One Covid Story

Published on 24 Jan 2021
Ash tree in winter. Credit: Teresa McCaffery

by Teresa McCaffery

During the first lockdown I was self-isolating as I am over 70.  I stayed at home most of the time but felt that I could take exercise by cycling to church and working in the garden once a week.  The parish priest would chat, from a safe distance, after walking the dog and I met another parishioner who took her exercise walking round the church garden.  Others came through occasionally.  Slowly, the garden was becoming church. 

Before COVID (remember that?) I had worked with another parishioner to cut down long straight branches thrown up by our wild cherry trees.  I was able to build these up with pallets I had found to make smart new composting bins.  Spring bulbs and flowers began to brighten up the garden and in May I decided that as there was no realistic possibility of bringing flowers into the church for a May altar, I would take the Lady statue to the flowers in the garden.  The photos were posted on the parish website along with meditations on the mysteries of the rosary. 

In summer we were able to attend Mass in the church in small numbers, and chat in the garden afterwards, suitably spaced. Eventually our parish priest decided to let the children celebrate their first reconciliation and communion even though their formal teaching had been interrupted.  It was good to see the children again, the sun shone on the day of the Mass and photos were taken against a background of the hydrangeas at the side of the church, and under the great Ash tree which towers over the garden.

In Autumn, preparing the garden for next year, my thoughts turned to Advent as a time to prepare for the coming of Jesus and all that would follow, and I got permission to post a meditation for each Sunday in Advent on the website

The bulbs I planted made me think of the need to put down roots into the ground of our being through prayer.  Dig up a daffodil bulb in the Autumn (it is easily done by mistake!) and you will see a profusion of roots developing even though nothing will show for weeks above ground.  There is much opportunity for invisible, spiritual growth when we are forced to give up so many social activities.

The hydrangeas which gave such a bright show in summer and autumn had to be cut back sharply because their springy branches made the placing of ladders for church maintenance dangerous.  So much has been ‘cut back’ during this pandemic – lives lost, businesses shut down, normal recreational outlets no longer available, but by the virtue of hope we can imagine growing back next year, possibly the stronger for our pruning.

Our huge and beautiful ash tree, denuded of its summer foliage, showed off its wonderful structure to perfection. In my mind, this spoke of the structure of our faith. The Bible reminds us of our roots deep in the story of all humankind; religion is the strong structure of trunk and branches which lifts our faith high up to be seen in all the world, and families the twigs at the ends of the branches.

Now we are back in lockdown and the new year beckons; I wonder, how will we manage this year’s crop of first communion children?  Lent will come early this year; how will we prepare for Easter?

I think I will start with the tree.  In spring all those buds at the ends of the branches will become new shoots, just like the one that originally sprang from a seed to make this tree.  These shoots are nourished by the sap which runs through the whole of the tree.  Our spiritual nourishment starts with the banquet Abram gave to his angelic visitors, and our spiritual need with the gift of free will with its deadly capacity for disobedience.  I will continue with the story of Joseph, which culminated in another meal, and end with all the many meals that Jesus ate with his disciples and friends.

We may not be able to teach the children ‘live’ this year, and an online programme may work better for them, but I have permission to post some meditations on the website for Lent.

Plants were the first living things God created (according to Genesis) before the creation of seasons, day, and night.  They are the living environment that makes all animal life possible.  They are the most obedient of all God’s creatures, accepting whatever life might throw at them. They are wonderfully hospitable; they clean the air, replacing carbon dioxide with oxygen, and feed us with every nutrient we need, a well-grown native tree can provide food, shelter, and entertainment for a hundred species of animal.  We have many lessons to learn from these humble and true creatures.  Hopefully we will do so.