The photos are from Gill Henwood’s garden in the Lake District which I thought, with an occasional reflection, might help to cheer us towards Spring.
First, the heading of this post needs a slight explanation. There are a number of collective names for snowdrops but my favourite is a ‘Nod’ of snowdrops with their nodding white heads tinged with green. I suppose if you had bell-ringing leanings you might want to take up the Candlemass Bells theme and call them a ‘Peal’ of Snowbells. Other collective nouns are a drift; a carpet; a blanket; and even, most appropriately right now, a ‘hope’
In his poem ‘to a Snowdrop’, William Wordsworth called them ‘Chaste’.
Lone Flower, hemmed in with snows and white as they But hardier far, once more I see thee bend Thy forehead, as if fearful to offend.
the poem ends:
Nor will I then thy modest grace forget, Chaste Snowdrop, venturous harbinger of Spring, And pensive monitor of fleeting years!
Mary Robinson, in her 1797 novel, Walsingham’ wrote:
The Snowdrop, Winter’stimid child awakes to life bedewl’d with tears
Tennyson called the snowdrop February’s Fair maid to which he wishes, many,many welcomes.
The National Trust website for its property at Polesden Lacey heads up its site by calling the Snowdrop a ‘Ray of Winter Sunshine’.
The Trust reminds us that as we get ready to leave winter behind, “there are fewer perfect signs of Spring regrowth and regeneration to come than the humble snowdrop, one of the earliest flowers in the garden. You have to admire the tenacity of their delicate nodding heads as they force their way above ground and seize their moment in the winter light, ready to delight and enchant anyone who seeks them out.”
Thanks to Gill for her photographs and her clear devotion to Galianthus! (all 23 species!)
for more information about the Snowdrop visit the RHS (Royal Horticultural Society Lindley Library blog. The article by Gill Briggs (RHS staff), quoting Mary Robinson, refers to the Snowdrop as Winter’s Timid Child.’ I’m not sure I agree. I think I prefer to agree with Hans Christian Andersen in his story of the Snowdrop. He calls her ‘Brave’. She’s that and more!
(See the delightful BBC YouTube version of the story)
Thoughts on Genesis 9: 8-17 from Piers Northam Licensed Lay Minister at St. Mary-at-Latton, Harlow
I can never resist commenting on a rainbow if I see one. They’re wondrous things, aren’t they? And it doesn’t seem to matter if we’re nine or ninety, they still stop us in our tracks and invite us to marvel. I remember once, many years ago now, driving through a very heavy rainstorm in France and turning a corner to see perhaps the most intense rainbow I have ever seen, bright and vivid against a background of thick, dark threatening clouds; a blaze of glory in the assault of the storm. We stopped the car to take a photo, but actually that image is vibrant in my mind’s eye – along with the wonder and the excitement of what we saw.
Of course rainbows have become prominent symbols of late – not least because they have been adopted as the symbol of the NHS and we have seen drawings stuck up in people’s windows; badges and the like. Originally Gilbert Baker devised the rainbow flag in 1978 with eight colours as a symbol of pride for the gay community – the colours speaking of diversity and the various elements of life. Over the years the flag has been adapted, the number of colours reduced and changed slightly and variations adopted to draw attention to different groups. Its meaning has been broadened to include concepts of social justice. The rainbow badge was originally adopted by the NHS to show greater understanding and inclusivity for LGBTQI+ people; but it also speaks of being mindful of the various discriminations that people live with and over time it has evolved into a symbol of wider inclusivity; of an acknowledgment of the rich diversity of life and human experience and of the NHS’s role in responding to that sensitively and generously. And during the pandemic, of course, it’s also become a symbol of our collective support for each other.
But in the story of Noah that we heard read to us just now, there are further connotations to the rainbow. Here it stands as a symbol of hope and life after the forty days and nights of the Flood which wiped out all living beings other than those carried in the safety of the Ark – it speaks of release from hardship and confinement: of hope for the future. And our reading from Genesis tells us that the meaning of the rainbow is one of Covenant – of a solemn and immutable promise that God makes with us. Actually, if you listen carefully, of the covenant that God makes with every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth… ‘When the bow is in the clouds, I will see it and remember the everlasting covenant between God and every living creature of all flesh that is on the earth.’
So often, when we read again a familiar passage of Scripture, things pop out that we haven’t noticed before, and here, I was struck by the insistence that this covenant is made ‘with every living creature of all flesh’. The phrase comes up three times in the passage we heard and God spells it out even further at the beginning: As for me, I am establishing my covenant with you and your descendants after you, and with every living creature that is with you, the birds, the domestic animals, and every animal of the earth with you, as many as came out of the ark.’
When Noah takes all the different species into the ark to save them from the floor he is fulfilling his proper role as a steward of God’s creation; caring for and keeping safe the beauty and diversity of that creation; the finely balanced ecosystems that exist.
As we embark on the season of Lent, this reading helps us to ponder two questions – which Jane Williams suggests are appropriate questions for us to consider in Lent: ‘What are we for?’ and ‘What [or who] do we depend on?’
So what are we for? Well Noah – as the representative of humankind – is fulfilling his God-given role as the steward of God’s creation. And it’s a role that includes all living creatures – not just the domestic animals that are going to be of some specific use to him. As we watch programmes such as David Attenborough’s ‘A Life on our Planet’ we need to remember the proper interdependence of all life forms and the way that we plunder the natural world so greedily and wantonly. Part of what we are for is to work with God to care for the life-sustaining world that we have been given to live in. And who do we depend on? Noah’s story reminds us that we depend on God for everything – for it is through God’s mercy that Noah and his family survive and come through the flood safely.
In our Gospel story we see Jesus faced with similar questions as he withdraws to the wilderness. In following the Spirit’s promptings he makes time and space to ponder what his calling is and to rely on his Father’s mercy; to make himself vulnerable and to depend on his Father. Again, this is a familiar passage – although, as is typical of Mark, it’s pretty pared back, with few details – but three phrases did catch my ear: ‘The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness.’ ‘He was with the wild beasts’ and ‘the angels waited on him.’
In this time of Lent we need to allow the Spirit to drive us; we need to be open to the Spirit’s insistence as she drives us into the wilderness – a place where we have time and space to ponder; to go deep; to listen… There’s an urgency and a vitality to the Spirit’s prompting here that we need to open ourselves up to because it’s important to be addressing those questions: ‘what am I for?’ And ‘who do I depend on?’ To find again our place in the world and our relationship with God.
So Jesus followed the Spirit’s insistence and went alone into the wilderness ‘where he was with the wild beasts’. I’ve always thought of the wild beasts as being a threatening part of the story – a symbol of the harsh surroundings that Jesus find himself in. And in part that’s true. But seen in the context of Noah’s story and the Covenant that God makes with every living creature of all fleshthat is on the earth, we might take it that Jesus is in his – and our – rightful place in the midst of creation; alongside the wild animals and reptiles and birds with whom we share in God’s rainbow promise. It’s a strong reminder of how we are all interlinked.
And then that final phrase – ‘and the angels waited on him’. Hitherto, I’ve rather dismissed that phrase – it doesn’t seem sufficiently Lenten really, does it? Bit too comfy perhaps. A trifle ‘Wilderness Lite’… But actually, is it not a reminder that even in the most desperate and isolated of situations we are not alone; that God cares for us; sending his angels (in whatever form they may take) to be with us? I think many of us will have witnessed or experienced examples of this in recent months. Taken in this way, the wilderness – the Lenten wilderness – reminds us of our rightful place in the world and of our rightful relationship with the Father. It gives us space to ponder and explore what God might want for us; what he is calling us to; but it also reminds us that in all we do, we are reliant on God.
One last thought. As I imagined the rainbow, two things occurred to me – first, that each colour needs the others to be complete – the one bright light is refracted by the rain into the colours of the spectrum: but take one away and the rainbow is incomplete; the rainbow dissipates without inclusive diversity. But also, beyond the colours that are visible to the eye are those that we can’t see – infra red at one end and ultraviolet at the other. And I am sure there’s much more hidden glory beyond in both directions. In our creed, we profess our faith in things ‘visible and invisible’ for we believe in the things God reveals to us, but also in the hidden workings; the hidden glories that we cannot perceive…
Promise, covenant, hope, inclusivity, diversity, interdependence and the glories of creation – both visible and invisible – there’s a lot bound up in that seemingly simple symbol. May your time in the Lenten wilderness give you space and time to ponder all these things – and may you glimpse a rainbow or two along the way.
Another picture reflection by my friend Joyce Smith. The quotation from Pope Francis centres our thoughts on the Celtic Cross on the right. She makes this comment:
Dear Friends, This quote from Pope Francis, reminds us that God is with us in all our dark days and as signs of Spring are beginning to show, and the days are becoming lighter and longer, we have the sure hope of the Light of Christ triumphing over darkness.
With my love and prayers, God bless, Joyce
P.S. can you also see the hope that Southampton FC will begin to return to winning ways in the picture?!!
For those not familiar with the English obsession with football (Soccer) many of the fans dress in their Team colours and tend to behave with charismatic-like evangelical fervour. They don’t, however look like garden-gnomes. Well, not all of them.! [Mr G]
The posting we did a little while ago, which centred on Elephants, inspired my friend Gill Henwood to write a poem about ‘Watering holes’, places where we find refreshment in our journey through life. A journey which is spiritual as well as physical. Gill is fed, too, by the countryside of the Lake District where she lives. Nature is always a source of opening our hearts, minds, souls and Cumbria is one of those places which are ‘thin’, places where God is very near and where heaven and earth are within touching distance. In these difficult days, Gill takes up her themeof Living Water.
The ‘tarn’ referred to is Tarn Hows and the ‘Lake’ is Coniston Water.
Elephants gathering at precious watering holes weathering the drought of hot summer, water, life-giving, cleansing, refreshing, joyful in splashing spray and, if you have a trunk, spraying about!
We in our Covid drought, seek a precious watering hole where God provides the living-water we need to weather this long unseasonable time.
So the little beck wriggles its way down fell, trickles under ice to find its way into the tarn before waterfalling through woods into the tributary that feeds the lake.
Shower us. Refresh us with your living spring of water. *
[Gill Henwood January 2021]
The Beck at Tarn Hows photographed by Gill Henwood