Signs of the times

The heavy rain this week has brought relief to the garden, at the same time as dampening spirits and tempting everyday walkers into their cars.  There is so much to be seen and enjoyed in the daily changes in the immediate world around us, that through the showers our eyes stay open to the leaf opening and the passing spring flower just edging past its best, leaving room in our eyeline for the next jewel of nature to captivate us.  Spring is here to stay, it is said, when the first orange-tip butterflies appear - which they have - the males emerging first, in well-developed succession planning. 


The rectory damson tree, which a year ago struggled to produce more than a dozen blossoms is as white as a bride’s bouquet this spring.  I have ever fallen for the gardener’s temptation to anticipate success much too early.  The sight of the rhubarb forcer hiding the delicious, tender stalks of early fruit; the moment the sweet peas take off in their growth and form the thick, strong stems capable of bearing the flowers; the waving tips of the runner beans first catching the poles and starting to climb; and, yes, the very happy evidence that its going to be a good year for fruiting trees and bushes.


Jesus had a good eye for things in the natural world and warned us against the very presumption that a germinated seed will somehow guarantee success, or that ignoring the competing growth of weeds didn’t matter.  Yet, and as we approach the beginning of Passiontide, it is right to ponder it. The very writing of God is upon the world of his creation, in the tension of things which brings us close to despair at the state of nations and peoples divided, and many brought low with the spiralling effects of poverty and injustice; though, and at the same time, we plead for the planet of such beauty, which is our home, that we are so recklessly destroying.  Has unease replaced hope? Is it complacency, boredom, or maybe the avoidance of responsibility that allows us to distract ourselves with other things? Is the turmoil of Brexit a parable of our times?


I came upon some words of Martin Luther King yesterday, who suggested to his listeners that there is a difference between a negative form of peace and a positive form of peace, which seems to me to have a bearing on all of these things, from what we take for granted to what we deliberately ignore; from what we accept “as is”, and what we will give our lives to maintain or change.  He said’ “A negative peace is the absence of tension. A positive peace is the presence of justice.”  These words are quoted in a highly-acclaimed book by Mark Oakley “The Splash of Words”.  He also gives us a Franciscan blessing:


“May God bless us with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships.  May God bless us with anger at injustice, oppression and exploitation.  May God bless us with enough foolishness to believe that we can make a difference in this world, doing in his name what others claim cannot be done.” (p.39)


John Mann