During Lockdown many people have spent a good deal more time than they would normally in their gardens, and quite a few have tried their hand at growing their own vegetables for the first time. I’ve been very struck by the many people have told me how important and helpful their gardens have been during this difficult time. We know that being outdoors is very good for our mental health , but I think that there may be some deeper reasons for the satisfaction and pleasure people have found in gardening lately.
Lots of people have told me that lockdown made it very difficult to keep track of time, and some found being unable to plan anything in the future particularly trying. We are often told that it is good to ‘live in the present’ , but much of our pleasure in life actually derives from anticipating and planning for events in the future. Our gardens have helped us to keep on doing this, and to be able to see progress as seedlings and cuttings begin to flourish. There’s something very satisfying about that, and it have given us a much needed sense of accomplishment.
Our gardens have also helped us to continue to feel a sense of being able to be ‘ in control’ of something, when clearly we have had quite a lot of control taken away from us, and been unable to make quite normal decisions without having to conform to someone else’s Guidelines.
Gardens also teach us some quite important spiritual lessons too, as Jesus well knew. He often used gardening metaphors and told stories based on the agricultural life around him. He knew that by doing so he was talking about things which everyone could relate to.
So what can our gardens teach us, in addition to the things I’ve already talked about?
Well, any good gardener will tell you that it is important to know what kind of soil you have, where the light is in your garden and how dry or wet the ground is. The point about all this information is that it helps you decide where the best place is to plant something in order to give it the best chance of growing well with all the right nutrients and light levels.
We are no different. None of us are the same, ....some of us are extraverts, some introverts, some are very practical people, others much more thoughtful types. When we are choosing a church, it is good to bear these things in mind. Churches are the soil if you like, in which we hope to grow and it’s important to know that you are going to fit in, and that you are going to get the right kind of nourishment to help you to grow. Fortunately the Church of England , as Bishop Richard talked about a few weeks ago, is able to offer quite a wide variety of different approaches to worship and mission , and different ways of being church. We all share the same deep trust in Jesus , the same commitment to sharing our faith and serving one another; but we do so in slightly different ways, and some of that is down to our basic human temperament. Knowing yourself, and what you need is therefore quite important. It’s also important to recognise that over time our needs can change. I’ve worshipped in quite a wide variety of churches during my life and there have definitely been times when I knew I was in the wrong place for that stage of my life and development.
Now, one of the first things plants do is put down good roots, and so whether we are quite new Christians finding our feet, or more established in the faith but moving to a new area to live , it is wise to take your time and take in your new surroundings , before rushing to get too involved in a new church. Of course, it’s good to be welcomed and made to feel that you have gifts to offer and
can contribute to the team, but rushing to be too active initially can choke off the possibility of being properly nourished, and lead to trying to ‘run on empty, ‘ and exhaustion, where taking your time , growing strong roots , might pay dividends in the long run.
So, what sort of nourishment will help us to grow? One of the most important is taking time for prayer, and doing so in a way and at a time which works for you. Let’s face it, most of us lead quite busy lives and it’s hard to carve out time during the day. Many young parents struggle with the demands of young families, but several have told me that they have found feeding time for their babies, or sitting quietly beside young children helping them get off to sleep, are good times to spend praying. Getting out of the office for a walk at lunchtime, or sitting on the bus or train going to college can also work as prayer times during the week. Older people of course may have a bit more flexibility, but retirement can be just as busy as when you are at work!
What else helps us to grow? ....I think the most important thing is becoming deeply familiar with the Gospels, ( which is where we learn about Jesus and his teaching ), letting them become a frame of reference when we face difficult decisions, and learning to see the world through Jesus’ eyes. Living as a Christian is a process of constant evolution and transformation, where our commitment and understanding deepens and develops day by day.
Other things which help are good teaching at church , and music which is satisfying and really adds to the worship. So too are prayer groups or House groups, reading , silence, or taking time out to go on a Retreat. Walking pilgrimages were very popular in days gone by, and they are making a bit of a comeback, not least because some of us really do need to be physically active, and sitting still just doesn’t work for us. If you go with a group, part of the richness of the experience is the conversations and meals shared along the way. Some people really find poetry, art and films are helpful ways to feed their faith, whilst others find that going to conferences and festivals such as New Wine or Greenbelt are a real tonic.
There are lots of ways to nourish the fledgling seeds of our faith, ... knowing who we are and what we need is a good tool to understanding what might work for us, ....but for any of it to work, we do need to be attentive. Good gardeners don’t plant something and then leave it... they keep watch and nurture their gardens , feeding and mulching, weeding where necessary, to stop new growth from being stifled by something invasive,... or removing predators, and unhealthy diseased branches. It all takes time.
The pear trees behind me were planted over 10 years ago. There are four different varieties and they all have different growing habits. In order to help them to build up their strength we didn’t let them fruit at all for the first few years, and every year, we monitor their progress, pruning and tying up branches to train them along the wall, and doing our best to ensure the fruit is of the best quality.
In the garden of our lives, we are wise if we know what we need to grow and are disciplined enough to attend to nurturing ourselves, making Jesus the source of our strength, because only then will we blossom into the people we were created to be. Jesus said...’ I am the vine , you are the branches, those who abide in me will bear much fruit, for without me you can do nothing.’ ..He went on to say...’.You did not choose me, but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that
will last,’ The fruit of our lives should show, it’s not there just for our benefit, but for other people too.... it will take many different forms, but it is always characterised by Love.
All of this nurturing and growing has a purpose, and it can, and should, lead to us being more engaged with the world around us, ... often it will mean taking action in very practical ways. We’ve seen a lot of people really care for their sick and elderly neighbours during lockdown, shopping, running errands and phoning round making sure that people not left feeling isolated and lonely, setting up Food Banks.
Lets hope that as we come out of lockdown we build on the care we have learnt to have for one another. In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to ask God for his Kingdom to come... I believe it is always doings so , right here and now,... and if you want to see where that is happening, look for signs of love at work , growing something new. I wonder where you see God’s Kingdom coming in your neck of the woods?