The Vernal Equinox pulls us into Spring

The Vernal Equinox ushers in a joyful time of growth, rebirth and renewal. With luck, the weather will be turning. The cold gloom of winter will be a memory. Thoughts will turn to the fresh new green foliage bursting forth on the hedgerows and there’ll be a real sense of warmth in the sunlight.

Spring sun arrives at last, bringing light and warmth
The arrival of spring light brings warmth at last

This year, Easter peeps around the corner. Beautiful hellebores seem to have a foot in both winter and spring; their alternative names are Christmas Rose or Lenten Rose, perhaps because they flower copiously throughout both seasons. Olive trees now put on fresh vigorous growth. Once it was a tree that could only be grown with tender care in our fickle climate but now they seem to thrive, even if their fruit is not always evident.

The leaves of an olive tree wave gently in the breeze
Silvery grey leaves of an olive tree wave in the breeze

The Hellebore gets its name from the Greek and a literal translation gives us ‘injures food.’ The Greeks used the plant as a poison – in food, and by adding it to a besieged city’s water supply. It holds a shadowy place in the flower world – half in spring, half in winter. Legend suggests that it sprang from the tears of a young girl who visited the Christ child at his birth but who had no gift to offer. As her tears fell, these beautiful white flowers sprang into being.

White petals resemble tears from a young girl who found she had no gift to offer the Christ child
The white petals resemble tears shed by a young girl who found she had no gift to offer the Christ child at his birth

Another legend claims that witches used the hellebore for flying and making themselves invisible. They would grind the flower into a powder, walk in it – and disappear! An ointment created from hellebore and fat, rubbed into the skin, would enable a witch to fly… or, at least, to believe that they might do so.

A broomstick leaning against a wall awaits its passenger
A broomstick awaits its passenger…

But the hellebore also stands for hope. It blooms in the dark of winter to remind us that spring will come and no matter how tough life might be there is something stronger pushing back.

The beauty of hellebores stand for hope
Hellebores: eternal symbols of hope

Olive trees are just as fascinating. Fossil evidence suggests that the olive has existed on our planet for between twenty and forty million years. Many ancient specimens exist – indeed it’s quite possible that some of the gnarled old trees in Gethsemane would have witnessed the agony of Christ in the garden just before his trial and crucifixion. The Hebrew word gatshmanim means ‘oil press’ and the name ‘Gethsemane’ means ‘garden with the olive press.’ Olive oil was used for cooking, for providing light and for anointing – it has long been held sacred and of great value.

A glass flask containing a quantity of precious olive oli
A flask holding a precious quantity of olive oil

It was an olive twig that the dove brought to Noah at the end of the great flood – ever since sprigs of this beautiful tree have been emblems of peace and reconciliation.

A twig from an olive tree symbolises peace and reconciliation
Symbol of peace and reconciliation

One guidebook for the Holy Land describes an olive orchard like this:

The lightest breeze crowns the olive trees with a silver halo that moves like a wave of light over the trees as the wind inverts the leaves. The underside of each olive leaf is covered with tiny whitish scales, while its upper side is green. When the wind rustles the leaves of the olive tree, this contrast of shades produces a unique silvery sheen. The light of the olive tree itself, together with the clear white flame produced by burning olive oil, made the olive the symbol of ‘light of the world,’ a symbol that helps explain Zechariah’s vision of the menorah.’
A family gather around a menorah
The Menorah – a sacred light

Look around you as spring advances and delight in all the signs of fresh growth and new life.

Christmas Blessings

Oh hush the noise, ye men of strife, and hear the angels sing…

This Christmastide…

If you are working, may God bless your skills and patience;
If you are sick or anxious, may God bring you healing;
If you are lonely, may God bring you companionship;
If you are despairing, may God bring you hope and a new vision.
If you are rejoicing, may God rejoice with you.

May God bless where you are, what you do and those with you. May your soul sing and your heart be glad and may the gift of the Christchild bring you new life and peace all your days…

Advent: The Light coming into the World

Christ comes into the world to bring light and banish darkness

‘He came down… The Dancing Jesus

Balinese artist Nyoman Darsane—painter, musician and dancer was born in 1939 and raised as a Hindu. At the age of seventeen he became a Christian and as a result was ostracized by his family and village community, who thought he was abandoning his culture. But Darsane was determined to show through his art that Christianity was not at odds with the Balinese heritage and they eventually accepted him back. Darsane once said: “Bali is my body; Christ is my life.”

Dance is integral to Balinese life and in so many of his paintings Nyoman Darsane depicts Jesus as a dancer, dancing the world into being. In this picture we see a bare-chested Jesus, full of energy, dancing down from the top right corner and bringing fire and light. We see him wearing traditional ornaments – wrist and arm bands, a leather necklace and white cotton pants with velvet cuffs. As Jesus clears a path for himself he pushes the demons to the very edge so he can dance right into the womb of Mary. Mary kneels in traditional Balinese prayer posture, holding a frangipani flower to her forehead.

The symbolism here is clear. Jesus comes to challenge the powers of darkness; to fight the power of oppression and injustice , and to usher in a new way of being. He invites us to consider how we can fight the obstacles that afflict so many, and strive to make the world a better place.

He parted the heavens and came down with a storm cloud under his feet.
He reached down from on high and grasped me; he drew me out of great waters.
He delivered me from my strong enemies and from those who hated me; for they were too mighty for me.
He brought me into an open place; he rescued me because he delighted in me.
He parted the heavens and came down.
Adapted from Psalm 18