We have loved our rectory gardens. One was over an acre and mainly grass with trees, high (and wild) hedges and a couple of flower beds. It looked good all the year round.
On one of those lazy, after-Christmas mornings, I was sitting in our lounge looking out through the large patio windows. The lawns were a carpet of frost tinged with green. Dew drops on the grass glistened with all the colours of the rainbow in the winter sun.
Most of the branches of the leafless hedges and trees ranged from pale to dark brown. But the oaks with their pale green, lichen-covered trunks and branches still bore a few yellow-brown leaves. One, clearly a different species, had retained most of its leaves
At the far end of the lawn, the frost was melting on a large bush with a multitude of deep red branches. Nearer the house, the fine tracery of the shrubs was highlighted by the frost. The evergreens bore a delicate fringe of white.
A robin surveyed his territory from a branch, his breast a vivid red in the sunlight. Several bullfinches searched the bushes for food. Two magpies skimmed low back and forth over the lawn, their long, iridescent tails flashing in the sun.
A jay, resplendent in its pink, blue, black and white markings, strutted across the lawn. A tiny wren fluttered from one hedge to another. And a score of wood pigeons sat in the copse at the far end of the garden
A grey squirrel ran across the lawn but the foxes, regular visitors, were lying low in a warm earth.
While watching this kaleidoscope of winter beauty, I was listening to an inspiring CD of Donizetti’s opera Lucia di Lammermoor sung by Luciano Pavarotti and three other Italian soloists. It was a live, atmospheric recording of a 1970 performance in the Theatre San Carlo in Naples. The Italian audience was unrestrained in its enthusiastic response to the highlights. What range of emotions were conveyed by the music even without the words being understood!
My mind went back to our frequent visits to Italy with all its artistic, musical, architectural and archaeological treasures. In particular, I could visualise the view we had from our hotel overlooking the Bay of Naples and the grandeur of Vesuvius.
Before playing the CD, I had happened to read Psalm 52:8-9 – ‘I trust in God’s unfailing love for ever and ever, I will praise you for ever for what you have done.’ How wonderful to see the finger of God in such beauty!
Contrast this with a weird, boring drama documentary about Charles Darwin a few days earlier. Pete Greenaway had made the film with 18 tableaux shown in turn on a narrow band in the centre of the screen.
It was so boring, I was tempted to switch off. But the content of the lecture-style commentary was interesting. Darwin studied theology but never went on to ordination. He married a devout Christian. When his eldest daughter died, he finally gave up his wavering Christian faith. He suffered from ill-health and insomnia much of his life. (What Greenaway didn’t say was that Darwin didn’t give up belief that there is a God).
Darwin was depicted in the film as like ‘Moses corning down from the mountain with new commandments’. He actually played God in the tableau about creation.
Greenaway told us that Darwin showed evolution to be directionless and purposeless except for survival through reproduction. Man is irredeemably out on his own. There is no fixed moral code, no soul, no goal of moral perfection. Morals are man-made and relative. Man is not the ultimate in evolution, he is merely a naked ape.
So much for an atheistic creed – bleak and incredible compared with our faith that, since the creation of this beautiful world, God’s eternal power and divine nature have been clearly seen in what has been made.
© Tony Higton: see conditions for reproduction