What does the word ‘mermaid’ suggest to you? Andersen and Disney sweet young girl, giving herself to the man she loves? Or else the seal-women of Scotland, or the sirens of Greek legend, luring unloved men to their deaths?
The Mermaid rose is s beautiful as any of those, but has more in common with the sirens. Get too close to her and you won’t escape easily from her sharp, backward-facing thorns. But she’s lovely enough, if handled with leather gloves. She’ll grow 4m plus high and those buds will open to creamy yellow single flowers. The deep red berberis leaves set her off well.
It’s not altogether necessary to go on pilgrimage to appreciate the ‘flowers of the field’. (Matthew 6.26) I think that when Jesus encouraged us to consider them, he wanted us first of all to look about us, to look around our feet, on in Mermaid’s case, at or below eye-level; we have to protect our neighbours from her by careful use of secateurs.
But think of all those patient souls who have bred the varieties we love; their considerations went much further, looking at the future and how this or that rose might perform. Or the men and women working to refine the healing power of plants from around the world for the good of all.
Consider the flowers.
Although we visited Saint Mark’s Baslica, I’m not sure a trip to Venice counts as a Pilgrimage. And it did not take so much preparation for just the two of us. Mrs T’s reading before going to Venice was the guidebook and Salley Vickers’ Miss Garnet’s Angel. I’m not sure which was better preparation for our visit. My book made more sense once we were in the city, and helped make sense of the city. Ellis Peters, best known for Cadfael and all things Salopian, wrote Holiday with Violence soon after the Second World War, during which Venice escaped bombing but endured great hardship. There are glimpses of that poverty, of the rundown buildings, and also of the precious green spaces:
She saw in the drowned shade of the little waterways, narrow between high palace walls, the occasional green of trees looking out from secret gardens, in a city where all the rest of the spectrum was spilt recklessly, but green was jealously hoarded.
Such a secret garden can be seen on the background to this picture. Some of these plots had walls surmounted with a hedge of Canary Ivy, home to blackbirds which had their singing posts nearby to celebrate the dawn and dusk chorus, all the more audible with the lack of motor traffic.
If we make room for nature, nature will move in!
Chesterton had a good stab at understanding Robert Browning and his work, which at times can be as densely obscure as at others it rings out clear. But I am not sharing this as an exercise in literary criticism, rather as an insight into a creative view of the world. By that I mean one where we have an awareness of creation as still on-going, even if we just miss hearing the Word creating; and a world where we have an awareness of ourselves as responsible co-creators. Laudato Si!
“It is well sometimes to half understand a poem in the same manner that we half understand the world. One of the deepest and strangest of all human moods is the mood which will suddenly strike us perhaps in a garden at night, or deep in sloping meadows, the feeling that every flower and leaf has just uttered something stupendously direct and important, and that we have by a prodigy of imbecility not heard or understood it. There is a certain poetic value, and that a genuine one, in this sense of having missed the full meaning of things. There is beauty, not only in wisdom, but in this dazed and dramatic ignorance.”
from “Robert Browning” by Gilbert Keith Chesterton.
Wild Rose in June, near Edinburgh MMB
Eleanor captured a misty day in Canterbury.
It was a windy day in Canterbury, so windy I did not light up the L’Arche garden incinerator (and who doesn’t like a fire outdoors?).
Home at the end of the morning to hang out the washing: Saint Stephen’s bells are ringing, and a bagpipe playing, blown on the wind which had changed direction so that I had to cycle against it going out and coming in.
Opening the emails, here was part of the day’s reading. Nebuchadnezzar had set up his golden statue:
“Be ready now to fall down and worship the statue I had made,
whenever you hear the sound of the trumpet,
flute, lyre, harp, psaltery, bagpipe,
and all the other musical instruments;
otherwise, you shall be instantly cast into the white-hot furnace;
and who is the God who can deliver you out of my hands?” Daniel 3:4-6
Of course we know what happened: Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to worship the statue, were thrown into the furnace, and were joined by a fourth person, identified as the angel of the Lord.
I guess the music of the bells and pipes was for a wedding. Let’s hope that the angel of the Lord will be with the couple in all their trials and all their joys.
I found this passage when I was researching a plantation-owning family in Trinidad. The author is Gerard Besson, a cultural researcher from the island. Here is describing how the agricultural sector of the economy has changed since the Second World War, although the changes had been cumulative since the Abolition of Slavery in 1833. The whole article is interesting reading and appropriate the day following the feast of Joseph the Worker, here leading his family to Egypt.
An important factor that has impacted on identity was the end of the agricultural sector. (Besson means a diverse agriculture which has largely given way to big sugar plantations.)
People see the agricultural sector from the perspective of today. And they only see Indian people – the world of the cane farmer. In truth, the agricultural sector in the past was enormous. It included a lot of black and French Creole and mixed people. It existed for some 200 years. But the ending of the agricultural sector was one of the things that undermined notions of identity which were built through the 19thcentury and into the first half of the 20th century.
One of the effects of the loss of the agricultural sector is a more compassionless society. Because when you have hundreds of thousands of people, whether they are Indian people, white people, mixed people or African people, who are devoted to the bringing up of livestock, who are devoted to gardening, market gardening, vegetable planting, to cocoa and coffee and so on, you have people who have a lot of love — for their animals and for their plants. You have to love your donkey!
So when you move hundreds of thousands of people out of that world of compassion, you create an increasingly compassionless society.
Let us pray that we may love our world, and become people who have a lot of love — for the animals and for the plants that share our gardens and neighbourhoods. Lord, Fill us with compassion for a bruised world; help us to see where we can make a difference, and to do just that. For your love’s sake, Amen.
A well-loved little donkey from Amsterdam. MMB
Peter remembers the Olive Garden on Maundy Thursday when he has sliced off Malchus’s ear, and the heavily guarded garden around the tomb the next night.
Scripture references: Malchus: John 18: 10-11; Luke 22: 47-53; Joseph of Arimathea: John 19: 38-42; Mary Magdalene: Luke 23: 55-56.
Joseph had enough influence to get hold of the body and bury it. He had to be quick though. If he had been found still moving it when the Passover feast started there there would have been even more trouble.
The guards were watching. They had taken over Joseph’s garden and even he could not send them away. Right down to that Malchus with his mended ear, they were ready to start on him if he put a foot wrong. They would have been glad to get their hands on a high-up like Joseph.
He had to hurry Mary Magdalene away without doing everything properly.
Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.
Let us pray for all who live in fear, whose lives are a mess, who do not feel they have done things properly. May they feel God’s forgiveness and love.
Jesus, remember me, when you come into your Kingdom.
Image from Missionaries of Africa.
We had been looking forward to the Bird Watch since Christmas, so it was good to gather again at the Glebe to see who might fly in.
The moorhen walked in from the river alongside, otherwise the rest flew in. Four robins were twice as many as we might have hoped for. The bird table must be shared territory, but one of them was prepared to chase all comers – except his mate – from the feeder by the river gate. Even the bird table was only grudgingly shared and there were a few ruffled feathers when three or four robins were there together: rights to the table had to be asserted!
Watching the Dunnocks
There were at least seven sparrows, that being the most we saw at any one time. I think that was more than last year. The highlight for two of us was seeing a pair of dunnocks. They could manage the feeder but were happier pecking about on the ground. But two dunnocks were two more than last year.
What else? blue tits, great tit, wood pigeon and collared doves, blackbirds, and a blue-green Kubaburra bird flapping his wings and frightening the others away.
Having fed the birds, the humans fed themselves and looked forward to a new season of gardening. Watch the weather and watch this space!
. . .
On my next visit, the first bird I saw was a goldfinch, too late for the survey and too late for the other observers!
Our little contribution to the national survey was science in action. There was also wonder in action: you should have heard people marvelling at the subtle plumage of the dunnocks! And such wonder is prayer in action: Laudato Si! It helps to make it explicit sometimes, as at the end of the day. And to begin with a morning offering:
Good Morning Life, and all things glad and beautiful.
Photos: top MMB, below Przemek Florek
A few days ago David wrote of L’Arche: ‘As a Community we do celebrations very well, and for me, being involved gives me a sense of belonging which deepens my passion for L’Arche.’ And I began to consider the celebrations that have taken place lately.
The Annual Advent Celebration brings hundreds of friends and family to share our preparations for Christmas in songs and sketches, sales and refreshments. The Christmas market in Saint Peter’s church was as much a celebration as a day of work. There were Christmas parties for the different work activities groups, for the half-barrels gardening club, and of course in the houses. Some of us squeezed into the Cathedral carol service.
And before that … birthdays, community gatherings, the Harvest Festival, the funerals of Emma and Denise … and that’s not all, not by any means.
Any occasion can be celebrated. My wife recalls her first arrival in the community and finding on her bed a card welcoming her by name. My first weekend was marked by the teeth incident. A core member had been sick and had flushed her teeth away down the toilet with everything else. Every manhole and inspection cover was lifted, every toilet flushed. I was poised by the last one before the cesspit, with Leo, a crazy Canadian, singing ‘Teeth are flowing like a river, flowing out to you and me-e-e.’ We didn’t catch the teeth, (and nor did anyone else) but I caught the L’Arche sense of belonging that David mentions. It has never left me.
The last-mentioned celebration was not about teeth or sewage, but about the joys of being alive among sisters and brothers on a Spring morning. I hope I can continue to bring this sense of celebration to all areas of my life, and invite all readers to do likewise! Here is a morning offering that a Christian or a non-Christian could use to start the day:
‘Good Morning Life, and all things glad and beautiful!
Celebration of the half-barrels group; our decoration for the Harvest Festival at St Mildred’s, Canterbury.
The village school’s reception class is called the Butterflies, and they brought a hint of Spring to a winter’s day at the L’Arche garden.
The four and five year olds came to learn and exercise a few gardening skills, to meet some of the community and enjoy the winter sunshine. Of course, the sun shines as brightly in the village as in the city. And it’s generally quieter there, unless a tractor or chain saw is on the go. The inner ring road runs roaring past the garden so it’s never really quiet. But we, sometimes grudgingly, ignore it and so did the children, though one boy noticed the trains accelerating from the station, something he would not hear at school.
Everyone noticed the sirens as the two fire engines raced past. Drama that does not happen in the village! I looked up from my planting to see three of the girls, arms linked, dancing in a circle, chanting nee-naw, nee-naw, taking pleasure from the sounds, taking pleasure from being alive on a sunny winter’s day in the youth of the world.
And my mind’s ear remembered the blackbird who lifted a telephone warble into his song, and the thrushes and starlings who also make music of our human racket, even getting me halfway down the garden path to answer a starling’s phone call, and I thought, why not? Why not dance when the world is young, and your friends are around you, and you have a day off from routine, and so much to be grateful for? Words are not always enough.
Admiring the River from a safe distance.
Where the council took out an ailing cherry tree in the next street, they left a void. One neighbour offered a hazel, and another cuttings of hydrangea. With a little tlc they are thriving, but the annual flowers planted between them have not enjoyed the dry summer. Other neighbours have offered their outdoor tap for watering, saving yours truly a few yards carrying watering cans. Someone else has provided daffodils which are now safely underground.
I was tackling some of the weeds which have sprung up between the annuals from seeds that had lain dormant for years; fat hen, various docks, sow thistle, dandelions and their friends and relations. Mrs H stopped by: ‘I might have known it was you. Thank you for doing this.’ And just when I could get no more weeds into the bucket, a professional gardener offered to empty it into his van and ‘save you carrying it around.’
All very encouraging! I’d best keep up the good work and let a few people do their good turn for the day while I’m at it! I thought I had put the bed to bed until Spring, with what I trust will be a host of golden daffodils to brighten up the corner, but no: there’s a shimmer of weed seedlings to be dealt with. Dirt beneath my nails seems perfectly natural for a son of Adam.