Thursday 18 March 2010

Spring watch - frog spawn

Common frog (Rana temporaria) with spawn
Yesterday, St Patrick's day, the sun smiled on Susannah and me, as we proudly wore shamrock to church, and later were feasted by a kind friend Mary in honour of Clodagh's birthday! So many people around the world slap shamrock on everything in sight before celebrating Irishness in a wild binge to 'drown' it. It's quite extraordinary really - but I wonder how many recall the significance of that small trefoil leaf: used by Patrick as a metaphor for the Trinity - three leaflets in one leaf symbolising three persons in one God.
I searched the wild flower meadow for wild shamrock, but could find none due to the exceptionally cold and late season. However Susannah brought some from the greengrocer in a small pot - at least it was Irish grown, no doubt in some poly-tunnel, not imported from the Netherlands as it so often is. The cold, late season also means it is far too early to plant the potatoes which are chitting in the greenhouse - 1st early Duke of York, 2nd early Charlotte and main-crop Pink Fir Apple.

However, at long last the daffodils in the Labyrinth are pushing up their flowering heads -they came as volunteers with topsoil when the extension was built, so are scattered in pleasing natural clumps.

And yesterday the first frog-spawn appeared in the pond on the patio - now that's a real sign of Spring! I neglected the pond last year, so it was frightfully overgrown. But the sight of the spawn galvinised me into action to clear out the surplus pond weeds. I carefully left the spawn on one side and put it back afterwards - I trust I have not damaged it - and this morning another mass had appeared.

Sunday 14 March 2010

A View from the Pew – Life is stirring

View from the Pew is a column I write for Newslink, the diocesan magazine for Limerick & Killaloe - this peice appeared in the March 2010 edition.

Pussy willow bravely blooming

What a hard winter we’ve had of it!
First the floods in November, then the snow around Christmas, followed by the hardest frosts for many years.

The Shannon froze. It brought to mind my mother’s story of how as a teenager in the early 1930s, she and her friends walked across Lough Derg on the ice from the Tipperary to the Galway shore, dragging a small boat in case the ice cracked. Mistakenly I had thought I would never see such a thing myself because of global warming – but that confuses weather with climate. Weather is naturally variable, and even as the planet warms we can expect occasional cold snaps, though they may be rarer. Climate is about long timescales and wide areas. As we froze in Ireland, temperatures in the arctic were up to 7°C above normal this winter. Don’t be misled by the cold winter – climate change is continuing and real.

It was heartening to see how people rallied round to help their neighbours devastated by the floods and struggling in the cold. I was impressed how the IFA organised distribution of fodder donated by farmers with a surplus to those who had lost theirs. And we should all feel inspired by the generosity and enterprise of the children of St Michael’s National School, Limerick, who raised over €500 to give toys at Christmas to children who had lost theirs when they were flooded out of their homes, as reported in Newslink last month.

In the garden the frost has killed many tender plants, and I fear for a lot of others. The Chilean Puyas which survived several winters outside are all gone, as is a Cordyline. Two Olearias are looking very sick. And I have attended far too many funerals of old friends recently. Most were occasions to celebrate long lives well lived, but the death of a contemporary reminds me of my own mortality.

New life is stirring.
But now life is stirring again as the days lengthen and winter gives way to another spring. The flowering willow is covered with silver pussies, snowdrops are blooming their socks off, the first crocuses are struggling through over-long grass, and the hellebores are about to burst. The buds on Forsythia and winter cherry are swelling, and the catkins are lengthening on the cobnuts. The birds too are starting to think about making babies – I have just been watching from my window two hen blackbirds trying to chase each other away from a rather bemused looking cock. And a farming neighbour who looked ready to drop in the pew confided that he had barely slept for a week because he was up all night calving!

Is it just me who detects new life stirring in our diocese too? I hope not. These are just some of the things that I have noticed recently:
  • The buoyant mood of the hundreds of people who made the pilgrimage from all corners of the diocese to Limerick for Celebrate Together in November. Something new happens when we move out of our own small parishes to come together.

  • The mixture of fun and serious purpose in the largely lay group that Vicki Lynch brought together to attend the NOSTRA public lectures at Mary I. It was eye-opening to meet so many others who also yearn to talk about their faith and its implication for mission, to discover we are not alone.

  • The new training programmes designed to equip lay people for ministry, as parish and diocesan readers and in pastoral and youth work, and the moves toward a ‘fellowship of vocation’. They promise to release the gifts of those who take them up for Christian service.

There are stirrings too in other churches. For all the disillusionment over clerical abuse, increasing numbers of Roman Catholic lay men and women are seeking pastoral and theological training – and they are pressing for a greater lay involvement in their parishes. New churches and worship communities are springing up as well. In my parish, for instance, there is the Nenagh Baptist Group, a new church plant which particularly welcomes the unchurched and young families, and Living Water, an interdenominational charismatic group, holding joyous monthly meetings of worship and prayer in a local hotel, both well worth a visit.

Where are the stirrings leading?
We know where the stirrings in the garden will lead – to burgeoning life, beautiful flowers and a bountiful future harvest.

It is less clear where the stirrings in the church are leading, but I feel sure the Holy Spirit is doing a new thing. Perhaps this Lent we should all ponder where the Spirit is leading us, both as the church and individually, and listen prayerfully for the Spirit to guide our responses.

Here are my own tentative first thoughts:

  • We should not be afraid of new life stirring, but rather seek to nourish it. It springs from within our tradition, like a shoot sprouting from a rootstock, drawing strength from the faithful witness and unsung service of so many Church of Ireland people over the years. Let us see it as a harbinger of exciting renewal, not frightening change.

  • Similar stirrings are at work in other churches, as I found when I sought out and talked to Christians of other traditions. Most long to share Christian witness, prayer and service with others, just as we do. This suggests to me that the Spirit is leading our different denominations to walk together, recognising each other as fellow disciples of Jesus, who unites us in our diversity. Let us cultivate ecumenical activity - perhaps through a ‘Churches Together’ group in our own locality.

  • In all our churches, ordinary lay men and women both feel a call to play a more active role and are responding to it. The old model of full-time professional clergy dispensing ministry to laity who passively consume it can no longer be sustained. With fewer vocations, limited finances and ever larger parish unions, clergy are overworked and risk burnout. In an age of mass higher education and democracy lay people recognise that they also are gifted for ministry and seek to exercise their gifts. It is now generally recognised that all Christians are called to serve in a multitude of different ways – the clergy’s role is to equip them to do so. Let us make a reality of passionate all-member ministry.

  • We are most likely to discern where the Spirit is leading by sharing our own thoughts with others and testing them in discussion. Let us unleash the power of the Spirit by contributing to the debate.

What do you think? If you agree or disagree, or feel moved to contribute to the debate, why not share your thoughts in a letter to Madam Editor?

Saturday 13 March 2010

Hardress Jocelyn de Warrenne Waller, 5th May 1917 - 6th March 2010

Hardress Waller, by Vijay Bhushan, Hyderabad 1982
Late addition - see also his obituary in the Irish Times for Saturday 17th April 2010.
My friend and cousin Hardress Jocelyn de Warrenne Waller of Rynskaheen, Nenagh, Co Tipperary, died aged 92 after a short illness on 6th March 2010. He is survived by his widow Lygia (née Banasinska), son Jocelyn, grandson Thomas and great-grandchildren Alexander and William. A second grandson Edward was killed by a terrorist bomb in Bali in 2002.
At his funeral service in St Mary's Church of Ireland, Nenagh, on 10th March 2010, a large congregation joined together to give thanks for and celebrate his long life, well lived, and to recall his gifts of character, integrity and leadership, his sense of humour and zest for life, and all the ways in which he touched the hearts of his family, friends, neighbours and the wider community. After the service he was buried beside his parents Edgar and Dorothy in the family graveyard at Clough Prior, followed by refreshments at Lough Derg Yacht Club, of which he was a past Commodore.
He had a distinguished army career, serving in the Horse Artillery and Royal Horse Artillery where he was known by the nick-name Sam. After fighting in Burma during the Second World War, where he was awarded the Military Cross, he served in many places around the world, was received an MBE in 1956, and retired in 1965 with the rank of Brigadier. In a second career in horseracing, he was Secretary to the Horserace Betting Levy Board 1965-68, Director General of the Racecourse Association 1968-1975, and Senior Steward of the Irish Turf Club 1991-93. He was educated at Rossal and the Royal Military Academy, Woolwich.
He was also an accomplished polo player, a highly competitive and successful sailor of Shannon One Design dinghys, a military historian, a family genealogist, and with his wife Lygia a restorer of oil paintings.

I will miss him greatly.

The Waller family crest
I used this prayer of William Penn over his coffin the night before his funeral:

We give you back, O God, those whom you have given us
You did not lose them when you gave them to us,
and we do not lose them by their return to you.
Your Son has taught us that life is eternal and love cannot die.
So death is only an horizon, and an horizon is only the limit of our sight.
Open our eyes to see more clearly, and draw us closer to you,
so that we may know we are nearer to our loved ones,
who are with you.