MAY - and all of summer ahead. Cool Pentecostal winds are
tossing the lilacs. Jean's horses shelter behind what will soon be
a white wall of blossom. I eat my breakfast to the stern words of
the Chief Rabbi as he preaches on the Fourth Commandment. The white
cat descends from on high to plead starvation, her current roost
being the top of a cupboard in the old dairy. And so the day begins
- most days, to be truthful.
Writers call to tell me about their books in progress. Hearing
their names on the radio, F. Scott Fitzgerald and his wife, Zelda,
I take down The Great Gatsby and Tender is the
Night. They are dusty, yellowing. But not when I turn the
page. Wildly attractive young men are on the make; disastrously
lovely girls are getting hurt. But the prose - so timeless!
It is just after breakfast, however, when novels must be kept in
their place on the shelf. The visiting novelists are professionally
silent on their work, for there is little more tedious than having
to hear a tale half-told. We have lamb chops and new potatoes for
lunch, and talk about how some authors remain, while others, for no
apparent reason, have their day, and then go away. Or, rather, line
up in alphabetical order in the library, not even pleading "Read
me!" Read once, they have more to say, but no one is listening.
I preach on the Comforter - what a marvellously inspired name
for the Holy Spirit. The Comforter. When you think of it, the
Lord's friends had such a brief apprenticeship for what they had to
do - a little less than three years, and that on the hoof. And the
crowds! "What was that he said?" They were fearful, filled with
inadequacy, watched by the police.
When I read the Acts of the Apostles (what a good title), or the
history of the beginning of the Church, I am as much moved by the
plight of these men as by their genius. They are so like us, and
yet so unlike us, being the commissioned spreaders of the teachings
At first, their dependency on him made them vulnerable to a
fright verging on terror. While he was with them, they could be
immature, even silly: in what order should they sit at heaven's
high table? And now they remembered thinking, "What will happen to
us after he has 'gone' - when we are on our own?"
Mercifully, there were the old feasts, particularly Pentecost,
to hold life together, to keep its shape. This is what festivals
are for. Then came the odd number - 11. Eleven would never do. They
had to be the perfect Twelve. So they drew straws and the lot fell
on Matthias. It did not matter if posterity knew no more of him
than his name. He was 12th man.
This done, reports Luke, who was an excellent writer, and
usually careful with facts, the house in which they gathered shook.
And there was the sound of a mighty rushing wind. And they were
able to communicate, to anyone who listened, what they had
A flaming intelligence and holiness rose from their heads, which
would be commemorated in the mitre, and Peter would preach the very
first sermon. His text was taken from Joel. And the Comforter came
to all of us. "Breathe on me, breath of God," we sang, some 20 of