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Word from Wormingford

12 September 2014

Ronald Blythe reflects on the pleasure of being caught in the rain

SUMMER rain - warm, drenching. It catches me up before I can get to the house, a familiar sensation since boyhood, briefly a plight, then a pleasure. The rain it raineth every day, but only a little. Not like today, when it is as continuous as Portia's mercy. It pours through a break in the guttering, it streams through the oaks, it makes an extra river in the farm track.

Thomas Hardy made it fall with a wounding splash on poor Tess's new grave, as if what had happened to her wasn't enough. And his field-women, soaked to the skin, cried "How it rained!" But, seeing it through the window, all I can do is to meditate on its soft, remorseless progress, watch the plants bend before it, and the valley itself receive it.

On Sunday, Paul calls himself the least of the apostles, because of what he had been. The past weighs heavily on him, especially his ignominious taking care of the coats of those who stoned Stephen.

Also, hundreds of Christ's followers had witnessed him as the resurrected Lord, but Paul had not. He felt it as a deserved and indelible reproach. Yet by grace he was what he was, and not what he had been. He had toiled for Jesus more than all the others put together; so this grace was more than their grace. It validated his apostleship - it gave him the right to be what he was, and to say what he did. Not to mention the beauty of his expression.

Where did he learn to write? In that far from mean city, Tarsus? Or, as with many great writers - Shakespeare at Stratford grammar school, Keats at Enfield - had there been a minimal of "learning"?

There was, of course, the proud dual nationality, and the confidence which came from it. But how much of this would have come down to us had he not been locked up? Oratory then being a formal part of education, he would have lectured more than write letters. These bring us close to him. Those to the Romans, whether Jews or Gentiles, are tenderly inclusive. Those to all the other churches recognise their particular countries, but without description; for being one in Christ, not in nations, is the true unity of men.

On Sunday, I climb into Wormingford pulpit, and say what I must have said before, but it cannot be helped. And the dear neighbours sit where they have sat for years. And the medieval arches soar overhead, and St Alban, in his Roman tunic and sandals, looks across the red altar.

And Christopher plays his introit. And one candle wavers, and the other doesn't. And we sing "Morning has broken like the first morning," and I remember Eleanor Farjeon, who died in 1965, which is yesterday in Anglican terms.

Coming home, walking through the orchard, the Victoria plums touch my head. And the sculptor Jon Edgar writes to ask if I think that his clay bust of me should be turned into bronze.

I look at myself from previously impossible angles, and myself looks back at me. I have irises, not the blind gaze of classical heads - although they were not blind to begin with, the painted eyes have faded, then gone. Lashes, too. Now this marble stare. This seeing nothing and this open-to-everything look. Did anyone think of repainting the pupils of ancient statuary? What a sensation!

Pupil, the dark aperture at the centre of the iris through which light enters. The impatience of Jesus. "A little while the light is with you. Walk while you have the light."

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