I have spent quite a bit of time today pruning a hedge and cutting back some very overgrown shrubs, the result is a tidy front garden and a back garden that looks like a lunatic with a pair of clippers has been let loose. I have been brutal with the shrubs, they were eating up the light in my garden and pushing over my neighbours fence, as a result I have exposed a 4ft width of ground to the light, cut away a load of dead wood and overgrown tangled branches. I haven't dug the shrubs out because I hope they will grow back much more healthily in the spring. I like them, they all produce flowers at different times through the season, but the pruning was necessary.
Today for me the pruning became a prayer and a parable, over the last year or so I know that God has ( with my cooperation and sometimes even willing...) carried out a fair amount of pruning in my life, the old has been chopped away, the ground has been exposed and I feel a bit like my garden looks, a bit stark, bare and vulnerable, but also prepared for something new, I could not have prepared for something new carrying about the burden of overgrown stuff, stuff that was dying and bent and brittle.
So as I cut the branches away today I gave thanks to God for his care in my life and prayed for the possibilities that new growth might bring, I was affirmed last week to receive an encouragement fro a visitor to New Central Church here in Blackpool who told me she had attended the Shoppers Service last year too and had noticed how much I had grown ( odd when you feel cut back) in my preaching, and while I can't see it obviously she could so I give thanks for that potential too.
It would have been easy to leave the shrubs and the hedge as they were, on the outside they did not look unhealthy, it was only when I began to cut away at the tangle of branches that I understood how messy and unhealthy things were. My life had been like that, so as I cut away the branches I enacted again a prayerful letting go, something I was privileged to experience powerfully at Greenbelt last weekend when Mpho Tutu read an extract from the book she and her father Desmond Tutu have written together on Forgiveness. It not only helped me to do some personal letting go, but also to engage with loving and firgiving myself. Here is the prayer:
I will forgive you
The words are so small
But there is a universe hidden in them,
When I forgive you
all those chords of resentment pain and sadness that had wrapped
themselves around my heart will be gone
when I forgive you
You will no longer define me
You meassured me and assessed me and
decided that you could hurt me
I didn't count
But I will forgive you
Because I do count
I do matter
I am bigger than the image you have of me
I am stronger
I am more beautiful
And I am infinetly more precious than you thought me
I will forgive you
My forgiveness is not a gift that I am giving to you
When I forgive you
My fogiveness will be a gift that gives itself to me
There at the Greenbelt's glade stage at Boughton House a weight lifted from me, and while I might pick it up again from time to time I know I can also put it down again, let it go again and feel the lightness of the discarded mess and branches that held me being swept away. The service ended with a reading from John 21, the restoration/ recomissioning of Peter, and in that moment I found myself restored. When the service was over I bumped into ( and I don't believe in coincidences like this) the one person I know who not only knew something of my story but whose own story is similar, the prayer had affected both of us, we shared briefly and parted with a hug, and God was in that encounter calling forth new life.
Across the Glade at Greenbelt