Beauty surrounds us, but we usually need to be walking in a garden to know it - Rumi
The weather here was bright and sunny over the weekend and so we took the opportunity to work in the garden. There is a lot to do at this time of year clearing away the fallen leaves, reducing the height of the roses and other shrubs and bushes so that they do not suffer to much in the winter storms to come as well as clearing away the dead growth. It’s surprising what you find when the ground is cleared – we found a sycamore sapling blown by the wind and rooted in the undergrowth struggling to reach the air. That needs to come out as there is no room for more trees, not there anyway. There is still much to do. For example, the Tamarisk bush which over the years has grown into a tree needs cutting back by a third but that’s a job for another day. Of course there is always time the midst of all this activity for a cup of coffee and that is a good time to look back over the year to ask what plants grew particularly well? Where did we see the best flowers or vegetables? Did some do not so well? Why was that? Did I plant them in the wrong position or not give them as much care and attention as they needed?
Perhaps now is also a good time to take stock of our own lives. Have we, like those beautiful roses I spoke about earlier in the year shown God’s glory in our lives and actions? Have we really shown our love for God by caring for our neighbour? Are there, like the sapling still some things buried which need to come out into the open; maybe things we would rather forget?
In short over the past year what have we done for God? Perhaps not very much or maybe we have embraced every opportunity willingly. I know that I fall somewhere in between!
So what can I do for God? On every packet of seeds there are instructions as to how and when to plant them and where they will grow the best, e.g. in full sun or in shade, in damp conditions or dry.
Like the seed packet my Bible, whichever version I use, lays out the instructions for my life quite clearly and simply when it says; Love God and love thy neighbour. Following those instructions and with God’s help we cannot go wrong.
Some fifty years ago our road was just a track leading into the woods and fields beyond. Now most of the woodland has been destroyed to make way for the new estate of houses, shops and schools. Thankfully, some of the old established oak trees have remained. At this time of year as the leaves change colour and fall to the ground the pathways are littered with acorns. Indeed, I am always amazed at the number of acorns there are; an example of the abundance of God’s bounty! Here St. Teresa of Avila reminds us: In all created things discern the providence and wisdom of God and in all things give Him thanks. The squirrels are quick to take advantage of the glut in order to fatten themselves up for winter. Those they do not eat now they bury to be consumed later. Often however they forget where they have buried their spoils so that some acorns survive to pop up as oak saplings in spring. In time if allowed to grow they will become mighty oaks themselves.
I expect we were all baptized at one point or another and perhaps went to church as children with mother and father. As we grew up maybe we rebelled against the boring old traditional church service with its monotonous hymns and seemingly endless sermons. Anyway, there were other things to do at the weekend like Sunday Football league games or a round of golf perhaps. After all, there was so much to do during the week that the weekend was a time not only for the normal housework but a time for a rest. Somehow God didn’t enter into the equation, in fact we seemed to be getting along nicely without all that ‘pomp and circumstance’ business.
Then maybe we were brought up sharply by a crisis, a sudden illness of a loved one for example, or maybe something worse. At these times we rushed around looking for some comfort, some relief, anything really to ease the pain or solve the problem. But somehow nothing seemed to provide that solace for which we were searching.
As winter wears on the squirrel gets more desperate for food and frantically searches for that lost acorn. Finding it in the place where he buried it gives him the energy to carry on hopefully until springtime.
In like manner at these times of crisis we will find that like the buried acorn God has been there all the time. He alone will provide the comfort, the support the guidance but more importantly the spiritual sustenance we need, for as Jesus said:
'Man shall not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'"
Matthew 4:4 (NIV)
And again like that buried acorn our faith will enable us to grow in the service of God our Creator.
One morning last week the weather was bright if slightly colder; nothing to write home about but enough to remind us that autumn was here. The first mists of the season were apparent on the grass and the bushes. On the hedges surrounding the garden were several spiders webs glistening in the early morning sun. However a most remarkable one had been spun by mother spider spanning an area from the clematis arch to the camellia plant some six feet away; whilst her sister had spun an equally impressive web between the arches. Both were beautiful, delicate silk like structures and each was individual in its design. Surely they are examples of the wonder of God’s creation and an opportunity for us to give thanks for them. How these tiny creatures learn the techniques required for such elaborate constructions is beyond my comprehension.
I know that some people have a fear of spiders but do we really need to fear them? After all, like us they are God’s creatures and like us were put on this earth for a purpose. I read the other day; “Trusting God’s faithfulness dispels our fearfulness” which I think puts it in context.
Anyway, the spider uses her web to catch her prey to feed herself and her family. In this sense they remind me that fishermen use their nets to catch fish to feed their families. This thought calls to mind those men fishing on the lake of Galilee all those years ago when Jesus called them to follow Him. He used their nets as a metaphor when He said “I will make you fishers of men”, in the sense of drawing men to Him, that is.
But Jesus’ call was not made once and once only two millennia ago. He calls us now, each one of us every day. You and I are His disciples just as those depicted in the Bible and in just the same way we are called to take up the challenge to bring men to God. As I have said many times before people will only come to know God if we show Him to them in our lives, our words, and our actions. As the Prophet says:
“And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.”
– Micah 6:8, NIV
So next time you see a spider’s web praise God for its beauty but at the same time remember your obligation as His servant.
There is an abundance of bright red firethorn berries on the bushes in the garden this year. It may be an old wives tale but it is often said that such a profusion heralds a long hard winter! I do hope not, but in any case they will provide plenty of food for the birds before winter takes its toll. The quince apples have also fallen which will provide food for the ground dwelling creatures too.
When I mentioned this to an American friend she said she imagined the birds in party hats and clothes celebrating Thanksgiving Day, (26 November, if you must know). It made her chuckle but it is an important reminder to all of us. One only has to look around at the wealth of God’s Creation at this time of year. The grain harvest will soon be in so that like the birds and animals we may eat for another year. (It saddens me that whilst one half of the world is suffering from starvation or malnutrition the other half throws away vast quantities of perfectly edible but unwanted food. It must be possible to redress that situation. Something to think about now but perhaps we can address that on a future occasion.)
But of course it is not only food to sustain our physical bodies that God provides. He also provides food for our souls; spiritual food without which we cannot exist. In Deuteronomy 8:3 we are told that: ‘He humbled you, causing you to hunger and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your ancestors had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the LORD.’
In case we are in any doubt, it is made even clearer in John 6:35: ‘Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never go hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty. Through the Eucharist Jesus is with us, He is our daily bread. Indeed at every meal we consume we are reminded of that fact.
Now that seems to me to be a very good reason to join the birds and indeed all Creation in their celebrations by praising and thanking God for all the abundance of gifts He has given us.
I am an Authorised Local Preacher in an Anglo Catholic parish church, in the Diocese of Essex UK