Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
I am not an expert gardener I just enjoy spending time outside; sowing seeds in pots, nurturing them before finally planting them out and watching them grow. There is always a lot of pruning and tidying to do around the garden but that is half the fun of it.
Some of the early flowering plants have finished blooming now. It is time to collect their seeds for next year. The technique is very simple; just cut a stem and place it in an envelope, head down so that the seeds collect in the bottom - and don’t forget to label the envelope! But as long as those seeds remain in the envelope at the back of the drawer they remain just seeds. Only when they are sown in pots and eventually planted out do they show their full potential. After flowering they will in their turn produce a further abundance of seeds and so the cycle continues. It always amazes me how many seeds one plant will produce, but each seed has the potential to grow into another beautiful plant. And still there are enough seeds left over for the birds to eat. An example of God’s gracious bounty! Jesus had something to say on that score: Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. John 12:24 NIV. So, I can sow seeds, feed and water them but they will never achieve their full potential until they are planted out and receive the sunshine and rainfall they need to develop that only God can provide.
Is our life like those seeds? We may think we have all we need; health, wealth, family and friends. What more do we want? Yet sometimes we may feel that there must be something missing in our lives. What is that deep ache that comes on every so often? The answer is quite simply a yearning, a need for God. God does not want us to remain simply dull, dry, brown seeds packed tidily in an envelope never displaying our full potential; God wants to be a part of our lives. God has a plan for each of us, even if we were not aware of it before. Indeed we may never know what that plan is but since God made us, cares for us, loves us and promises to walk with us every step of our journey through life it must be for our benefit.
We all have the potential to make a difference in the world, even if something quite small. Let us ask God to help us to develop that potential for the greater glory of God. After all: ‘The Lord appeared to Solomon in a dream at night and said, “Ask something of me and I will give it to you”’. (I Kings 3:5). If God was prepared to help Solomon He will surely help you and me.
‘Love thy neighbour as thyself’ the Gospel says (Matthew 22:38), yet if I were to ask you who your neighbour was I suspect you would reel off the usual suspects, the sick, the hungry the dying and those in need. Yet is that a complete list?
I am not very good with things mechanical or electronic, mainly because they often seem to have a mind of their own. As I was born in an age before computers were anything more than an idea in some boffin’s mind, it is amazing to me that you are able to read this on the World Wide Web – which again hadn’t been invented at the time. I remember reading that someone once said that one day we will need four computers to run the world! Now everything seems to have a computer inside it. Yet they can be so frustrating. For example, the other day I lost all Wi-Fi connection. Not a major concern in the scale of the world’s problems, I know but frustrating and annoying all the same. Equally worrying was the strange message on screen asking me to log in to an unknown site. Don’t do that!!! How to solve the problem? My wife had an idea. She rang Sally, who used to live next door, to ask if her husband could ring sometime to advise me. No problem, Sally replied. However, Kev didn’t ring; he appeared on the doorstep before we had placed the dishes from the evening meal in the dishwasher. Now since he works in London and having finished work, travelled home on a crowded train, and may not have had a meal yet, for him to make the effort to come round so promptly was I thought going the extra mile (Matthew 5:41). He quickly diagnosed the problem and resolved it – the unknown site turned out to be essential to solving the problem, not a scam after all. A quick cup of coffee - all he would take - and he was on his way home.
In a way, his kind, prompt and helpful action reminded me of the parable of the Good Samaritan Luke 10:2 9-37, though my difficulties were nowhere on the scale of the poor chap beaten up and left on the road, of course!
Now let me ask you the question again: who is your neighbour? The clue lies in Luke 10:36-37 where Jesus asks: 36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbour to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.” In the same way, by figuratively crossing the road to help me, Kev is just as much my neighbour as those on the earlier list.
What neighbours do you have to thank God for today?
This reflection was inspired by a Daily Reflection on the website www.henrinouwen.org. Do visit it if you are not aware of Henri Nouwen’s work.
Recently I have wondered why God has taken so long to call me to discipleship. Why has he left it until I am in my dotage before asking me to write a blog? Why not call me at a younger age or indeed, choose someone younger. But perhaps these are the wrong questions. Should I not rather be asking, why have I not responded to God’s invitation to walk with Him, to work for Him earlier in my life?
At church last Sunday a lady welcomed me using my Christian name. As this was only my second visit I asked how she knew it. “I like to know what’s going on and who’s who, young man” she said – not unkindly, I hasten to add. Now it is a very long time since anyone has called me “young man” but then she did admit to being 95 so maybe I did seem young to her. However, her words reminded me that God’s timescale not ours and that God is a patient God. After all, how old was Abraham’s wife when she bore Isaac? Again, how long had Simeon waited when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus to him at the Temple? God invites us to join Him and waits for us to take up that offer. God does not exert pressure or make demands. God waits patiently for our response to His invitation and when we accept welcomes us with open arms and walks with us on the journey.
But, do you remember Jesus’ parable of the ten virgins recounted in Matthew 25? Five were prepared to greet the bridegroom with lamps and oil even at the late hour of his coming, whilst the others were not ready and so missed joining the celebrations. Indeed the final verse of the parable sounds a warning: “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” Matthew 25:13. Now since none of us knows how long our lives will be on this earth we like the virgins in the parable, need to be prepared to listen for, and to respond to, His call whenever it comes. As Jesus said: ‘Blessed are your eyes because they see and your ears because they hear’. Matthew 13:16. Yet if we don’t keep our eyes and our ears open then we will never know what God is calling us to do for Him. More importantly we will not know God.
The God within us shows us that we all have a purpose and in God’s own time He will choose the man or woman He wants to carry out the task He has in mind for us, even though it may not be what we expect it to be. What we have to do is to keep our eyes and ears open so as not to miss God’s call and be ready to say, as the young Samuel did, ‘Speak Lord for thy servant heareth’ 1 Samuel 3:10 (KJV).
There was not a cloud in the sky on that beautiful bright sunny Sunday morning as I walked up the path from the car park to the North entrance of St Mary Magdalene, a church I had never attended before. It stands on one of the earliest sites of Christian worship in the county since St Cedd erected a preaching cross here. A wooden church was built in the seventh century, but the present building dates substantially from the 12th century. Its importance to the community is illustrated by the records and artefacts it holds. For example, it houses a 12th century oak Crusader chest, whilst church registers tell of the burning at the stake, in the nearby county town, of a local man and the marriage of Christopher Martin, who sailed to America on the Mayflower, whilst the Churchyard contains some early 17th century headstones and an ancient yew tree.
The birds were singing in the trees in the churchyard as I walked, the sun casting dappled shadows beneath my feet. It seemed as if just stepping into the church grounds I was surrounded by an aura of peace, away from the bustle of the outside world just a few yards away that had not yet properly woken up. On entering the church that feeling of peace was all encompassing. ‘Welcome home’, it seemed to say, ‘I AM so pleased to see you’. The early morning sun streamed its bright shafts of light through the richly stained glass of the East Window lighting up the whole church, as the candles were lit on the altar for the 8am Mass conducted following the 1662 Anglican Book of Common Prayer. St Mary Magdalene aspires to be an Anglo-catholic loving and prayerful church community – which it certainly is. The quiet simple service was conducted with dignity and sincerity by young Father Michael who spoke on the parable of the lost sheep. No doubt for centuries many lost sheep of the world have found the safe and welcoming embrace of God here. Indeed, there could be no doubt in my mind that Jesus was present for us all in the Eucharist that morning.
For fourteen centuries the church has stood on that hill, a beacon of hope proclaiming the Christian faith to all; visible not only to the local community but to passing travellers for miles around. A safe haven and an unchanging presence in an ever changing world, offering God’s invitation and words of welcome: Come unto me all ye who travail and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Matthew 11:28 KJV. I am reminded of words found in the breviary of St Teresa of Avila after her death:
Let nothing disturb thee,
Nothing affright thee
All things are passing;
God never changeth;
Attaineth to all things;
Who God possesseth
In nothing is wanting;
Alone God sufficeth.
The only possible response must be one of gratitude: Deo gratias – Thanks be to God.
The other day I was browsing in a second hand book shop – anything to do with books or book shops and you have lost me for hours! There is just something about the smell and feel of old books that I love, and there is always something interesting to be found amongst the assortment of donated books. This time I came across a paperback The Sign of Jonas by the Trappist monk Thomas Merton which I had to buy. On the frontispiece inside the book I found the Latin words Ad Usum. Not being a Latin scholar I was at a loss as to their meaning. More importantly I wondered why the previous owner had inscribed these words in a paperback in such careful copperplate handwriting; the words obviously meant something important to him. A bit of online research revealed that literally they mean ‘for use’. That doesn’t help much. Further digging showed that in the past novice monks were sometimes required to write these words inside every book given to them. The idea was to instil in their minds the idea that although the book was given to them for their temporary, personal use, ultimately it did not belong to them.
Now this is quite a sobering thought since even a few minutes reflection of the words Ad Usum will bring home the realization that in this life we do not own anything really, not our books, our cars, our computers, our homes, our gardens, not even the clothes we stand up in. Everything is a gift, a gift of God. Ultimately we do not own anything whatsoever. Therefore struggling to achieve more; more wealth, more power or more recognition is a useless waste of time. Remember: ‘For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out.’ 1 Timothy 6:7 (AV) and ‘Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.’ Job 1:21 AV. All we have, and all we think we own, is a gift God gives us for our use on this earth. Thus we must take care of it, treasure it, as we would any gift. But whilst a material gift will rust or crumble away there is one gift God gives us that will remain with us for eternity; a gift more valuable than any other: For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. John 3:16 AV And remember God gives us gifts in abundance not because we have been good but because God is good.
So those two simple words found inside a second hand book in a charity shop remind me of the depth of gratitude I owe to God for everything He has given to me. What do they mean to you?
I am an Authorised Local Preacher in an Anglo Catholic parish church, in the Diocese of Essex UK