A Way of Seeing in the Dark (1)
Seeking a Liturgy of the Wild, (Part 12)
Pan being Pan
There is snow on the roof of the church. Not just any church. Not a cranked up prosperity gospel arena in Arizona, but Widecombe church on Dartmoor. The church where my Aunt Met’s granddad was vicar, somewhere back in the 19th century. It’s a handsome old thing, with a proper tower, earning it the title of the Cathedral of the Moor. Here she is on a less wintery day:
I am squinting up at the roof to see if I can locate hoofprints in the snow. As a kid I heard that prints were seen of some goat-being who had pranced across the roof then bounded off towards the coast. If ever such shenanigans were going to happen, Widecombe is the church where it would. (I note through a little research that this report comes from other parts of Devon, not, sadly, Widecombe.)
I long for a church with hoofprints on the roof. A living oak by the baptismal font. The font being a deep stone basin where fresh stream water pours in from the hills. This is my Green Chapel wishing. It is my sincere Christian ear starting to open to the earth and the Word. A Camelotian dream.
I walk in and sit absolutely alone in the front pew. The air is damp, chill, but with a far distant whiff of incense. I’m hunkered down in a Donegal tweed and my head drifts up to the ceiling. Directly above where the vicar will sometimes stand are two Green Men figures and Gawain himself staring down. I have a shudder of pure pleasure. They are not relegated to some cobwebbed corner, crafted by a subversive craftsman, but brought into the very centre of the Christian Mythos. This Middle-Eastern mystery religion today seems supremely integrated to the storied heart of what we used to call Merlin’s Enclosure, or Albion. As Ted Hughes said, something ‘as deep as England.’
Only a month ago me and Dad sat at the dinner table as the roving Troubadour, poet and priest Malcolm Guite whipped out his guitar and sang us his song Green Man, the lyrics of which I heard in my mind immediately as I looked up.
I’m the goodness in the bread, I’m the wildness in the wine
There’s power in the place where my smallest tendrils are curled
And my softest touch is the strongest thing in the world
I’m the Green Man, don’t take my name in vain
I’m the Green Man, I’m about to break my chain
If you cut me down I’ll spring back green again
Malcolm has great erudition as a scholar and a long-stewed Christian, and I take joy in him naming the face of Yeshua in the midst of this wild and beautiful earth. Christ as the inexhaustible green-fuse. (I asked Guite about the writing of the song and you can find his response at the bottom of the essay.)
I can’t speak to the attendance record of the church – lively I would guess – which may be an exception these days. As the God-Shaped-Hole and the search for meaning continues apace, still church after church closes. We are baffled by choice. There’s an awful lot of sweeties in the spiritual pick’n’mix these days.
I skirt the black ice down the lane and enter the snug lair of The Rugglestone Inn. I will chew on warm, deliciously flat ale with a little Talisker chaser on the side. Being the middle of winter for once it’s not packed and I have a good spot by the fire, among the snoozing hounds. I pick on some chips and scrawl to you in an old journal. Great flushes of hail occasionally rattle the window and I’ll have to be out of the village by dark before we are pulled into an even deeper freeze.
I’m thinking about the Devonian hoofprints. For me, that’s a joyous mystery, but for some it’s Old Nick abroad. I’m going to think a little about the Devil.