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Word from Wormingford

18 March 2009

Ronald Blythe feels sympathy for an out-of-work gargoyle

THE brief cold violence of a March storm. All was as usual when a meteorological racket vented itself on our fields for all it was worth. Rain rushed down, winds cut the sky to pieces, lightning blackened and blinded the landscape in turn, thunder split our eardrums. Church towers rocked. Beasts cowered. And then — silence, after which the sound of all sorts of gutters and tracks doing their stuff.

Later, my eyes falling on a medieval gargoyle that now lies inside the church, I thought I saw a look of longing. What a come-down. Once, the March downpour gushed from that gaping mouth for centuries; now, only a concern for archaeology prevents us from stuffing it with our dripping brollies. Its stone lips are worn thin by historic waterfalls. Gargoyles have such sad features as they shoot the rain away from the walls and on to the dead. I give ours a little pat.

Deserts, not rains, are what we are to think about. Yet science has robbed us of their convenient Lenten aridity. No longer can we use them as geographical wastes; for now we know that they teem with life. The three great Abrahamic faiths are seeded in the same desert. Jews, Christians, and Muslims entered human consciousness from the same gritty source. When we follow Christ as best we can into the desert, we enter his dilemma, his privation and terrible decision, and it is no longer a horrifying place.

But deserts do strange things to natural sounds. Voices are not what they seem. Reductive messages blow over the dunes, teasing the human ear. One day, a poet would call the desert’s mocking bluff by seeing eternity in a grain of sand.

At the Lenten matins I wait for Christopher to come to Isaiah’s prophesy, one that Jesus would have known: “For the Lord shall comfort Zion: he will comfort all her waste places: and he will make her wilderness like Eden, and her desert like the garden of the Lord; joy and gladness shall be found therein, thanksgiving and the voice of melody.”

May we not now accept this ecologically as well as theologically? You know it makes sense. And of course we sing the Benedicite, clustering its praises. The village is chilly and drafty. “I can’t get warm,” says an old neighbour. There is a time when one cannot get warm. It is when one cannot get going as one used to.

But the March sun, once the March winds have stopped blowing it about, is enchanting. I feel it on the back of my neck as I clear the nut-walk, a surprising caress. And there are Easter lambs in Bowden’s Lane as usual.

After the service, a visitor asks me to explain the Agnus Dei in the east window. Is it something to do with a coat of arms? Well, yes and no.

Gardening again; a lurid sky turns the earth blood-red. I toil right up to the first lashings of a second squall. The raindrops are huge and flatten my hair. Also the cat’s. We enter the house in a dead heat.

The naked trees hurl themselves about; and can that Niagara roar be my downpipe — the one that props up the clematis? And is the roof safe? And the fat brick Tudor chimney that balances the TV aerial on its nose? And do the hosts of Midian prowl and prowl around? It sounds like it.

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