Special & Spiritual Spaces

special & spiritualIn the past few weeks with the weather improving we’ve been able to get out again into the various different growing spaces that PXI is part of in and around the area. At the Cross at Yew Lane we planted new fruit apple trees, and added new whips into our blackberry hedge to strengthen it and add to the diversity with;

  • Cherry Plum,
  • Hawthorn,
  • Hazel,
  • Blackthorn,
  • Bird Cherry and
  • Crab Apple.

In addition to the trees and hedging we planted up a number of new planters in the front and inner garden areas, and erected a new seating area, and began work on attracting more wildlife into the garden. Meanwhile at LEAF we hosted a prayer event called Prayer 8 for the Methodist Church in Sheffield – this led some of us into a conversation about the “Special & Spiritual Spaces” at LEAF. Now this conversation was in response to something I’d read and shared some years ago, an article by George Lings called “The Seven Sacred Spaces of Monastery” http://www.freshexpressions.org.uk/news/encounters43 in the article George outlines seven spaces common to monastic spaces, these are:

Chapel – place of public worship & celebration
Chapter – place of decision making and ordering of community life
Refectory – place of eating and hospitality, community and service.
Cell – place of private prayer, reflection & meditation
Cloister –  an ‘in between’ space which allows for informal interaction with the world beyond
Garden – place of manual work
Scriptorum – place of study.

The more I think about these spaces the more I think they speak about the things each of us needs in our lives, we may not all see these from a Christian or faith perspective but together they can help us in achieving something of a balance in our life. The “sacredness” of these spaces comes not from the space itself but to how and if we meet with something of God there, as Margaret sine puts it: “Sacred is where the soul goes ….. A place is sacred, ground is holy because we encounter God there.” 

Those special, spiritual spaces where we find it easier to meet with God, the divine, are sometimes called “thin places” (especially in Celtic Christian spirituality) but this weekend I was also challenge by Rev John Vincent who spoke about the importance of “thick places”. By “thick places” John was arguing the need to find God not just in the beauty, awe and wonder of creation, but also down amongst the dirt – the hurt and pain of life, the struggle (sometimes just to survive another day), amongst the broken hearts and broken dreams, to find God in the very places that seem to be missing God.

Plot64 feels a bit like a “thick place” in allotment terms – as well as all the rubbish we’ve been trying to clear off in the last few months, the current weather has made everything suddenly resume life. The site is so overgrown it seems at times like there’s nowhere to start and it’s very easy to feel overwhelmed by it all, and admittedly this weekend Angela and I were tempted by what seemed an opportunity to swap plots for one that was ready to go as it were. Well it doesn’t always work like you hope and the other plot has now been let out – so we’re just going to have to knuckle down to some hard and heavy graft to clear away all the rubbish, dig out all the weeds and bring new life on to Plot64 – it will take time but it will be worth it.

Tricky Treats

It’s that time of year again – pumpkins, costumes and bags of sweets fill the shops as they look to make more and more money out of a seasonal celebration – youngsters will be soon knocking on doors all over the estate “trick or treating” and hoping for a bucketful of chocolate and the like.

With a recent survey showing that most people celebrating Halloween this year in the UK aren’t even sure what its is all about maybe it’s time to take a little look.

There is still debate about the exact origins, but it is likely that Halloween (All Hallows Eve) has a number of separate origins:

1. The Celtic / Pagan tradition: Samhain (or Sawin) marks the end of harvest and the move into winter time. It is also regarded as a time to remember and celebrate the lives of our ancestors who have gone before us. Sometimes costumes were worn to help put off any evil spirits that tried to hang around the celebrations.

2. The Catholic / Christian tradition. In 835AD the then pope set 1st November as All Saints Day, although it was probably being celebrated by Christians who had come from the Celtic traditions long before that. Again, All Saints was a festival to remember all those faithful Christians who had died – All Hallows Eve (Halloween) marked to begin those celebrations.

For anyone interested, here is  an interesting blog page about Halloween: http://www.mysticchrist.co.uk/blog/post/putting_the_horror_into_halloween

Whatever the origins – its now clear that the date is one where many young people (and some older ones) enjoy taking the opportunity to get into fancy dress and enjoy eating loads of sweets – at our house we’ve  got our bowl full ready to greet any visitors, so if you’re out this year trick or treating with friends and family just remember: Be safe …. Show Respect …. and may God who brings light to all places be in our hearts.

…. Sunshine after the rain

I think it was Elke Brooks who sang: “I want to see the sunshine after the rain…” well at least on Monday after what seems now like weeks of rainy days we did see a bit of sunshine, but sure enough come Tuesday and the supposed time for Space to Grow to be on the plot it started to rain yet again – obviously this is all great for refilling the reservoirs, and will provide the plants with plenty to drink – but it would be quite nice to see a few dry days again soon so that we can get on with planting more crops.

Amazingly (with all this rain) we’re close to the time that in Celtic times was widely know as “Beltane” which usually falls around 5th to 7th May. It marks” … the beginning of the pastoral summer season when the herds of livestock were driven out to the summer pastures and mountain grazing lands.”  It was also a time marking a time of purification and transition, heralding in the season in the hope of a good harvest later in the year.

Hopefully all this spring rain might mean a relatively decent summer – we can hope anyway. With dreams of sunny days in mind, PXI is joining with others in local church to organise a “Big Picnic in the Park” on 3rd June – it will start at 12noon and go on into the afternoon, people are invited to bring along some food or drink (no alcohol please) and share together – later we’ll hopefully play some games together: cricket, football, rounders kind of thing. If you want to come along and join us that would be great.

Meanwhile back to this month. It says in my gardening book that : “May is one of the busiest months in the kitchen garden.”

The books also suggest there’s is a lot to sow this month and with many crops you can sow one set and then a few weeks later re-sow to give you a succession of fresh vegetables at the peak of perfection.

  • French Beans
  • Runner Beans
  • Beetroot
  • Broccoli
  • Cabbage and Cauliflowers
  • Peas
  • Turnips and Swedes
  • Your salad crops should be sown in succession
  • Lettuce and Leaves such as Rocket
  • Radishes
  • Spring Onions

So – as we start to look ahead to summer, whatever it might bring, here’s a short prayer to mark the changes in season:

God of winter’s cold, of clear sky and frozen river.
We praise your Holy Name

God of spring’s warmth, April showers, waking life.
We praise your Holy Name

God of summer sun, warming earth, sprouting seed.
We praise your Holy Name

God of summer pasture and mountain stream
We praise your Holy Name

God of root and shoot, of harvest to come
We praise your Holy Name

Candlemas, Imbolc and the first hope of Spring

It’s freezing! That’s the first thing to say at the moment. When I went to the plot earlier today the  “earth stood  hard as iron” (to quote Christina Rosetti – In a Bleak mid Winter) a strange time you might imagine to start thinking about early signs and hopes of Spring; and yet here we are at one on those moments where the Celtic pagan calendar and Christianity meet in the time of Candlemas or Imbolc.

‘February 2 is one of the great cross-quarter days which make up the wheel of the year. It falls midway between the winter solstice and the spring equinox and in many traditions is considered the beginning of spring.‘ (School of the Seasons)

Frost on the Feverfew at Plot107

Imbolc was one of the cornerstones of the Celtic calendar – it marked a point when winter food stocks were beginning to be used up and so rituals were performed with the hope of bringing divine energy to ensure good harvests in the months to come. Fires we often lit, and the time was regarded as the start of Spring. For some Christians too today is a special time, a time called Candlemas – a time when we take a last glance back at the wonder of the birth of Jesus, celebrate his early life and his family, and begin to turn our eyes towards the coming celebrations of Easter – again the celebration (as the name suggests) will usually involve lighting of candles to represent Jesus “the light of the world” (John 8.12)

Another symbol sometimes associated with Candlemas is the snowdrop – no doubt because it’s round about now that we usually start to see them daring to put their heads up as another messenger of those early hopes of Spring and new life – and there were plenty of them doing just that on the banking at LEAF where I went after finishing on the plot.

Whether it was the cold, or the change in spirits that perhaps can come with a change of season, we got into some serious reflection on life today at LEAF. When I say serious it was of course all with a smile and laugh is our way but nevertheless a deep reflection. We talked about humankinds desire to constantly feel “in control” even over nature, Gods creation, and the fact that the reality is, no matter how much we feel we’ve finally got it under control, ultimately nature will last us out. Our greatest triumphs will all fade away but the natural cycle of life and death and rebirth will outlast us all.

I suppose this all sounds a bit miserable for a cold but sunny day on the allotments, it really wasn’t – but our life, like the rest of creation, often seems to move in seasons – and, as I sit here writing this and reflecting on today and the last week I also think about Darren who I heard recently had died aged 37 years old. Darren had many problems in life, he was homeless and he drank – and though I only knew him a short time – I will miss the conversations we shared.

“We are all human beings.
Our life is short and full of trouble.
Our life is like a flower that grows quickly and then dies away.
Our life is like a shadow that is here for a short time and then is gone.” (Job 14.1-2)

Rest in peace Darren.