There was an exciting milestone a few days into March: I was able to sit out in the garden with a cup of tea for the first time.
I’d got back from my Saturday morning club cycle ride (the first one I’d done for ages, what with a different, benignly-named storm every weekend) and enjoyed my post-exercise brew on the bench at the bottom of the garden. It’s in a nicely secluded spot, hidden from view of the house by some strategically placed shrubs, and as I sat there I was overwhelmed and overjoyed by the gentle beauty of the birdsong and the sense of the earth coming back to life after its winter slumber. We’re blessed in our garden with masses of daffodils (the fruits of many years’ worth of Autumnal bulb-planting) and they are joined now in their magnificent yellowness by the forsythia, another faithful harbinger of Spring. The snowdrops (which I’ve concentrated around a gnarled old apple tree) and the crocuses have been and gone, but the small anemones are out now, their purple (along with that of the heather) contrasting nicely with the yellow of the daffodils. The grape hyacinths are almost there, the tulips are on their way, and the clematis montana, draped along a fence, that looked so barren and lifeless just a fortnight before, is poised to burst into a sea of pink.
A garden is a place of pleasure and respite at any time of year: and I’ve designed ours so that there is interest, and even colour, in virtually each of the twelve months, but Spring is perhaps a particular occasion to marvel at the miracle of creation and to behold the endless cycle of death and new life. It always seems to me a little incongruous that the Church chooses this time of the year to mark Lent, a period traditionally associated with fasting and other self-denial. I’ve never been very good at fasting (not from food, at any rate: there are other forms of fasting). In the dark days of January, and following the excesses of Christmas, a period of abstinence is rather welcome. But right now, with new life literally springing up all around, I want to be outside and to rejoice and celebrate this annual miracle. And I’m struck that the origin of the word Lent is in the Old English ‘lencten’ which simply means ‘springtime’, and the West Germanic ‘langitinaz’, meaning ‘lengthening of the day’.
I’ve been enjoying the daily Lenten reflections of Brian Draper (and it’s not too late to subscribe: sign up now on this web page here ), and he has encouraged us, amongst other things, to take deep breaths and to notice: both what’s going on around us and what might be going on within. So I’m trying at this time of Lent to notice a bit more (also to regain that sense of wonder that young children seem to have so naturally): whether it’s the song of a bird, or the trees coming back into bud, or the person who might be in need. I’m attempting to practice a little bit of self-denial (not very successfully; but trying not to beat myself up over it!). I’m also inspired by the words of the prophet Isaiah who suggests (and I paraphrase from Chapter 58) that God does not desire us to be miserable while we fast; rather that the kind of fasting which is pleasing to God is sharing our bread with the hungry, welcoming the stranger, and freeing those who are oppressed. And, interestingly, he goes on to say that having done the above “you shall be like a watered garden”.
Some years ago, at this time, I was getting ready to walk with my friend James on the Camino, the ancient pilgrimage route across the North of Spain. He was carrying in his (very large) rucksack a stove and a billy can (James is Australian, and they do that kind of thing in the outback!) so that we could make tea along the way (and we gained something of a reputation on the Camino, amongst other things, for being the two guys who would stop at random places en route to make a cup of tea!). One day, early in the morning, we were sitting on a bench outside the municipal hostel in Nájera (where we’d ‘slept’ with 120 other people in one single room of bunk beds!). The water was boiling on the stove, the sun was just beginning to rise over the trees, the birds were singing, and there was the most wonderful sound of water in the fast-flowing river nearby. We were sitting in reverent silence, and then James said “another day in paradise”.
When I returned from the Camino I tried each day when I got up in the morning and opened the curtains to say to myself ‘another day in paradise’ and I managed it for a few weeks. Those words also inspired a song: El Camino
Our world is filled with pain and, at this time, fear and uncertainty, as Coronavirus spreads. And our world is also filled with beauty, especially at this time of Spring, if only we have ‘ears to hear, and eyes to see’. I will try afresh to see each day as another one in paradise, and I wish everybody a peaceful and a blessed Lent.