Blackberry Harvest

“Lift up your eyes, and look on the fields; for they are white already to harvest. (John 4:35, KJV)

Or in this case, purple.

The boys have gone back to school today. I love the summer holidays and having everyone at home but I do miss time on my own, so I decided to take half an hour of solitude picking blackberries. (I picked 2 1/2lbs in that time, which would set me back ¬£5 in Asda, but that’s an aside….)

It’s not really surprising that my mind got to thinking of the Divine harvest as recorded in the passage I mentioned above. I’ve always had mixed feelings about this passage, I don’t like comparing the privilege of introducing others to God to plucking fruit from a tree (I’m sure more competent Bible scholars can shed more light on that) but I did learn some lessons from my time out there.

1. We all have our own part to play.
Matt (my husband) is a foot taller than I am. He can reach berries I can’t. Edward (our 5 year old youngest son) gets down on his hands and knees, and spots berries hiding under leaves. I am less cautious about the nettles and thorns and will push that bit further into the bush. Our eldest son, William (who is 9) will stay after the rest of us have gone and pick a few more. That’s good teamwork and we do get a lot more picked.

I think all to often we get into the trap of trying to do everything. “If I don’t do this, it won’t get done.” It’s not true, is it? Even within the things we’ve had Divine commission to do, we are not the be all and end all. Give room for others to work, train up the next generation, learn to let go.

2. Some picking will push us out of our comfort zone.
Sometimes it’s easy to pick the berries, they’re at the right height, hanging well away from the thorns and not surrounded by nettles. But look at that one, there… It’s huge… It’s perfectly ripe… It’s just out of reach. But if I push a little further and ignore the discomfort, even pain, of nettles stings and bramble scratches then I can harvest more. I’ve already said that I’m reasonably happy to do this, but what really freaks me out is the thought that hiding in all the long grass at the foot of the bushes could well be snakes. And it does freak me out. But if I avoided the long grass do you know how many berries I’d pick? Not a single one.

Pushing ourselves out of our comfort zone is a good thing. We’ve done a lot of that over the last 18 months with Forest Church and some other initiatives. We’ve grown as people, in our relationship with God (and each other). We’ve seen some amazing things and met some awesome people. It’s also led to some fractured relationships with others who haven’t ‘got’ what we do, and led to some people getting a wrong opinion of us. That’s painful. But there’s growth there too.

3. It doesn’t matter if we drop something.
Picking blackberries can be fiddly work. All too often one is super ripe and squidges. Many a time I’ve knocked or dropped one to the floor. I don’t get upset by it, there’s plenty more for the picking. The lost and spoilt ones become food for rodents and insects, so nothing is wasted.

But how often do we get upset when the work we do for God doesn’t turn out as we expect? Our relationship with someone or something we give our heart to turns sour, fractures, falls apart completely. Yes we mourn, we try to heal, but we mustn’t let it define us. I realise as I type this that I sound a little callous, but that’s not intentional. I’m the worst at getting upset when this happens, and I guess that I’m telling myself that there are times when I have to not let little things eat away at me but move on to the next thing.

4. Harvesting is sometimes done by other means.
Good teamwork aside, there are still many more berries on those bushes than we can ever reach. The majority of berries taken off those bushes will be done by birds, insect and other creatures, not people.

Is that not also true for the ways people come to know God? Jesus said that no ones comes to the Father except through him (John 14:6) and I wholeheartedly believe that. But how many ways are there to come to Jesus? As many as a creative, infinite God can come up with. If God reaches out to any of us in a way that isn’t considered mainstream, should we be surprised? Should we react in horror and condemn it? Or should we let the Divine Breath whisper in all situations and be prepared to be blown along too?

 

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Lessons from nature

Be careful what you pray for.

Matt and I have sensed for a while that we may be being called to a different field of work, and I was praying about this sat by the Devon a week or so ago. I – in my need for everything to happen NOW… – was searching for answers to the first step on our new journey, if indeed we were hearing aright. As I prayed, I watched leaves dropped from the overhanging willow floating gently, almost imperceptibly, downstream.

“Follow one from where it lands into the water from the tree.” The Divine voice.

So, I did. Oh boy, it took an age. But it did eventually reach me.

That apparently wasn’t the end of the lesson. See, God went on to point out a few things about rivers. The Devon, and, at least by us, the Trent into which it flows about half a mile downstream, are both slow moving rivers (attested to by the presence of the banded demoiselle – see I have been learning!). The water flowing past where I was sitting would reach its destination – Devon, Trent, Humber, North Sea. Its journey would take a while but it was gentle, uneventful.

Compare this with a fast moving river. It flows over rocks, buffets everything on it, waves of white foam crash through it. It reaches its destination much faster, but you’d better hang on.

So, went on that Voice, which river are we taking?

Go on, shoot me now. My words: “Bring it on.”

That means all those lessons I need to learn to prepare me to serve God in whatever calling comes next are coming, bang, bang, bang.

Like last weekend’s lesson. I didn’t think of myself as a particularly materialistic kind of person. I fear I was wrong. I think it’s so ingrained in me that I hadn’t realised it was there. So I need to learn to to rely on God and not on things.

We’d had a lovely afternoon in Derbyshire, looking around Bakewell, sitting by the river, exploring Arbor Low henge. We drove back at the boys’ bedtime – and the car wouldn’t switch off. To cut a long story short, Matt can fix it at not too expensive a price, but we will be car-less for a few days.

Sunday afternoon. No sooner had Matt worked out the problem with the car and how to fix it then there was a huge thunk from the kitchen. Dishwasher. Dead. Tripped the mains in the kitchen. Again, thankfully, easily fixed by Matt without any great expense. But I am washing up by hand for a few days.

Well, by the time Sunday evening came around, we were entirely unsurprised when I switched on the table lamp and the bulb blew! In fact, we laughed aloud. Lesson on the way to being learnt, God. Thanks.

Next lesson: that patience problem I have. I think this one may take a little longer…

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On Fledging…

The past year or thereabouts has been a real journey of discovery for me. I always liked nature but it was just “there”, if you know what I mean. Since I began facilitating East Midlands Forest Church with Matt, I’ve taken the time to look, really look, to study, to learn. I know an awful lot more than I did 12, even 6 months ago. I can describe what an ash leaf looks like. I can recognise a silver birch by its leaf and not just its bark. I know more wildflowers than I did this time last year, and I can even tell you the medicinal properties of some of them.

I’m still learning. At the start of the summer Matt and I decided we would aim to learn 10 trees by bark and leaf, 10 butterflies, 10 birds by sight and call, and 10 wildflowers. Some of these are going better than others! But the trend is definitely on the up.

A few weeks ago I decided that rather than sit in the house to spend time with God, I would wander the couple of hundred yards or so to spend that time on the banks of the River Devon. I found God was there before me. That spot has become a regular haunt for my time with God; I hear the Divine voice clearer there, watching fish swim in the clear waters, spotting the slow growth of the waterlilies, following the damselflies as they flit over the water’s surface. I even know now that it’s true name is the banded demoiselle!

A few months ago I had never heard the term ‘panentheistic’, but suddenly I knew the reality of it. I found acceptance in that place, not just acceptance of me by God, but my acceptance of my place in the whole realm of Creation, that I was part of a much bigger picture.

Today i changed my pattern. I walked home from the school run by a different route, taking the path that runs alongside the River Trent, and decided I would stop there this time. I was struck that even though these two rivers – at the points where I sit – are less than a mile apart, the wildlife is different. I watched black headed gulls fishing. I had a fish nursery at my feet. I was surprised by 7 or 8 female mallards. I even saw a dragonfly, which I don’t actually remember seeing before; I was certainly surprised by how big it was.

But I have learned something else today: I have a growing want of solitude. I was cross this morning when a boat came down the river; the noise and the waves in its wake scared away a lot of the creatures around and it shattered the silence with its noisy engine. But as it passed, the couple on board waved to me and wished me good morning, and I realised that this was my error, not theirs. Mankind¬† (I’m a traditionalist, I still prefer this term to ‘humankind’) is the crowning glory of Creation, the one proclaimed “very good” when God declared the rest was “good”. Yes, Creation reveals the glory of God, but so do we. We are the ones created in Divine image. We have the natural realm to enjoy and indeed learn from, but we – I – must remember that this is not the most important thing. My calling is to play my part in bringing God’s Kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven” and that means proclaiming God’s love to one and all.

And if I can do that through nature, then so much the better.

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