THIS week, the lectionary says, we remember Thomas Traherne. But
who, once introduced to him, could forget him? They call him the
master of the affirmative way. Lost for centuries, he famously
turned up in one of those second-hand bookshops, having been
through every kind of fate to make him non-existent, including
But there it was; a Mr Brooke found him, charred, but still so
starry that he was thought to be Henry Vaughan - "My soul, there is
a country far beyond the stars." Vaughan and Traherne were
Welsh-border people, near neighbours in time, who gloried in the
holiness of children. Once a year or so, I travel through their
territory to see my friend Edward Storey, who dwells - who is
perched - on Offa's Dyke.
The view from my old house is one of exclusion by hills. I dwell
in a leafy bowl, and in great quietness. Except when the badgers
are about. Last October, Patrick Barkham sat up in a tree to watch
them. Although he wore two jerseys, two windcheaters, and a woolly
hat, he pretty near froze to death, but all in the science of
We spoke of the historic fear of the dark. Badgers come out just
pre-darkness. I had told him: "Everything changes at night. The
trees change. Even places you know backwards take on another life
at night. They become mysterious. I don't find it fearful, but
there is a history of people finding it fearful."
Years ago, I had forbidden the local hunt to draw my wood,
chiefly so as not to frighten my badgers. The aspens I planted
there now reach for the sky. And the badgers have made lanes in the
grass to the brook; a grumpy progress at dusk. The brook feeds the
Stour, and is glitteringly clear. The white cat, as well as the
wild animals, drinks from it, her face tipping the water.
According to Patrick's book Badgerlands, I had told him
that I was acquainted with the night. Which indeed I am.
I love the story of the cautious Nicodemus, in St John's Gospel,
who took care to come to Christ by night. After all, he was a
member of the Sanhedrin, not some local fisherman, and too
important to be seen with this unofficial person. There is a rare
portrait of him in the east window of St Michael's at Discoed, the
man who took his reputation in his hands in spite of creeping
through the dark streets. What did they talk about? It was the
necessity of rebirth.
It was during this furtive conversation that Jesus said,
alarmingly and wonderfully: "For God so loved the world that he
gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should
not perish, but have everlasting life."
After the death of Jesus, Nicodemus came out, as we say. He
"brought a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about an hundredweight", to
wind into the shroud, when Joseph of Arimathea gave the poor body
his own grave, and thus, in a series of Welsh border thoughts, the
October day brings me from East Anglia to a Welsh shepherds'
church. A subdued light is the norm there, but not here. A fine
What shall I talk about in church on Trinity 19? Badgers and
Counsellors? Are we to sing Lamentations? It says so in the book.
"Mine eye runneth down with water, because the comforter that
should relieve my soul is far from me. . ."