21 Jul All Things Must Pass
The sermon was finished – the first draft, at any rate – and my head was spinning. In need of air and sunshine, I stepped outside on a hot July afternoon and walked to the garden behind the house, where the bees were pollinating the flowers and herbs. I stood watching them for a while, my head slowly emptying itself of thoughts.
The flowers were making the most of the sunshine. One of them looked like a miniature Christmas pudding pierced with a hundred orange feathers, encircled with pink petals. The bees were flying to it. As I watched the bees at work, I felt a strange kinship with them; having spent most of the afternoon writing, I could now stop and admire my fellow workers. They reminded me of the bees in the vicarage garden at Coldwaltham, West Sussex, where I used to live.
The completion of a sermon usually brings with it a sense of satisfaction – of lightness, even – which lasts a few hours. In the enervating heat of the afternoon, this feeling of lightness intensified, and my mind began to wander. Remembering my former England home, I lost myself in a meditation on the impermanence of things. I remembered how the vicarage in Coldwaltham was hidden behind a large hedge, which shielded it from public view. It had large grounds that were full of strange, wild plants. I would often stroll among the grounds for inspiration or when I needed a break from desk work. I loved the place, which was so large and magnificent it drew a gasp of surprise from the bishop when he saw it.
After I left the property, it was empty for about a year, and then it was sold off. The hedge was cut back, which exposed the vicarage to the road traffic. The grounds were sold off too. The place as I know it exists only in my memory.
There are other places I knew well, which are no longer. A house where I had worked in my twenties was demolished to make way for a road. A beloved church where I had once worshiped is now closed and turned into housing. They are reminders that things don’t always last forever. This melancholic reflection was interrupted by the realization that change doesn’t always equal oblivion. I began to recall places that haven’t disappeared, but are still there, some of which are either improved or expanded. If there is a simple lesson, it is that change is inevitable, either for good or bad.
When you grow old, the past grows too and expands like a large field or wood, in which you can ramble. I resist the tug of nostalgia, because the present is always more interesting – or at least, it ought to be. Like artists or athletes who are always searching for the next challenge or mountain to climb, I try to look ahead, not behind. Having said that, in some ways a human being is nothing more than a collection of memories formed out of experiences, and an understanding of the past is essential to making right decisions about the future.
As for change, the evolutionists got it right when they said that a species needs to change and adapt in order to survive. However, the pace of change can be bewildering at times, especially in our modern age. Thank God then, for Jesus Christ, who “is the same yesterday and today and forever”. (Hebrews 13:8). While everything is passing away, God remains eternal and unchanging.
I could have spent longer in these thoughts, but my rumination in the languid heat was brought to an unexpected end by the appearance of Charles, one of the Sextons at Christ Church. We talked for a while and then he left me alone to enjoy the peace of the afternoon. By then, however, I had had enough of the sun and was ready to go inside. I left the bees to their work, and made my way back to the house.
For all that has been, thanks be to God,