What has struck me most about May is the explosion of growth around us – a huge array of colourful spring flowers in abundance in the hedgerows, the extravagantly scented white blossom of hawthorn, the gorgeous cherry and apple blossom and the magnificent candle-like chestnut flowers. And we are surrounded in every nook and cranny by that beautiful vibrant green that heralds the new spring growth. Everywhere is fulsome, burgeoning, generous.
May has also been catch up time in the garden after my amazing retreat on the Black Isle in April. I’ve been filling the garden pots, planting out veg. seedlings and cosmos plants in the celtic spiral. We’ve also been adding to the planting around the pond, Stephen bringing back flag irises and sedge from his wanderings. The pond came into being because he gifted me (in his original and inimitable way) with some frog spawn. “I’m going to make a pond” he said immediately afterwards, and so he generously did. It is providing us with much delight, but some trauma too.
There were many tadpoles, which we kept from cannibalising each other, by giving them tinned dog food. Newts also appeared, and more recently a wierd creature I caught eating a tadpole, which we assume has found its way from the river. Froglets started to appear, much to our delight. But in equal measure a pretty robin morphed into a mass murderer before our eyes. Perched on the cherry blossom tree, strategically planted close to the pond, we watched in dismay as it pounced relentlessly on froglets as they emerged onto the lawn.
On the other hand, to our delight, we found a blackbird’s nest close to the Coach Room window, containing 3 perfectly formed beautiful blue eggs. And we have regularly seen goslings on the river below Totnes on outings downstream in Snow Feather. Upstream at Hembury I watched a female goosander diving for food, and missed a rare “photo-op” moment as I saw it dive under water and emerge with a fish in its mouth. Nature is “red in tooth and claw” indeed. Whether any frogs will survive the robin’s extermination game remains to be seen.
I was wondering whether there were any other connections to be made about these natural wonders of May – Stephen asked me “what else will you say about the photo of the robin catching the froglet?”, so I looked up the source of the quote above. It is from a poem by Tennyson in which he mourns the loss of a friend. The content of the poem was influenced by the ideas of evolution which were emerging at the time and which were causing huge controversy about the theological implications of impersonal nature (as it was seen then), functioning without direct divine intervention. This marked the beginning of a huge split between science and religion, which is only just finding common ground again.
That then reminded me of a book I’ve been reading by Ilia Delio, a Franciscan nun, entitled “Christ in Evolution”. It’s hard going, but worth the effort. Her thesis, which she develops through looking at a number of important contemplatives and writers, is that a new understanding of Christ is needed in what she calls the second axial age (the current age where humanity and the cosmos is more interrelated). One key writer is Teilhard de Chardin, misunderstood by the Church of his time, but who was a visionary scientist and priest. He writes “If we are to remain faithful to the gospel, we have to adjust its spiritual code to the new shape of the universe. It has ceased to be the formal garden from which we are temporarily banished by a whim of the creator. It has become the great work in process of completion which we have to save by saving ourselves.”
She suggests that it is not solely through intellectual study that we come to this new understanding, but rather through our own personal contemplative journey. She quotes Raimon Panikaar, “If the mystery of Christ is not our very own it might as well be a museum piece”.
She writes “We are not called to relate to a God without a world. To love God we must also love what God loves. We are called to love this created world as God loves it. … the human person is called to be a “co-creator” – a co-operator with God in the transformation of the universe “from seed to fruit, potency to act, imperfection to perfection. Therefore it does matter what the human person does, for only through his or her action can one encounter God””.
And finally she quotes Bede Griffiths, from “The Return to the Centre”, ( a book I rediscovered on my retreat) “the reflective consciousness can always turn back. Instead of concentrating on man and nature and centering on the ego, it can turn back to their source and find the Self. This is conversion, metanoia – the discovery of the real Self, of eternal life. Of course to know the Self is to know man and nature but it is to know them not dispersed in space and time and cut off from reality, but in their integrity and unity as an organic whole, every part related to every other, every point reflecting the whole.
He goes on “But what about all the conflict in nature, one animal preying upon another, the immeasurable suffering in human life? Conflict and suffering are part of the pattern of things evolving in space and time. They belong to the world of becoming of change and decay.” Thus the robin, the froglet and the blackbird’s eggs are all tiny parts of this “pattern of things”.
Our part is summed up by this quote I read this morning “Your own Self Realisation is the greatest service you can render to the world”.