One day earlier this month, my walk took me through Canterbury cemetery once again. This time I saluted a few familiar names, since I passed near the Catholic corner, but then wandered into an older section I’d not visited before and found two passion flower crosses to add to our collection. One was covered in multicoloured lichen and not suitable for reproduction, but then there was this, erected in the first years of the XX Century.
It combines the Celtic Cross, the Greek Letters IHS – short for Jesus – at its centre, with the halo of passion vine leaves around it, and the passion vine itself, bringing the Cross to flowering splendour.
The passion flower represents the saving death of Jesus. There are ten petals for the ten apostles who did not deny him – leaving out Peter and Judas. There are five stamens representing the five wounds; three stigma for the nails, and the fringe of filaments around the flower stands for the crown of thorns. The beauty of the flower proclaims the resurrection.
By carving this flower over their dear ones’ graves, the family were indeed proclaiming that the dead would rise again with Christ. When you see a passion flower let it remind you that Jesus is real, his death was real, as indeed will ours be – but so, too, will our rising. And when you see a passion flower on a gravestone, pray for those lying there.
John McCrae was a Canadian military doctor during the Great War. He is best known for his poem ‘In Flanders Fields’. This post describes an incident he witnessed 105 years ago, on 1 June. It is from the introductory material selected by his editor.
“Tuesday, June 1st, 1915.
1-1/2 miles northeast of Festubert, near La Bassee. Last night a 15 pr. and a 4-inch howitzer fired at intervals of five minutes from 8 till 4; most of them within 500 or 600 yards—a very tiresome procedure; much of it is on registered roads.
In the morning I walked out to Le Touret to the wagon lines, got Bonfire, and rode to the headquarters at Vendin-lez-Bethune, a little village a mile past Bethune. Left the horse at the lines and walked back again. An unfortunate shell in the 1st killed a sergeant and wounded two men; thanks to the strong emplacements the rest of the crew escaped.
In the evening went around the batteries and said good-bye. We stood by while they laid away the sergeant who was killed. Kind hands have made two pathetic little wreaths of roses; the grave under an apple-tree, and the moon rising over the horizon; a siege-lamp held for the book. Of the last 41 days the guns have been in action 33.
Captain Lockhart, late with Fort Garry Horse, arrived to relieve me. I handed over, came up to the horse lines, and slept in a covered wagon in a courtyard. We were all sorry to part—the four of us have been very intimate and had agreed perfectly—and friendships under these circumstances are apt to be the real thing.
From “In Flanders Fields and Other Poems” by John McCrae.
Peter (Piotr) Wygnański grew up in Cambridge and was an altar server for 11 years in the parish of St Laurence. He was ordained priest on 25 July 2019 in the Cathedral of Saint John the Baptist, Norwich, by Bishop Alan Hopes.
Part of the ordination rite has the deacon lying flat on the floor while prayers are said or sung.
In his homily, Bishop Alan said: “Jesus tells us we must be prepared to share in his suffering and death…and at the heart of our ministry must be humility”. Priesthood, he added, “Is nothing to do with status”.
The Bishop told Peter: “Your prostration before God…is an abandonment of yourself to His love and will” and he encouraged him to “model your life on the mystery of the Lord’s cross”.
I’m not sure that these two friends from L’Arche Ipswich were thinking of any of that as they got down close to the tulips, but the flowers are given to us by God’s love and will, and by abandoning their upright dignity to wake up and smell the flowers they got closer to His loving gift of tulips, their colour, shape, texture and scent.
If you wait till July you can look up humbly at 3 metres high sunflowers instead!
Peter Wygnański’s story shared from the East Anglia diocese website; see link above.
This goes alongside today’s Gospel reading, and last year’s Easter walks.
We walked the fields and woods on Easter day,
Considering the flowers: bluebell, gorse for Edward Thomas,
Campion for the martyr, David’s daffodils; and for
Christ’s Mother, Lady’s Smock, a blue-white garment.
For himself? I see him rising, feeling each rib, gingerly
Easing the circle of thorns from his brow to spin it
High and higher out of his ken, to Paris:
Disputed relic but reverenced for his sake.
His feet have stopped bleeding. He can walk
Across the grass without pain. Almost.
‘Mary, Please, please; do not touch me; not just yet,
But tell them all, I’m going North to Galilee.
‘Oh, and Mary: just a dab of your oil on my brow.
The scratches sting, but I find I’m healing like a babe,
As Lazarus did last month when he came forth.
Time now to take a walk, to find my legs and feet again.
‘My feet are fine, thank you Mary. Go to Peter now,
Give him my message, tell him what you’ve seen
And rub his brow too with oil to firm his courage.
I’ll see you by the lake, if not before. Now for my
'Walk. I feel my legs can take me far, without
Tiring. Those scars are not pretty but who looks
At feet, except a salesman selling shoes,
Or serving man with water, soap and towel? Or you.’
. . .
Who is that ahead? I should know the gait of
Clopas and his friend, red Isaac, expecting a kingdom by the sword.
‘What are you saying on your way? Now, listen
With your eyes and heart. Consider the flowers of the field.
Do they toil and spin? No, all they have is gift of sun, and rain,
And red-tailed bumble bee, loving them into growth
And fruition. The grain of wheat has fallen. Stay with me
My friends. Take and eat my given body. Stay with me.
It’s that in-between day. The day when fresh linen is spread over the stripped altar, when church dusting is done, the floor and brass polished, the flowers gathered in and arranged. Christina Rossetti invites us to Consider the lilies of the field; her message, one we have been reminded of more than once this week, is HOPE. Jesus found Mary in the garden, after all. Consider that one small seed that was laid in the garden tomb.
CONSIDER THE LILIES OF THE FIELD.
Flowers preach to us if we will hear:– The rose saith in the dewy morn, I am most fair; Yet all my loveliness is born Upon a thorn. The poppy saith amid the corn: Let but my scarlet head appear And I am held in scorn; Yet juice of subtle virtue lies Within my cup of curious dyes. The lilies say: Behold how we Preach without words of purity. The violets whisper from the shade Which their own leaves have made: Men scent our fragrance on the air, Yet take no heed Of humble lessons we would read.
But not alone the fairest flowers: The merest grass Along the roadside where we pass, Lichen and moss and sturdy weed, Tell of His love who sends the dew, The rain and sunshine too, To nourish one small seed.”
The 18th Century curate and scientist saw no conflict between these two ways of looking at the world; here it is science inspiring him to a prayer in poetry.
The crocus sativus, the vernal, and the autumnal crocus have such an affinity, that the best botanists only make them varieties of the same genus, of which there is only one species; not being able to discern any difference in the corolla, or in the internal structure. Yet the vernal crocus expands its flowers by the beginning of March at farthest, and often in very rigorous weather; and cannot be retarded but by some violence offered: — while the autumnal (the saffron) defies the influence of the spring and summer, and will not blow till most plants begin to fade and run to seed.
This circumstance is one of the wonders of the creation, little noticed, because a common occurrence: yet ought not to be overlooked on account of its being familiar, since it would be as difficult to be explained as the most stupendous phaenomenon in nature.
Say, what impels, amidst surrounding snow, Congealed, the crocus’ flamy bud to grow? Say, what retards, amidst the summer’s blaze, Th’ autumnal bulb till pale, declining days ? The GOD of SEASONS; whose pervading power Controls the sun, or sheds the fleecy shower: He bids each flower His quickening word obey; Or to each lingering bloom enjoins delay.
Letter XLII from The Natural History of Selborne by Gilbert White.
Recently Mrs T and I were at the southern edge of Manchester, in Didsbury, and walked away from the houses, across the main road, into Fletcher Moss Park. I expected Fletcher Moss to be a wetland, as in Chat Moss and other boggy areas around Manchester, but it is named after Mr Fletcher Moss, who gave his house and estate to the city of Manchester early last century.
The land does slope down to the River Mersey, and the lower areas were too wet for our city shod feet, so my expectations were not altogether dashed.
Before we arrived at the park, we crossed the tramway by this Poppy Bridge, remembering the fallen of the Great War. Nearby children from three local schools have scattered poppy seed, to flower this summer, 100 years since the end of that war. (And flower they did, in profusion.)
After walking through Didsbury Park, well populated by young children and parents off to meet siblings from those three local schools, we came to the edge of Fletcher Moss Park, with its sports fields and fine benches including Rory’s Bench, covered in carved creatures, and a formidable lacrosse player. The game is more popular in these parts than most of England.
Mr Moss’s garden had been a little neglected in recent times, until a voluntary group was formed to undertake many of the City Council’s responsibilities. We admired the hellebores in the beds near the house, including this one, thriving in the cold.
Also near the house were witch hazel bushes, worth seeing silhouetted against the grey sky as well as in colour on the dark background of walls and branches. This computer cannot share the scent, clean and sharp.
More scent, sweeter this time, at ground level from snowdrops and oxlips, a hybrid between primroses and cowslips.
A little further and we were at a corner of rainforest – well most English people know that if you can see the Pennine Hills from Manchester, it is going to rain; if you can’t see them, it must be raining.
It wasn’t raining yet … and just around the corner a bank of heather – erica – a plant that shuns our alkaline soil in East Kent.
How’s this for early March?
We wandered down to the next level; as I said, it was too muddy for city shoes to approach the river, but there was a clump of young willow ablaze in the afternoon light. I’m told by my colleagues at L’Arche that for weaving and basket making, the golden-green and the dark red not only contrast well when woven together, they have slightly different properties. I must learn more.
And I must come back to Fletcher Moss next time I’m visiting family in Manchester, and see how it looks in other seasons. Many thanks to the volunteers who are helping the City council care for this treasure.
(This post was scheduled before the Mersey flooded much of this area in January 2012.)
And for raiment why are you solicitous? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they labour not, neither do they spin. But I say to you, that not even Solomon in all his glory was arrayed as one of these. And if the grass of the field, which is to day, and to morrow is cast into the oven, God doth so clothe: how much more you, O ye of little faith?
Matthew 6: 28-30.
The photo is from January last year, but could have been taken today, had the skies not been so grey. I always enjoy our early violets that bloom before their season. They put me in mind of this Gospel passage. I don’t think this was just a throwaway line of Jesus; he wants us to give our attention to the flowers and how they grow and are provided with sunshine, soil and water. That includes solid science.
These violets did not appear by magic, nor do they survive by magic. The bed they grow in was created at the edge of a footpath maybe 20 years ago, with shrubs lining a brick wall and violets providing ground cover beneath, shadowing out any weed seeds that might try and grow there. It’s almost a self-sustaining habitat now, requiring annual pruning of the bushes, and an occasional thinning of the violets.
I once declined to look after the garden of a lady who wanted me to uproot the violets carpeting her rose bed. The combination struck me as one of the most attractive prospects of her plot and she wanted to be rid of it! Removing the violets would have been against nature. Other plants would have come along to fill the space, requiring repeat weedings in turn. Working with nature allows our violets to do what they do best, bringing a smile to the faces of passing humans.
Pat, a girl I once worked with, had no money on her mother’s birthday, but had never noticed the bank of violets by their front fence. We gathered a fine posy to mark the day. Consider the flowers! They can speak of our love for each other as well as God’s love for us. Let’s work with him to restore beauty to our world.
Good morning to you all and I hope this finds you all well, as we are here. Yesterday was a stark reminder of the human toll that this virus has had on so many people with the death toll exceeding 100,00 numbers that are difficult to commute. The impact that has had on so many families and communities. Like many of you I am very aware of those who have lost their lives from this virus, and the devastating impact it has had on so many. We think of them today, and all those who are struggling with long-covid. Over the course of the next 5 weeks or so I have 9 funerals in the diary – not all by any means are covid-related, but it is the reality of life at the moment, and the most I have ever had in such a short period of time. John today in leading morning prayer dedicated the service to all those who lost their lives, including the 880 NHS staff who have died from contracting the virus – of paying the ultimate sacrifice. It really makes one stop and think. Please keep all who mourn the loss of loved ones in your prayers. Today is also Holocaust Memorial Day: a national commemoration day in the United Kingdom dedicated to the remembrance of those who suffered in the Holocaust, under Nazi persecution, and in subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia, and Darfur. It was first held in January 2001 and has been on the same date every year since. The chosen date is the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz concentration camp by the Soviet Union in 1945. Ref: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Holocaust_Memorial_Day_%28UK%29 It is times like this that when we see outside the shoots of spring, the snowdrops (Candlemas Bells), and the buds on the trees that we recognise the signs of hope. Jesus is the light of the world. Some of you may have heard the Archbishop talk with words of hope on the Today programme earlier this morning.
Words from one of today’s psalms: 46.10 “Be still and know that I am God”
Wherever you are,
please do keep well,
keep connected and keep praying.
Rev Jo RichardsRector of the Benefice of St Dunstan, St Mildred and St Peter, Canterbury
South winds jostle them,
Drink, and are gone.
On their passage Cashmere;
I, softly plucking,
Present them here!
Poems by Emily Dickinson, Three Series, Complete, via kindle
Flowers yesterday, flowers today; it’s winter, so why not hover and hesitate, pause for a moment; present them to their maker in loving gratitude. This beautifully arranged bouquet was placed in our room by Karin when we visited her and Winfried, a gesture of love which stays with me although we are long gone!