IT BEING too good to be inside, I check the oil tank, walk the
muddy paths, and survey the snowdrops, which are legion. They
clothe the rises and the hollows in their thousands, with their
matchless whiteness and their sudden appearance. One day it is
sodden undergrowth, the next this purity of flowers.
The birds rustle around; the sky shines. Four young horses race
around the field, their coats flying. In church, I have to make up
my mind whether it is after the Epiphany, or before Lent. I preach
on the showing of Christ.
Religion can be neither darkness nor light, just cloudy. And
there is this fading away of the brightnessas the years gather.
Amos - a favourite of mine - cried: "I may not be a theologian, but
I can see that things are not what they should be!" But who was
going to take notice of a noisy young fruit-farmer out in the
sticks? But I love his voice. It is new and non-liturgical. And
beautiful. Very clear.
In mid-Epiphany, we have St Paul on his restless travels,
church-founding, magisterial. Confident - Tarsus bred men of
letters. It was on the old caravan route from Asia to Europe.
Tent-making in such a city was a profitable trade. We read about
him during the Epiphany because the blinding light of his
conversion meets the greater light. He was on the road because his
deliverer had said: "I am the light of the world."
On his way, Paul had met Timothy, a man of mixed race, with his
Greek father and Jewish mother. So they walked on, the pair of
them, teaching what the friends of Jesus had taught them.
When Paul reached Troas, he had a vision - more light. Someone
in his head was begging him to "come over into Macedonia, and help
us." Leave your native east, and come to Europe. Why not? He had a
Roman passport. First, he and young Timothy made for Philippi,
where Paul founded perhaps his favourite church: "I thank my God
for every remembrance of you," he would say in his letter.
His first encounter with a Philippian was near the water's edge.
Walking to it on the sabbath, he had found a women's prayer-meeting
in progress. He and Timothy sat down and took part. This was St
Paul's first Christian activity in Europe. One of the women was a
businessperson named Lydia. Having heard Paul preach Christianity,
she is the first named European to become part of the Church: this
woman who sold purple cloth.
His next encounter was with a girl who had been forced into
fortune-telling because of her profitable madness. Along with the
gospel came the light of reason. "Be affectionate with one
another," Paul told the infant Church.
He foresaw the multiplicity of behaviours that must enter a
universal faith - it takes all sorts to make a world - and yet "Be
kind to one another." The Church must not be monolithic, but
various. Because Lydia ran a house church, she could be described
as the first Christian priest in Europe, if one might be
On a spring-in-winter day, with the Stour bursting its banks, a
formlessness takes over the familiar landscape; something
uncontrollable is in power. Pretty rivers swell into terrible
giants. Water, water everywhere, although no rain to speak of. My
ditches roar. And all these snowdrops! And the wild duck wherring