Yesterday we planted a lilac tree. Or rather, D. Lucy did most of the work while I merely supervised and indulged in vague thoughts about the lost gardens of Aleppo and the vanished Lemoine nursery that developed the cultivar we planted, Syringa Vulgaris Belle de Nancy. There is something about tree-planting that is very life affirming. We plant, knowing that we shall never see the tree in its full-grown beauty but with the hope that its leaves and blossom will delight another generation. Tree-planting is a truly anonymous act, a collaboration with nature rather than a defiance of it and, as John Evelyn understood so well, an act with consequences beyond the particular. Trees may be felled or sicken and die; gardens may be destroyed, nurseries disappear, but the impulse to plant, to cherish and to grow remains. We do not know what will be the fate of our little lilac tree, but it was planted with a prayer — a reminder of Eden, of Calvary, and of the hope that sustains us all.
The wind is blowing through the garden, making the apple trees rustle and sigh, tugging at the tomato plants and sending a shiver through the beans as they cling to their canes. One can see why wind is used as an image of God. It is powerful, mysterious, uncontrollable. We see its effects, but cannot trace its source. It shifts and changes according to its own inner dynamic, not our preferences. Perhaps that is why so many people are afraid of God. He is the ultimate mystery: powerful, unpredictable, inescapable.
Friday is a good day for reminding ourselves of the human face of God. Jesus Christ, with arms nailed to the Cross in an everlasting embrace, is surely not a terrifying vision; and yet, as Julian of Norwich mentioned in her Revelations, there is still that wind: the dry wind that passed over Calvary and parched the skin of Christ as he hung dying. If we think we have got God ‘taped’, if we think we understand, we are very much mistaken.