Since last August I have been volunteering at a community garden here in Birmingham run by one of the ecology organizations. Mainly young people come here to volunteer to plant, network and socialise every week. It offers a good opportunity for them to learn about plants, eco-friendly life style and ecological activities all the while working in nature. As the season has ended, the community garden will only open to the volunteers once a month to look after the garden and prepare for the coming spring. Recently we had a small gathering in the garden to celebrate the harvest and give gratitude for each other’s support. It took place during a typical, windy cloudy day which really made us seek something warm. I was standing around the wood fire alongside the other volunteers, chatting and trying to pick up their stories and memories from their conversation. Suddenly it took me back to 2004 when I joined Columban Mission in Japan without having any knowledge of Japanese language or culture. People there were so generous despite my poor Japanese and always responded to me with a smile and loved to teach me Japanese and share their culture. I still remember an elderly parishioner who had difficulty with his listening was passionate to teach me how to pronounce Azalea in Japanese. I was just like a baby in that unknown country. These memories came flooding back to me once more as I was immersing myself into British culture here in Birmingham in 2020. I recognised that I reverted to being a baby again, feeling small, powerless, and vulnerable among the local people. But, like in Japan, people here in Britain are so marvellous and warm-hearted to open their community and welcome me.
While I was following their accents and the rhythm of their sharing, I happened to catch glimpse of a seagull. This brought to mind another seagull I had seen during lockdown, flying low through a cloudy sky.
One day when lockdown seemed to be going on forever, I went out for a walk as usual, troubled with feelings of frustration, anxiety, awkwardness and loneliness. As I walked, I looked up to the grey sky above and saw a seagull hovering, wings outstretched, silently riding the air, almost motionless against the dark sky. Then suddenly, she soared upwards, higher and higher, and I heard a thought “Be Still and know that I am God”. She seemed to be saying to me to stay calm and just be present, and when God’s time comes I will be led to where I should be. Whenever I venture into nature it always opens its arms to embrace me, console me and teach me valuable lessons. The seagull showed me that when the wind is so harsh that I feel small and nervous, I should try not to struggle to find a way out. Rather I should keep being present there with all my heart and do what I am doing until the wind brings me to the right place where I should be. I believe that it is in these moments when God’s Spirit is at work.
We’re still in the midst of an unprecedented pandemic and the UK is one of the most seriously affected countries. Many people have lost loved ones, missing families and hugs, living in uncertainty. Many of us are overwhelmed with feelings of depression, anxiety, and loneliness. However, thankfully, we still have nature around us, sharing its life with us, giving us spaces to rest and consoling our wounded soul.
From time to time when I hear the cry of a seagull, I remember that seagull that hovered above me and say to myself ‘don’t worry, just be yourself and do what you are doing’.
I share the seagull’s amazing story when I meet someone else who is weathering a harsh storm in their own life. I am grateful that seagulls are flying and abundant nature is surrounding us in Birmingham. I am grateful for the opportunity of working in nature to build a bridge between the life -giving force of nature and the people. I admire how God is missioning and moulding me while I participate in his mission for his people. I also appreciate the Columban Missionary Society for their prophetic decision in 1990 to open its doors to help and encourage the laity to live out their lay mission vocation. Moreover, I deeply appreciate the Columban benefactors for their prayers and generous support to Columban mission. May all the people’s good will bring peace among all God’s creatures.