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Word from Wormingford

09 August 2011

While at a Bible class, Ronald Blythe changes his view of the church

WE ARE having a Bible class, and not before time. It is Saturday morning, and the summer is not quite here, so the church is chilly. The scholarly young priest gives us Mark 10 in Hebrew, Greek, Latin, King James, and New English, through which blind Bartimaeus glimmers into view. Jesus is on his last walk to Jerusalem when this beggar cries out for sight.

We have been told to bring our Bibles, and a fine assortment they are, some pristine, some in tatters. The healer and the healed gradually come into focus. As does, for me, the east window, which I normally sit at right angles to, and do not see. It is brilliant and Christmassy, all gold and green. It makes me realise that to sit in one’s place in a church, year after year, with the same piece of it always in view, must shape one’s faith to some degree.

But St Mark hurries on. No architectural wandering for him. Youthful, energetic, clear-sighted, he writes the first Gospel. This begins with Christ’s baptism and ends with our baptism. As for the now-seeing Bartimaeus, Mark says, simply: “He followed him in his way.”

Eventually the summer arrives. It loads the white plates of hogweed with glittering insects, and the first dragonflies take off. I scythe a way through the orchard. Roger Deacon gave me this scythe, and it is very nearly my best present. It is made of light metal, and is not at all Father Time-ish, but youthful, like Mark, and cutting-edged. I let the swaths lie and watch the nettles fall like defeated armies. Butterflies muster. the cloudless sky turns sapphire and pink, then deep blue. Self-heal flowers near the potatoes.

A Muslim from Cambridge announces Ramadan, the great fast, and does not mince his words. His colour supplement begins with white obesity and ends with black starvation: people who have waddled to the lager-box, people who have walked many miles for a cup of water. Fasting clears the head, he maintains. Fasting is not starving, however. Nor should eating be more than nourishment and pleasure.

And so to a nice pub that looks out on to the Little Cornard height where Martin Shaw set “Hills of the North, rejoice.” Fish and chips and no guilt. Below me, the water-meadows of boyhood, with the Stour parting them, and some vague kind of work which was not harvesting going on in them. What are they doing? No answer.

Look close enough into any landscape, and you will find a figure idling or toiling, passing or standing still. And it might find you staring. Jesus was mocking when the solitary figure of his cousin, John, down by the river, drew the crowds. “What did you go out into the wilderness to look at? A reed shaken by the wind?” John was a fascinating sight; so they went to look at him, not to hear him. Prophets were not sideshows.

Writers do a lot of looking — often more than listening, if the truth be known. The world is so strange to them. They sit at the win­dows of remote houses, trying to take it all in — the delights and dreadfulness of things, the changing weather, and what it can be to be newly sighted, although not neces­sarily visionary. One must not ask too much. Just enough light to walk in the way.

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