You who dwell in the garden with friends in attendance,let me hear your voice.
Song of Songs 8:13
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 work for a number of years