A reflection for Sunday 16th July 2023 Trinity VI

I have always been a gardener. Some of my earliest memories of my Father and my childhood are of working alongside him in the allotment he had. My Dad’s plot was next to that of my Great Uncle Jim’s and I loved, even as I was then, no more than a toddler, digging the ground and planting things like they did; and the excitement I felt when my Auntie Dorothy appeared one day with a miniature gardening set of tools all for me. Even saying those words evokes that same sense of excitement in me.

The feel of the soil, the smell of vegetation and the joy of seeing things grow has never left me. Today, I do grow some vegetables but it is flower gardening that really excites me.

In her book; ‘The well gardened mind’  Sue Stewart-Smith a psychiatrist and gardener writes:

“I went to see a cherished friend (in hospital) clutching a bunch of the most vibrant tulips i could find in our garden. Her world had been turned upside down by a recent diagnosis … I found her marooned in bed looking anxious and pale but as I brandished the tulips, a broad smile cascaded over her face. A wave of positive feeling flowed between us and with her eyes fixed on their tutti-fruits colours, she let out a celebratory: ‘Wow!’.”

You may have experienced similar feelings when seeing your flowers in bloom or receiving a beautiful bouquet. I know that I have and do when I gaze upon flowers in full bloom. They never cease to make me smile.

Stewart-Smith goes on to say:

“Those tulips were an instance of flower power in action. Beautiful flowers are known to trigger a true smile - an involuntary smile, known as a Duchenne smile - which, unlike a polite smile, lights, up the whole face indicating genuine pleasure.”

No wonder we take flowers to those who are ill or who just need cheering up. The sight of them can really make us feel better.

She continues:

“Such phenomena are rarely researched but in 2005, a study carried out at Rutgers university, New Jersey made an attempt to do this. Jeanette Havilland-Jones and colleagues tested the effects of receiving flowers against other comparable gifts. The results showed that being given a bouquet won hands down. Everyone who was given flowers smiled a ‘true smile’ and experienced a longer-lasting sense of good mood..”

Flowers and I believe by extension gardening and tending the soil to grow things is good for you. With this in mind, I think that anyone who has ever gardened cannot fail to resonate with today’s readings. Jesus’ simple parable of the sower uses images and language his hearers would have easily understood. They would have known, as we do, that in order to grow fruitful crops you need to plant them in well cared for, fertile soil. They would also have fully comprehended Isaiah’s words too where he talks about the weather watering the earth and causing seeds to sprout and plants to grow and if you plant well and care for your crops you will end up with the things you want and not the weeds you don’t want. Those Jesus spoke to that day, would have been well aware of the joy a good crop can bring and the well-being it would engender in the community.

This is all well and good but as any gardener, reluctant or enthusiastic knows, gardening is not just about sticking the seeds in the ground or planting the plants to produce their harvest or flowers alone. You have to add a great deal of, often back breaking, garden maintenance. That regular checking for weeds that might choke the delicate seedlings or new shoots; the peering at leaves and buds for any pests that might need to be controlled and choosing the right time to pick or harvest; this takes skill and patience and often many long hours of work. It’s painstaking but as Stewart-Smith suggests its worth it for the ‘true smile’ it can bring about.

That ‘true smile’ and its positive effects are good for our general wellbeing and I suspect that Jesus, who understands us better than we do, knew this. Growing and gardening is worth the time and energy it takes. You only have to look at the efforts of the Church garden team to know how many hours of time they give. I know how many hours my front garden takes from me to keep it up together and how much it costs me to keep the back gardens in check to know that gardening on whatever scale can be a full time occupation. BUT do you know what? It is defiantly worth it.

I have over the past few days and weeks been regularly bowled over by the developing colours in my garden, and at present my roses in bloom often stop me in my tracks. God’s beauty in creation is amazing and the colours of creation make me pray in thanksgiving.

Isaiah tells us that the signs of creation:

“… shall be to the Lord for a memorial, for an everlasting sign that shall not be cut off.”

    Isaiah 55:13b

What he means by this is that Creation is one of God’s ways of actually showing us how much we are cared for. A visual symbol of God’s love for us and an acknowledgement that he provides for us in the harvest; and delights us with his flowers and trees.

We all know, today, how delicate the balance of creation is and how much we need to value the trees and shrubs and the insects that pollenate them. We need to care for our environment in whatever ways we can and to challenge ourselves and our law makers to do all we and they can to ensure that the planet we live on does not disappear due to our greed and abuse of God’s love.

We know the facts as Matthew says, the facts of how we are called by God, through Jesus to live our lives; to hear his Word and to respond to it in all we do. God’s Word is life-giving, and God’s Creation makes for our wellbeing.

The parable of the sower, emphasises all this. Good seed will fail if it is not well cared for. These words challenge its on two fronts; one that we try to be good gardeners co-operating with God and not against him and that we listen to his words and the Word made flesh. Christ’s teaching is good seed, we need to allow it to root in our hearts and tend it just as we would tend a fragile plant, so that it comes to a beautiful flowering or fruition.

Pray that you are fertile soil for God’s Word and that all that he says to you will find the correct growing conditions to thrive in. Let God’s Word planted in you live and grow in you. Put that Word into action as you in turn till the soil and plant it with your actions and enjoy all those ‘true smiles’ your gardening or the gardening of others will bring you.