)
‘But blessed is the one who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.’ Jeremiah 17:7 (NIV)
We been in this house for some time now and so I think I know the names of most of the plants in the garden and where they came from. Some we bought ourselves, some are gifts, some “memory plants or seeds” came from a friend or relative’s garden but each is known. Imagine my surprise then when I spotted this plant in the garden earlier in the week. What is it and where has it come from? I have no idea although it is possible that a bird may have dropped a seed in passing; but still what is it?
Isn’t it good then to realise that God has no problems in this respect. He knows each and every one of us, not just by name but intimately. In fact He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows our needs, our desires, our hopes and our fears and more importantly He cares for us.
But not only does He know our names but He calls each of us to carry His message to the world around us. Just as the flowers in the garden demonstrate the glory of His Creation so are we called to show Christ to our fellow man. Indeed, it is through our lives and actions that they will come to know Him and embrace Him as their Lord and Saviour. And if the going gets rough then we can call on Him for help. We do not need to make an appointment to see Him, nor leave a message on His voicemail or even sent Him an email. He is there waiting for us whenever and wherever we need Him. How good, how reassuring is that? We can take comfort and strength from these two portions of Scripture:
“Do not be anxious about anything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving; present your request to God.” Philippians 4:6
11 “When you are brought before synagogues, rulers and authorities, do not worry about how you will defend yourselves or what you will say, 12 for the Holy Spirit will teach you at that time what you should say.” Luke 12:11-12
By the way, after scouring the reference books (yes, we were brought up in an age before internet search engines) my wife discovered that it is an Allium siculum or Sicilian honey garlic plant! Apparently it is a member of the onion family. You learn something new every day. We’ve still no idea how it got here.
As the seasons progress the garden changes. Now we have entered a quiet period since the flowers which attracted the pollinating bees and insects have, in some cases, done their job and now it’s a race to the sun to put on new growth to continue the species. Gone now are the golden daffodils, the bright yellow forsythia blooms, and the lime green mahonia although the yellow, red and orange wallflowers are still making their presence known along the borders. Soon the rest of the roses will join Rosa 'Madame A. Meilland’ and it will not be long before the kitchen wall is covered with Clematis Jackmanii Purpurea: (now there is one of nature’s fastest social climbers, but more of that later). But before those prima donnas make their entrance onto the stage we are now seeing the gentler, pastel colours of the columbine plants making a show. These are old-fashioned country garden flowers that Grandma used to call “fairies bonnets” and if you look at them you can see why.
It’s almost as if the garden is saying “Hang on a minute; let’s take a breather before the next act”
Perhaps that is the message the garden is giving us this week. It is true that there is a lot to do; the new growth needs pruning to keep it in check otherwise the whole garden will be over run, for example. But there is only so much one can do at a time and it is necessary to take a rest every so often.
And that is the point. When we look at Psalm 46:10 it reminds us to "Be still, and know that I am God;...”(NIV). Let us then step aside from the materialistic world for a moment, close the laptop for a few minutes, switch off the mobile phone, turn off the vacuum cleaner and take some time to look around at the beauty, the abundance, the glory of God’s Creation and be thankful.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years