There are no plumy accents when traveling by coach, just ordinary people going about extraordinary lives. The bus grinds through small, forgotten villages, stops for elderly women with rheumy eyes dragging plaid shopping trolleys, stops for old men under flat woolen caps, hearing aids at odd angles whistling in their hairy ears, stops for weary young mums with impossibly complex prams. We bump by sodden fields of sheep, into market towns no longer proffering produce, only plastic. Yet three times on this journey I have seen standing stones, great, gray plinths alone in fields, reminders of time immemorial, reminders there is more than what appears to be. They watch us hurtle by.
I do not expect to breach heaven (if there is some heaven beyond our good, green earth) via pearly gates, golden streets with searchlights searing the sky and something noisy from Handel blaring from the speakers.
If at all, the passage will be secretive and silent, a chink through which I slip, perhaps between the rosebud and its fragrant flowering, the moment when baton is lifted before overture’s first note sounds.
Rarely in gaudy glory of liturgy as Host is elevated, eaten, often in spring’s gentle uncurling, autumn’s downward spiral, I see a shadowy hand beckon, or hear a quiet voice calling, “This way. Slip through here.”
Mine is reasonably small having always lived low, turned off lights and faucets, eschewed useless stuff, reused, recycled. I do not aspire to shrink it, but, like the first people in these green hills,
I want to leave no footprint at all, to move through life in gentle, charitable silence not disturbing fragile things, cosmic balances or the universal pulse so that, when my candle sputters into darkness, the tiniest leaf is unmoved by the wisp of its rising smoke.
It was not meant as exclusionary, the way the boy laid his arm along the pew, not touching her back but cupping the bowl of his hand over the girl’s shoulder, exactly the way his father encircled his mother in decorous Sunday embrace.
Near in age and adoring, his forsaken younger sister saw the story of all Eve’s children, an enacted parable of man leaving father and mother to cling to wife, heard Scylla and Charybdis’ seductive hymn, felt the tension of two great loves, perceived in a piercing moment ties tighter than the bonds of blood.
Support the Christian Century
The Century's work relies primarily on subscriptions and donations. Thank you for supporting nonprofit journalism.