It has been said that we all long to return to the original garden – perhaps this explains my immense sense of well being and gratitude on a recent supremely peaceful Sunday morning experience in Cambridge, UK.
We were guests of Westcott House; a training centre for future clergy of the Church of England - located in Jesus Lane (seriously!). Built in the late 1800's red brick buildings enclose a courtyard on four sides. Here, in the heart of the city, fruit trees grow, birds sing, blossoms and flowers abound.
The grass is left long on one side, refuge for the old turtle who dozes under the apple tree and for countless wildflowers others would call weeds. On the other side the grass is cut to a lawn, so students can sit and picnic and their kids play soccer. Even a palm tree grows here - 3 storeys high! Such is the protection the walls offer from stormy interferences of the meteorological or other kinds.
The men and women who are trained here for the ministry leave this place during the day to go to classes or to their church placements and at night they return to this oasis. The wooden doors that lead to the street are heavy and iron clad. Blessed are they who have a key to paradise!
Because paradise or garden of Eden it is – paradeisos, paradis, Eden, all come from the old Persian word for “walled garden”.
For me its a Sunday where I am on vacation. No service to lead, no duties this morning.
Because paradise or Garden of Eden it is – paradeisos, paradis, Eden; all come from the old Persian word for “walled garden”.
I step out of our room over the cobble stones into the sunny garden. How quiet the city is, how quiet the courtyard. A pair of doves flutter by, time to build the nest. Their cooing soothes, the sun warms the stone pillar I lean my back against. Then I hear the blackbird's song; melodious, consistent, musical. Into bird song comes human song. Ancient hymns drift over on the scent of beeswax candles and incense. In the small chapel a Russian orthodox community is gathered for worship while the Church of England students celebrate with the congregations they have been placed with further afar. Then the bells begin from over the wall; they too call humans to praise: in descending octaves they peal, over and over and over. The sound is joyous, festive, urging you to step into a church.
An entire city at worship it seems. Of course that is not true - the sports crowd has long begun the jogging and the cycling, cafes are filling up and many must still be sleeping at this hour. Yet they too benefit from the age old biblical sabbath day of rest, turned Christian Sunday: day of restoration, resurrection, re-creation...
As I sit in the walled garden my heart is full: the sun warms my skin and my nose is filled with the scents of blossoms and incense. But despite the thousands of blooms only one or two bees appear.
My ear should be hearing the song of the insects - that intense humming of millions of tiny wings- but all remains quiet. Europe is witnessing the alarming death of insects of all kinds: studies show that three quarters of flying insects have disappeared on nature reserves across Germany in only 25 years. This is caused by us in the way humans change landscapes and by extended use of agricultural pesticides, which have been all too successful in eliminating.
That this should be the case even in nature reserves is even more alarming and shows that the walls of the garden can not keep sin out. No matter how beautiful a paradise may be: Whatever happens beyond the walls of paradise throws its long shadows right into the garden of Eden.
Now the EU is considering a complete ban of neonicotinoids (pesticides). Could this bring the insects back? Or is it too little to late?
That some of us humans gathered to worship God felt most appropriate on this Sunday morning.
When human voices join in humility with other creatures in singing praise to the Source of Life we find our peace, our place. For once, something is not about us. For once, we are relieved from consuming and competing, defending and dominating. For once, its about the greater Good, the Mystery at the heart of Life we call God.