Sr Clara, from north China, was staying with us last week.
She had just finished an ecology course in Wicklow and was still amazed at the size and age of our Irish trees. Measuring one, she said, ‘These trees are the long-term residents of earth, we are short- term so we should show them respect.‘
When she was young her whole family had to spend days out working in the fields for the government and there were few trees around for shade or to appreciate.
In the park we visited even the local weeds have their beauty and a thought struck her. ‘If you are on the other side of the world and want a garden, you shouldn’t dig up the local flowers or shrubs to replace them with flowers and plants you brought from home. They wont last in the different conditions. You would be better off planting only those that are suited to the locality or graft on to local plants.’
She was thinking about more than ordinary gardens. She is going back to help run a spirituality centre in China and is aware that the Christianity there was planted by Westerners who introduced the forms of Christianity they knew back home. Now Christians in China face a new challenge. In a more sophisticated world they have to relate the Christian message to the deep-rooted spiritual sense of their own people. That will be the task of people like her.
Though only a short time in Ireland, she was aware that the early Christianity in this country drew on the existing religious sense and practices but later on saints and spiritualties from other countries had been introduced to replace the local ones, perhaps contributing to today’s alienation.
I’ll never look at gardens in the same way again.