Rector’s Letter, May 2024

I am not the gardening correspondent for the Horticultural Society, but I want to talk about fritillaries and peonies! Both are firm favourites for me and how lucky am I in my garden: at the time of writing there are two little groups of fritillaries – one with seven and one with four flowers. Their delicacy and colour are exquisite. And then I am watching five clumps of peonies sprouting from the ground – one more than last year. Even in the rain they are literally growing about two inches a day. They will not have flowers until the end of the month: they will start tight buds, then bloom and then become gloriously blousy.

My present circumstances have challenged me, what do I see?  That’s is not such a strange question: when you live with someone and a fritillary, for instance, appears in your garden, you can be so excited and busy telling the other person and showing them, that you don’t actually look closely yourself. Now, I just go into the garden and look and focus on the beautiful mauve flower with its delicate tracery and head bowed as in prayer. (Lola comes round with me and tries to work out what I am looking at so intently, but not surprisingly, she doesn’t quite get it). Just looking at something beautiful and for some minutes, is actually an extraordinary and spiritual experience.

When Arthur was baptised at Madehurst on Easter Day, I showed those present one of those pictures in which you can see different things – in this case it was an old woman and a young woman in the same picture. I think there are many different ways of seeing things. The problem in our society is we are pushed into either/or rather than both/and. My picture points to the truth of “both and”. I personally have no problem with all that science teaches me, whilst also seeing pointers to another way of looking at things.

A story I have told over Easter relates to an orthodox church archbishop (Metropolitan Anthony), whilst a curate, going up to an old woman who used to come and just sit in the church every day. Eventually the archbishop-to-be went up to her and asked her what she was doing. Looking at a picture of Jesus in the stained glass she simply said, “I look at him and he looks at me”. Not so different perhaps than my looking in wonder at my group of fritillaries – which I did just before writing this. I am looking forward when the peonies come into flower to watch every stage minutely: tight blud, the opening up and the blousy flower.

The poets always say things better. From Gerard Manley Hopkins Pied Beauty:

Glory be to God for dappled things –

   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;

      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

                                Praise him.