“One is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth,” said Dorothy Frances Gurney. That’s an encouraging thought for people who love gardens but, actually, it isn’t strictly true. It’s one of those sweet, sentimental fallacies that can creep too easily into sweet, sentimental ‘gentle Jesus, meek and mild’ type Christianity, as opposed to the ‘Jesus shaped’ Anglicanism that Archbishop Welby is now advocating. That is something much tougher and more honest, and truly joyful rather than merely happy.
Something else that isn’t true, though the bishops have been emphasising it during Lockdown, is the fact that we don’t need our churches, nor our cathedrals. I beg your pardon, bishops; you are wrong! I know perfectly well that God, being everywhere, doesn’t need man-made buildings — but we do. I certainly do.
I can say my prayers at the kitchen table, just as Justin Welby offered the Eucharist in his kitchen last Easter. I don’t need a Vicar and I don’t need to be ‘ashed’. I don’t need pews, an altar, a lectern or a pulpit. But I do appreciate being able to sit in a Sacred Space where quiet souls have been praying and repeating the psalms and meditating at least weekly for several centuries. I don’t see visions and I don’t hear voices but I can sense an atmosphere of holy peace in the silence.
Another thing that many of us are missing keenly is the singing. In our Welsh church we have several members of various local choirs in the congregation so the singing is pretty special. But it’s not just the music. The words matter mightily. With simple words and memorable tunes we repeat the words of Scripture until they are engraved on our hearts.
This morning was a case in point. As one of the Dean of Canterbury’s “garden congregation” I listened to Psalm 87 v3. and 1 Timothy 6 v 12 and knew what they had inspired. Even just reading these hymns and singing them in your head, in the church porch or at the kitchen sink, you learn a lot of the Gospels by heart without even realising it. Which is a very good way to begin Lent.