Perfection on the Plot
Looking after an allotment may be likened to the search for perfection, which is never attained.
Even my neighbour whose plot is usually immaculate has been struggling recently to keep up with the invasion of weeds. I have been playing ‘catch-up’ and have started to make progress. Using weed-control fabric and sowing green manure is my strategy to reduce the work-load while I am working on my MA. So far I have covered over about 70 square meters of the plot and sown green manure on a further 20sqm. Overall it is beginning to look as if someone cares for it, with neatly raked areas and lines of winter onions coming up alongside climbing borlotti beans still on their canes.
It is helping me to reflect on the reading I am doing about the early Quakers, who claimed after a spiritual transformation, or conversion or convincement, that Christ dwelt within them and they had put off ‘sin’. They later modified this somewhat saying the degree of perfection achieved depended on the ‘measure of Christ’ that each one had. But it made a huge contrast to the Calvinistic doctrine of predestination, the preaching of hellfire and damnation or the ceaseless confession that seemed to be necessary for other Christians.
But, the question nags me, what is perfection? And can it be achieved? Of course the early Quakers operated in a Christian milieu, so their understanding was determined by the Bible. To be perfect was to be Christ-like. Even that leaves room for interpretation as the varied traditions of different churches show. In a wider context the issue of perfection takes us into the realms of philosophy and ethics. What are the absolute standards if there are such? And if there aren’t any how does an individual decide for themselves what it is to be perfect?
I am someone who takes the broadest possible view which means thinking not just globally but cosmically as well. The universe is unfolding, expanding, with galaxies colliding, suns exploding, planets wracked with seismic tremors, volcanic eruptions, storms and ice ages. It is not only earth’s nature which is ‘red in tooth and claw’, but arguably the whole universe. Yet there is also love and compassion, self-sacrifice for others, tenderness and beauty, joy and bliss.
In this context, whether or not ‘God’ comes into the equation, what makes something ‘good’ and another thing ‘evil’? I have long been convinced that the only useful approach to meaning and so to a value system, is through process theology; ‘God’ who is growing and developing. At present I think about God’ as the character of the universe (or cosmos). So how does that help in making value judgements? How does it relate to the possibility of perfection or achieving ‘holiness’?
One idea for perfection is achieving union with ‘God’. Perhaps for me this converts to being in tune with ‘God’, the character of the cosmos. Some think the universe is tending to entropy, a death of staleness. But I prefer to hold to a continuous unfolding of love and compassion. We can only use the evidence available to us from our study of say astronomy and anthropology, as well as the experience of religion. But such study and experience includes the wonders of human love and examples from other species of self-sacrifice too.
This is a long way from weeding the allotment, though some will recall Brother Lawrence believing that everyday work brings us into holiness. Perhaps one of the key elements is to believe in the possibility of a new start, not being condemned by what is past. Winter comes but there will be a new Spring and the possibility of a new sowing and even a perfect harvest!