If anyone had seen me, they would have wondered what I was doing: lying on my back, knees bent, gazing up at the sky through the canopy of the Rowan tree above me. They would have assumed I was doing nothing but if anyone had asked me, I would have replied: “I’m paying attention.”
It was a glorious view. The new leaves, in the pattern of ferns, wobbled in the imperceptible breeze against a perfect baby blue sky. The silvered trunk stretched up into a veritable tangle of branches. If I looked carefully, I could just see the promise of blossom in clusters of tiny buds here and there. Two plump bees inspected them hopefully for pollen. Far above, a plane traced twin trails across the blue and, a little closer a group of terns, far from the coast, hovered, then sped away.
The spring symphony of birdsong in full surround sound, the beginnings of the dusk chorus, encircled me. I recognised the double coo-cooing of the wood pigeons and the tapping percussion of a woodpecker. But an unseen call and response duet remained a mystery. From a few gardens away, came the echoing repeat of my neighbour’s grandchild laughing. The bumbling of bees hummed in and out of the concert.
I could feel the fronds of untrimmed lawn under me, cool and sleek against my aching back and shoulders. And as I turned my head, I got a close up, side on view of the bed where I’d just dug in some rose and clematis feed. A morass of bulb life, some spent, some blind, some on the verge of bloom, formed a dense undergrowth, a miniature jungle – beneficial for keeping the clematis roots chilled (no wonder it was flourishing, scaling the Rowan’s trunk to head height in only its second year). Delicate allium flowers nudged their way through the verdigris and lime green leaves as dwindling narcissi towered over with bobbing faded heads.
Fascinated by this miniature scene, I sat up and edged my way forward to sit on the step next to my herb patch for a similar height view. Tiny golden tips edged the forest green of thyme leaves. Jungly mint’s former attempts to take over the whole patch were suitably constrained by the boundaries of its buried pot. Rosemary waited for warmer temperatures before it sent up new growth but lavender was already on its way. A clump of grassy chives sprouted like a Mohican hairstyle. I knew the familiar fragrances that would be released if I reached out and rubbed any of these plants between finger and thumb – I could smell them in my mind. I started to think of recipes I could use them in this summer: mint lemonade, lavender scones, tartare sauce.
Gardening is mostly done from above, standing or kneeling. But this gave me a child’s view of the world again, or an ant’s. For once, I gazed at the side or underneath of things and found new beauty. It made me stop and listen, take notice and touch, remember and smell, imagine and taste.
All this from 15 minutes’ rest. It was worth paying attention. But I would have missed it if I hadn’t succumbed to that mattress of lush jade grass.
And now I’m thinking about how Jesus looked at life from an unusual angle: how He told us the best faith is simple and childlike not complicated and grown up; how good leadership comes from being a servant; how latecoming workers in a vineyard got paid the same as early birds; how He was known as a friend to publicans, tax collectors, and prostitutes rather than to the great and the good; how His death brought life in all its fullness.
In fact, I wonder if Jesus’ whole life was a means of giving us a new angle from which to view and engage with God? Many of us see God as presiding over the earth from far off. Remember that song Bette Midler sang, ‘From A Distance’ (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EC3FW_RU-GI), or Salvador Dali’s depiction of the Crucifixion hovering high above the world, ‘Christ of Saint John of the Cross’? (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ_of_Saint_John_of_the_Cross)? But I don’t believe God ever wanted that. We are meant to be in immediate relationship with Him, ‘walking in the Garden [together] in the cool of the day’ (Genesis ch.3 v.8). That’s why ‘The Word became flesh and blood, and moved into the neighbourhood’ (John ch.1 v.14 The Message), so that we could see what God is like up close and personal, a side by side view.
Looking at something or someone from a different angle changes our perspective and relationship with them. We notice previously unseen details, consider new possibilities, but only if we take the time and pay attention.
Today’s the beginning of Holy Week. It seems to me that it’s a good time, whether God is a familiar or unfamiliar figure in our lives, to look at Him in Jesus from a fresh angle, to pay Him some attention, and see what blessings come our way as a result.