Thought for the Day by Malcolm Heath (St Michael’s)
‘Endless options for a drink’ and ‘retail therapy’, second and sixth items in a local estate agency’s list of 10 reasons to live in Headingley, were nowhere near the top of my priorities. It was not until I reached the tenth and last item that I found something to my taste: ‘access to outdoor space’.
Admittedly, when I moved to Leeds in 1988 the fact that I’d been offered a job here was my overriding priority: but a job in a city with a high percentage of green space was a welcome bonus. I was only briefly a Headingley resident: after a few months I migrated from a rented flat to my first house—in Burley. Twenty-five years later, I moved just around the corner to a larger house—still in Burley.
I can step down into Burley Bottom Park, and on to Burley Park and Burley Lodge Park, or sample the modest delights of Burley Green and Willow Field in the valley. Making my way along St Michael’s Lane I can peek at the allotments; when I reach St Michael’s Church I can gain uplift from the graveyard’s greenery.
Livia, wife of the emperor Augustus, liked gardens: she had a panoramic garden painted on the walls of a dining room in her luxury suburban villa. It’s well worth a look.
In the Bible, ‘garden’ occurs around 66 times—more than I expected. Here are just a few. A fertile garden is a gift of God, too easily lost (Genesis 2-3). Desirable gardens can prompt envious abuses of power (1 Kings 21). ‘Solomon’ reflects on the insignificance of, among other things, his garden (Ecclesiastes 2.1-8). The Song of Songs is full of garden imagery celebrating love. But gardens are two-edged: they may be shameful (Isaiah 1.27-31) or a joyful gift of God (Isaiah 51.3, 58.11, 61.11). A garden may be an image of God’s assured forgiveness (Hosea 14.4-7) or punishment (Amos 4.9) or restoration (Amos 9.14). Jesus was betrayed and arrested in a garden (John 18.1); he was laid to rest in a garden (19.38); but the gardener was the risen Jesus himself (20.15).