Easter in My Landscape: Celtic Reflections on the Season
It is through the ‘Book of Nature’ that I came to Christ. My journey to faith was through a sense of the divine in all things, and some wonderful messages of Truth which I saved and felt with all of my heart at my Wesleyan Sunday School when I was growing up. Jesus’ teachings of the meek and the sick, the poor and the hungry being close to God; the concept of sacrifice for the greater good, and the sense of joy felt in the knowledge that we are all God’s children who are free to dance and find joy in creation – these were all teachings which stayed with me.
My student years, as for many people in liberal Western society, were experimental. My relationship with Jesus did not fade, I now understand; he watched on with forgiveness while I explored meaning and presence in nature. I spent time with pagans, meditating at ancient sites; with environmentalists, happy to stop at the science of life; and with Buddhists, sharing in their traditions of meditation and contemplation. This whole time, my meditations would bring inner images conjured and felt of a pure white light surrounding me. I quickly came to feel that my soul was following a dead end with paganism. Enjoying the glory of nature was a thrill, but it was not enough…and it was on a guided meditation in Glastonbury that I found myself describing in words, the ’Christ light’ which I was feeling. Whether we are sure if Joseph of Arimathea came to Ancient Avalon, I have always felt it to be close to God, and it was here that I began to learn about the idea of the Holy Spirit being drawn down to a place…a place on the edge – a dramatic hill in a sea of ancient marshes.
Now, years on from my quite dramatic return to Christ and my settling in to a Church of England congregation, as a busy working mother, I am dashing around with the rest of us, engaged in the business of ego. Worries about job performance, worries that I will fit in at the school gate, worries about my son and family. Everything is arrangements and car trips, and the beautiful gifts of life sometimes feel as if they are reduced to a token effort. Seeds planted by my son wither and die as we are too busy to water them; Easter egg trails have become an arrangement to race towards, in a park, at a given time, rather than something that happens naturally in the fields, and Christ is increasingly pushed out of Easter.
As Easter approaches I stagger through Monday to Wednesday, providing bits of crafts and completed practice exam papers to school for end of term. I ran a 7k race on Palm Sunday, and I have thoroughly exhausted myself. My peer runners are now lighting up my mobile digital device with messages of medal lust. We need to run more races. We need to win more. “We need to help him pass his Year 2 exams!” I hear myself say to my husband; “We need to have a break, get to the sea. We need to make the most of those cinema vouchers…if we are quick we can squeeze in a film at the weekend.”
No. No, no, no, no. No. Just stop me; stop me now.
Maundy Thursday, and my husband and son are at home. They are planting bulbs again. I plan to do some work so that I can be free to make Easter bunting to decorate the house for the family coming. I need a good coffee to keep me focussed, I say, and head out the door. As I drive, I sigh, my shoulders drop and I realise that Holy Week is upon me. I feel with all of my being that what I really want to do is feel close to God. What would make me really sad right now would be to feed my completely unnecessary caffeine habit, churn out some mediocre work, and race around making my Easter about garish decorations.
I drive past the coffee shop, and on into the Gloucestershire hills. I don’t know where I am going, I am waiting to be led.
I drive out onto the common with its ancient woodland. The common has been unenclosed since medieval times, protected by ancient byelaws. Ribbons of development have never reached here, and I feel out on the edge. The ancient woodland which stretches across the common is still dank with the dense clays of the winter rains. Violets and primroses have sprung up in the coppice, but the hope which they seem to bring is not where my soul finds itself, and I drive on, bringing a sorry and battered soul to God, joining Him around the table.
I drive through country lanes and into the foothills of the Cotswold escarpment. Still not knowing where I am going, I stop and take a breath as I realise where I have ended up. The church tower of St Mary the Virgin at Hawkesbury dates to Saxon times and has a beautiful wild churchyard, surrounded by clipped yews, and it greets me now as I turn a sharp country bend. It is both free and loved, as a sacred space, a garden and a resting place. I park my car and take a seat in the churchyard, enjoying the peace in this quiet part of the county. My eyes are drawn up onto one of the hills, where a white wooden cross is placed, in anticipation of the darkness ahead. The cross is up high, open to the winds and harsh realities of the season. I thank God for this sheltered spot in his arms where it is my privilege to meditate on what is about to happen.
It takes a long time for the busy monkey brain to fade. The Celtic Saints were drawn to the edges of civilisation and the edges of the land, to feel close to God. I understand why. In this exhilarating space, the ego voice has less to say. My mind quietens and I hold that white cross in my mind’s eye as I bring my disjointed and seemingly unthankful soul to God. I gather and realise that it has been I who stand at the foot of the cross and laugh on the days when I do not reach for Him. It is I who mock and belittle his call and I who place my faith in petty things when eternal love is with me all along. It finds me now, and I sit on the bench and weep.
Driving home, in the wild lanes of the Edge, I screech and swerve past a little black mole, flailing in the middle of the road. I pull over and catch my breath with delight at this rare sight, and the nourishing beauty of a creature of creation never before seen. I scoop the mole off from the tarmac and he nestles into the crook of my arm, seeking darkness in all this useless light. He cannot see for the light, he needs to get back on the path he knows, through his tunnels to home.
The joy of this interaction is intense. I carry him like a treasure into a thicket, near a great expanse of pasture, and away from the road. I must crawl through brambles, which scratch at me, and resist his determined wriggles as he tries to escape my well-meaning grasp. I kneel in the leaf litter of autumn and winter, and fashion a hole with my free hand. I place him down into the darkness and watch as his strong pink hands bury deep on his way. I say a prayer for the mole, and for all of God’s creatures as we start on the journey we must take this Good Friday. I sit there for a moment, ready and content until my worldly errands flood back to me, and I am on my way, gifted with a touch of God, and covered in thorns.
By Elizabeth Roper