The Day My Garden Caught Fire: Finding the Sacred in the Ordinary

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About an hour ago I stepped out of my back door to empty the recycling bin. It’s a chilly Wednesday morning in January and I am having a rare toddler-free day at home.

Yesterday, the sky was grey and heavy; the air was biting cold but not quite cold enough to turn the irritating drizzle into a light snow. We English folk love to complain about the weather, and in the first months of the year it is often justified. It was January when we first moved here a few years ago, and it rained constantly for about four weeks. That relentless, oppressive sort of rain that soaks you through to a soul level and makes life itself seem grey and damp.

Today is different. It is still freezing (I spent ten minutes this morning scraping ice from my windscreen) but the sky is completely clear and startlingly blue, and the winter sun is providing some welcome warmth to an otherwise cold and dreary working week.

I picked my way through my damp, lately neglected garden, clambering over plastic garden toys and taking care to avoid slipping on the muddy grass, carrying the recycling bin. As I turned the corner behind the garden shed and into the dazzling sunlight, I was met with a stunning sight. For a split second, I genuinely thought my garden was on fire. The combination of damp, cold and sun was causing a swirling, silver mist to billow like smoke from the latticed wooden fence and the bushes growing against it. Bathed in sunlight, I could see every tiny sparkling droplet as the mist rose, circling and dancing before evaporating into the warming air.

My very own burning bush.

I decided that I needed to stop my household chores and simply observe this. Through the latticed fence I could see through to my neighbour’s garden, and beyond that to three or four more gardens – and they were all on fire. There were cobwebs too, intricate designs spun artistically from the leaves of our blackberry bush to the wooden fence, bejewelled and twinkling like strings of Christmas lights in the sunlight. The leaves themselves were glowing vibrant red, yellow and green, and would transform into black silhouettes framed with gold if I shifted my viewpoint slightly.

I’d love to say that I stood still, captivated for twenty minutes, simply soaking up the beauty of it all. But obviously, my first instinct was to go back into the house, locate my phone, and spend the next five minutes trying to capture the scene adequately enough on video to be able make a decent Facebook update.

(Moses didn’t have a smartphone. But if he did, I like to think updating his status would’ve been his first instinct too.)

Once I had satisfied my need for social media attention and popped back inside to make myself a coffee, I came back outside to just observe. Fortunately I hadn’t missed it – the garden was still on fire, and I stood for another ten minutes drinking coffee and watching my garden fence, much to the bemusement of my next-door-but-one neighbour who was (optimistically) hanging out her washing.


I want to be the sort of person who has time to notice things. It’s not every day that I come across an almost-literal burning bush like I did today. But I wonder how often I miss the beauty and glory of the present moment because my mind is somewhere else, busy overthinking something or trying to get through my to-do list before the 3pm school run.

I think about things a lot. Often ridiculously big things like God and the meaning of life. And the more I study and wrestle with these huge questions, the more I am convinced that the best thing I can do is to simply exist as fully as possible in the present moment. To observe the astounding beauty of the world around me for long enough that it has time to soak into my bones and awaken my spirit. To genuinely pay attention to other people, allowing the image of God in them to touch my soul, and allowing myself to be gently but firmly reminded that I am not the centre of the universe.

I’m never going to fully understand everything, and I don’t need to. But I can choose to fully experience my own life. And no matter what I think about God, as a human being I am only ever going to experience him/her/it in this moment, right here in this body.


I’m still out here, as I write this – sitting on a plastic bag on a soggy bench with my MacBook balanced on my lap, finding it increasingly difficult to type as the temperature of my fingers drops. The sun is higher in the sky now and the magical swirling mist has gone.

But from now on, every time I take out the recycling, I will remember the time my garden was on fire. And I hope it will remind me to stay awake and pay attention to the deceptively ordinary experiences of everyday life, because the whole thing is sacred. Whether I’m dropping my kids to school, doing the laundry or walking along a busy high street, I am standing on holy ground. It’s up to me whether I choose to notice it or not.


Image via Pixabay

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  • http://www.faithincommunityscotland.org/ Gordon Sharp

    Ta

  • http://soletosoul-scott.blogspot.com/ Scott Sanderson

    There is much beauty in the world that we too often miss. I try to “live in the moment”

  • Tracy Brown

    Emma and other Brits. Here is just a brief note from the 50 states to begin the new year. Whilst (nobody here ever uses that word) you were watching your garden “burn,” those of us on the west side of the pond found ourselves recovering from more depredations foisted upon us by our Fearless Leader. (Does anyone remember Rocky J. Squirrel and Bullwinkle?) It had something to do with S-Hole countries and not approving of any skin color that does not match the Norwegian standard. We were stunned like deer in the proverbial headlights. The shock stage of grief wore off a few days ago, and we went straight into the anger stage of grief.

    My ancestors on my mother’s side came to the American colonies from the area around Durham, England in the very late 1600s or early 1700s. They arrived first in the in the Virginia colony, moved south to North Carolina, and then on west through the Cumberland Gap to Tennessee. Like it or not, many of us are your blood cousins. I know that many of you are concerned about what is going on over here—and it too must seem like a burning garden to you. I suspect 2018 will be a far more trying year here than 2017 was. Please be assured that The Donald Trump Show is a transient phase in our national life. He has only about 30 percent support from the American people—and even that is declining. We will try to keep him from harming the UK. The best and most beneficial thing Queen Elizabeth II can do in the meantime is to avoid inviting Trump to the UK. That would avoid much trouble and harm on the east side of the pond and prevent the UK from becoming a real burning garden. Why ask for trouble if you do not have to do so?

    The Robert Mueller/FBI investigation of Trump and conspiracy with the Russians is many months more advanced than anything being reported in the American and British news media. Just about all people here but the 30 percent are hoping and praying that Robert Mueller will bring the whole Trump presidency to an end in 2018 with several important criminal charges against Trump, his family members, and his staff. We in the Trump Resistance strongly believe that is the direction everything will take in 2018.

    Who are the 30 percent? I know you Brits must struggle terribly to figure that out. Most of them are the American equivalents of the raw-stage flower girl in “Pygmalion.” The 30 percent is made up mostly of people like those in the safe video link below. I know because I live in Tennessee, which is a solid Trump state. People like these are most of our neighbors here in the American South. All you have to do is close your eyes, grab an orange, and throw it. You are bound to hit a 30 percent Trumpite with your orange anywhere in the small town or rural American South. Were they still alive, you would almost certainly see each person in this video clip at a Trump rally or in a Christian fundamentalist or conservative evangelical church on Sunday morning. People like this are the very backbone of Trump’s support in the United States. When Trump makes weird or disgusting comments or Tweets, these are the people to whom they are directly targeted—his famous “base.” Here is the safe video link:

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qgpsGmGyG0Q