A few weeks ago I went walking in the grounds of Ammerdown, a centre for spirituality near Bath. I was there for a weekend conference and the leader had encouraged us to take advantage of the fine weather and the beautiful countryside. ‘You might just want to wander, enjoy the time and give your minds a rest’, he said, ‘or you might see something that strikes you that you wish to bring back with you, as long as it’s not the monument at the top of the hill.’
So I’d set off and followed a path in the grounds that went towards a pool. Close by the pool were a number of beech trees and underneath literally hundreds of beech nut cases. I found myself thinking of a verse from the gospels:
“Unless a grain of wheat falls into the ground and dies, it remains that and nothing more; but if it dies it bears a rich harvest.”
We’re in the season of Lent and approaching Easter, and I think of how the speaker of those words, Jesus, gave of himself sacrificially in his ministry with others and ultimately gave his own life, and what a rich harvest has come from that act of self-sacrifice. Many have followed in his steps and given generously of themselves, and that generous love has also borne much fruit. We too are encouraged to give of ourselves and when we do, others and our community and the world benefit.
I went on and came across some leaves from last autumn. A leaf from a Canadian maple tree was particularly attractive and I added that to the beech nut case that I had picked up. A few more weeks and I suspect those leaves will no longer be on the ground. The earth will have swallowed them and been enriched by what seems dead. So as we absorb ourselves in the life of our villages they can become the richer for it – we certainly are encouraged by God to add value to the places where we live.
I added two pieces of bark that were on the ground to my collection and then went back indoors. There I shared my finds with the others and listened to what had attracted them. The weekend went on as we shared more of the life of Thomas Merton, an American Trappist Monk who died over 40 years ago. He may have taken a vow of silence while in the monastery but he is author of some 60 books that continue long after his death to speak powerfully to many. He may have renounced the world in going into the monastery, but the longer he was there the more he became involved in the great issues that challenged the world in the 50s and 60s. As I move towards retirement later this year I find myself thinking that’s a challenge to us whatever phase of life we are at and whatever the period may be in which we live.
With much love,
Your Minister and friend,