Church of England Diocese of Manchester Kirklees Valley

2) a) 'Gardens' - Lent Reflections by Derek Akker - Week 1

There is Hope in Gardens!

(You call us to the wilderness)

+ In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

‘The LORD will surely comfort Zion and will look with compassion on all her ruins; he will make her deserts like Eden, her wastelands like the garden of the LORD. Joy and gladness will be found in her, thanksgiving and the sound of singing’. Isaiah 51:3

This series of Lenten Reflections will focus on gardens, not always conventional gardens or gardens as we know them. I am aware that not all people have gardens and for some they are an unfortunate consequence of home occupation!  Whatever your circumstances, though, I invite you to think about gardens, perhaps the gardens you pass on the way to the shops, those of family and friends, or images from your past or your own imagination.

During our Lenten Reflections we will, of course, make reference to our sacred texts and in them find encouragement and/or challenge. Hopefully we will be drawn into exploring what gardens mean to us and what we can learn as we gaze and contemplate.  We are approaching Spring after all, so it’s a good time give gardens some attention!

I should make it clear I potter in our garden, but I’m no Alan Titchmarsh or any of the gardeners who appear on ‘Gardeners World’!  Potter is what I do: I move things around, cut things down and hope for the best. I do, however, enjoy gardens - I can see their beauty, their variety, and I love them as a place to sit in and enjoy the warmth of the sun. I remember last year and the value of pottering and sitting in our garden. Like many I became more aware of my surroundings: our garden became a larger place and full of life.

I came across these words from a Jesuit resource web page. They are words from the Native American -Chinook Psalter:

The Garden is Rich

The garden is rich with diversity
With plants of a hundred families
In the space between the trees
With all the colours and fragrances.
Basil, mint and lavender,
Great Mystery keep my remembrance pure,
Raspberry, Apple, Rose,
Great Mystery fill my heart with love,
Dill, anise, tansy,
Holy winds blow in me.
Rhododendron, zinnia,
May my prayer be beautiful
May my remembrance O Great Mystery
Be as incense to thee
In the sacred grove of eternity
As I smell and remember
The ancient forests of earth.

Lenten thoughts, understandably, begin with the Temptations of Christ and his time in the wilderness, the Judean Wilderness.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness,where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. Luke 4.1-2

This is where we start, in the wilderness.  After all, you can say a wilderness is an unkempt garden where self-expression, the self-expression of nature, rules, and where the elements are at their most wild.

On my arrival on my first visit to the Holy Land, I and my companions were asked to pray for rain. It had been a long, hot and dry summer and early autumn, they were living in drought conditions. Overnight it rained and I mean it rained, there was 20cm/4 inches of rain running down the streets of Jerusalem. Later we travelled to the Dead Sea and then onto Jericho and the Mount of Temptation and onwards to the Judean Wilderness. We witnessed what a flash flood could do to the wilderness, large boulders thrown around as if pebbles. The Judean Wilderness has a rugged beauty. At the time of Christ this wilderness had Arabian leopards, Asian Lions and Syrian Brown Bears, sand cats, Arabian oryx, foxes and you cannot exclude ferial goats and camels. It is believed that many of the wild animals could have been present until about 1000AD, however, the fauna has been largely eliminated by hunting but the Arabian leopard is still present along with the sand cat and Arabian oryx. The flora is still there and in the appropriate season you can see flowers with such vivid colours, red, yellows, purples, bind weed with pink flowers and thistles with striking purple heads.

There can be a beauty in the wilderness, there amongst the harsh surroundings - sometimes hidden, sometimes you just get a glimpse, but it’s there in the silence if you look and listen. But let us travel back from the Judean wilderness to the approximately 5200km/3200ml of the Manchester area

Sometimes our gardens can have the appearance of a wilderness, a scaled-down wilderness but an area where weeds have had freedom to grow, where bushes and plants have engaged in a rebellious bout of self-expression. But is there not something there that speaks of creation, a place where nature can be just that, nature. A place next to the remainder of our garden, where we have brought our self-expression and worked alongside nature.

We perhaps need a wilderness space both in our gardens and in our lives. The last twelve months have been absorbed by COVID19 and its effects. We have lived through perhaps experiencing the death of family or friends, people losing their jobs, their businesses, families kept apart and one restriction after another. It has been a hard, rugged and suffocating twelve months. It has been a drought of sorts, a wilderness and what is needed is a downpour, a flash flood to change the scenery.

Jesus entered a wilderness and in the solitude was tempted to grasp all that was on offer in the world, to abuse his position and his power. Jesus took the other Way and followed his Father’s call.

Let us in our imagination go to the wilderness and gently absorb the beauty of the wilderness, its silence and in that silence, hear the whisper pointing us to an act of kindness, a simple task that will benefit others and something that puts others first. It does not have to be earth shattering - small and simple is good. I am not trying to limit the power of the Spirit but rather mindful of Elijah’s encounter with God at Horeb, ‘a sound of sheer silence’. (1Kings 19.12) If you read on, Elijah is told to leave Horeb via the wilderness to continue his tasks.

The still small voice is God’s powerful way of nudging us in the right direction but we do need to stop and listen.

Paul Wood and Ian Worsfold wrote the following hymn which captures the theme of wilderness, and it can be sung to O Little Town of Bethlehem or I heard the Voice.

We pause to prayerfully read or sing:

You call us to the wilderness,
an empty, barren land.
The challenge is to break away
and then to trust your hand.
You call us to the wilderness
to concentrate the mind
on letting go of many things
that stifle humankind.

You call us to the wilderness
but all we see is loss:
for it’s a challenge to believe
the “power” of the cross.
You call us to the wilderness
to show a stronger way:
that power only has effect
when weakness wins the day.

You call us from the wilderness
and emptiness gives way,
enlivened by your Spirit’s breath,
returning to the day.
You call us from the wilderness
to diff’rent barren lands
to breathe the message of the cross
for other empty hands.


Words: © 2015, Paul Wood and Ian Worsfold - Metre: 86.86.D. (Double Common Metre)
O Little Town of Bethlehem, I heard the Voice
You call us to the wilderness (website only www.methodist.org.uk)

I also invite you to view your garden,  or any garden, and whatever state in may be in, see and experience nature:

"It is not easy for most of us to articulate our complex feelings about the meaning of life; but that should not undermine – nor cause to be undervalued – a faith that manifests itself in a loving nature and in loving kindness and consideration we can show one another. It is this kind of ‘love in action’ that has the ability, little by little, to improve the world in which we live – not always on a global scale but certainly to that part of the world closest to us.

That, to me, is at the heart of civilised human existence, and at the heart of my own Christian faith. It is not always easy to live up to, but it is definitely worth aiming for."

(Alan Titchmarsh in ‘In this Light’, Archbishop Justin Welby and Friends 2018)

You could perhaps create or allow a small wilderness to grow in your garden. It could be a Lenten constructive act for us and our garden, allowing new and different life to grow.

We pause and pray for others:

Help and comfort the lonely, the bereaved and the oppressed.

Lord, have mercy.

Keep in safety those who travel, and all who are in danger.

Lord, have mercy.

Heal the sick in body and mind,

and provide for the homeless, the hungry and the destitute.

Lord, have mercy.

Show your pity on prisoners and refugees, and all who are in trouble.

Lord, have mercy.

Forgive our enemies, persecutors and slanderers, and turn their hearts.

Lord, have mercy.

Hear us as we remember those who have died in the peace of Christ,

both those who have confessed the faith and those whose faith is known to

you alone, and grant us with them a share in your eternal kingdom.

Lord, have mercy.


The Lord’s Prayer


Collect for First Week of Lent

Heavenly Father, your Son battled with the powers of darkness, <span style="font-size: 1rem;">and grew closer to you in the desert:
help us to use these days to grow in wisdom and prayer that we may witness to your saving love
</span><span style="font-size: 1rem;">in Jesus Christ our Lord. </span>Shared from the Lectionary app. Material subject to copyright

Blessing
May the peace of the Lord Christ go with us, wherever He may send us.
May He guide us through the wilderness, protect us through the storm.
May He bring us home rejoicing at the wonders He has shown us.
May He bring us home rejoicing once again into our doors.

+ To God the Father, who created the world; to God the Son, who redeemed the world; to God the Holy Spirit, who sustains the world; be praise and glory, now and for ever. Amen (David Adam)