Father, Son and Holy Spirit

This is a sermon for Trinity Sunday, given in the “church next door.”  There was a baptism immediately following the sermon.

It’s a very big thing to bring a child for baptism.  In a moment Bayden’s parents and godparents are going to be asked some serious questions, and we are all going to together reaffirm our common belief in the Christian faith.

You might be forgiven for wondering why we do that; after all, Bayden is just a baby, he doesn’t understand yet what we are doing, and he won’t remember it when he’s older.  Does what we’re doing and saying here really matter?  I’ve heard people make that kind of comment about baptism services before.  Perhaps similar thoughts have occurred to some of you.

But I think that kind of questioning comes from a place of not fully appreciating what’s at stake.  If all this were about was making Bayden a member of the Christian family, allowing him to be one of “us” instead of one of “them” – however you define us and them – then what we do and say wouldn’t matter.   We wouldn’t need the promises or affirmations,  just a quick dunk and you’re in.  Let’s all go eat.

But today is Trinity Sunday; it’s the day when the Church celebrates our experience of Who God is, and baptism is Bayden’s way in to relationship with that God.  What kind of God you have a relationship with is actually important, because it shapes how you understand your own identity and your place in the world.

So when we come to baptise Bayden in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, what are we saying about God?

Let me put that another way.  We talk about God as Trinity.  And I think it’s an important and valid question then to ask, “So What?”

What is it that leads us to talk about God as Father?  Isn’t it that we celebrate the dignity, the value, and the wonder of each human being around us – and remember that these human beings are made in the image of God?  Isn’t it that we look at the heavens and the earth – everything from the vastness of space to the intricacy of a single living cell – and worship in awe at the wisdom which could conceive of this, and the might that could bring it into existence?  Isn’t it also that we are aware that in what we know, we are just playing in the waves on the edges of a vast ocean, and that we can only guess at the depth and breadth of the mysteries which are just too vast for us to grasp?

I suggest that every time we are mindful of these things, they bring us back to recognising God as Father, and to a profound reverence and awe in our worship and our lives.

And then, what is it to talk about God the Son?  The defining story of Christianity – of the God who emptied himself; who, as Paul said, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but laid it aside, became human, and became our servant, even to the point of death – shows us an aspect of the life of God which is distinct from that of the Father.

There is, I think, something important consider here.  And that is that in no way can we consider Father and Son to be divided or opposites.  Sometimes in the way we think and talk about what Jesus did for us, in dying for us and opening a way back into intimate relationship with God, it sounds as if the Father and the Son were pulling something of a cosmic good cop-bad cop routine.  The Father is presented as the “bad cop” who holds judgement and damnation over our heads, and the Son as the “good cop” who steps in, placates the “bad cop” and makes everything alright for us, if only we comply with what is being asked of us.

I have to tell you, that kind of thinking about God doesn’t wash.  There is no difference in attitude towards us between Father and Son.  Both the Father and the Son love us; both the Father and the Son care for us, and the Father and the Son collaborated together in the costly work of our redemption.  In this, as much as in creation or any other work of God, they are united in purpose and action.

Yet we still need to ask, what is it for us to recognise the work of the Spirit in our lives, in our Church, and to be able to talk about that?  Some of us will have experienced, or known others who have experienced, “charismatic” expressions of the Spirit in the life of believers.  That is all well and good and to the glory of God.  But even for those of us who haven’t, the evidence of the Spirit’s work amongst us is still there to be seen.  As long as we can recognise in ourselves (or, more often it is easier to see it in others) the growth of a person, becoming more loving, patient, kind, generous and gentle; more wise, faithful, joyful, and peaceful; and more self-controlled – we can recognise the work of the Spirit in bringing about good fruit in our lives.

All of this is as much to say, the idea of the Trinity isn’t an intellectual puzzle to be solved. It is an idea which comes out of the lived experience of every Christian believer.  It is the Church’s communal shout of praise for a God whose richness of being overflows, in ways which stretch our language almost to breaking point, but only so as to make room for us to grow in love and worship Him more fully.  It is as we realise the truth of God’s being, for us, that we find ourselves growing more fully into His likeness; that we find God’s kingdom growing and transforming the world in which we live; and that we find our language unable to contain the full meaning of truth which ultimately we have to experience to know.

I came across a line which I very much liked from Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury, who said that in speaking of the Trinity, we try to find, not the most exact but the least silly things to say; that we try to find language which will share the exhilaration of being drawn into the life of God.  I hope that as Bayden comes to baptism today, he and his family can experience something of that exhilaration.  Of the abundance of God the Father, poured out in creation; of the generosity and selflessness of God the Son, shown in his life, death and resurrection; of the power and energy of the Spirit, renewing us, pushing at the world as God’s kingdom comes and grows in our midst.  Who wouldn’t be exhilarated?  Who wouldn’t be encouraged to glimpse something of this?

There’s one more thing to say about this experience of God, and that is that it’s not just about individuals.

The deeply creative, loving, overflowing life of God comes to live within us as a community; to show itself within us, and to work through us to take hold of others around us.  Our life together should mirror something of the inner life of God; a life in which hierarchy and ego is not at issue; a life in which each is willing to be involved in work that is costly; a life which is not closed off and turned inward, but looking outward in overflowing abundant generosity, love and joy.  God’s love has been poured into our hearts, and we can hardly remain unchanged after that experience.

That is my answer to the question “So what?”  That is the least silly glimpse into the meaning of Trinity which I can offer you today.  And this is the understanding of God into which Bayden is being baptised this morning.

So I invite Bayden’s parents and godparents to bring him forward for baptism into relationship with God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.

 

 

Hallowed in truth

This reflection was given during the daily Eucharist in the chapel of an Anglican convent.  The Scripture it references is John 17:11-19

In today’s gospel reading, Jesus asked the Father to sanctify his disciples in the truth.

It’s an abstract concept, maybe not easy to grasp; what does it mean to be sanctified in the truth?

It probably really only makes sense in the light of everything that has come before it, in this gospel.  Jesus has already by this point told us that he is the giver of living water, the bread of life, the light of the world.  He has presented a complex, multi-faceted identity.  But I think that he’s done that so that if one image doesn’t particularly speak to where you are, another one might.  Hunger and thirst for life, the yearning for truth you can trust, for goodness and beauty, feeling trapped in cages of our own making or even darkness; he has an image of himself for each of those needs.

And along with those images comes the invitation to abide with Jesus; to find in him a fundamental orientation to life, a rock on which to stand, a foundation on which to build.

I don’t have to tell you about this, really.  Most of you have known it as truth for longer than I’ve been alive, and I’m just a baby in the faith compared to your wisdom and experience.

But this is the key to effective discipleship, isn’t it?  To rest in Jesus and be at home with him.  To allow ourselves to open more and more, little by little, to the voice which offers us healing for our particular wounds and weaknesses (and we all have them).

This is the power of the words of God; to transform us, to shape our intentions, to centre us on what really matters.  As one translation put it, to hallow us.

I rather like the idea of being hallowed; as if, over time, the Spirit will patiently be at work until I go from dimness to a warming glow as I go through life.

May God hallow us all in his truth.

The homilies: An homilie on the right use of the church or temple of God, and of the reverence due unto the same

One of the 39 Articles of the Anglican Church states that: The second Book of Homilies, the several titles whereof we have joined under this Article, doth contain a godly and wholesome Doctrine, and necessary for these times, as doth the former Book of Homilies, which were set forth in the time of Edward the Sixth; and therefore we judge them to be read in Churches by the Ministers, diligently and distinctly, that they may be understanded of the people.

It is not, to my knowledge, still the custom anywhere in the Anglican communion to read these homilies during services of public worship.  But recently I was asked how influential they are, and I had to reply that although lip service is paid to the idea that they contain a “godly and wholesome doctrine,” most Anglicans would be hard pressed to tell you what that doctrine actually was.

So, as much for my own education as for your amusement, I decided to work my way through the homilies and comment briefly on them here.  In each case, I’ll be looking for the main point of the homily and asking, does it contain a godly and wholesome doctrine, necessary for these times?  And if it does, how might I present that doctrine in my own preaching today?

So, first up: An homilie on the right use of the church or temple of God, and of the reverence due unto the same.

The bumper sticker version of this homily would be: Go to church.  And pay attention while you’re there.  And fundamentally, it’s pretty hard to argue with that.  The homily argues that the church, as the place of common and public prayer, is the place for the people of God to gather, to hear God’s holy word, to call upon his holy name, to give him thanks for his innumerable and unspeakable benefits bestowed upon us, and duly and truly to celebrate his holy sacraments, and that this is our “most bounden duty.”

So far so good.  The way that the supporting arguments are presented is perhaps, a little bit dated; today we would likely not argue that our having seasonable weather is dependent on our church-going, but I would be more likely to set our church-going within a wider horizon of hope and of equipping us to participate in the mission of God.  (But then, I don’t minister within a national, Established church, either, and that would change how one sees the relationship between God, the Church, and the state…)

And where the homily presents the role of the laity in their church going as relatively passive (stressing their role as quiet and reverent hearers of Scripture and the public prayers as said by the minister), I would be more likely to present the church as the arena in which we all have a role to play and a contribution to bring, and to encourage people not to leave the community the poorer without their presence.

There is, I think some use of Scripture which today we would find questionable; we would not likely draw an equivalence between the ancient Jewish temple and contemporary Christian church buildings, as if they were identical in purpose and function; and I think we would be more likely to understand “Church” first as the body of the believers, and only as the institution or building or worship service in a secondary sense.  The distinction isn’t always clear in the homily, and more work could be done on teasing that out, in contemporary preaching.

But those are, perhaps, questions of culture as much as anything else.  The fundamental point remains; worshipping together is good.

A side note: one element of the homily which surprised me was its open praise of the Jews, even to the point of saying that the Jews were far superior to the Christians, in their diligence at worship; while criticising the Christians for their slackness and contempt of the importance of worship.  No doubt this was making a powerful rhetorical point to its original hearers, but I thought it was quite refreshing as an example of the opposite of anti-Semitism enshrined in “godly and wholesome doctrine”!

 

 

Follow me

This is a sermon for the fourth Sunday of Easter, given in the “church next door.”  The Scripture it references is John 10:22-30.  

My sheep hear my voice…

It’s a bit of an ambiguous image, the idea of being sheep, isn’t it?  On the one hand, we rather suspect that sheep aren’t too bright, and are easily led where someone wants them to go, whether that’s a good idea or not.

On the other hand, the Biblical image of sheep and shepherds often conjures up – for me at least – the idea of lush green pastures, gently flowing little streams, and generally comfortable living in beautiful countryside.  (That owes much more to an English cultural background than the middle east, but it’s where my mind goes).  And there’s something quite comforting about the idea of being a well-fed, well-cared-for sheep living in peace.

The problem, I think, with both of these ideas about being sheep is that they’re rather passive.  On the one hand, you’re being led by others who make all the decisions; and on the other hand, you’re being fed and watered and cared for without having to actively seek any of these things out for yourself.  Comfortable, certainly; loved, maybe; but not exactly inspiring.

And not very much like real life; because in real life all of us have to think for ourselves, make decisions and take action.  So if we seek to follow Jesus, in some ways we might want other images beside the one of “sheep” to help us think about what that’s about.

The icon that I have handed out with the pew sheet this morning (blog readers can see it attached) captures something of how I tend to think about what it is to be a follower of Jesus.  It was painted by a French nun, and now belongs to a seminary in Jerusalem.  The writing at the top says “suis moi,” the French for “Follow me.”  Surrounding Jesus, with his hand raised in blessing, offering us the invitation to follow him, are a series of images representing different aspects of his life and work.  The message is clear – we are all invited to follow Jesus in our lives in the world, and to continue the work which he began during his earthly life – the work of the kingdom of God.

God has created each of us, gifted each of us differently, and made space for the opportunity to come and worship and work together for the sake of his kingdom.  For each of us, knowing who we are, what gifts we have been given and what desires God has stirred in the depths of our hearts, will help us to find the right way to express that in service; our own place, if you like, in the icon.

It also helps us to think about how to shape our common life together.  Next Saturday the parish council have a planning day; and I asked for that planning day because I think it’s imperative that we build a shared vision of who we believe Jesus is calling us to be, and what we believe Jesus is calling us to do, in being his faithful followers in this parish.

When we have that shared vision, it can be a guide for us in thinking strategically about what how we live out that vision; what we need to continue, what needs to end with grateful thanks for the past, and what new things might need to begin.  But without a vision of where we’re going, we have no shared basis for making those decisions, and that’s a recipe for conflict and trouble!

It might worry you that I mention the possibility that some things might come to an end.  But the fact of the matter is that we only have a finite amount of time, energy, and money between us to put into our corporate life together; so we need to be wise and strategic in how we use those resources.  Not because we want to end things which are valuable, but because we want to make sure that everything we do truly is valuable, and not something we do “just because;” and least of all “just because we’ve always done it.”

This should not surprise or alarm us.  We follow a living, dynamic God.  The green pastures and bubbling streams of my imagination are not an unchanging landscape; rather, being sheep who follow the good shepherd suggests that we’re on the move; that the scenery is always changing as we travel with him to new frontiers in the life of faith.  If our community is static, it is dead, and the gospel is not being effective in us.

Let me be very clear about this.  I’m not saying there’s anything wrong with this parish.  But I’m saying that the voice of the good shepherd always calls us to follow him to somewhere that is a little different to where we are now.  To explore new horizons.  To seek out new relationships.  To be bold pioneers in our own context, building bridges between what we find around us and the eternal truth, love and beauty which are so much a part of the life of heaven.  In that sense, what we do is, like the sheep, dependent on Jesus; not in a passive way, where everything is done for us, but in a way which means all the resources we need are available to us only as we trust him.

Ultimately, all of us are here together because, both as individuals and as a community, we love and trust Jesus enough to try doing things his way.  That’s being his sheep at its best.  We are committed to him in our inmost selves, allowing who he is to reshape us in the image of God.  And we are committed to him in our lives in the world, following him into all the places where we find our deepest joys in meeting the world’s deepest needs.  What we do here on a Sunday morning resources and supports what we do in all the rest of lives; the preferences we have, the choices we make, the things we seek.  Because love and friendship with God don’t obscure the reality that we’re also called to obedience.  Later on Jesus says that his friends are those who “do what I command you.”

As we follow Jesus in obedience, we become the image of the invisible God to the world.  As we hold together in Christ, we take up the work of reconciling ourselves, one another, and the world to God.   Provided that we continue to follow Jesus as he leads us into greater depth of relationship with God, greater depth of community, and greater involvement with his kingdom as it breaks into the world.  Provided that we truly listen to what he is telling us, and let that set the agenda for all that we do, and ultimately all that we are.

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Pondering autism

As I think I’ve posted before, my daughter has autism.

There are many things about this which are difficult, but one question which haunts me is, will there be autism in the resurrection?

This might seem, on the surface, like a stupid question.  There will be no illness or disability in the resurrection, will there?  We will be immortal, imperishable, perfect as we were originally intended to be.

But really, this question is about me wrestling with the nature of autism as a disability.  Some people claim that autism isn’t a disability, it’s just a difference; it means your brain works differently, and might just give you strengths as well as weaknesses, when compared with a “normal” person.

More than that, when something has been such a fundamental part of who you are since before you were born, when it is so deeply embedded in your identity that you can’t imagine it not being part of you, what does that suggest for you being somehow yourself, in the resurrection?  Would that be true in any meaningful way if the autism were somehow not there?

I don’t pretend to know more than in part.  But this is what I can see now, as a neurotypical mother of an autistic daughter, who tries to look at these things through the lens of faith.

Autism is a disability.  That the brain has developed with less interconnectivity than that of a non-autistic person, and that this results in impairments – typically sensory, language and social – is scientific fact.  That these impairments make things which other people take for granted, much more difficult to do or achieve, is fact.  I hope my daughter will finish school, go on to further study, find work that she loves and a happy family life in a structure that she chooses.  But if she does, it won’t be because she’s not disabled.  It will be because her many strengths have helped her to do her best despite that disability.

So that suggests to me that in the resurrection, autism might be – if not totally erased – like the rest of our bodies, transformed.  For an autistic person to be him- or herself in the resurrection, some of who they have been, developmentally, and in terms of personality, must remain in continuity with their mortal self.  But the limitations, the lack of ability, the impairment; I hope that will be erased like the lifting of a veil.  So that those who have been confused and overwhelmed and who have struggled, might find that in the new creation, they are able to relate to the world around them with confidence and understanding, while still holding on to whatever strengths that their life has formed in them.

April is autism awareness month.  Conversations about autism are everywhere; but I haven’t seen anyone else ask this particular question.  What do you think?

Mourning into dancing

This is a sermon for the third Sunday of Easter, given in the “church up the road.”  The Scripture it references is Psalm 30.  

You have turned my mourning into dancing…

I’ve been thinking a bit about dancing and its relationship with worship lately.  This week I was having an online discussion with a Hindu woman (as you do), about dance and yoga and meditation and how – in her religion – dance is something which allows you not just to know about God with your mind, but to know God in your body.  And that led me to reflect on how Christianity has for so long really been very uncomfortable about our bodies and their potential to know God; we’re much more likely to see our bodies as an obstacle or a nuisance which the mind needs to “manage” through discipline.  Perhaps we can thank St. Paul for some of that…

But anyway.  That meant that when I saw this verse in the Psalm it stood out to me as something worth exploring.  What was going on for the community who first used this Psalm in their worship, and what does it have to say to us today?

It turns out that this Psalm is one which is very intimately connected with the temple-based worship of the ancient Jews.  The introductory information tells us that it is a Psalm which was written for or used at the dedication of the temple, and later on it was included in (and continues to be used in) Hanukkah liturgies, which celebrate the rededication of the temple after its desecration.

This gives us some context for the expressions of joy and praise and thanks.  For the ancient Jews, the temple was a focus of their distinctive identity as the people of God, and for their unity as a people.  The temple was the place where God dwelt among God’s people, and so it was the place of most profound sacred encounter, and the place for the most solemn and most joyous acts of worship.

So this is the context in which the people’s mourning is turned into dancing; pilgrims would dance in procession on their way to the temple, and their dance celebrated everything that it meant to be one of God’s people, a grateful recipient of God’s shepherding care, and awed worshipper in the place which was the closest thing to heaven on earth.

And the reason I’m making a point of that is that I think that sometimes verses like this one about our mourning being turned to dancing become quite well known, perhaps because they’re used in worship songs or otherwise popularised, in a way which is removed from that original context; and sometimes that means their meaning gets distorted for us.

Here’s what I mean; if we take this line about God turning our mourning into dancing on its own – and I’ve seen Christians do this kind of thing – then you can think that maybe mourning isn’t a normal part of the Christian life.  You can think that maybe Christians are meant to be happy all of the time, full of the joy of the Lord, and that the full range of human emotion isn’t something that’s meant to be part of the healthy Christian experience.  It’s even sometimes pushed to the extreme where Christians who live with depression or anxiety or other similar mental health issues are told that they do so because of their sin, or – in one particularly memorable conversation I had when I was depressed – that it’s because of demonic activity in their life.  (Way to freak someone out!)

This is, I think, something like an emotional version of prosperity theology (the idea that God wants to bless us, and that therefore a lack of success somehow indicates a problem in your faith).  And it’s a mistake to get caught up in that kind of thinking, which is more about blame than about hope.

So it’s important for us to read verses like this and realise that while celebration is an important part of life, it’s not something which we need to expect from everyone all the time.  Grief is normal, the full range of our emotions is normal, and we need to be able to bring all of that with us to worship without being ashamed of what we feel, or thinking that it is in some way a barrier between us and God.

So if that’s what we don’t do with a Psalm like this, what can we take from it?

Think back to what I said about how this Psalm was (and is) used in Jewish worship.  That it was a celebration of their identity as the people of God, their unity as a people, and of their ability to encounter and worship the living God in their midst.

Well, we also have those things to celebrate, do we not?  We also know our own identity as a people of God – an Easter people – and songs of praise are an intrinsic part of that.  We know that – as the community of all the baptised – even though the church is administratively fragmented, we have a deeper unity; one based on the presence of the Holy Spirit which is at work in each of us, and through all of us.  We know that as we gather for worship, Christ is present with and to us, and we are able to encounter and worship the living God in our midst.

This is as much a part of the fabric of our religious lives as it was for the ancient Jews who wrote this Psalm and preserved it as part of their regular worship.  And these are things worth celebrating, worth expressing our joy over!

So yes, God turns our mourning into dancing; he overcomes our alienation from him and from one another and builds us back up into relationships in which we can truly experience joy.

Have a look at the pictures up on the screen (for readers of the blog, they are attached below); what you have been looking at so far is a detailed view of part the interior of the Episcopal church of St. Gregory of Nyssa, in San Francisco.  Here’s a bit more of a big-picture view.  All around the walls of that church, the saints of all ages and cultures are shown dancing together, led by Christ at the head, in a bright and bold visual statement of what it means to be the Church.  I wonder what it would be like, to gather for worship surrounded by all those dancing saints?  And did you notice that there are some animals in the picture, which suggest that all of creation and nature joins with us in our praise?

This is where statements of God turning our mourning into dancing take their proper place, for us; not in trying to narrow the range of acceptable Christian emotion, but in providing a deeper understanding of what it is that we have to celebrate as we come together.  We may not always feel like dancing, but we can know that we always have something worth holding on to and treasuring as being worth celebrating; something to turn back to even in our darkest times, which can give us comfort and hope that our struggles will pass.  So that, with the psalmist, we can say with confidence that we too will give thanks to God for ever.

 

Dancing saints

 

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Healing gardens

For a while now, I’ve been interested in gardens as spaces for meditation and prayer, and in how we can intentionally design gardens for those purposes (especially church gardens, which we can then keep open to the general public, and provide them with a gentle invitation to these disciplines).

As I was meandering around the web this afternoon, I came across the slides for a lecture on “Healing Gardens in Hospitals” as part of a course in hospital architecture.  This was not exactly the same thing as I’d been thinking about, but nor was it unrelated, so I was interested enough to go through the slides and see these principles put forward (the headings are my own way of organising the material):

Spiritual considerations:

  • A connection to nature has been shown to have positive influence on health outcomes (physiological and psychological).
  • Plants with distinct seasonal changes can invite a range of responses and reflections.  Trees can provide metaphors of solidity, strength and permanence.  Annuals can provide metaphors of growth, budding, blooming, seeding, decay, death and transformation.  Perennials can provide metaphors of persistence and renewal.
  • If there is potential for a good view beyond the premises, seek to construct the garden to incorporate it.  People often find a wider view helps them focus less on their troubles, and find a wider perspective.

Practical considerations:

  • Well-designed gardens can become not just an adjunct to the hospital, but a place which is used for various types of therapy (an integral part of the treatment model).
  • The garden could also become a “needed retreat” for staff, helping them to manage the stress of their work.

Physical considerations:

  • Accessibility is key!  People of all ages and abilities need to be able to enter and move around the garden.  Paths should be solid, smooth and wide enough for two wheelchairs to pass.
  • The garden space could be used in ways that ranged from relatively passive to quite active.  The well-designed garden needs to cater for viewing from inside, sitting outside, rest/meditation/prayer (I guess they mean sitting quietly here!), gentle exercise, walking, eating, reading and paperwork, playing (referring particularly to children), sport, and.. even gardening.
  • Quiet is important.  Thought should be given to noise levels and screening of intruding noise, and the creation of natural sounds (water, birdsong, rustling leaves etc).
  • Levels of greenery are also important.  More vegetation helps to awaken the senses, calm the mind and reduce stress.  Planting design should be intricate, detailed, and appeal to all the senses.
  • Furniture should be comfortable and not cause strain, including when shared.
  • Our connection with nature can also be cognitive.  Plant labels can engage our attention and stimulate conversation.
  • Water can be helpful.  Views of still, reflective water and the sounds and views of moving water are engaging and soothing.  Water also attracts wildlife, adding to the diversity of the garden and providing a sense of the breadth and continuity of life.
  • Give thought to shelter appropriate to the climate, to make it possible to use the garden for as much of the year as possible.

Emotional considerations:

  • The psychological process by which a person is helped by being in a garden includes the journey itself, sensory awakening, personal centreing, and spiritual attunement.
  • The positive outcomes of a garden were strengthened if they were accompanied by social support and a sense of autonomy in one’s situation.  A well-designed garden can enhance the sense of autonomy of visitors to it by giving them a choice of spaces, seating and activities (this can be as simple as making sure that furniture can be easily moved, and providing spaces which are more open and more enclosed, more secluded/private and more social, more sunny and more shaded, etc).  Providing a range of options in the garden can also ensure that it invites exploration and does not become boring.  Opportunities to personalise or contribute to the garden in some way (eg decorating a tile for a wall) can help to build a sense of ownership as well.
  • The garden should match the culture of the people who use it (garden design, plants, detailing, furnishing etc).
  • Ambiguous or abstract features may be perceived as fearful or threatening (even if the designer had no such intent) and should be avoided.  What might be appropriate in other contexts may not be so appropriate here.  Art should be unambiguously positive.  The inclusion of inspiring statements etc can be beneficial (but should be carefully selected for the context).

There seems to me that there is a great deal here that we could carry over into thinking about our church gardens.  What if we intentionally designed our garden spaces to help people connect with God through nature?  What if we invited people to use those spaces in ways which complement and extend what we do inside our church buildings?  What if we took seriously issues of accessibility, providing for a range of activities, and the sensory experience of people in our gardens?  What if we found ways to build social support into how people engaged with our gardens?

And there are other questions, not touched on in this lecture but to which we might also want to give thought.  How can gardens become teaching resources?  (I remember a quiet afternoon when I was in college, in which we were given a series of meditative exercises as we walked through the Fitzroy gardens and reflected on what we encountered there.  It would not be difficult to do similar things on a smaller scale).  What other needs in our community can a garden meet?  Can our garden become part of wider conservation efforts?  And so on.

Brother Roger, who founded the community at Taizé, is reputed to have said that when the church becomes a house of prayer, the people will come running.  He has been shown to be right in the experience at Taizé, to which thousands of young people now flock every year.  What if we asked how our gardens could further our mission, and designed them for that?  The resources to help us do this better are out there; surely we should take them seriously!