Saturday 31 October 2009

The mission is a bucket of well-rotted compost!

What a strange season we are having. Today is Halloween, and we have not had a frost yet. I am still harvesting green climbing beans and romanesco broccoli, the Salvias and Dahlias continue in flower, many of the roses are having another go, and mauve Primula vulgaris sibthorpii, which normally flowers in Spring, is blooming its socks off.

Yesterday was rather wet and gloomy until late afternoon, when the cloud cleared to the North East and the sun broke through. As the last drops fell from the trailing edge of the cloud, a full double rainbow burst forth against the slate grey retreating cloud. A simply amazing spectacle, a reminder of God's promise after the Flood. If I had had my wits about me, like Daniel Owen I should have rushed for my camera. Instead I went out to pick the last of the tomatoes in the poly-tunnel, which need to be cleared out to make room for the tender Salvias and Dahlias. Susanna has taken the green tomatoes to cousin Lygia, who will make them into her renowned chutney, made to a recipe from her Indian childhood.

The Bishop has bidden everyone from all the parishes in the Diocese to come to St Mary's Cathedral in Limerick on Mission Sunday, November 15th, for a great celebration of mission. We are to choose and bring with us a symbol of mission from each parish. People in ours have been writing suggestions on a flip-chart in Church, such as Salt, or Bread. But the symbol I should like to see is a bucket of well-rotted compost! Surely as Christians our mission is to maintain the fertility of this beautiful garden of Eden on which God has been pleased to place human kind and so many other creatures, and to improve the texture of the soil in which God's kingdom is continuously taking root.

Sunday 18 October 2009

Autumn assaulting the senses

Tall lemon-yellow sunflowers reach for the sun

My self-indulgent morning routine is to check the email, catch up on the blogs I follow, spend a little time in quiet reflection, and take a leisurely stroll in the garden in my dressingown. Only then is it time for the business of the day. A couple of times a week this is punctuated by a breakfast shared with Suzanna - this morning it was apple pancakes with butter and gooseberry jam: no wonder I am overweight!
Out in the garden, Autumn assaults the senses in these golden October days, brought by a stationary anticyclone centred over Ireland. The Autumn colours startle the eyes: wine-red Cornus sibirica, Euonymus and Prunus 'Kojo-no-mai', the orange berries of Cotoneaster, and the yellows and russets of the hedgerow ash and the trees of Kilteelagh.

Wine-red Cornus sibirica

Spindle (Euonymus sp.) in the Drive Border

Kilteelagh trees from the front gate

We have had no significant frosts yet, and the tender autumn flowers sparkle in the sunshine: bright hoors of Dahlias, pink and white Nicotiana, and sky blue Salvia uliginosa - the latter reputed to be tender, but it has survived the last two winters outdoors here.

Bright hoors of Dahlias

Salvia uliginosa

Scuffing fallen leaves in the Lime Alley reminds me of childhood. A leaf falls vertically in the still air and I catch it for luck. From the corner of my eye I catch a flicker of white as a Cole Tit races to the sunflowers. The first heads have ripened - I do not cut them down until all have been stripped, and I hope to get some volunteers next year, as I did this.

As I pass the soft-fruit bed I spot a few late Autumn raspberries. Too few for a dish for two with cream, I say guiltily to myself, so I might as well eat them! They are very ripe, almost black in colour, but oh, the flavour! Sweet and acid at the same time, delicious. But the pips stick in the gaps of my teeth and red juice stains my fingers.

A strange rhythmic noise claims my attention. I look up to see a skein of geese, two dozen or so, flying in a classic 'V' south east, honking as they go. Where have they come from, and where are they going to? Perhaps they are Greenland White-fronted geese (Anser albifrons flavirostris), an exciting thought. Ten thousand of them, one third of the world's total, fly each autumn from far-away Greenland to spend the winter on the Wexford Slobs. But I'm not up to identifying them in flight.

From my study window, I see two Magpies chasing each other, one with something red in its beak. I go out to investigate and find a dead rat, half eaten, in the Labyrinth bed. Magpies are scavengers, doing the job of cleaning up which Nature has designed them for. But I can't imagine that they killed the rat, but perhaps a visiting cat did. Should I put out bait for the rats and risk poisoning the Magpies?

I've been trimming the hedge of Eleageanus ebbingeii at the back of the drive border, a big job. I want to keep it at about 7 foot, and like it to have a flat top to show off the shrubs and trees behind It is now in full bloom with rather insignificant white flowers, but their scent is magnificent. Close up it is almost overpowering and has been making me sneeze. It is a good hedging plant with grey-green laurel-like leaves, but can make several feet in a season. I had thought it thornless, but discovered to my cost that some plants have a few sharp little prickles, which drew blood painfully.

So I have been assaulted in my garden by all five senses!

Monday 5 October 2009

Nenagh Day of Prayer for Climate Change

The joint day of prayer for climate change held in Nenagh on Saturday 3rd October, St Francis’ Eve, was a great success, I think. As people came and went over the four hours, an average of a dozen or so were present at any one time to pray together, to listen to music, readings and reflections, and to share time in silence. On arrival all were welcomed and given a sheet to introduce the day of prayer, with background information about climate change and ideas for how individuals may respond, echoed by posters on the walls.

The focus of the prayer room was a simple table with a green cloth, symbolising God’s creation, upon which were placed symbols of the faith we share: a plain wooden cross, a lighted candle, and a Bible on a stand.

Prayers were led by Dean Langley of the Nenagh Baptist Group, Rev Brian Griffin and James Armitage of the Methodist circuit, Rev Marie Rowley-Brooke and Joc Sanders of the Church of Ireland, and from the Catholic parish, Sr Patricia Greene and Sr Rita Corry with a host of laity of all ages. It was wonderful to experience and share in the variety of voices and styles of witness coming from our separate traditions, joined together in common purpose to pray for the future of God’s planet.

Christian Hope is a gift we bring to others
For many people the enormity of the climate change crisis is so great that they feel hopeless. Like rabbits caught in the headlights of a car, they feel unable to do anything about it - even unable to think about it. But we Christians are not like that – we root our lives in Christian hope. Christian hope is a great gift that we have to offer our brothers and sisters of other faiths and none, to inspire them to take action. In that light, these were our closing prayers and readings.

Words from a letter from Taizé written in 2003:

  • Christian hope does not mean living in the clouds, dreaming of a better life. It is not merely a projection of what we would like to be or do. It leads us to discover seeds of a new world already present today, because of the identity of our God, because of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This hope is, in addition, a source of energy to live differently, not according to the values of a society based on the thirst for possession and competition.
  • In the Bible, the divine promise does not ask us to sit down and wait passively for it to come about, as if by magic. Before speaking to Abraham about the fullness of life offered to him, God says, "Leave your country and your home for the land I will show you" (Genesis 12:1). To enter into God’s promise, Abraham is called to make of his life a pilgrimage, to undergo a new beginning.
  • Similarly, the good news of the resurrection is not a way of taking our minds off the tasks of life here and now, but a call to set out on the road. "Men of Galilee, why do you stand looking up toward heaven? … Go into the entire world and proclaim the good news to the whole creation… You will be my witnesses…to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:11; Mark 16:15; Acts 1:8).
  • Impelled by the Spirit of Christ, believers live in deep solidarity with humanity cut off from its roots in God. Writing to the Christians of Rome, Saint Paul speaks of the longing of creation and compares this suffering to the pangs of childbirth. Then he continues, "We ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly" (Romans 8:18-23). Our faith is not a privilege that takes us out of the world; we "groan" with the world, sharing its pain, but we live this situation in hope, knowing that, in Christ, "the darkness is passing away and the true light is already shining" (1 John 2:8).
  • Hoping, then, means first of all discovering in the depths of the present a Life that leads forward and that nothing is able to stop. It also means welcoming this Life by a yes spoken by our whole being. As we embark on this Life, we are led to create signs of a different future here and now, in the midst of the difficulties of the world, seeds of renewal that will bear fruit when the time comes.
A prayer from Put People First
Lord, you make all things new- you are the God of the exiled - in times of darkness, uncertainty and fear we can only cling to you. Though we may walk through the valley of shadows, we will fear no evil for you are with us.

Lord, you are the God of the resurrection. In you lies our hope for transformation. You have shown us a glimpse of the mountain top, and we will keep walking that path with you. Give us the vision to see how things can be, and help us work together to achieve this.

Clothe our leaders with humility and grace to put actions before words, and bring greater justice and sustainability in this world.

A reading from Isaiah 55:6-13
"Turn to the LORD and pray to him, now that he is near. Let the wicked leave their way of life and change their way of thinking. Let them turn to the LORD, our God; he is merciful
and quick to forgive. "My thoughts," says the LORD, "are not like yours, and my ways are different from yours. As high as the heavens are above the earth, so high are my ways and
thoughts above yours.

"My word is like the snow and the rain that come down from the sky to water the earth. They make the crops grow and provide seed for planting and food to eat. So also will be the word that I speak — it will not fail to do what I plan for it; it will do everything I send it to do.

"You will leave Babylon with joy; you will be led out of the city in peace. The mountains and hills will burst into singing, and the trees will shout for joy. Cypress trees will grow where now there are briars; myrtle trees will come up in place of thorns. This will be a sign that will last forever, a reminder of what I, the LORD, have done."

Alastair McIntosh, Professor of Human Ecology at the University of Strathclyde, and a Quaker, has this to say about climate change:
"Technical fixes are certainly part of the solution. But I’d put it to you that the deep work must be this:
to learn to live more abundantly with less, to rekindle community, and to serve fundamental human need instead of worshiping at the altars of greed.
The crisis of these times is therefore spiritual. It calls for reconnecting our inner lives with the outer world - an expansion of consciousness.”

A prayer of St Teresa of Avila
Christ has no body on earth but yours,
no hands but yours, no feet but yours;
yours are the eyes through which to look with Christ’s compassion on the world,
yours are the feet with which he is to go about doing good,
and yours are his hands with which to bless us now.

A prayer from the Community of Longchamp
Come light, light of God, give light to creation, enlighten our hearts and remain with your world.
We beseech you, bless every effort and every search,
Every struggle and every pain that seek to restore the harmony and beauty of your Creation.
Renew the face of the earth, so that every human being may live in peace and justice, fruits of your Spirit of love.
Blow your Spirit of life on your creation and all humanity.
Come light, light of God, give light to creation, enlighten our hearts and remain with your world.
We beseech you, Lord, bless the fruits of the earth and the work of our hands and teach us to share the abundance of your goods.
Send rain to the dry soil, sun and fair weather where harvest is endangered by storms.
Blow your Spirit of life on your creation and all humanity.
Come light, light of God, give light to creation, enlighten our hearts and remain with your world.

We finished by saying together this Franciscan prayer
May God bless us with discomfort
At easy answers, half truths, and indifferent relationships,
So that we may live deep within our hearts.

May God bless us with anger

At injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people,
So that we may work for justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless us with tears

For those who face pain, hunger and war,
So that we may reach out our hands to comfort them and to change their pain into joy.

May God bless us with enough foolishness

To believe that we can make a difference in the world,
So that we can do what others claim cannot be done.

Saturday 3 October 2009

View from the pew - The glass is more than half full!

View from the Pew is a regular column I write for Newslink, the magazine for the Diocese of Limerick and Killaloe - this article appeared in the October 2009 issue.
NAMA, Lisbon, the Budget – and Copenhagen

“NAMA, Lisbon, and the Budget – these are the three immense and immediate challenges facing Ireland”– so said An Taoiseach Brian Cowen to the business luminaries of the Irish diaspora assembled at Farmleigh for the Global Irish Economic Forum.

Brian Cowan addresses the Global Economic Irish Forum

These are important issues, as we all know. Political and media attention is constant and shrill - and focussed on these three almost to the exclusion of everything else. The decisions to be taken are important – they will shape our country for many years to come - so let us pray that they will be the right ones.

But in all the hubbub, could there be a danger that we lose sight of other things? Climate change is by far the biggest challenge we all face in the 21st Century (for the facts see Two Degrees, One Chance). Within a very few years, every single one of us - in every country - must change the way we live and work, in order to protect our fragile planet for our children and grandchildren and the rest of creation. World governments have promised to agree workable and comprehensive action at the UN Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen this December. It may be the last chance to do so before the planet passes a point of no return and suffers catastrophic run-away heating. So let us also pray for an effective and just agreement in Copenhagen.

This is what Nenagh Union will be doing on Saturday 3rd October in Teach an Leinn in the centre of Nenagh from 11am to 3pm, together with our brothers and sisters in Christ from local Roman Catholic, Methodist and (we hope) other independent congregations, in a joint day of prayer for climate change. Passers-by of all faiths and none will be invited to drop in for as long or short as they wish, to hear prayers and readings, share quiet time in reflection, and find out more about climate change.

So many crises, so many important and difficult decisions to be made! I would be spoilt for choice if I wanted to write about such grave matters – and looking back over the archive perhaps I do so too often. Are we in danger of losing sight of joyful things too? Forget all the dismal crisis talk – let’s be cheerful, it is a Christian virtue! Let’s think instead of how much we have to be thankful for – our faithful God has blessed us with so much.

Harvest Time
We have been blessed by September’s Indian Summer, haven’t we? It’s amazing how the spirits rise with a bit of dry, sunny weather - mine certainly do. Last Saturday I spent a glorious day in Cloughjordan at the Eco-Village open day and energy fair. I was much too hot in my tweed jacket and woolly jumper – I had to strip them off. In the balmy weather it was hard to remember that creation is in crisis!

2009 has been difficult for those who are farmers, the third bad summer in a row. Many will be disappointed with the return they have got from all their planning and hard work. But the settled September has allowed tillage farmers to salvage something from the difficult season. Yields may be down here in Ireland, but elsewhere in Europe they have been higher than expected, and the total world crop looks set to be a record. Prices will likely be low, but this will be a boon to those short of fodder because of the weather - Teagasc advises not to buy in expensive silage this winter, but to feed cereals.

Many more of us will be anxious about the economic recession and market collapse. Worries bubble up: Is my job safe? What about my savings and my pension? How can I stretch my income to pay the bills?

But let us see the glass as half full, not half empty! Just reflect for a moment on the breadth and variety of our harvest. We have the staples: we have wheat for bread and butter to spread on it, oats for porridge and milk to pour over it, barley for beer, hay, silage and meal for cattle. But there is so much more than staples for us to enjoy, isn’t there! There’s meat and eggs, cheese and yoghurt, fruit and nuts, vegetables and mushrooms, and gardens full of flowers! Many of us keep animals, and there are this year’s foals, and calves and lambs and chicks. But there’s also the fruit of our own bodies - our children and grandchildren born this year - thank God for them too!

Cause for celebration

Some of the produce from Joakim's Garden

My own harvest is as a gardener. In the picture you can see some of what my wife and I are enjoying at the moment: runner beans, beetroot, carrots, onions, potatoes, parsley, garlic, French beans, spinach beet, tomatoes, autumn raspberries, apples, pears, and wildlings from the hedgerow, blackberries and damsons or bullaces, as my mother used to call them. I forgot to include the frisĂ© lettuce (plants a gift from a neighbour) and courgettes. And coming on there are romanesco broccoli, brussels sprouts, leeks and purple sprouting broccoli for the spring. We are freezing pounds of beans to enjoy over winter. Nothing tastes so good as what you have grown or picked yourself. And it is just as enjoyable to be able to give away the surplus. If this sounds like boasting, I can’t help it - God has been very good to us this year!

Above all perhaps we should thank God for our health and strength, and also for our intellects, our God-given cleverness. As every farmer knows, this bountiful harvest does not appear from heaven as if by magic: it takes hard graft and intelligent planning!

In this rich corner of the world today, we will not starve, as our forefathers so often did after a bad harvest. With the gift of cleverness we have invented ways to store food and to transport it, and economic and social systems to distribute it to where it is needed. If we consume a little less, it will probably be good for our health; and perhaps the whole planet will benefit. So let us be cheerful and follow the good advice of Deuteronomy: ‘You shall set the first of the fruit of the ground down before the Lord your God … Then you shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you.’

Let us all celebrate and enjoy our harvest!