Your comment about ‘gently lifted’ butterflies got me thinking about the poem you mentioned the other week by Yehuda Amichai, which I did manage to find. In our lives and in society at large it seems to me we do need to break up the hard ground of our hearts and attitudes. This is seen locally and globally. The tragedy and pain that is caused when we keep tramping over the same old ground is hard to bear. Our view of what is right and our desire to be right can have a high cost. I have more of a struggle when I try to speak or act in response to views on what God may desire in terms of right and wrong. ‘Thus saith the Lord’ only works if you actually are one of the Lord’s prophets. Jesus was able to declare with no tension or contradiction ‘sin no more’ and also ‘love one another’. Yet of course, there is a vast gulf between Jesus’ absolute perfection and my imperfections.
As for lifting butterflies gently, how much better the world would be if we treated one another with such gentleness and respect. We may have written and certainly spoken about this before, so apologies if I’m repeating myself, but all too often we view gentleness as weakness, when in fact the opposite is true.
Your letter referred to a possible number one hymn for you. It is remarkable how deeply the language and theology of so many hymns and other sacred songs can take our breath away. In the hope that this will not affect your view on John Greenleaf Whittier’s hymn you mentioned, but the opening two lines often make me think of a minister who tried to suggest alternative hymns to a couple who were determined to have this sung at their marriage ceremony!
When it comes to particular brands of clotted cream I actually thought there was only one! I don’t expect Yehuda Amichai had the issue of jam or cream on top of a scone in mind when he wrote ‘the place where we are right’. It depends who’s reading our letters, if it’s just you and me then there’d be little discussion to be had perhaps. Though actually in saying this and at the risk of being frog-marched to the county lines, or the Torpoint Ferry or Tamar Bridge, I must admit some of the glossy shiny jams look very well on top of a mound of golden-white clotted cream.
Thinking a little more about ‘right’ and ‘wrong’, on one occasion, many years ago, I remember that there was almost what could be described as a diplomatic incident between my late grandfather and one of his siblings. As is the way with these things, an inflammatory comment was made and everyone held their breath, wondering what would happen next. However the anticipated raucous argument did not ensue, indeed nothing very much happened at all. It was only much later that my grandfather informed us, ‘there was no point in arguing I knew I was right!’
Returning to songs based on Ecclesiastes 3. Whether it was the Byrds you had in mind or some other group or solo artist, it is strange how often this happens where you hear something, see something, be it a song, a particular jumper, or a colour and make of car and suddenly you hear and see them everywhere. This happens even though I imagine the Office for National Statistics (ONS) would confirm the numbers and percentages of particular songs, jumpers and cars have not changed. It is just our minds being primed and sensitive to notice, hear and see.
Thinking of the Byrds song, and bear with me in this, yesterday I was once again travelling along the buttercup road that I have mentioned previously, near Allet Common, and I came upon a set of temporary traffic lights for roadworks. I’m not sure what work was being done, possibly some sort of pipe laying given all the materials I saw. I came to a halt for the lights and opened my window in the sunny blink I was experiencing. The ongoing work wasn’t noisy and so I could hear the rising sound of the skylark’s song in the air. The skylark’s song always has a powerful effect on me, as it does when I hear the mimicry so evocatively created and composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams in his piece of music ‘the lark ascending’.
A bit like your ‘Byrd song’ this music seems to be played on the radio quite often of late. As you may be aware it’s almost always Classic FM and Radio 3 for me and the fact that this piece of music is number one in Classic FM’s Hall of Fame 2020 may be enough to explain this. Indeed the ONS could make the comment that I’m not using a representative enough sample population to be able to draw any clear conclusions in what I feel is my experience. Yet from my point of view as I enjoy it so much it’s great to hear it played so often. Last year we went to London for a few days and while we were there we managed to get along to a wonderful lunchtime concert by the Civil Service Orchestra and Choir. It was July and blisteringly hot outside and only a little cooler inside the beautiful old church where the concert took place. All around was still apart from a slight movement in the air from paper fans. The first piece was, of course, ‘the lark ascending’. Each time I hear it now I’m transported right back to that occasion. The first few notes of the violin and I can picture the skylark rising high into the air and I remember who was beside me.
And as for the skylark’s song itself, it transports me not to capital cities, but the wide blue sky above the corn fields of barley, wheat and oats of my previous ‘day job’. Sitting in the car yesterday enjoying the sound and scenery, the other skylarks’ songs in my memory joined in the current hymn of praise soaring up beyond Coronavirus and lockdown, beyond chaos and kneeling down, soaring out of sight, but not out of sound and hearing. The sweet skylark’s song, delicate and lighter than the breeze, declared its beauty and that of the Creator’s hand, which would not be vanquished or silenced by human struggles, sorrows and earthly separations. Look at the birds; consider the lilies (stink lilies included). I can do that.
With love in Christ,
Saturday 6 June 2020
As mentioned last week the stink lily was just waiting to make an appearance, so hope you like the photograph. No doubt its extravagant loveliness will be beaten down by the wind. I was talking to another friend about this amazing flower just recently and in our conversation we felt we had come up against one of the difficult truths in life. How can it be that something that looks so beautiful from a distance actually smells rotten close up? This must be part of its appeal for the stink lily’s pollinators; however this isn’t the case for many of us and it can be an unpleasant or painful experience to learn the truth.