Food From Truth
“A man can’t be always defending the truth; there must be a time to feed on it” C. S. Lewis, Reflections on the Psalms, ‘Introductory’.
Church Crawling in Winter
Church crawling is a hobby in which people travel the country (by car, normally), guidebook in hand, looking at churches, often old ones, sometimes in remote villages.
Maybe it wasn’t a good idea doing a trip like this in February.
Rain drips down as I get off the bus (over-60s pass – free; return time : 16.03), umbrella not
up quickly enough.
I trudge down past a former-post office, emptied out, gone, and village pub just hanging on.
I look for it, over the houses (the OS map promised a tower), a little place, one would expect,
from the meagreness of this village; former-village, now.
Someone hurries past, perhaps wonders why I’m here (no one else got off at the stop; no
one else in the street).
And then, finally, I see it. Up beside Georgian chest-tombs I go, crazed path; still a little
snow. I’m all enthusiastic now, agog.
But – as expected – locked door. Key at the village shop (what? Surely they don’t have one,
any more? Surely not).
Back again, then; but it looks worth it. I find the shop eventually, a small mini-market hidden
on a sort-of mini-estate; scratch-cards on the counter, Lottery; so, Chance here now, not
Providence. Buggies parked outside (two), babies inside (warm).
Eventually, I get in (my guide book’s wet, I discover). And …
The cool, silent power hits me – so different from the forlorn hopelessness outside; decline.
But … also …
What a different village it was produced this … and very large – for a time when surely
hundred men worked the land, the smithy, the fulling-mill (and now, I bet there are just a
But here, time is stilled. Here, the squire’s funerary hatchment was duly hung,
ancestral crusaders sank to sleep on their plinths, the dogs at their feet growling quietly,
perhaps, one last time, before settling to solidity, eternity.
An aged doddering rector, humming a little, perhaps portly, slinking ’midst the
shafted columns? No! The last such left long ago; now there is the Rev’d Julie, always
available on my mobile [number given] – do leave a message.
Tombs, monuments … yes, death all around …
But not only death: Christine and her team offer Christian counselling – says a notice –
[email given], and the Flower Guild seem active – lots of daffs, no doubt, once March is
here (watering-cans, plastic, left around the place perhaps, secateurs) flowers replacing
the bright colours that once ascended, tendril-like, these now-dour stones.
And has the glory of God left this sanctuary (like in Ezekiel), along with the farmers, smiths,
I think not, for on my entrance, I felt a strange warming, love-like, a knowledge that the
dead past round me might not destroy the life, the richness, the inward brilliance which
this singular place could set on me … and did.
God above (removed, other, but always available on a very different device) desires, only, our love,
That passionate knowledge, reason meshed in seeming-strings down-hanging: feeling;
logic clothed in longing: joy; arguments steeped in something like to luscious liquor,
Mind swirling, I return the key to the shop (buggies gone, now -as one day must we all be).
The rain has stopped. The sun shines warm – it could be Spring.
Written (April 2019) for events at two local churches, to be given by members of the Wolverhampton U3A on the theme of the seasons.
Of course, we three ourselves had not made the journey before; but it was – we constantly thought of it – the second of such. In truth, we had a good journey (unlike our fathers), the beasts sure-footed on the sharp stones, the wadis dry with shifting sands of course, but neither stifling nor too soft; the nights, beyond our furs, not too cold, the stars above ’s true guiding – we, of course, had chosen a better time of year. The inns and caravanseries gladly took our money, sure enough, but nowhere were there scorpions or lice. But when we finally got to the city, things were not quite as we’d expected. We knew the man Jeshua had perished some years ago, several years, but word had leaked, and as far as us, that erstwhile followers swore he still lived. We had travelled in order to ascertain this, and, if we might, to see him; and convinced, we were, that his killing had been contrived; and guilt of wrong, we thought, has consequences, rebounds, returns to trouble its doers, and many more besides. Truth was our goal, this was what we sought; our fathers deserved no less, enfeebled though they now were (though not in mind); and the hopes of coming ages would wish it too.
In many places in the city, we asked about him, the truth about his death. Avoiding rulers, it was the common people we moved among: a beggar sitting by the gates, fallen indigents wracked with pain, poor men, labourers; and many of them we questioned. And quickly we noticed a strange quietude come to them, a reluctance to talk; but the darkness around us, the panic hanging in the air, was everywhere felt by us. Doom and desolation seemed to all, everyone, to be near. I saw it most in the faces, not of supplicants ascending the temple steps, or costermen crying in the market-places, but of the actual soldiers themselves – Romans, of course; ’twas like they had some inside knowledge of how all here would end. Then, walking in a smaller street, perhaps asking a woman or workman about his death, it was that a rough, calloused hand dragged us into a dark by-way beside stables and byers. “I know a man … who follows his Way … said to be a tent-maker; says he’s surely still alive. In fact, the man’s just returned to the city … always moving though, travelling … I can take you to him … with a little … aid ….” We duly paid him, and thus, we came to sit at the strange man’s feet. Behind, beyond, the water of his eyes, shone a fire fed with no earthly fuel. “Alive? See him?” – he said – “Yes …oh yes! And, there are three of you, and thus three gifts I will give to you. Firstly, for every man – and yourselves, I hope – I give a gift that may last you all your days, go with you through the dryness of this world, the desert, the dreary walk of life.” What, we wondered, would he give us? “This gift is that, I pray, he may live in your hearts, and never leave you”. And the second? – we urged. “This, the gift of the present age, while time lasts …” But what? “Why – it is that you have seen him already!” What?“Surely! Remember that beggar at the gate, that sick man? That was Jeshua – and you walked straight past … were you looking for some glorious thing, there and then … light in-breaking, perhaps?” And the third? “Why, that is when we all will have sight of him, when he comes to us a second time, when those who know him, love him, will see him, be with him, in eternity. Three gifts, three sightings. Three, surely, should suffice … hold them together equally, right-balanced, and all will come … Golden crowns, as it might be, will descend from the true King …”
We returned unhurriedly to our homelands – high palaces above the plain, gardens watered by deep springs. Only then did I discover where I had seen, before, the tentmaker’s gleam – ’twas in the eyes of Balthasar, my father (sat, as often, beside the stilled pool raised by a high cistern on the southern, sun-shot terrace) dreaming of the time when he, too, would see the babe again – though not in this world.
Published in Merry Christmas for Everyone. A Festive Feast of Stories, Poems and Reflections, edited by Wendy H. Jones, Amy Robinson, and Jane Clamp, published by the Association of Christian Writers in 2018.It has been my 2018 story that has been sent out with Christmas cards