by Sue Culver.
Having just moved to a new appointment, I have spent much of my time since September trying to get to know my local community a little better. I have walked and talked and walked a bit more, dropped in at all the local shops and made myself known, blessing the staff along the way with jelly babies; sampled the cakes on offer in the village cafes, (much to the disappointment of my slimming class leader) and had a pint in all the pubs. I’ve visited all the local schools (ello miss…you’re the new vicar aren’t ya…a’seen ya on Sunday!) and generally pottered about on the canal towpath with a devastatingly handsome Golden Retriever pup tagging along behind me. It’s a wonderful life trying to get to know people and to make yourself known.
It struck me, as I tried to suss out all the relationships and not put my foot in it by treading across the invisible boundaries of unspoken rules – which apparently can only be realised by imbibing village culture over a number of years, at least 60 apparently – that the fount of all knowledge and wisdom about the people in my new community was the village florist. I discovered that the florist knows who has had a baby, who has had a birthday, who has had something to celebrate, who is having a wedding, a funeral, or who needs cheering up; who is in the dog house, who is apologising and who is being apologised too. The florist knows exactly what is going on in the village simply by virtue of the fact that her skills are much in demand. Further, she is aware of the response to receiving those flowers when she delivers them so she is an a unique position to witness both sides of these particular transactions. I myself was known to the florist even before I stepped foot into the village because she had been asked to prepare and deliver flowers to welcome me and they were there waiting for me on the windowsill of my new manse on the day I moved in.
Knowing God, or to speak of the nature of God is central to Christian theology no matter what our passionately held theological position might be. It shapes our response to the gospel and how we might enact the imperatives we find within it. The other side of the coin as it were, is to be known by God. We desire to know God more deeply and intimately as we mature in our Christian discipleship. At the same time, we know that we are intimately known by God. The omniscience of God, that is to say God’s knowledge of all things, is most profoundly expressed in that deep knowledge of our ways, our thoughts, the secrets of our hearts, our intentions. The Psalmist tells us in Psalm 139 that we are known even before we know ourselves; we are searched and known so completely that nothing can be hidden, nor can we hide, and such is the depth of this knowledge, we were known even before we were formed. We are known by God, even before we were formed and to be known is to be loved because God is love. Therefore it follows that as we try to know others and let ourselves be known to others, we are expressing something of God in that endeavour, in that exchange, in that encounter.
‘This is Love’ wrote John, ‘Not that we loved God, but that he loved us…since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another’ (1 John 4:10-11) and, herein, lies a key gospel imperative, of loving the other, of being God in that place of encounter and striving to develop knowledge (knowing) that is as deep as it is wide; of knowing, even before it is most obvious, the potential in the communities we serve. It has been said that trying to define community is like trying to build a brick wall around fog, but what is being reached for is a knowing or knowledge that can inform the building of the ‘new community’, which bears witness to the coming of the kingdom of God, the kingdom of love characterized by justice, mercy and peace and where all may know as they are known, where all may love and be loved.
The florist knows her trade and the community well and they get to know her very quickly when they come to buy flowers. Working amongst those flowers in such a pastorally sensitive role seems to give her an aura of calm and gentleness, and it seems to me that the ‘garden’ in which she works has just as much to do with love and calling as with commercial enterprise; and so I pay tribute to Saint Dorethea, the patron saint of florists and thank God for the celestial flowers she was said to grow.