01 May 2011 a post by Bruce Stanley

Dying to dance in Beltane

Beltane is traditionally a time to celebrate vitality and fertility; a time for flowers and dancing and the coming of summer. Around me the leaves are out on all but the Ash trees and the Blackthorn blossom is already passing – so why am I apprehensive?

Last night there was another frost and I would expect more before the end of the month. Last year we planted out potatoes in early April and the late frosts of May scorched the young growth. A frost last week found its way into the polytunnel and damaged the growing tips of the grape vine and half of the tomatoes. I haven’t been in there yet today to see the damage. It is a reminder that the natural world around me is well adapted, it is just us growers, bringing on delicate annual plants that need to be vigilant. The weather forecast last night said the lowest it would get would be 7ºc. Wrong!

Beltane, for me, is a time for seeds and nurturing; a time for nervous excitement, miracles and promise when we’re in partnership with God as co-creators. Sowing seeds is an illustration and meditation on a particular stage of the cycle of life and death: transformation and resurrection.

I live relatively high up in the Cambrian mountains of mid Wales on a small-holding. We’re creating a forest garden which is a food growing system that mimics a young woodland. It is made up of mostly perennial plants producing food at every level from ground cover to canopy. We missed the chance this winter to buy plants so we’re bringing most on from seed which is cheaper but more of a challenge. Many seeds in the wild only germinate when the conditions are just right after a period of time where they’re affected by light and dark and changes in temperature. Easy seeds just need water, the ideal temperature, loose soil and oxygen to get going but some of the perennials we’re growing are more fussy. These seeds, when they fall from their parent plant, need a period of after-ripening which means they might germinate at different times to maximise survival. If they all began growing at the same time, the fragile seedlings could be wiped out by weather or a grazing animal.

Some of the mechanisms that seeds have to prepare for germination seem amazing. Some have chemicals in the seed coating that prevent germination until they’ve been washed off, also ensuring that the soil around the seed is wet. Some seeds need to know when it is safe to grow after the winter and need stratifying which mimics a long, damp period of cold. (Our fridge has lots of small packets of damp sand holding seeds that need this treatment.) Others need scarification with breaks the seed coat through abrasion or cutting or fire or chemicals, to allow water in to trigger germination. Some seeds only germinate if there are wavelengths of red light present. This mimics a seed under a forest canopy that will only germinate with full light, either in spring or when the canopy is cleared – the chlorophyll in leaves block the red wavelengths.

seedling germinating

Twice a day I check the seedlings, visiting window ledges inside the house, a mini greenhouse just outside and the polytunnel away in the forest garden. I’m delighted every time I see the compost broken by a green tip especially for one of the more challenging seeds. And especially for a perennial plant that, once mature, will be providing food for years to come. I particularly like the emergence of the butternut squash leaves, breaking the surface like a whale’s tail (above).

Being part of all of this catches me up in worship with God’s Spirit pulsing around me through the processes of growing; walking into the polytunnel is like walking into a sacred space like an ancient chapel. My thinking meditation leads elsewhere. In the end it’s all about trust in the paradox of faith. The first thing that springs to mind is Jesus saying, “I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds. Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”. But for some reason this year I’m thinking more about the 40 days he spent with his followers after his resurrection. The risen Christ as seedling, watched over by God the gardener, no longer vulnerable but in the first days of a fruitful new stage.

Then I think of the ‘deaths’ I’m led to experience in my own life – and why. My experience has been that following Christ has led to seasons of dying to elements of my self, my selfishness and my ego that at the time feel very painful and sometimes prolonged. But if it leads to more fruit, more well-being and growth then bring it on.

You are the seed with the promise of much fruit.
God is the nurturing gardener.
Trust the process.  Dance the dance.

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