Thursday 27 June 2024

We left him out there (after Thomas Hardy)

We left him out there

To drift on the air

The sun cast down its face

The rain will bless his place

The tides will cushion him to sea

Maybe now he is free.

Friday 21 June 2024

Sunday 16 June 2024

Gardens (III) The Memory of Trees

In our first foray into the Garden, gentle Beaker Folk, we considered that there was a garden with two trees. And one was of life, and one was of knowledge. And God walked in the garden with Adam and Eve. And this Edenic state of affairs came to an end when Adam and Eve ate from the tree of knowledge and there was no going back.

But the memory of trees (© Enya) remained. The Buddha meditated under the Bodhi tree. The Canaanites (and the Israelites, when nobody was looking) worshipped around the Asherah poles. The Norse and Germans in their turn, had the Ash tree Yggdrasil, the World tree.

And the Israelites knew that trees could regenerate given the right condition. Isaiah told us, "There shall come forth a Rod from the stem of Jesse, And a Branch shall grow out of his roots."

And in time, a branch grew from Jesse. And alongside, another tree grew. It was cut down for the use of the Roman Empire, and on it was nailed the son of Adam and Eve who was also the son of God.

On that tree, the son of God promised he'd meet a condemned rebel in a garden shortly - "today you will be with me in Paradise". And that tree of death became a tree of life. The curse in Eden was reversed by that obedience in Gethsemane, by that tree on a hill, and resurrection in the Garden of Life.

And that paradise - a walled garden - turns out to be a Garden City. I don't know if the founders of Welwyn or Letchworth Garden Cities thought they were trying to build the New Jerusalem, but it was a noble aim.

This walled garden has gates. But they are never shut. So you can go in whenever you want. And you can check out any time you want - but you'll never want to leave.

And here is the Tree of Life again. This time with bonus fruit and healing leaves.
Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing from

the throne of God and of the Lamb down the middle of the great street of the city. On each side of the river stood the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city, and his servants will serve him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever. (Rev 22:1-5)
Let's face it, if the water is a clear as crystal, this is going to be heaven for all except the owners of water companies. 

And everything is new again. The creation is in the state of peace which Paul tells us in Romans it is currently groaning for. We are in the Eden we have dreamed of - the Eden which our earliest myths told us about, the imaginary garden we always wanted to return to. And all manner of things will be well, when we have the Lamb for our sun and God for our king, and will be finally at home.

Just a Mustard Seed

One thing about the Mustard seed.

And it’s something Jesus mentions in passing. He takes it for granted.

That when the tree is very large, the birds of the air shelter in it.

And we can, in our way of making allegories, come up with explanations as to what the birds represent  - the Gentiles, maybe. And there’s nothing wrong with that.

But also, Jesus is just taking for granted God’s goodness in creation. God’s generosity. The birds have a place to rest, because God has provided the mustard seed. We are called to care for God’s world, with its many dependencies, its web of wonder.

Friday 14 June 2024

Seeds (in General)

Thing about a seed – it drops where it likes. And it may or may not grow.

You drive down the side of a main road. Or walk along a canal towpath. There’s always loads of apple trees.
They’ve not been planted there. They’re self-seeded from apple cores, thrown out of cars or thrown off boats going down the canal.

Apple trees never grow true from seed. Every apple tree from seed is genetically unique. They’re not like yer Granny Smiths or Golden Delicious, grafted from cuttings so every one is the same.

They’re free. Every tree down the side of the A1 or the Grand Union. They’re unique. There has never been a tree like them. There will probably never be another.
You can moan about people throwing apple cores out of windows. You might be the sort of person who wants every apple on earth to be a Cox's Orange Pippin.
Or you can be glad that so much genetic diversity is blooming down every hard shoulder. Rejoice in the glory as God does, I believe, that every tree is unique, and blooming and fruiting to the glory of its creator.

You never know what a seed might do. But you can give it a chance.

A Mustard Seed

Again he said, “What shall we say the kingdom of God is like, or what parable shall we use to describe it? It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. Yet when planted, it grows and becomes the largest of all garden plants, with such big branches that the birds can perch in its shade.” (Mark 4:30-32)

I was reading about the plague of bamboo in suburban gardens. To be clear- I wasn’t actually in suburban gardens when I read it. I live in a village. I mean, it’s growing in suburban gardens and I read about it.

Didn’t we all love those gardening programmes in the early naughties? Alan Titchmarsh all Northern camp. Tommy Walsh the digging woman’s catnip. And many men seemed particularly drawn to Charlie Dimmock for her extensive aquatic gardens knowledge.

A plague of decking fell across the land. And with it – majestic and swaying in the breeze – came the humble bamboo. Formerly used only to prop up tomato plants, we started using terms like ”architectural”.

And now, twenty years on, mighty bamboo takes revenge. Its frondy fronds are everywhere, its roots probing our foundations for weakness.
And it all happened while nobody was looking.

Jesus’s mustard seed wasn’t of the “produces small green sprouts when germinated on damp kitchen roll” variety.
I’m indebted to Pliny the Elder for telling us that black mustard was, bamboo-like, a rampant spreader. You’d just plant the one tiny, tiny seed to provide an accompaniment to your traditional Roman roast beef. Next you know, it’s all over the garden. And attracting the birds as well, according to Jesus. Though he may have been exaggerating for effect.

Starts from a tiny seed. Grows like Topsy. Shelters all the stragglers that blow in. Good analogy for the way that tiny single seed was planted in the Judean earth, germinated, and spread across the Roman Empire. Though it was a mortal shame when it went to seed.

You can take a train across Middle England. See the spires and towers of her churches. Where threes and fours cling on, holding the faith once delivered to our ancestors in whatever modern, post-modern or fetishistic mutations it has taken. And wonder – if a seed dies can it grow again? And if it does not die, how can it bear a crop?

Could the seeds sown from the dying plant germinate and grow again? Make a shelter for all the homeless birds of the air, blown from their nests by the winds of cruelty of our money-drunk, greed-blown, egocentric, plasticated society? Provide a place of shade, a place for security above the rats in the rat-race?

I don’t know. But it may not cost much to plant a seed. If it dies it dies. But if it grows – it can take over the world with kindness.

Sunday 9 June 2024

Will there be a Quiet Place in Heaven?

Will there be a quiet place in heaven?

Not that it would be all bad, the feasting and drinking

And the singing Hallelujahs for ever.

I’m sure that’s all fine, as the countless angels wing their flight

And we join the unending hymn of praise.

But will there be a quiet place in heaven?

When the new heaven and new earth are joined in singing

And the tables are laden with the food of eternity

Will there be a place in the corner of the open-gated city

Where you can just be still as the eternal river trickles by

In the shade of the leaves of the tree of life

And dangle your hands in the cool water as it flows

And maybe pick an apple meant for you before time began

And waiting there for you now time is at end

And wonder how – if time is no more – there are still seasons

And water still runs downhill

And listen for the sound of that still small voice

While the brass bands play downtown?

Tuesday 4 June 2024

Theological Reflection Commemorating the Life of Jürgen Moltmann (1926-2024)

Beaker Folk in hi viz and steel-toed Doctor Martens sadly enter the Moot House

They stomp up to the Worship Focus



They stomp back out of the Moot House

Sunday 2 June 2024

Nativity of Thomas Hardy (1840)

Photograph of Thomas Hardy as a middle-aged man. Balding with a fine Victorian moustache like a literary walrus

First Yokel: It's that Thomas Hardy's birthday then.

Second Yokel: Aye. That it be.

First Yokel: Him'd be 184 if he were still alive then.

Second Yokel: Aye. That a' would.

First Yokel: Hast finished "Jude the Obscure" yet?

Second Yokel: No, too depressing.

First Yokel: Hast finished "Tess of the D'Urbervilles" yet?

Second Yokel: No, too depressing.

First Yokel: Hast finished "The Woodlanders" yet?

Second Yokel: No, too depressing.

First Yokel: Hast finished "The Return of the Native" yet?

Second Yokel: No, too depressing.

First Yokel: Shall us along to the Peter's Finger in Mixen Lane for a pretty drop o' tipple?

Second Yokel: W' all my heart.

First Yokel: Happy heavenly birthday, Thomas Hardy.

Second Yokel: If he's up there he's gonna be feeling a bit stupid.