Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
The other week I asked for your prayers for my friend Peter H who has recently been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Soon, no doubt Our Lord will tap him on the shoulder and call him to his eternal rest, as He will all of us in our allotted time. But then as Ecclesiastes 3:1-2 says ‘There is an appointed time for everything, and a time for everything under the heavens. A time to be born, and a time to die. Yet we can take comfort in verse 4: A time to weep, and a time to laugh; a time to mourn, and a time to dance. Peter H is a man of some standing in the community and as such is known and respected by all who are acquainted with him. In due time his passing will be a sad loss to scores of people, yet there have been so many opportunities to laugh and to dance and for that we must be grateful. In a way it seems wrong speaking of Peter as if he had already departed this world but it is a reminder that none of us know when the call will come so that we should live each day as if it were our last – for the greater glory of God.
One ability Peter has is that he can remember names and faces so that even if he hasn’t seen you for some while, he will always acknowledge you, and, if the opportunity presents come across to start a conversation with the words: “Hello Peter, How are you?” How he knows my name from the hundreds he has met over the years, I do not know. After all, it is not as if I am anything special to him. But the point is that it is not just me, he will address anyone he meets by their own name. Truly a remarkable man since that seemingly simple act makes one feel important, wanted even; certainly one is more inclined to go with him.
Even more then, God knows each one of us intimately, by name and indeed better than we know ourselves. How does that make us feel? Wanted? Needed? Of value to Him, maybe? Loved by Him, perhaps? More willing to follow Him? Yes, all these things and more. So, if God loves us so much how much more are we called to love Him? And how do we show that love for God? Well, how did Jesus address that problem? He said: ‘Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink?’ Matthew 25:37(KJV). And what was Jesus’ answer? ‘And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.’ Matthew 25:40 (KJV)
Put simply, ‘Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself’ Matthew 22:39
The other day we parked in the supermarket car park for our weekly food shopping. As my wife had more shopping to do she left me to take the goods back to the car. There I found one of the rear tyres had a puncture. My immediate reaction was to phone the roadside assistance service to get them to take the tyre off and fit the spare. The problem then arose trying to get through to them. You see, my Bank provides roadside assistance as a “free” benefit on my account. Unfortunately that means ringing the Bank’s Customer Care Centre to access it where, of course one speaks to an automated system “Do you want to use your ten letter security code?” asked the machine “No, I do not. I am standing in the middle of the High Street and I have no idea what it is!” “Then what is your date of birth” asked the machine. This I gave. “We do not recognize that date.” “Why not? It is correct. You could ask mother if she were still alive!” “Would you like to speak to an adviser?” “Yes, that is why I am ringing!!” “All our advisers are busy at present but please hold the line, your call is important to us.” So we end up with the ridiculous situation of a grown man of 76 standing in the middle of the High Street hurling abuse at an automated phone system. I have never been blessed with an even temper.
My wife returned, looked at the tyre and said “Why don’t you take the car to the tyre fitters shop on the industrial estate, it’s only a mile down the road?” This we did, they fitted two new tyres and all’s well that ends well, even if my wallet is £200 lighter.
What is the lesson here? In No Man Is An Island. NY: Harcourt Brace & Co., 1955, Thomas Merton puts it thus: Silence is the mother of speech.
So before speaking, think, and before thinking pray. If only I had remembered those words I would not have looked such a fool in the High Street and the car would have been fixed earlier and easier.
By the way, it seems that I was meant to write this reflection since today’s verse from BibleGateway.com reads: ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.’ Ephesians 4:29 NIVUK
The plants in the garden have, by and large, finished flowering and have set seed. The birds are taking full advantage of the abundance of food thus provided to fatten up for the winter ahead.
Whilst many birds will remain here, some have already set off for warmer climes. The swallows, for example, are on their way to Africa. In early summer they will undertake the return flight to the UK, a round trip of some 16,000 miles. (Spare a thought for the young ones born only a few months ago.) Both journeys will be beset with danger from wind and weather, exhaustion and hunger but also from predators both hawks and man since their route takes them over an area where shooting birds is allowed. Yet every year they make the passage each way.
If you look up you will soon see the Brent geese flying in V formation, returning from the harsh cold of Siberia to spend to winter on the grass lands of East Anglia – and eating the winter barley! They too will return to Siberia in early summer; a round trip of some 7000 miles.
Our life is also a journey fraught with difficulties and dangers, joy and sadness but like the birds we travel in hope; a hope of finding something better, a better and more enduring life. The birds travel by instinct but we are sustained in our journey by faith. Faith does not minimize the dangers but a firm faith in God will enable us to overcome any earthly difficulty.
Now we cannot assign human virtues to birds but remember that the geese fly in a V formation. They do this for a particular reason. The lead bird bears the brunt of the wind and weather whilst those following in his slip steam have an easier time. In fact, this formation has been scientifically proved to be the most efficient way of a group flying. In due time another bird will take over the lead to let his companion rest, which seems a good example of charity.
Let us then give thanks to God for the food the garden has provided for the birds and for the example of the spiritual virtues they inspire in us. Let us seek to emulate them.
As St Paul said: “And now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.”1 Corinthians 13:13 KJV
Saturday was 3rd September 2016. Seventy six years ago on this day England declared war on Germany for the second time in twenty years. Thus began what came to be known as World War 2.
Among the many problems facing the UK government was how to feed its civilian population. There were, after all severe restrictions on its supply lines due to enemy action; a situation which would only get worse as the war progressed. One answer was the rationing of essential goods and foods. Each person was issued with a ration book, which mother took charge of since without the coupons they contained she could buy nothing. Food, clothing, just about everything was rationed. Indeed sweets did not come off rationing until September 1953, as a result of which our teeth were in much better condition than those of our grandchildren! Rationing did not finally end until meat was de-rationed in July 1954. So for fifteen years what we were able to eat and indeed able to buy was severely restricted.
I thought about all this over the weekend as we gathered seeds from the garden. At this time of the year, having finished flowering, the plants will begin to set seeds. We have already gathered several envelopes full of seeds to be sown next year or given away as gifts. Of course, some plants have already scattered their seeds across the garden; some will grow and some will be eaten by birds and insects. Indeed, the birds are eating the soft fruit now in preparation for winter when there will be little food about. They will have carried the seed elsewhere. What always amazes me is the abundance of seeds the plants produce; more than enough to feed all the hungry birds and animal as well as ensuring the survival of the species.
To get his message across Jesus used familiar objects and occasions so that his listeners would be able to understand. Thus there are a number of references in the Bible to seeds, plants, fish and the like. But this abundance of seed and the exuberance with which it is spread reminds us that God’s gifts to us are not rationed, not restricted in any way. We do not need a ration book for they are freely available to all. God’s love for each of us is unconditional. Let me repeat that, God loves each one of us unconditionally.
For his unbounded and unconditional love let us give thanks to God our Creator the giver of all good things.
Peter is a father and a grandfather who has been retired from full time employment for a number of years