04 April 2020

‘The trees are coming into leaf …
Is it that they are born again?’

The trees in the rectory gardens in Askeaton this afternoon, barely beginning to show signs of coming into leaf (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2020)

Patrick Comerford

I am back in the Rectory in Askeaton this weekend, and the trees are showing signs of coming into leaf – just barely, but still a sign that last year is dead and that there is hope of new life this year, despite the Covid-19 pandemic.

Once again this year, I was invited by Christian Aid Ireland to contribute to ‘Footprints,’ their daily reflections each morning throughout Lent and Holy Week. In my reflection (9 March 2020), I recalled words from Pastor Martin Niemöller, whose cell I visited in Sachsenhausen.

Last week (24 March 2020), Stephen Trew, a member of Magheralin Parish in Co Armagh, who campaigns for churches to respond to the climate emergency and take meaningful actions like divesting from fossil fuels, contributed a reflection that included Philip Larkin’s poem, ‘The Trees.’

Philip Larkin (1922-1985), who had been the librarian at the Queen’s University of Belfast in 1950-1955, wrote ‘The Trees’ in 1967. Stanzas 1 and 2 between 9 April and 2 June, the birthday of Thomas Hardy, and it was finished on 3 June 1967.

The poem was published in New Statesman on 17 May 1968, in other journals in 1971 and 1973, and was included in his book High Windows in 1974. It is one of several poems he wrote about Spring and it contains elements of sadness and happiness, grief and joy, despondency and hope, that are so typical of his poems.

In ‘The Trees,’ Larkin is resigned to the fact that both trees and human will eventually succumb to the natural processes that are constantly at work and that are impossible to avoid. But still there is a promise in Spring of new life.

Trees in May in Saint Michael’s churchyard, Lichfield, where many members of Philip Larkin’s family are buried (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

The Trees, by Philip Larkin

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too,
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In full grown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Praying through Lent with
USPG (39): 4 April 2020

The names of concentration camps in lettering around the Aron haKodesh or Holy Ark in the Pinkas Synagogue in Prague (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2019)

Patrick Comerford

This week is traditionally known as Passion Week or the first week of Passiontide, and we are in the last two weeks of Lent.

Throughout Lent this year, I am using the USPG Prayer Diary, Pray with the World Church, for my morning prayers and reflections. This year marks the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz and the end of the Holocaust, so I am illustrating my reflections each morning with images that emphasise this theme.

USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel) is the Anglican mission agency that partners churches and communities worldwide in God’s mission to enliven faith, strengthen relationships, unlock potential, and champion justice. It was founded in 1701.

This week (29 March to 4 April 2020), the USPG Prayer Diary takes as its theme: ‘It is our duty to protect God’s Creation’ – Anglican Province of the Indian Ocean. This theme is introduced in the Prayer Diary on Sunday morning.

Saturday 4 April 2020 (International Day for Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action):

Pray for vulnerable communities in places where mines and explosive remnants of war pose a serious threat to the safety, health and lives of civilians.

Readings: Ezekiel 37: 21-28; Psalm 121; John 11: 45-47.

The Collect:

Most merciful God,
who by the death and resurrection of your Son Jesus Christ
delivered and saved the world:
Grant that by faith in him who suffered on the cross,
we may triumph in the power of his victory;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

The Lenten Collect:

Almighty and everlasting God,
you hate nothing that you have made
and forgive the sins of all those who are penitent:
Create and make in us new and contrite hearts
that we, worthily lamenting our sins
and acknowledging our wretchedness,
may receive from you, the God of all mercy,
perfect remission and forgiveness;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Continued tomorrow

Yesterday’s reflection