Last year’s COVID lockdown at least provided the space to tackle those jobs that I have been putting off for decades. I managed to clear our loft with its forty-plus years of accumulated paraphernalia, stored under the category of “might be useful sometime”, but rarely was. In total it entailed eight appointments at the recycling centre with a heavily-laden car. It was a rare and interesting lesson in deliberately LOSING things.
However, this action was unexpectedly balanced by serendipitously FINDING something, not in the loft but at the bottom of the garden. Ruthlessly thinning out overgrown shrubs took me into inaccessible and dark territory, whereby to my amazement I discovered a standard rose that had been engulfed over the years by the extravagant growth of invasive shrubs. I must have proudly planted it decades ago but busyness and neglect had condemned it to a slow death. I have no memory of planting it or of even being aware of its existence, but I do know that it was definitely not in the garden when we moved in all those years ago. Amazingly, it still showed the faintest glimmer of life and, without much hope, I replanted it in a sunny position. When summer came it flowered brilliantly and now is a dominant feature. All its ailments, deficiencies and neglect healed by the caress of sunlight. I think of it now as my “Resurrection Rose”, brought from a botanical dark tomb to life through the ministry of light.
Losing and finding are important themes in the New Testament. Jesus told stories about them. A shepherd risks leaving his flock unattended to recover a lost sheep. A man accidently finds buried treasure and determines to acquire the field in order that he might legally own his discovery. A woman loses a coin, likely small and decorative, and diligently sweeps the dust-filled floor in order to retrieve it. Extraordinarily, Jesus even presented the paradox of “losing one’s life in order to gain it’. Christian discipleship truly starts when we make the decision to ‘let go’ of ourselves as the absolute and sole centre of existence in order to live “in Christ”, a vital concept in Pauline theology. In essence we are invited to lose ourselves in order that we can be found ‘in Christ’. Experience of the Divine requires both losing and finding, but the losing pales into insignificance alongside the satisfaction in finding. Like the woman who extravagantly rejoiced with her neighbours after recovering her precious coin, this thing we call ‘Church’ is in essence a celebration of finding and restoration. It’s beauty lies in the fact that we experience it together, not just individually. Church is never just about worship – it is fundamentally about the growth of a Christ-centred community, nothing less than discovering our true selves through relationship with one another and embrace of the Divine. Vitally, this growth is fashioned by both the underlying and overarching movement of the Holy Spirit, a ‘hidden’ immersion in grace and love. A healthy church does not neglect the presence and ministry of the third person of the Trinity.
The beauty of a rose is multifarious. The softness of the petals speaks of gentleness, their convoluted folds drawing us into a deep, private centre, a territory only the bees and other insects are privileged to explore. We can only imagine this inner world and recognise that we too have an inner world, a hidden territory, yet one that is known and frequented by God. Our deepest centres are known, inhabited and nurtured by the love of God and we are all ‘found’, restored and refreshed by the Spirit. Even our shortcomings, our failings, our rough edges, are enveloped in this ‘swirl’ of Divine love, with forgiveness as the ultimate balm of the human soul.
And the intoxicating scent of a fragrant rose! Perhaps a metaphor for the ever-present Spirit of God, an immersion in the flow of Divine presence, a gift of both sweetness and scent that demands the reorientation of the soul towards the beauty and the preciousness of life itself. The scent of a fragrant rose can momentarily overpower our senses and transport us into an ‘other-worldly’ space. Fragrance diffuses into every micro corner of the space into which it is released. Paul the Apostle used the metaphor of scent to challenge the Ephesian Christians to offer themselves in imitation of Christ’s love:-
Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. ( Ephesians 5: 1-2 )
Yes, we are invited to follow Christ’s example in releasing the fragrance of Divine love as a grace offering. Yes, of course, it may mean knowingly losing something that is an incumbrance to this flow of God’s grace, be it pride, fear, dislike, prejudice, status, self-protection and any other diminishing forces.
A SHORT PRAYER
Lord, help me to lose that which may impede the release of the fragrance of Christ’s unconditional love. And in losing, may I find the joy and peace in being a co-worker in the heavenly and cosmic Divine plan.