St Bride's: Sermons

A Garden is a Lovesome Thing

Hidcote Manor
Hidecote Manor
Chipping Campden
Many poets and writers across the centuries have connected God with gardens, beginning with the writer of genesis, and including nearer to our own day Thomas Edward Brown's "A garden is a lovesome thing God wot!" and Dorothy Gurney's "One is nearer God's Heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth". Many people do find it easier to think of God in their gardens, which reminds me of a haunting parable told by an Oxford philosopher in his attempts to explain the problems involved in speaking about God and understanding his relationship with his creation.

Once upon a time two explorers came upon a clearing in the jungle. In the clearing were growing many flowers and many weeds. One explorer says, 'Some gardener must tend this plot'. The other disagrees, 'there is no gardener'. So they pitch their tents and set a watch. No gardener is ever seen. But perhaps he is an invisible gardener. So they set up a barbed-wire fence. They electrify it. They patrol with bloodhounds. But no shrieks ever suggest that some intruder has received a shock. No movements of the wire ever betray an invisible climber. The bloodhounds never give cry. Yet still the believer is not convinced. 'But there is a gardener, invisible, intangible, insensible to electric shocks, a gardener who has no scent and makes no sound, a gardener who comes secretly to look after the garden which he loves.'

This parable reminds us that the believer and unbeliever do not disagree about the evidence: the data provided by the material world; they disagree about the interpretation of that evidence. It is rather like two people looking at an abstract design in a stained glass window: one sees the outline of a person in the glass, the other can only see confused and haphazard shapes. One sees a pattern there, the other doesn't. To many people the shapelessness of human existence, the pain and misery of millions of human beings, the rawness of nature, all point to the belief that a God of love cannot exist. To others this weight of suffering, while agonizing, is the necessary burden for their faith to carry. It tests faith, but it does not crush it.

The Christian is reminded by the beauty of creation, through the people he meets and the experience of life, that he is in communion with One who is the source of all creation, all humanity, and all experience. He bases his life on that assurance, and so is committed to looking at the world in a certain way. But we must not become so blinkered by that assurance that we lose sympathy for and understanding of those who cannot see the hand of God at work; because when all is said and done we travel the road together, and both believer and unbeliever may find that there are still surprises in store along the way.

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