Anything but magnolia

I glance up from the precarious task of carrying a flat white and shopping bags with phone in hand, to scan the green and see if my favourite spot is available. Having only moved in during the winter months, this past week of warmer air and sunny days has redefined my sense of belonging in a community that I have only known since lockdown. My favourite spot under the shade of the tall yew tree with its neatly picketed seat that offers the secure feel of cool iron on a warm day is indeed free, but instead my eye is drawn to the Magnolia tree; how could it not be? It’s architectural form perfectly framing the rustic looking bench below, and I hurry on to claim my temporary perch under its blushing pink naked branches. During lockdown I have come to value greatly the simple freedom of being able to head out of one’s front door and walk. Just walk. Without plan or objective. Staying local has meant that (for some of us) the rushing has diminished and the weight and speed at which we journey has shifted to a pace that at times can feel agonisingly slow. But it is in this very act of slowing down that I begin to sense a shift – a redefining of priorities and a connection with place that is as enriching as it is challenging.

The slow movement has been with us for some time but as a person of faith I want to question if the lifelong belief that I have held about certain places being special or ‘thin’ is less based on heightened spiritual connection and more our ability to truly take time to observe, connect and allow ourselves to be exposed to the inherent Holiness that nature wants to awaken in us?

The concept of listening to nature is not new and scripture recalls to us the active part that all of creation plays in worshipping the divine in such poetic form that it makes your heart ache:

‘For you shall go out in joy, and be led back in peace; the mountains and the hills before you shall burst into song, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands’.
(Isaiah 55: 12 NRSV)

‘Let the rivers clap their hands, let the mountains sing together for joy;’
(Psalm 98:8 NIV)

‘Praise him, sun and moon; praise him, all you twinkling stars’.
(Psalm 148: 3 NLT)

But do we ever really stop- to listen- to learn?

In this most HOLY of weeks, I am reminded of the two Mary’s who instead of fleeing the scene after Jesus had been crucified, observed where his body was laid (Mark 15: 47). There are many references in the gospels to the women followers of Jesus looking on from a distance, witnessing, observing, waiting – they take on an almost loitering quality in their undefined homogeneous mass. I had always thought that the women of the bible were bound by culture, restricted by gender (still true), but today, as I sit under the Magnolia, I want to consider a different perspective. The path that the women took to the RESSURECTION garden was one of love and devotion. Their approach to Jesus was holistic in nature and was a testament to the incarnational reality of Christ’s dual identity:

Fully human

Fully God

They listened to his teaching, believing in the prophets divinity, but they also cared for his physical needs; even in death they went to prepare his body with spices and ointments. EVEN in death- they refused to separate the physical from the spiritual. They knew where to go, for they had been quietly following the action, and I love that they went without a plan as to how they would roll the stone away! Surely, they experienced this most holy of moments- the appearance of the resurrected Jesus, precisely because their care was rooted in their present reality. They transformed every ritual and routine into a prayer.

I want my life to be a prayer, a song to the creator God that brings the holiness into my daily chores. I want my everyday routine to be more about listening and quiet observation. Like the Magnolia that stands largely un-regarded for most of the year, (except for those who take the time to stop, study and consider the 200 species outside of its flowering season). This Easter Sunday if you have the good fortune to see a Magnolia tree, why not sit under its branches and see what wisdom it can share with you? Unlike its rather unfortunate namesake from the decorating world, its branches offer vibrant, rich hues of a holy life- just waiting to be explored.

All we need to do is be slow.

So I sat down on the grass today, and this is what I heard:

Won’t you stay for a while-
won’t you stay?
the day is young, and we have a time to share.

Maybe tomorrow, you will return
to me
to feel
the warming
of the earth-
as dew drips,
swans glide,

life goes by.

Aware of my own inability to be still; truly still, I retreat back to my study today. I have become too used to my own voice directing the dialogue, providing the answers. To connect with the sacred requires no more or less than the very essence of ourselves. That is the challenge, and that is the joy! Easter Blessings be to you all.

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