Accepting help from the divine gardener?
Six-thirty a.m. and peace and quiet is mine! I’m having my prayer time early in the morning before the rest of the family surfaces, sitting in my favourite red armchair, with a view onto a tree at the side of the house. As I read a Psalm and glance out of the window, I can see its first white bloom of the year. This tree always brings me joy – it’s easily overlooked, situated where it is on a path from the front of the house to the back, but it produces a mass of white, pop-pom like flowers with a heady, vanilla scent. I’m so glad it’s flowering this year, because on Good Friday I discovered it was being swamped by ivy, so much so that its lower branches were lost underneath and I wondered if it would ever recover. The tree looked dead, and I didn’t know if it was, or if it simply hadn’t sprung back to life after the winter months. Strangles of ivy were all you could see in places, thicker than my thumb, wound so tightly around the trunk and branches that it looked like it was the tree in its own right. I pulled off what I could, yanking at the sections I could lift before, frustrated, having to call for help. My husband came to my rescue, and once we’d traced it down the trunk and discerned its roots amongst the tree’s own, he sawed it off from the bottom of the tree.
This is how our garden rolls – it’s hard to keep track of every plant and tree, and there’s a certain rambling quality where we discover what’s growing, sometimes with pleasure, sometimes not. Beneath the tree as I look out at it now, I see a jumble of wild, everlasting sweet peas and hollyhocks competing for light and space, periwinkles that have been left to rove, valerian in different shades of pink and wild geranium… It’s all managed with a light touch, and often only when it gets out of hand. Yet the sight of that first white bloom really cheers me. Spotting the flower in my quiet time, its metaphorical quality is all the more obvious. It makes me think of how the Lord feels when he sees in us the first flush of faith, tentative at first, before an explosion of belief takes hold after those ‘If you’re there, God’ prayers. We read that “there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.” Whose joy? The Father’s surely, in the context of the Bible passage, for Jesus goes on to talk about the prodigal son and the way his father welcomes him home.
Isn’t so much of the beauty we enjoy outside simply part of God’s generosity towards us, as a new parent prepares their child-to-be’s bedroom, hanging a mobile above the cot, choosing the colour scheme, wondering how they will enjoy this thing and that? God didn’t have to give us all this but he knew we’d enjoy it, and when something he’s made gives us pleasure, that gives him pleasure too. This tree and its recent story remind me of another lesson: God doesn’t give up on us. Certain things may overtake us, not that we’d consciously allowed them to (or perhaps we had), but God is there, just like the gardener, wanting to pull away that which, when given long enough, may begin to strangle our faith. We sometimes fear how God will deal with us; even allow sin to cling because we expect the process of release will be painful. (We can all look back on at least one of those episodes if we are honest enough — times of clinging to old hurts, bitterness, unhelpful habits?) Yet he is gentle, with the hands of the good shepherd himself, or the prodigal’s father, whose fingers perhaps tingled with excitement when he had the opportunity to drape the best cloak over his son. (I know that story was metaphorical too, but I think we’re meant to be able to picture them, and their redeemed relationship.)
I can see, now that I study the tree hard, three more blooms, and a few waxy buds, preparing to unfold. They might not be there if the gardener was forbidden from doing his work.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a huge crowd of witnesses to the life of faith, let us strip off every weight that slows us down, especially the sin that so easily trips us up. And let us run with endurance the race God has set before us. 2 We do this by keeping our eyes on Jesus, the champion who initiates and perfects our faith.
 I think it’s the Philadelphus ‘Virginal’ (Mock Orange) tree, ‘Philadelphus’ meaning ‘extreme’ because of its overpowering scent.
 Luke 15:10