Friday 5 April 2024

Gardens I - Eden - of the Eating of Apples

Adam, Eve, a donkey and a cat, sit beneath a fruit-laden tree. Slightly abstract painting with dark lines and enigmatic colours.
"In the Beginning" - (c) Sally Coleman. With permission

Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. The LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground—trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. (Genesis 2)

Now I don’t believe in a literal Garden of Eden – an actual historical place in time, where God made Eve out of Adam's spare rib and a talking four-legged snake roamed the trees looking to trap the unwary But I do believe in the Garden of Eden. Its truths are so much easier to grasp, I find, if you get yourself out of the realm of archaeology and dodgy science and enter the world of our dreams and ideals.

Adam’s in the perfect place. But, even though God is there with him, it’s not the perfect place without Eve. Adam has to have company.

Then the LORD God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man.
The man said,
“This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’ for she was taken out of man.”

And they’re in a garden. Not a farm. The difference? In a farm you have to work to live. In a garden, work is a choice. They’ve got it easy, Adam and Eve. The fruit is just hanging on the trees. There’s no back-breaking ploughing. They just have to remember not to go for the low-hanging fruit. It's easier, but it's the last to ripen.

And we can get the feeling of that beauty. I can find it in a decent drift of primroses in long grass - that combination of human effort (planting, managing the mowing, cross-breeding, if you've got some primula x polyantha) and God's wonders (the snows in winter, the warmth, the breezes and the sunshine, etc). It all adds up to a hint of heaven to me.

A bed of naturalised primroses - natural yellow, pink, and one bright magenta

I'm intrigued by the paradox that seems to say that physical activity is good for you - as long as you don't have to do it. So we're encouraged to be active and not to sit down too much, for the good of our hearts - but jobs that include lots of physical activity and standing up are apparently bad for your health. It's like the choice, and the control matter. And so a garden is a place where you can grow food - if you want - at your leisure.

And Adam and Eve only had one rule to live by. Just imagine. The ease of it. I had to obey the Highway Code all the way to Tesco yesterday. And that's got hundreds of rules. Some of which that cyclist pointed out to me when I helped him down off the bonnet. But Adam and Eve just have one. Don’t eat fruit from one particular tree.

And at that point, if you’re my age and background, you’re thinking of the Father Ted episode, “Flight into Terror”. Fatherr Dougal has been invited into the cockpit of an airliner. And there’s a big red button with a sign that says “Do not Press”. And we all know what is going to happen next.

Fr Dougal looks at Big Red Button saying "Do Not Press"

So enter on all fours a talking snake. And a fruit is eaten.

Adam and Eve should have trusted God for their lives. But they chose the Tree of Knowledge, which they thought would make them like gods.

And they should have been walking with the Lord in the cool of the day, when he drops in like a neighbour, and instead they're hiding from him, frantically stitching up fig leaves, in case he should see anything hanging out.

The closeness to God is removed - the blight has entered - the garden is now a wilderness which you have to sweat at and burn to turn into a farm. Every beautiful flower has a petal nibbled by a slug. And they can't do anything about the bindweed.

Pink Primrose with petals nibbled by some small crittur

And the story has played out for the whole of human history.

But we have a race memory of Eden. The Greeks believed in a "Golden Age" which declined through silver, bronze etc to the "Iron Age". The Buggles - remember them - moved us one step further along to the Plastic Age. 

And because we live in an age of plastic, not Eden, we're left with an unfulfilment. A yearning. A longing after the perfect - which we never quite attain because we are mortal and this world is not the perfect one we can imagine. And no political campaign will achieve perfection, because they're all driven by failing humans. 

As a teenager I knew the spiritual yearning of the natural world, or of the ancient monuments still littered around the English landscape, the stones and barrows - the sense of there being something that I couldn't quite touch, brooding behind it all. Up on Dunstable Downs - if you can get away from the folk who sit in their cars, looking out over their dashboards towards the Vale of Aylesbury - out with the Five Knolls and the oddness and the wind and the sun setting down somewhere to the right of  Ivinghoe Beacon - that's where you can know something of it. The Rollright Stones at 7.30 on an October morning, coming up to Samhain. They creep across and nudge you and tell you about it. The roar of the sea, and the pebbles being dragged back out. They tell you that they wouldn't be far off what you're looking for. If it weren't for the sewage.

Reading CS Lewis's "Suprised by Joy" I recognised this experience. 

As I stood beside a flowering currant bush on a summer day there suddenly arose in me without warning, and as if from a depth not of years but of centuries, the memory of that earlier morning at the Old House when my brother had brought his toy garden into the nursery. It is difficult to find words strong enough for the sensation which came over me; Milton's 'enormous bliss' of Eden (giving the full, ancient meaning to 'enormous') comes somewhere near it. It was a sensation, of course, of desire; but desire for what?...Before I knew what I desired, the desire itself was gone, the whole glimpse... withdrawn, the world turned commonplace again, or only stirred by a longing for the longing that had just ceased... In a sense the central story of my life is about nothing else...

Cover image from "Surprised by Joy" by CS Lewis. A young boy in a sailor suit looking at a sprig of red currants
It wasn't the currant bush. And it wasn't the toy garden his brother had made in their earlier childhood. But one led to the memory of the other. And the memory of the other led to a memory of Eden that never was. And Lewis knew that was where he belonged.

And when I say Eden never existed, but its truths are true - I think Eden is in our hearts. Because somehow I believe that the world we have - beautiful, flawed, and dangerous - isn't the one we are meant to have. My heart says that death should not be, and that oppressive labour should not be, and poisoning bees to grow oilseed rape to feed to cattle should not happen. And that the Eden that is in our hearts is one we can hope for. And the One who walked in the cool of the day is the One we long for.

And, while we're waiting and hoping, at least we can try to make this world we have - the only one we've got - as much like Eden as we can.  The songwriter Jean Ritchie reflects on God leaving the world to Adam and Eve - to humanity - and saying "I'll see you in the cool of the day". Let's make the world fit for a good walk, when God's back for the stroll he promised.

Thursday 4 April 2024

Thumb Tack-Tics

Sometimes you struggle to see the reason for things. The real deep questions. The ones that seem to reach to the ground level of our existence.

You can buy 400 drawing pins (thumb tacks to our American friendss) for 80p in Poundland. This does beg the question why Poundland are selling things for 80p. But let's move on. 80p for 400 drawing pins. That's 0.2p per drawing pin. 

So why, in the average church notice board, do they use roughly nine drawing pins, one of which has the point bent right over and one which has the head broken off, to hold up eight pieces of paper? How much work do they expect 0.2p of metal to do?

0.2p per drawing pin. Come on, Christian England. Both of you. You can do better.

Sunday 24 March 2024

The Revolution Won't be Temporary

As long as this world turns, the effects of no revolution, no liberation, last forever.
The Hebrews escaped from Egypt, went to the Promised Land, and were exiled in Assyria and Babylon.

The Jews returned from Babylon, then were conquered by the Greeks.
They threw off the Greeks as told in the books of Macabees. Then were taken over by Rome. And the final revolt against Rome ended in disaster.

The English in the Civil War threw off the power of the Throne. Then realised living under a bunch of incompetent Puritan ratbags was no fun.

In 1804 Haitians revolted against the French, became the first republic in the Caribbean, the second in the Americas. And after 220 sad years is now a failed state.

The appearance of a Liberator is always a sure sign that, somewhere down the line, it’ll all go wrong again. Yet Jerusalem, Sunday before Passover, 33 or so AD - this kind of looks like a conquering general or a liberating hero.

But here, riding a donkey instead of a warhorse, in a triumph with disciples and pilgrims and childrens instead of slaves and prisoners, comes a puzzling Liberator.

His struggle will be on a cross, not a battlefield. His victory will come not in strength but in weakness. The liberation he brings will not be a country that will fail, or a form of Government that will creak under pressure or be seized and manipulated by a rabble-rouser or a technocrat.

The liberation he brings grows in our hearts, as a seed grows into a tree. The freedom he brings is to love others, even if they’re different to us.

And the kingdom he founds will last forever. You can’t draw borders round it. You can’t get a passport. But you can see it and feel it. It grows every day. And one day beyond this world’s time, it will be all there is. And what seemed to be a failure on a cross will be the deed that freed us all.

Tuesday 19 March 2024

Rite of Spring Equinox a Day Early

 All: All hail the spring! The spring is sprung!

Archdruid: What are you all doing out here?

All: Celebrating the Vernal Equinox.

Archdruid: Which is tomorrow.

All: The Daily Mail said it's today.

"Spring has officially sprung! Vernal Equinox is today as the sun shines directly over the equator - meaning winter is finally over Today is the Spring Equinox which marks the start of 'astronomical' spring At 03:06 GMT tomorrow morning, the sun will pass directly above the equator "

Archdruid: If the Daily Mail told you it was a good idea, would you vote for Brexit? Actually, forget I asked that. It's tomorrow. I presume that some 14 year old "reporter" or AI bot has scraped an American site, where the Equinox will happen later today. But it's still tomorrow our time.

Marston Moretaine: My brain hurts now.

Archdruid: It frequently does, doesn't it?

Burton Dasset: Diana in the Daily Mail comments says it's always  21st March, every year, at least that's what she was always told, and that's how it was in the 50s. And she's got upvotes.

Diana lowestoft, United Kingdom 19 minutes ago  I was always told that the Spring, or Vernal Equinox takes place on March 21st, whilst the Autumn Equinox is on September 21st. The Summer Solstice is on June 21st and the Winter Solstice occurs on December 21st. That's how it always was whilst growing up in the 1950s and 60s ...

Archdruid: What someone was always told is not the same as truth. And it wasn't true in the 50s either. And Diana has no idea what she's talking about. Do you have any concept of objective truth?

All: We're members of a made-up cult worshipping our own feelings. What do you reckon?

Archdruid: Good point. Anyway. See you out here at 6 minutes past three tomorrow morning?

All: What time?

Archdruid: Actually. Shall we just crack on now?

All: All hail the spring! The spring is sprung!

Sunday 17 March 2024

If a kernel of wheat dies (John 12:20-33)

The first thing always strikes me about this passage is: these Greeks have come to Jesus. Or to be exact they’ve come to Philip, who’s gone to Andrew, and together they’ve gone to Jesus.

Who then ignores the Greeks completely and just goes off on this tangent.

Is this because the Greeks have actually served their purpose? Jesus has gone out to the Children of Israel. Some have responded, some haven’t. And occasionally he’s met a Gentile - a non-Jew - and dealt with them – the Centurion whose servant he heals, or the Syro-Phoenician woman.

But this time there’s a delegation come to see him. Isaiah 60 says “all nations will come to your light”. And maybe Jesus sees this as the sign that his mission on earth is coming to an end – and the greater mission is come. And so immediately he’s talking about his death, and about how when you plant a seed, that seed “dies” in the ground, but many seeds will come from the resulting plant.

And so he knows he will be lifted up on the cross. But when he is, that means the Spirit can be poured out on all the disciples – from then until now – to share the Good News throughout the world. The seed will be sown – and many seeds will be produced. That first generation of Jesus’s disciples showed the recklessness that only those who know the most important thing on earth- and want to share it – can show.

And in being lifted up, Jesus also draws all people to himself. The word “lifted up” also means “exalted”. And it’s in Jesus’s crucifixion that he’s shown in glory. It’s in his death that he drives out the evil Prince of this world.

Being a gloomy soul, I like to spend a lot of time in churchyards. Apart from anything else, wearing my big archdruidical cloak, you can terrify the unwary around sundown. And it’s not the big old tombs to important people that move me. They've maybe had their reward. It’s the graves of young children. It’s the military graves, people dying in their 20s and 30s and 40s to protect our country. The young women lost before they achieve their dreams. And I think of all that sadness, their lost potential for love and achievement, not living to see dreams  come to fulfilment or their children grow. I think of all those young people lost in the AIDS pandemic, of my friend Sally, so full of life and interest in everyone else that she drove us up the wall quite frequently -  taken so suddenly in the Covid pandemic.

And then I consider the Son of God, crucified for me, just in his early 30s. The grief of his mother. The dashed dreams of his disciples. All the teaching and preaching he could have done – all the love he would have shared given another 40 or 50 years of ministry.

In all our broken dreams and lost potential, and all our sadnesses, and in every might-have-been that never will be – God is with us.

And yet because a seed has been sown, it will grow to new life. At the point of death, beyond the point of hope, in the grave, God is with us there too. Calling us all to him. Calling us to share in the glorious land beyond all our dreams, where we are truly ourselves and can worship the King face to face and know as we are known and love as we are loved.

And it’s only through a cross that we can be saved, and only through the grave that we can be raised, and only when a seed dies that it will grow to new and abundant life.

So we trust in the one who was exalted on a cross and follow the one who gave up his life, that we might all share in it.

Sunday 10 March 2024

The Complete Church Generation X Detector

I feel I should share this with you. This was revealed to me today, as in a dream.

If you refer to the Book of Judges, and you say that the best judge was a woman.

And you say that her name was Deborah.

And then say that it never suited her.

Anyone who nods and smiles quietly, is Generation X.

If they look baffled, they're Boomers.

And if they say she should have been happy with the name her father gave her, they're evangelicals.

Tuesday 27 February 2024

Beaker Collect for St George Herbert

 We desire that, if we meet George Herbert on the road, we may kill him.

And that we may so balance our desire to care, our desire to please, and our bodily and mental health needs, that we don't end up burned-out wrecks or die of consumption.


Saturday 17 February 2024

Bishop Alan Wilson

I'm so sad to hear of the death of Alan Wilson, Bishop of Buckingham.

Alan was a good friend of the Beaker Folk, a funny and caring man. 

May he rest in peace and rise in glory. We'll be lighting tea lights for him, Lucy, and all his family. 

Thursday 1 February 2024

Say it with Ashes

We're so excited that this year's Ash Wednesday falls on Valentine's Day.

It gives Melissa Sparrow the chance to write a special series of poems reflecting on both the joy of love, and the fleeting nature of all earthly joys. 

Welcome to our special collection of Ashy Valentine cards. I think you'll agree - they're the perfect combination of romantic love and impending doom.

Text inside: 

Violets are blue, roses are red
let's get it on now, before we're both dead.

Text inside: 

Don't leaf me this way 
Why can't you see
I might fall off this tree?

Text inside:

A rose by any other name
Would still be withered and dead within a fortnight.
Will you be my Valentine? 

Text inside:

I've fallen for you
Can you pick me up
Before we're all just ashes?