Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
Autumn is that time of year when some of the plants in the garden die off. Their work is done. They have grown from last year’s seed flowered and produced seed of their own to continue the line. Now having fulfilled their given task and it is time for them to die.
Our lives are like that. As part of His plan for mankind God has put us on this earth for a very short space of time and gives each of us a task to perform. Just like the plants that task is specific to each one of us; a garden full of lavender bushes would give off a wonderful scent but would be quite uninteresting to look at. However when added to the garden containing a variety of flowers and shrubs the effect is quite pleasing.
But how do we go about carrying out the task we have been given? Do we sit quietly at the back of the plot, like ferns in the woody, shaded part of the garden, allowing others to show off their bright blooms? Or are we like the raucous wallflowers we met earlier making sure that everyone sees and takes notice of us? Well, in his letter to the church at Corinth St Paul reminded them:
4 There are different kinds of gifts, but the same Spirit distributes them.5 There are different kinds of service, but the same Lord. 6 There are different kinds of working, but in all of them and in everyone it is the same God at work. 7 Now to each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good. 1 Corinthians 12:4-7
So, as each of us has been allotted a specific task so we are given the appropriate gifts to carry it out. Thus like the plants it is up to us to use those gifts that we have been given, whatever they may be to perform our task to the best of our ability, which must be to the greater glory of God.
But, a word of warning here, like the plants we have a limited life span on this earth and however wise we may be no one knows how long we have been given to do His Will. Thus it is essential to act now; to show God to the world in all we do today, whilst there is still time.
The street light outside our house is being replaced. The Utility Company tells us that it has been there for the past fifty years, when this road was first constructed, and now it needs replacing. Before the estate was built there was no illumination at all along what was just a track leading into the woods. The old light has served us well; it has needed new bulbs every so often, of course, but on the whole there has been no problem. We are told that the concrete standard is now crumbling and if not dealt with will collapse. The new light on its taller shiny steel pole will provide greater illumination to a wider area. The important point though is that the replacement lamp still will still need the same electrical power that had supplied the old one, but it will use it more efficiently.
I wonder how many of our lives are a bit like that. Are we wandering along an unlit country track in darkness, tripping over the fallen branches or slipping on the muddy path with nothing to tell us that we are even on the right path at all? Then maybe we find a track which has the occasional light, some small form of illumination to guide us. But it is not until we get to the tarmac road that we find some proper lighting so that we can see where we are going.
The Old Testament tells of the people of Israel wandering in the desert, symbolically in the dark until God provided Moses with the Law which they were to follow. From that time forward so long as they abided by the Law everything went well for them; when they strayed from God’s path things did not. However, over time the people felt that the Law needed to be amended, adjusted to cover every circumstance of their lives – a bit like replacing the light bulb in the street lamp. The result was that in the end the Law became too restrictive; not doing the job it was supposed to do and so needed replacing. That replacement was of course Our Blessed Lord and Saviour. Note though that He did not come to replace the old Law since it was after all the Word of God, but to build upon it; to use the same power source that fuelled the old system but more effectively.
So are we using the power source of God’s Will and Word effectively or are we wasting some of it by putting our own wants and desires first?
The apples are maturing with full bright red fruit on my neighbours trees just over the fence. Now if I were about sixty years younger..... What is it about apples? Eve was seduced by an apple and I have to say that I do like a firm crisp juicy apple. Eve’s apple was of course a symbol for temptation and perhaps in a way my neighbour’s apples represent that same temptation.
But then life is like that there are so many temptations in our lives that it is hard to avoid their siren call. You see working, and indeed not working but just sitting in the garden is safe, secure as it is in our everyday life. Despite all the hustle and bustle we do feel that we have some sort of control over our busy lives. But all around us there are temptations. Perhaps it is better then to focus on what we are doing; keep our heads down, don’t rock the boat. After all in the garden we can read our bibles, repeat the familiar comfortable prayers, promise to do God’s will. Is that what we are called to do however? It is easier for us to sit back and do nothing since to do God’s Will is not an easy option. Jesus explained to the Apostles exactly what would happen to Him and then said “Whoever wishes to come after me must deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” (Mark 27-35) – truly a daunting prospect!
In another garden, Gethsemane this time, the Apostles felt safe enough to sleep whilst Our Blessed Lord and Saviour prayed. In human form He was terrified about what was to follow. Mark tells us
“Going a little farther, he fell to the ground and prayed that if possible the hour might pass from him. 36 “Abba,f]" >[f] Father,” he said, “everything is possible for you. Take this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” Mark 14 :36 (NIV)
Now if Jesus was terrified about doing God’s Will how do we feel? But the important words are ‘not what I will, but what you will’
And that is the answer; we are not alone on this journey. He is with us; we need only call upon Him.
Let us pray the prayer attributed to St Ignatius:
Lord Jesus teach me to be generous
Teach me good Lord to serve thee as thou deservest
To give and not to count the cost
To fight and not to heed the wounds
To toil and not to seek for rest
To labour and not to ask for any reward save that of knowing we do thy will
A few years ago in late October we visited the magnificent gardens of the Schönbrunn Palace outside Vienna. Amazingly, all the standard rose trees in the gardens had been cut to exactly the same height, not one was even one inch above its neighbour whilst the lower branches had been pruned to precisely the same level. The ground had been cleared so that there was not a single leaf on the rose beds. Frighteningly neat and tidy! My garden is a mess in comparison although I do try to keep it in check.
We have come to regard our gardens and indeed the planet as being organised for our benefit. But the fact is that we are only temporary residents here and as such we have a duty to look after the world in which we live. September 1, 2015 marked the annual World Day of Prayer for the Care of Creation. This, the Pope said, would give individuals and communities an opportunity to implore God’s help in protecting creation and an opportunity to ask God’s forgiveness “for sins committed against the world in which we live.” All in line with his recent encyclical ‘On Care for Our Common Home (Laudato Si’)’ which is addressed to “every person living on this planet” not just Catholics. We are all called to acknowledge the urgency of our environmental challenges, he says.
We may agree, but ask what can I do about it? It is too big a problem for me to solve ‘They’ must sort it out. Ah yes, ‘they’. It is true that governments, states and communities have tough decisions to make since the economic benefits of the industrial world have been gained at a terrible cost to the environment.
As I write this I see a young robin eagerly feasting on the abundance of bugs and insects in the garden. He is putting on as much fat as he can to see him through the lean days to come. He reminds me of two things. Firstly, the number of once common garden birds now in decline. For example, around 60% of house sparrows have been lost since the mid-1970s. Since house sparrows are sedentary and rarely move far from their birthplace, it can take a long time for them to return to areas from where they've disappeared. By paving over our front gardens to provide parking spaces for our third or fourth car, which seem to get larger with each succeeding model, we have helped accelerate this decline – and not only in house sparrow numbers.
But there is hope for the robin also reminds me that if I do not tidy up the garden too efficiently; if I leave an unkempt patch in a corner somewhere where the brambles and weeds can flourish, not only will I provide some shelter for the birds and small animals over the winter but perhaps also a supply of food. It’s not a lot but perhaps it will help.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years