The Christmas crackers and their jokes may now be long gone, but here is one question that they probably do not offer: “What do culverts and arteries have in common?” Answer – they are both liable to being blocked and if they are then the effects can be disastrous, even fatal, writes Rev Sydney Maitland.
This is not particularly funny or even amusing, but if a culvert gets blocked then when floods come it will fail to allow the water through and the surrounding land may be inundated. Bad news. Even worse, when arteries get furred up, then heart trouble is on the way, and this can also be fatal. Nothing really funny here either.
When looking at our interior lives however, the same applies and before we get too penitential with the coming of Lent, it is worth thinking a little about this aspect of things. The cares of life pile up easily enough, including keeping a home intact, looking after children, or elderly relatives, keeping an eye on husband or wife, keeping the pressures of work in check, ensuring that the car is still running and does not need repair etc., etc., etc.
On their own, none of these matters is particularly threatening, but over time anxiety grows, the need to get things done is unremitting, and then there is that competitive streak: to gain career development, to avoid being shown up in the family, to keep one step ahead of … whoever. Oh yes, we say our prayers, go to church, help out where we can, try to read and think creatively and positively, but compared with a couple of hours a week on a Sunday, the pressures of live are there 24/7. So how to cope?
One way is our approach when things go wrong, break down, need to be replaced, or worse, when sickness or bereavement strike. It is when we have to do without that we can be most bereft: but it is exactly at that point of challenge that we are being tested most directly. The disappointment of hopes, the loss of a treasured item, the departure of a friend to a city far away, the frustration of an ambition – especially when that ambition was not particularly elevated, and should have been relatively routine – all leave us feeling let down, cynical, even dried up, leading to loneliness or emptiness.
It is at such times that when we are most vulnerable that we need to dig deeper inside, and to see things from a new perspective. Oh yes, we know that the great saints of the church have faced such things and have overcome, be they were different. Really?? The same scriptures and sacraments that the great saints fed on are with us here and today. The same wisdom is there and the same Holy Spirit is there as well. Equally, Jesus is the same yesterday, today and for ever, so the playing field is much more level than we may give it credit for.
So when Jesus says “Abide in Me” He means it: that we should find in Him our rest, our identity, our future, our peace and our hope. It means finding in Him the direction of our lives, and the power to live them. It also means the privilege of bring to Him those times of hopelessness, failure, loss, isolation, and all that darkens the spirit.
But there is something else: “My father is the gardener” who watches over all plants in the garden, looking for growth, fruit, shelter, shade, delight, fragrance, colour, and every kind of shape and hue. For each of us, he prunes us of what is weak, dead, diseased or fruitless so that what remains may become stronger and more fruitful. But more than that, if God is the Heavenly Gardner, then He is looking for the growth and development of the garden as a whole, and not just at each plant in isolation.
And this is a very powerful image, for in Genesis, God is shown as wandering around the Garden of Eden, looking for Adam so that they may speak together of many things. God was looking for Adam’s fellowship, opinions, responses, ideas, that they may share their plans on how to extend the garden.
And He looks form the same company and response among us: starting with clearing out any culverts in our lives.