It is a paradox that keen understanding of the brevity of life lies alongside this deep richness and experience of ‘life in all its fullness’.
‘N’allez pas trop vite’ Marcel Proust
‘The mind and the soul are affected not so much by the relative beauty or grandeur of what is seen but by the depth of engagement with it’ from ‘The Accidental Pilgrimage’ by Maggi Dawn.
One advantage of being considerably less mobile and persistently tired is that I do not rush over things so much. The most simple experiences can feel like a rewarding achievement. Recently I visited a particularly beautiful garden in North Norfolk where two men have transformed acres of land into an impressive work of art. The flower beds are filled generously with an eye for colour and design and form ‘rooms’ each with their own feel and identity. Branched arches frame a distant lighthouse and again are used to highlight the ancient parish church. We emerged with various plants to enhance our own garden but decided to return home via the beach as it was a particularly beautiful day. Here, with the use of walking poles I was able to make a fairly sharp descent onto the sand and enjoy walking bare foot on into the sea, enjoying the wonderfully open space of our North Norfolk skyline. On coming home I was able to (slowly) dig a large hole and plant a healthy looking shrub known as ‘Soeur Therese’- bought for the name as much as anything else.
So, sitting now on the sofa feeling my body aching and eyes closing I recall these significant events of the day - and they will continue to feed me in days to come. A garden carefully nurtured into a work of art, a wide beach with space as far as the eye can see, the cleansing sensation of soft sand and cool water on my chemo-sore feet. The achievement and satisfaction in digging through soil to give ‘Sr. Therese’ a good place in which to thrive. Such things are simple but have potential to feed the mind and soul.
I think the heart of the gospel encourages us to think this way. As Jesus walked through his own locality he would point out things that he and his disciples saw, encouraging significance and meaning to be found in their simplicity. What would happen if one of these sheep were lost? Consider how the lilies grow, there is a sower, sowing seed, a tree housing birds, a woman making dough, a lost coin. All such homely images, yet each with a potential to be ‘read’ in a way that speaks profoundly and draws forth our deeper interpretation and understanding.
It is a paradox that keen understanding of the brevity of life lies alongside this deep richness and experience of ‘life in all its fullness’- the abundant life. Abundance is I suppose quite an old fashioned word. We would not readily describe life as abundant. However looking it up in the dictionary I find some synonyms associated with it are ‘copious, profuse, bumper, overflowing, teeming’. I believe this is what we are constantly surrounded with despite our mood or particular circumstances seeming to belie it. Life provides us with access to abundance that is ‘bumper, teeming’.
Today I have been given permission by my oncologist to have three weeks free of chemo while Mark and I return to our loved Isles of Scilly for a fortnight - the longest I have been there since having my diagnosis 19 months ago. Then, I would never have thought it possible to go at all. But after a couple of separate one week periods here is new opportunity for that journey to be taken again, this time for the luxury of a fortnight, and it will I know, bring experience after experience of the life abundant allowing me (like Soeur Therese) to thrive on this input of copious and overflowing goodness when I return home.
Last week our meditation group closed as it always does, with a piece of music. I chose a recording of a chorister from Ampleforth singing ‘The Lord is my Shepherd’ to the tune of ‘Brother James Air’ It has an indescribable purity about it.. ‘I’ll not want..my soul he doth restore again...though I walk through death..my cup overfloes. Surely goodness and mercy shall surely follow me for ever.’
This sense of richness is taken up by Gerard Manley Hopkins as he describes the season of Spring
‘ Nothing is so beautiful as Spring
When weeds in wheels shoot long lovely and lush....
What is all this juice
And all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden’s garden....’
May we be given grace to see and accept the wonder of such free bounty around us, allowing us to absorb and thrive on it, within all the vicissitudes of this unpredictable life.
* Anne (firstname.lastname@example.org) is the WCCM regional co-ordinator for East Anglia and runs 'Noggs Barn', a building in her garden used for meditation and retreat days.