Sunday 19 April 2009

Low Sunday - Praises to the Saviour!

It has been a perfect April day: may the Lord be praised!

Our Rector is taking a short break after the pressure of Lent and Easter, boating on the Shannon I believe. I'm delighted that she and her husband are having some lovely weather for it, and pray she will return refreshed. I led Morning Prayer for Low Sunday in Templederry and Nenagh in her absence - so named, I discovered on Wikipedia, not because it's a low point after the excitement of Easter, but because the ancient Latin canticle once set for the day began Laudes Salvatori: praises to the Saviour.

The drive over to Templederry was gorgeous, primroses in every ditch, a rabbit scampering across the road in front of me, and the first swallows I've seen this year whirling like dervishes in front of the church - they were flying in and out of the barn opposite, where they must be nest-building. If you're interested in the sermon (which you're probably not, but I put all of them on the web just in case someone is), you can find it here.

When I got home, after a bite of lunch and a beer, it was out into the garden, trying to ignore the looming deadline for the course I'm taking.

I dug compost into Susanna's raised beds and raked them, ready for her to plant up, and dug up a couple of dozen strawberry runners from under the bush-fruit for her to make a new strawberry bed. She has planted them in holes cut in black weed-supressant fabric, which she plans to cover with bark mulch. I queried this, because I think it will be difficult to cultivate in future years. I should have held my tongue - they are after all her raised beds, and as she explained she has much more experience growing strawberries in New England than I have!

I also pruned some of the nurse-trees in the wilderness shelter-belt, to give the special pets room to develop. As I did so, the first Orange Tip butterfly of the season flew purposively up the path, had a little set-to with the first Speckled Wood, and retreated.

Now I've come back in, from my window I can see my neighbour's field of spring barley, so recently planted, shading green as the seeds sprout. And a pair of wood-pigeons on an ash branch are billing and cooing, like newly-weds on honeymoon.

Summer is on the way - Praises to the Saviour!

Sunday 12 April 2009

Happy Easter

Wishing You a Very Happy
and Blessed Easter

Mary Magdalen announcing the resurrection to the apostles,
illumination from the St. Albans Psalter, English, 12th Century

“I have seen the Lord!”

Friday 10 April 2009

Good Friday Stations

Christ Crucified, by the Westphalian Master,
in the Gemäldegalerie, Berlin

A friend sent this message to me in Facebook today:

The past and the future are born in the imagination. Only the present which is awareness is real and eternal. It is. Action in the present becomes fertile ground for creation of the future.

An apt thought for the day that's in it, as with so many others I contemplate how self-sacrificing love makes a new heaven and a new earth possible: the records left us of the ministry imagined by Jesus so long ago inspire us to imagine a future he dares us to create through action today! God bless you, Trish!

The theme of the three-hour vigil today was the Stations of the Cross, using a beautiful set of images created by the Benedictine Sisters of Turvey Abbey in Bedfordshire, England. Here is the first of the images:

Jesus is condemned to death

I like the discipline of the vigil, largely spent sitting still in silence contemplating the pictures, though we also heard readings and sang hymns. I am still and silent so rarely, but it stimulates the imagination wonderfully. After an hour or so, my joints and back started to ache in the hard pew, no matter how I tried to settle myself. I could begin to imagine the pain of the cross! Eventually I knelt in prayer, which was better, but I left after Jesus fell for the 2nd time.

In the afternoon I went out in the garden to dig the bed for the potatoes. The ground made an ugly slurp as the spade went in - far too wet still to dig or to cultivate. The soil is heavy clay and needs much more compost to make the friable, free-draining bed I crave. If only I had tilled it in the autumn as I should! The potatoes chitting in the green house will have to wait a while yet. Instead of cultivating I used the time to dig up some young trees as an Easter present, a rooted cutting of a good cultivar of pussy willow with red twigs, a young sloe which I have been shaping, and a brace of bullace - the wild damson which grows in the hedge and seeds about. I've been meaning to do this for months, and now is not the ideal time, but I hope they won't turn out to be a present of a job of work for the recipients without good reward!
I am writing this after returning from the highlight of the day - the ecumenical Good Friday walk. Now in its third year and set to become a tradition, it starts at Templederry Church of Ireland and wends its way through the country lanes to the Roman Catholic Church in the village. After a brief welcoming ceremony with a hymn and prayer at the Church of Ireland, folk from both churches take turns to shoulder a large cross, and walk together while children scamper about, stopping for readings and prayers at the stations, which for the second time in the day were those from Turvey Abbey. Arriving at the Roman Catholic church at dusk, the united congregations place lighted candles on the cross placed in front of the altar, with small stones carried in pilgrimage, and share a brief service of prayer and meditation. Once again the community was blessed with dry weather and sunshine. Once again the community was blessed to witness together to love of God and love of neighbour. May Jesus's spirit of loving self-sacrifice continue to bless the whole community of Templederry!

Friday 3 April 2009

A View from the Pew – A New Creation is on the Way!

View from the Pew is a regular column I write for Newslink, the Limerick & Killaloe Diocesan Magazine. This article appears in the April issue.

By the time you read this, it will almost be Easter!
During Lent we Christians have been walking the path to Jerusalem with Jesus and his disciples. It is the path that leads him to an excruciating death on the cross on Good Friday. But we know the path doesn’t end there, for it continues on to the resurrection, the ascension, and the promised gift of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost.

Lent is traditionally a penitential season, a time of sackcloth and ashes, a time when we prepare to greet the risen Christ. Many of us have been marking it with prayer, almsgiving, or self-denial. I’ve given up wine myself – it’s good to prove to myself that I still can! - except for Sundays which I treat as a festival. And the money I save will go to good causes. But soon we shall put away the sackcloth and ashes to properly celebrate the empty tomb. He will rise again!

This path of faith echoes the movement of the seasons.
Winter is behind us now, spring is accelerating, and summer will come in its own good time. I count myself so very blessed to live in the country in a land with seasons, where every spring day brings something miraculously new. Already the first green shoots are showing on elder and whitethorn in the hedgerows and golden celandines glisten in shady places, a foretaste of summer abundance. Birdsong surrounds me on my morning walk, and nesting has begun - today I saw a chaffinch fly off with a feather for her nest. And as I write I can see my neighbour’s mare with her foal cantering around her.

White stars in the garden - Magnolia stellata

Another sign of spring is that I suddenly want to be out working in the garden again. I find it very difficult to work up enthusiasm to do so in winter, when so many jobs should have been done. The grass has already had its first trim and manners have been put on the rambling roses. But now there is soil to be dug, overgrown beds to be cleared and hedges to be trimmed. Will I ever catch up? Signs of spring’s advance are everywhere. The snowdrops and crocuses have been succeeded by daffodils; the snakes-head fritillaries are not far behind; the tulips are poking their snouts up. The early cherries and forsythia are in full bloom; the first white stars have opened on Magnolia stellata; the buds are bursting on the espalier pears. And we have eaten the first spears of asparagus from the polytunnel – just enough to garnish poached eggs!

A new creation is on the way. But we must not get ahead of ourselves: we still have two months to wait and prepare for summer – tender shoots can be killed by frost as late as mid May. And before we can celebrate Easter we must first experience the pain and desolation of Good Friday.

Pain and desolation.
Most of us are anxious and fearful at the moment. We have brought twin crises on ourselves, collectively if not individually, by our hubris and greed - old-fashioned sins to which humanity has been liable since the dawn of time. We live in anticipation of pain and desolation, full of resentment for a cross we do not wish to bear.

Pain and desolation – Rodin’s The Thinker
First there is the global economic crisis. IMF head Dominique Strauss-Kahn has dubbed it The Great Recession - is this what future history books will call it? The bursting of the asset price bubble has caused growing unemployment, misery and hardship worldwide, and for billions of people things will get worse before they get better. Our Irish economy is particularly badly hit, as we all know. On April 7th, Tuesday of Holy Week, Brian Lenihan will stand up in the Dáil to tell us how he proposes to reduce the public funding deficit by another €5 billion or so by raising taxes and cutting services – that’s more than €1000 for every man, woman and child in the country!

Second there is the gathering crisis of climate change. Reports from a recent climate science conference suggest that past emissions of greenhouse gases will cause a rise in sea-level of between 1 and 2 metres by 2100 - twice that forecast only two years ago. Notice that the scientists are not saying this will happen unless we act on climate change – this will happen whatever we do! If we don’t act, sea-level will eventually rise by much more. The truth is that human kind is faced with a choice between change and suffering - either we change to a low carbon/low consumption economy right now, or we condemn our children and grandchildren to suffer uncertain but probably very nasty consequences, along with the rest of the biosphere.

These twin crises are intimately linked, I think. I suspect climate change has directly contributed to the crash: economic confidence may have been tipped over the edge by the dawning realisation that future material growth is impossible. And I suspect that the only way out of the crash will be to invest and put people to work in a new sustainable, green economy. More certainly, the crash will restrain world greenhouse gas emissions, if only temporarily – Professor John Fitzgerald of ESRI forecasts that Ireland will after all be close to meeting its Kyoto commitments. This will give the world a breathing space in which to begin to change our whole way of living and working. We can and must take advantage of it.

2009 will be critical for the international effort to address climate change. Two years ago world governments signed up to negotiate an ambitious and effective international response, to be agreed at a UN Climate Change Conference in Copenhagen in December. As you read this in early April, another round of negotiations will be taking place in Bonn. Please God they will be successful, and let us pray for a wise and just agreement in Copenhagen. The alternative is too awful to contemplate.

We must shoulder the cross in Christian hope!
It would be very easy to feel helpless and hopeless in the face of these crises. But as Christians we must shoulder the cross in Christian hope, confident in God’s loving kindness. Christian hope is not a passive, pie-in-the-sky sort of hope: it is what impelled the first disciples to go out confidently after Pentecost to change the world. Christian hope is just what we need now - without it we risk despair and immobility, and the crises would surely overwhelm us. I think our Christian hope is a great gift we can offer to our neighbours of other faiths and none. It will help all of us to pull together to overcome the crises and create a happier, more just and sustainable world, one more like the kingdom of heaven.

Crucifixion is followed by Resurrection, Ascension and Pentecost. A new creation is on the way!

Wednesday 1 April 2009

Oh, the pressure!

Magnolia 'Leonard Messel'

Every Spring it's the same - the pressure mounts to do the garden jobs that should have been done months ago, as growth accelerates. Added to which, this year I have been leading a Lenten Omega course on Climate Change, and I have just started the Foundation Course at the CofI Theological Institute - how on earth can I find the 17 hours required for the first assignment due on Monday, given that I have arranged to take visitors to the Burren on Saturday?

I have been planting hazel trees to make the nut walk for which I have hankered for years. I was given the first for Christmas and it has been reproaching me for three months every time I passed it - a wonderful present, it is the plain species (Corylus avelana), but inoculated with the truffle fungus (Tuber aestivum). The instructions say that I may be able to harvest my own truffles within 5 years! I shall look forward to that: gourmets rave over the aroma, though I have to confess that I have never been able to taste anything from the minuscule black specks they put into some patés. I know that it is possible to find truffles in Ireland, because my father found one in his garden only 5 miles away. He sent a bit to the Bots in Dublin, who confirmed it as a truffle, though not the true Black Truffle of the Périgord (T. melanosporum). He ate the rest and pronounced it nice, but not as good as the Périgord one. Truffles are ectomycorrhizal fungi, living in a symbiotic relationship with trees: tree roots feed the fungus with the products of photosynthesis, while the mycelium of the fungus feeds the tree with soil nutrients. T. melanosporum grows exclusively with oak. Cob nuts, which I also adore, are selected forms of the native hazel, so when I saw young plants for sale a few days ago I splurged. I got two varieties, Pearsons Prolific and Webb's Prize Cob, because set is better with different varieties. They are planted either side of the truffle hazel, and I hope the tuffle fungus will also colonise them.

Fritillaria meleagris in the Meadow
Elsewhere in the garden, the delicate pink blossoms of Magnolia 'Leonard Messel' have started to open on bare twigs. I am also delighted with the Snake's Head Fritillaries (Fritillaria meleagris) in the meadow, which are spreading and colonising as I hoped. And I thought you, dear reader, might like to see this picture of the first tulips flowering with wallflowers.
Tulips and Wallflowers