What Makes A Garden?

Japanese garden. Image by Drobekpetr from Pixabay

If something doesn’t fit your idea of a garden, is it still a garden?

I must confess to having trouble warming up to Japanese gardens. They often feature distinctive elements such as conifers and moss, gravel raked to suggest waves in water, stone lanterns or water basins, and perhaps a bridge.

But to me, a garden isn’t really a garden unless its primary focus is an abundance of colourful flowers.

So are Japanese gardens still gardens? Very much so!

They still celebrate nature, even if some elements are suggested rather than incorporated literally. They still reflect the beauty that God has placed on this Earth. They still have the essentials down pat.

I guess I need to expand my idea of what a garden is.

We shouldn’t look askance at the way others have created their gardens. God smiles on them all.

Perhaps this is a lesson we can apply to the Christian life, too.

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Sounds Like Paradise

Image of New Zealand by Lars_Nissen from Pixabay

Right now, living in countries like New Zealand sounds like a sort of paradise to the rest of the world.

Some island nations have been able to beat back the novel coronavirus to the point where life is almost back to normal.

People in those countries can once again attend concerts, go out to restaurants or to church, return to their workplaces, and hug their friends and family.

They can pretty much go about their pre-pandemic lives.

For those of us living in countries still battling second or third waves of COVID-19, life in places like New Zealand seems like a dream.

We hope that one day maybe life will be like that for us, too: we long for a world where there are no more restrictions, suffering or death due to COVID-19.

In essence, we all yearn for a release from “bondage,” don’t we?

But even when we’ve been able to put the novel coronavirus in the rear-view mirror, this ache for freedom won’t quite go away.

Why?

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Create Your Own “Dark Sky Preserve”

I sometimes wonder if people who live in the countryside have a better appreciation for God’s creation than we city folk?

I’m specifically thinking of the ability to see the majesty of God’s handiwork as seen in the starry night sky.

Living in a big city (in my case, Toronto), I’m only able to see a handful of heavenly bodies. I can see the Big Dipper and a smattering of other stars, bright planets such as Venus, and the moon in its phases. But that’s about it.

Big cities produce so much ambient light that it obscures our view of the wonder of the night sky. That’s why many jurisdictions are creating what’s known as “dark sky preserves.” These are regions far enough away from the lights of built-up urban areas that the majority of stars can still be seen.

Governments commit to protecting these preserves from development so that the full range of the starry sky will always be visible from those areas. They seem to understand that it’s important for us to be able to maintain our connection with the night sky, and see it the way our ancestors did.

Perhaps we should take a page from their book, and create some “dark sky preserves” in our own lives.

I don’t mean areas from which to see the night sky, but spaces in our lives that remind us of God’s majesty and creative ingenuity as expressed in nature.

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The Language of Flowers and the Language of God

Say it with flowers!
Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-SA-2.0

Flowers speak. Not just through their fragrance or their beauty, but with secret codes, too.

Perhaps you’ve heard of the “language of flowers” popular during Victorian times? This enchanting symbolic language enabled suitors to send coded messages to their paramours, ones that couldn’t be spoken aloud. The message depended on the particular flowers and colours chosen for the bouquet. An entire conversation could be carried out solely through flowers, with no words employed at all.

We all know that red roses symbolize true love, and we’d rightly guess that the forget-me-not begs that the giver be remembered. But did you know the following flower meanings?

Red carnation: My heart aches for you
Hyacinth: Your loveliness charms me
Canterbury bell: Your letter received
Yellow rose: Jealousy
Butterfly weed: Let me go
Weeping willow: Sadness

The Victorian language of flowers is a cryptic tongue. Most people only see the surface of the flower and not the symbolic meaning hidden within it.

God has His own “language of flowers,” but it actually encompasses all of creation. God is continually speaking to us through nature:

“For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God.” (Romans 1:20 NLT)

“The heavens proclaim the glory of God. The skies display his craftsmanship.” (Psalm 19:1 NLT)

If we listened in to what nature was saying about its Creator, what messages would be revealed?

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Orchestra In Your Garden

Snowdrops, one of the harbingers of spring

Finally! At long last we’re starting to see signs of spring here in Toronto.

There’s still a bit of snow on the ground, but the tiny snowdrops in my garden are already shyly blooming. The tulips are just starting to poke the tips of their leaves above the ground like a periscope, as if checking to see whether it’s safe to emerge.

“The flowers are springing up, the season of singing birds has come, and the cooing of turtledoves fills the air.” (Song of Solomon 2:12 NLT)

After a long winter, it makes my heart sing to see the beginnings of spring.

But do the flowers and trees themselves sing? And if they do, what is their song telling us?

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Try Looking Up

People transfixed by their phones, Hyde Park, London
Photo by Waterford_Man on Flickr CC BY-2.0

The other day I went for walk at the Toronto Botanical Gardens. Even though the trees were bare of leaves and there was snow on ground, it was still a place of great beauty.

I noticed something strange, however, about the other visitors to the park. I must have passed at least a dozen other people as I walked the winding trail down the ravine to the river, but they were all standing stock-still.

Had I wandered onto a set for some science-fiction movie, in which aliens freeze people in place in advance of taking over the planet? Or had all these people been suddenly afflicted with a disease that left them immobilized?

No, the reason they were standing as motionless as statues was because they were all staring down at their smartphones.

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What Is Your “Burning Bush”?

Photo by Leonora (Ellie) Enking on Flickr CC BY-SA 2.0

You’ve got to love a plant which turns pink in the autumn. I’m referring to the Euonymus alatus shrub, whose leaves change from green to a vivid, hot pink this time of year.

One of its nicknames is “burning bush,” because in autumn the shrub looks like it’s on fire. It must have reminded people of the burning bush Moses encountered in Exodus 3, through which God spoke to him.

I think God uses many different ways to speak to us today, each a “burning bush” tailored to our unique personalities.

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