Saturday, 3 August 2013

All Blisse/Consists in this

I’m reasonably up on church architecture. I can tell my nave from my chancel, generally recognise Perpendicular when I see it and can spot a Romanesque tympanum from a bowshot distance. 

I never know, though, what to call the space tucked away behind the altar that you get in large parish churches and cathedrals. Sometimes these contain tombs and effigies, at others only a few step-ladders and stacks of unused chairs. In some places, Durham Cathedral springs to mind, they’re used for works of art. 

At All Saints in the centre of High Wycombe, one end contains a ‘Quiet Garden’.

An indoor garden? Well, yes, but one consisting of pebbles, a meditative, trickling water feature and a Bible opened at a passage in Matthew’s Gospel. Very calming it is too. I learned from a leaflet that it’s there as part of something called The Quiet Garden Movement.

I don’t know about you, but I wasn’t aware that there was such a Movement. What does it do? What is it for? I know all about the charismatic movement and the so-called ‘house-church movement’ and lots of other theological and spiritual movements – but I’d never heard of The Quiet Garden Movement.

Again, I don’t know about you, but when I come across the term ‘Movement’ I envisage something fairly active rather than contemplative.

‘What do want?’
‘Quiet gardens!’
‘When do we want them?’

‘Two-four-six-eight ... what do we want to cultivate?’

So, I was pleasantly surprised to find that not only is The Quiet Garden Movement an international one, but it has its own newsletter – Quiet Places – and its own website. It has friends in high places. The list of patrons includes Richard Foster – of Celebration of Discipline fame – the Most Revd Vincent Nichols, RC head-honcho here in the UK and the delightful Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia. There’s also the wonderfully named Sir Ghillean Prance of the Eden Project and A Rocha, the botanist and Christian environmentalist.

The Movement has gardens all over the world. There are Quiet Gardens in France, in South Africa, Australia, Canada, the USA ...

People sometimes open their own private gardens for groups and individuals to use for prayer and contemplation and reflection. As the newsletter says, the aim is for gardens to provide ‘one possible channel among many encountering the divine.’

It’s easy to be put off, to be a tad cynical about this sort of language. Many of us, I’m sure, can remember the rather twee Dorothy Gurney verses found in the municipal parks of our youth:

The kiss of the sun for pardon,
The song of the birds for mirth.
One is nearer God’s heart in a garden
Than anywhere else on earth.

I’m not sure we should let that rob us of an important dimension though, the sense that ‘we live as a world in which heaven and earth exist side by side.’

The word Paradise itself derives from a Persian word for a walled garden. The Quiet Places newsletter quotes the 17th century cleric and poet, Thomas Traherne.

All Blisse
Consists in this,
To do as Adam did:
And not to know those Superficial Toys
Which in the Garden once were hid.
Those little new Invented Things.
Cups, Saddles, Crowns are Childish Joys.
So Ribbans are and Rings
Which all our Happiness destroys.

I’ll be working in Wycombe for a while, a few days a week.  The Quiet Garden at the back of All Souls may see more of me yet.


  1. Space behind the high altar - well, Retro-Choir comes to mind. Although if it's a chapel in its own right, Lady Chapel?

  2. Sounds reasonable, Wild Organist. I don't think the space was a chapel on its own right, so we'll go with 'Retro-Choir' ... sounds like a trend ... ;)