Another quiet morning at L’Arche’s garden, beside the River Stour. Thanks o corona virus, I was alone, working outside at the table, when Robin flew down beside me, hoping that a worm or insect might appear as I emptied plants out of small pots to put them in bigger ones. He found something and flew down to share it with another robin: his wife, his hen, who made a soft call in her throat.
Back home, where this picture was taken, the robins were hunting in pairs too. They cannot abide sharing territory with any other robin, except their mate; we saw battles over the Glebe bird table a couple of yearsago.
Three years, give or take a week, I have been working at L’Arche Kent’s Glebe garden. The River Stour flows alongside; not a wide stream, so we can hear, and in winter and early spring, see across to the flats (apartments) opposite. We often hear snatches of conversation as people walk by, but today, for the first time, I became aware that people were talking from one balcony to another. It was a beautiful sunny morning, and I was alone on our side, so perhaps I was hearing something that was often going on in the background, even in this age of secure outer front doors and entry phones. But I do think this neighbourliness was indeed something new.
Continuing our reflections on life under the corona virus, this is an extract from a letter to customers of a Seed Merchant, Suttons.
Yesterday in conversation with an enthusiastic gardening journalist we were discussing how gardeners are generally an optimistic bunch of people. We take tiny seeds, put them into the ground, hoping they will germinate and flourish. Many of us have planted trees that we don’t even expect to see fully mature in our lifetimes. Our plants are blissfully unaware of the troubles of the world and caring for our gardens, patios and windowboxes also gives us the chance to escape for a while.
Gardening is a wonderful hobby where in a large garden or even a balcony a few plants can provide months or even years of pleasure. We recognise how important this hobby is to our customers so I can assure you that we will continue to do all that we can to help you to enjoy your outdoor (or indoor) spaces.
Pope Francis, in this final extract from his 2019 Lenten message, tells us that the traditional Lenten disciplines should be teaching us to love creation, not despise it.
Creation urgently needs the revelation of the children of God, who have been made “a new creation”. For “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17). The path to Easter demands that we renew our faces and hearts as Christians through repentance, conversion and forgiveness, above all by fasting, prayer and almsgiving.
Fasting, that is, learning to change our attitude towards others and all of creation, turning away from the temptation to “devour” everything and being ready to suffer for love, which can fill the emptiness of our hearts. Prayer, which teaches us to abandon idolatry and the self-sufficiency of our ego, and to acknowledge our need of the Lord and his mercy. Almsgiving, whereby we escape from the insanity of hoarding everything for ourselves in the illusory belief that we can secure a future that does not belong to us. And thus to rediscover the joy of God’s plan for creation and for each of us, which is to love him, our brothers and sisters, and the entire world, and to find in this love our true happiness.
Dear brothers and sisters, the “Lenten” period of forty days spent by the Son of God in the desert of creation had the goal of making it once more that garden of communion with God that it was before original sin (Mark 1:12-13; Is 51:3). May our Lent this year be a journey along that same path, bringing the hope of Christ also to creation, so that it may be “set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Romans 8:21).
Let us not allow this season of grace to pass in vain! Let us ask God to help us set out on a path of true conversion. Let us leave behind our selfishness and self-absorption, and turn to Jesus’ Pasch. Let us stand beside our brothers and sisters in need, sharing our spiritual and material goods with them. In this way, by concretely welcoming Christ’s victory over sin and death into our lives, we will also radiate its transforming power to all of creation.
At L’Arche Kent we cannot let a year go by without some of us joining in the BBC and RSPB’s* annual Big Bird Watch – spending an hour at the Glebe,§ watching to see how many species and how many individuals call in to our feeding stations.
Nothing exotic here! The parakeets have not arrived in Canterbury yet; there must be plenty of pickings in the Thanet seaside towns to encourage them to say.
But we saw seven sparrows at once and a pair of moorhens: as you see, we are at the riverside. We were quite surprised not to spot any wood pigeons, but when our photographer went to speak to someone at the other end of the garden he saw that they had been there all the time, behind the shed and therefore out of sight.
The rats were there all the time too, but then it was the first day of the Chinese Year of the Rat.
As ever, the afternoon ended with a shared meal, in thanks for a shared afternoon enjoying creation, including each other’s company. Laudato Si!
Our little bit of information sent into the national survey may help ensure that these birds are not lost to Britain. The rats, however intelligent they may be, will have to be controlled, for the sake of the garden as well as the birds who will be nesting here. Stewards of Creation we are meant to be, not exploiters, and it was human intervention that enabled rats to conquer the world. This rat retreated in the face of the moorhen’s sharp beak. They generally keep out of our way.
*BBC – British Broadcasting Corpor ation, the radio and tv people; RSPB – Royal Society for the Protection of Birds.
§ Glebe: a plot of land for the priest to grow food on: a church allotment.
After a night of high winds and rain, this was the view greeting me when I came through to the bathroom with its big Velux roof window: golden birch leaves, a great sprinkling of little, three cornered birch seeds, and at the top a lime (tillia) seed wing with two hanging seeds.
Seeds of both trees rely on the wind to take root elsewhere, away from their parent that would otherwise deprive them of light; both trees have their own method to prepare and form the next generation. An oak is growing from a small, abandoned patch of land nearby. A magpie or a squirrel must have buried the acorn.
If every birch seed grew to maturity we would soon be well afforested. Not entirely practical here and now, but maybe a little guerrilla gardening will help the oak grow to a good height before I’m too old to appreciate it. Who’s watching?
The golden birch leaves are enjoying their last moment of glory, and so am I – not my own last moment of glory, I need to grow a bit more and die a bit more first; but I am enjoying the gold of the birch.
So let’s get out and really enjoy the autumn – or even enjoy watching it happening through the windows.
A poor life this if full of care,
We have no time to stand and stare.
And the good Lord did tell us to consider the grasses of the field; (Luke 12:27-31) we should get to know our local area and have a care for its plants, even up to oak trees, or future oaks. Laudato Si!
Perhaps, too, we should be readier to take wing on the wind of the Spirit, blowing where She will.
More news from USPG, supporting the Global Anglican Church.
A Church of South India school has won a national prize for its work on the environment. CMS school in Vechoochira, Kerala has 430 students. They beat thousands of other schools to win the prize, which was organised by the Centre for Science and Environment in New Delhi.
The school has been championing the Green School Programme in a variety of ways since 2014. Students avoid using plastic bottles or throwaway plastic. They use pens made from waste paper. Each pen has a seed embedded in it. When the ink runs out the pupils ‘plant’ the pen so that a seedling will germinate.
The school is also active in the community, encouraging waste management and recycling. And it owns a biodiversity park and has a kitchen garden to grow its own vegetables.
Joined up thinking which should cause us to ponder. The school has a mission, well-understood, to educate the children in care for creation. But the children also have to live out that mission in their school and family lives. Watching a seed grow is a response to ‘Consider the lilies of the field’ (Matthew 6:28) which was an invitation to all who have ears to hear. In our day that command takes on the second meaning of ‘show some consideration for the lilies of the field’. Laudato Si!
A city that was badly bombed during World War II, that has lost its town centre shipping, though the quays are in demand for filming; a beautiful old cathedral, the river inviting you to follow it down to the sea at Exmouth; the beautiful and fertile Devon countryside … all this you can find in the guide books.
My brother and sister-in-law’s allotment garden is not in the guide books, but you can find it … if you know where to look.
Here they grow their fruit and vegetables. When we visited we were invited to join the harvest, and a couple of hours later to sit down and enjoy the results. Which we gladly did. It helps that both of them are professional chefs, but they are also generous hosts. We don’t see enough of them.
I’m afraid the photograph of their allotment and shed disappeared between computers and memory sticks, so here is a harvest breakfast with Kentish rather than Devon fare. And here below a harvest loaf. Not as good as my brother’s efforts in past years, but I’ve already been asked to make one for this autumn.
A reminder to pray for the farmers in these uncertain times, to thank God for our families and friends, and to share our blessings.