Musing on Trees and Gardens

Trees (and gardens) are on my mind this fortnight.

Liz Young, fellowshipper and worshipper at St Francis Church, and enthusiastic appreciator of all things pastoral, writes, “As I counted the number of trees around my garden this week, I found that, twenty years ago, I had planted twenty different native species and varieties: four different pohutakawa from the Pacific (Lord Howe Island, Hawaii, the Kermadecs and Tahiti) and sixteen different New Zealand native species. As I expressed this with some pride to my brother in Canada, it occurred to us that in the garden that we grew up in, a centuries old ‘monastic’ house near Glastonbury Abbey, they had planted ten different English species there. The chicken run in which I played was under a yew and the swing was hung from a walnut tree. Impressive to me, but I was awed to read in JT Salmon’s book of NZ trees to learn that New Zealand, with its more temperate climate, has more than a hundred different species of tree.  Thanks be to God the creator.”

Certainly.

Speciation is a fascinating topic that I won’t go in to, but few of us would be so blasé as not to recognise with wonder and awe the huge range and variety and complexity of plants around us here in the Coromandel.  Without even reaching for a microscope (which I don’t have anyway, so I’ll change the image …) Without even leaving my seat, I can count ten different types of tree beyond my window, of multifarious shapes and colours and design.  They’re nearly all green, but a closer squint brings notice that they are ten different shades of green.  Awesome.  No two species are the same, and, actually, if you look really closely, with or without a microscope, you’ll observe that every leaf on every tree is different.

I’m moved to muse languidly and perhaps not so insightfully that trees are amazing.  Plants (and animals) are amazing.  And gardens – nature generally – all amazing.  Thanks be to God the creator, plagiarising Liz’s (hopefully non-copyrighted) line.

Which reminds me: there’s heaps about trees and gardens in the Bible; it’s a general theme, if you care to look for it.  In Genesis 1 we’re already in a garden (with some rather strange trees and a talking serpent), and in Revelation 22 we’re again in a (very different sort of a) garden: one with a “river of the water of life, as clear as crystal, flowing … on each side of the river [stands] the tree of life, bearing twelve crops of fruit, yielding its fruit every month. And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.  No longer will there be any curse. The throne of God and of the Lamb will be in the city …”

And in between that first and last chapter, gardens pop up all over the place, most dramatically and compellingly in Gethsemane, the night before Jesus’s crucifixion.

Thematic, yes.  Fanciful?  Allegorical?

Maybe to some.  But gardens are clearly important to and valued by the Creator, and we carry a hint and shadow of that value in our own chests as we look on his creation around us and marvel.

Liz Y and Ken F

We Remember Them

by Pat Lee

(Based on Mark 15:33-37)

The Mark reading is the story of Jesus’s death. Usually a Good Friday reading, it relates Jesus’s last moments before he died. We know that this was not the final chapter in his life though. He had told his disciples several times that he was going to die, but that he would be raised on the third day, and it was so. We have just recently celebrated Easter and his resurrection.

Today we commemorate the landing of Australian and New Zealand troops on the Gallipoli Peninsula in Turkey. But we also remember all the military personnel who served and died in not only the First World  War but also the Second World War, Korean War, Vietnam War, Gulf War, and other conflicts that our soldiers have been involved in in more recent times.

Many of us here today, if not all, have lost someone special in one of these wars. My father’s youngest brother died just a few days before the war ended in Europe in 1945, and my husband Michael’s father, who flew a Wellington bomber, died when his plane was shot down. He was able to save his crew, but not himself. He left behind a wife and a 5 month old son.
My son went to the Gulf War, so I and my family have a personal experience of knowing the kind of stress and anxiety that families faced with a loved one serving in a futile conflict. He came back, and today he will wear his grandfather’s medals, and his own, with pride.

All these young people died serving their country. Many of them went off to war thinking they would be home again before long. Sadly, not so. They found themselves in frightening, horrendous situations, cold, wet and muddy, and ill prepared. Most of them didn’t really understand what they were fighting or dying for.

One of the things that helped many of them cope with the situations they found themselves in was their Christian faith. They knew their risen Saviour. The Lord’s prayer and the 23rd Psalm would have been of  great comfort to them. Today is also Jesus, the Good Shepherd Sunday.

Jesus died knowing that he would rise on the third day. He is alive.  They are not. We will remember them.
Amen

Colour the sky …

Why is the sky blue?
Who cares?  is one answer.
It’s not always, is another.   Sometimes it’s grey, or red, or black.

Red sky at night, shepherd’s delight.  Blue sky at night, it’s morning.

In the Antarctic the sky is perpetual blue – day and night – from October till February, because the sun never sets in the summer months.

If the question is a serious one, the answer is, Because of sunlight scattering in the atmosphere: 

  • Sunlight (white light, made up of seven primary colours) hits the atmosphere and is scattered by atmospheric particles (nitrogen and oxygen molecules).
  • Blue light is scattered the most, due to its shorter wavelength, ‘colouring’ the sky we see.  The other colours pretty much come straight on through, still essentially combined as white, illuminating what we see all around us.
  • At sunset (and rise) the obliquely incident white light has much further to travel through the atmosphere. 
  • Now the blue wavelength is scattered over and over, and loses its intensity.
  • The reds and oranges, which scatter less, become the dominant hues, and the sky seems red/orange.  The effect is even more marked when there are larger scattering particles in the air like smoke or dust .

In 1815 the Indonesian mountain Tampora blew up.  A hundred thousand people were killed by the blast and associated tsunamis.  A similar thing happened in 1883 when Krakatoa blew (again, in longsuffering Indonesia).

In both events the smoke, dust and ash from a volcano on the opposite side of the world diffused into and through European and American skies – travelled right around the world, in fact, shielding much of the sunlight, cooling the planet, and portending what were termed ‘years without summer’ in 1816 and 1884.

In 1816 (Bill Bryson writes in his A Short History of Nearly Everything), “Crops everywhere failed to grow.  In Ireland a famine and associated typhoid epidemic killed sixty-five thousand people … In New England … morning frosts continued until June and almost no seed would grow … livestock died … .”  And so on (see https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Year_Without_a_Summer).

Imagine.

Similar consequences after Krakatoa.

The first Europe heard of the Tampora event was about seven months after, news being slow to travel in those times, but even by then, artists were using different pallets to colour their skies.  Browns and oranges more prevalent.  Without knowing why, artists recorded the changes before newspapers did. 

News travelled more quickly in 1883 (and, indeed, the Krakatoa eruption was heard up to three thousand miles away, and ‘barographs’ recorded the shock waves rippling around the earth four times), but European artists again painted their skies differently.  There were no colour cameras then, so no ‘hard’ record of the events, but even today we are able to ‘see’ them in paintings of the time.  Immerse yourself in the following paintings by William Ascroft, 1883, and feel the bloated, oppressive English sky.

Caspar David Friedrich, 1816

Nature, in all her awesome, sinister glory. 

So, why is the sky blue?  Well, sometimes it’s really not.

Ken F

Dangerous Memory

by Bishop Ross Bay

(Based on John 20:19-31)

On Wednesday evening just after Easter I joined the Auckland Jewish community for a memorial service for the Shoah, the Holocaust. During the service, the words “Never forget” were spoken many times. It is an exhortation to an active remembering with the purpose of ensuring that such an event can never occur again; and not just that there could be no such horror again, but that that the seed bed of hatred and discrimination that leads to such things cannot be allowed to be fostered in our society. A necessary exhortation, because ant-Semitic acts in New Zealand have doubled in recent years, and as we so vividly know from Christchurch those attitudes are not confined to Judaism.

The idea of memory is vital then. Memory is not just about holding on to moments of the past that in the recall of them help us to recapture feelings of joy or melancholy. Memory is an active thing that affects the present and the way we choose to act in the present. It’s what the Catholic theologian Johann Metz, who died at a great age just a couple of years ago, called “dangerous memory”. Metz was German and grew up through the years of the Second World War and thus the Holocaust. His theology is influenced by those early experiences and the loss of nerve of the Church in the face of National Socialism. He works his theology from the ground up, that is from the basis of human experience and understanding God in it, rather than starting from the transcendent notions of Almighty God coming down.
Metz understood that in the person of Jesus Christ we find the one in whom the human experience of God and the potential for God reaches its highest point. Jesus is the essential starting point for Christian faith. How can it be otherwise? The very definition of Christian is one who has taken the name of Christ, one who is a disciple of Jesus Christ. Metz placed a good deal of focus on solidarity. In Jesus Christ, God shows solidarity with a suffering world, and the followers of Jesus are called to do the same.

Notwithstanding the importance of the memory of the whole of salvation history, Christian faith finds its heart in the remembrance of Jesus. It is central to what we do in our weekly participation in the Eucharist: “Do this to remember me.” This is the clearest ritual form in which our remembering of Jesus occurs. We share bread and wine, remembering Jesus, the last supper with his friends, and the events of his passion and death to which that pointed.
In some church traditions that is all it is, a remembrance of past events. The bread and wine are symbols to remind us of the death of Jesus 2000 years ago, as a result of which we know salvation, an historical event which offers something to each generation. Anglican sacramental theology wants to take us a bit further than that. Certainly we remember the events, but more particularly we are remembering that Jesus is present now as we do these things. We know and serve the living God, the God of the present. So we say that in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, Christ is really present. We remember that God is with us, sustaining us with saving grace, and through the sacrament we are strengthened for the life and faith and discipleship to which God calls us.

A few years ago we published some new forms of service for the Eucharist which are particularly suitable for use with children. Instead of “Do this to remember me”, it says “Do this and know that I am with you.” I wasn’t too sure about that change at first because I thought it wasn’t being true to the biblical text. But the more I thought about it, the more wonderful I thought the interpretation was, because it reinforces this notion that our memory of Jesus is not about heroic tales of the founder of a movement that is still going. It is the memory for us that God in Christ is present in all things now – in the sacrament, in those I share it with, in the world around me – saving grace in action, calling me to join in with that grace.
Christian memory is about drawing on the past, the history of God’s saving acts, in order that we might remember that God dwells with us now. It is a memory of the present as much as a memory of the past.

That’s the meaning of Metz’s “dangerous memory.” Metz was strongly opposed to what he saw as “bourgeois religion”; by which he meant a religion that belonged to another time and that we remembered ritually, but which is removed from us and has no impact on our lives. Metz would say that, because to remember Jesus is to remember God who is actually present with us and calling to us; it is a dangerous memory, because it causes us to make choices.
For the early Christians there was a choice to be made between Jesus and the Roman Emperor. Though willing to accept the civil authority of the Emperor, many Christians would not ascribe divinity to him. Their choice of Jesus as Lord rather than the Emperor brought persecution and even death to some. In Metz’s generation some German Christians held a dangerous memory of Jesus and were among those who stood against the Nazi regime.

In our own context we might think of those who took a stand in the ’81 Tour, or who walked in the 1998 Hikoi of Hope. But what about now? It’s always harder to see in our own time just where the choices lie between Jesus and the evils present in our own generation. What do we think and have to say about the enormous income gap between rich and poor, the unaffordability of housing, or the climate crisis? What will we do to build a society that creates genuine inclusion of all, across the challenges of difference; that seeks not to pretend that difference does not exist, nor seeks to deal with difference by eradicating it, but faces the challenge of difference and, in the words of the late Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks, offers dignity to it.

Jesus made a choice to live trustingly with God, and so the purposes of God are worked out in Jesus in ways which brought hope to all sorts of people he met in his own time. Jesus remembered God, and it is a dangerous memory for it involved choosing for God, and ultimately it led to the cross. Through that self-giving love, Jesus brings eternal life, fullness of life, to the whole of humanity. For cross and resurrection can never be separated from one another. The memory of one is the memory of the other, solidarity and hope linked together in the memory of Jesus crucified and risen.
Every week, but especially in this Easter season, we gather in thankful memory of Jesus, risen from the dead. It is a memory more than a melancholy one of a loved departed friend, a relationship which we hope might be restored in the afterlife. It is the memory of the God who is with us now, who reassures and gives hope, whose life and peace strengthen us for all we might have to face. But it is a dangerous memory, for once we know it, we are called to make choices. We must choose what we stand for and what we stand against. We must choose not to keep it as a religion which helps us feel good, but as a faith that calls us to speak and act with Jesus for God.

We remember Jesus, who died and rose again, and who is with us now, calling us to act as his people
and build God’s kingdom of justice and peace.