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Seasonal Communion - September 2008

A Visit To A Garden

It rained a lot in the Lake District this summer.  As a result I was forced into my least favourite holiday activity.  I had to visit historic houses.  Even worse, I actually enjoyed it.  In particular, I enjoyed my visit to Levens Hall.  It is the largest Elizabethan mansion in South Cumbria, a stately and splendid piece of architecture, and moreover, it turned out to have totally unexpected sources of interest.

What you chiefly go to Levens Hall for, however, is not the house but the garden.  You glimpse it first through the windows of the house.  It is a topiary garden.

The garden was first laid out by a Frenchman, a M. Beaumont, between 1701-04.  When you get down into it, it is a veritable wonder world, a fun place full of abstract and semi-abstract forms.  There are the king and queen (think chess sets).  There is a splendid figure in a top hat.  You are met by constantly changing vistas.  The first thought that strikes you is that this must be one of the most unselfish forms of gardening known to man.  M. Beaumont and the then owner must have been able to visualise how it would eventually be, but it is unlikely that they lived to see it.  This was a garden planted to be the inheritance of future generations.

The second thought that strikes you is 'Thank God I don't have to clip it.'  Each year, about now, the gardeners sally forth with hedge clippers and begin the job of getting it back into shape, and they have had to do that every year for the last three hundred years.  And not only has the garden had to be maintained.  It has also had to be defended.  Fashions in gardens change.  It has had to be defended against vandals who wanted to tear it all down and replace it with flowerbeds.

The garden has had to be kept up and defended, but that does not mean it has been preserved in aspic.  It has been enhanced and given new beauties.  This is what the owners have done this year by allowing the garden to become the setting for an exhibition of statuary.  In particular there have been placed throughout the garden works by a highly skilled metal worker - whose name sadly I failed to note - who specialises in creating natural forms in burnished steel.  Here, set among the trees, is his metal iris, and here, against the dark green of the topiary, a delicate silver tree.

So there, I have done my historic house and garden visit for this millennium, and, if truth be told, I enjoyed it.  But as well as being enjoyable, it prompted reflections - reflections on the lessons it has to teach us about our own relationship with the world.  It is to these reflections that we shall turn in our prayers.

Prayers:

We have wandered in the garden of Levens Hall, Lord.  Now we look back on the feelings that it inspires in us and the reflections it prompts.

The first feeling, Lord, is gratitude.  There is gratitude for the unselfish love that created this garden to bring delight not so much to its own time but to succeeding generations.  There is gratitude to those who have sustained it and cared for it and passed it on for us to enjoy.

The first reflection, Lord, is that we owe the same debt of gratitude for the world that we enjoy.  There is gratitude to you for the unselfish love that created it for our delight.  There is gratitude to you for its preservation through all the millions of years of its existence.

For the beauty of our world: for its capacity to sustain us, and its capacity to delight us:

We thank you, Lord.

The second feeling, Lord, is one of responsibility.  This garden is a gift to us from earlier generations.  We accept it gladly, but with it comes a sense of our own responsibility to pass it on intact to succeeding generations.

We have the same feeling, Lord, about our world.  We are deeply conscious that it is under threat, and we are deeply conscious that the source of that threat is us.  It is our emissions that are polluting its atmosphere and stoking up global warming.  It is our demands that are impoverishing its wildlife, its soils, and its seas.

Move us, Lord, to make the changes to our lifestyle both as individuals and as a race that will be necessary if we are to pass on intact to succeeding generations the precious gift that we have received.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

The third feeling is one of challenge.  The present generation have not only preserved the garden.  They have added to its fascination and delight by the modern innovations they have introduced.  By doing so they issue a challenge to us all.  What can we do to leave the world a better and more beautiful place than when we found it?  Bless, Lord, all who are working to preserve the beauty and diversity of our world, to promote in sustainable ways its productivity, and to gift to it new beauties born of love, vision, and human skill.

Lord, in your mercy
Hear our prayer.

Lord of the world, with joy we have offered thanksgiving for your love in creation.  Plant in us a reverence for all that you have given us and make us wise and generous stewards of the good things we enjoy, through Jesus Christ our Lord. 

Amen.

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