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Word from Wormingford

28 March 2014

Ronald Blythe's features are moulded in clay in the hands of a sculptor

EVERY now and then, whatever hour it is, getting up becomes an imperative. I have never worked out why. But I am at the window, looking out at the moon, which is staring in. It appears yellow, and lopsided, throwing huge shadows and light barriers across the river valley in equal proportions. You could read by it. Certainly a night for a walk.

But I return to bed, to think about Amos, a favourite of mine, and who must be talked about on Sunday. He was, you will recall, a young fruit-farmer from Tekoa, who shouted out fearful warnings, disturbing the beautiful liturgy of the temple. He and Jeremiah were a couple well matched. Too eloquent for their own good. Apologising for his oratory, Amos said that he was not a prophet, only a gatherer of sycamore fruit. But why shouldn't Lent sackcloth and ashes arrive in his words? Penitence is something which is honed down, and which makes dust in the process.

This week, the sculptor Jon Edgar arrived to make a terracotta bust of me. No dust. It takes two days. It brings me back to earth. Not only my features, but my very soul - not to mention my age and personality - fly between his hands.

Every now and then, he takes a leap in my direction, as if to see that I actually exist. To prove it, I take him to a pub and give him lunch. I feel that although he has only just arrived, he knows me only too well. How is this?

Then back to the ancient farmhouse, and the flying clay, and my divine-like emergence. He dances about; I sit still. The hours pass. The white cat watches. Soon I will be fired, hollowed out, and mounted. Fragmented yet entire. I feel moved and honoured, yet, at the same time, vulnerable.

I tell him about the imagery of the potter in the Rubáiyát of Omar Khayyám, of which he has never heard. This pleases me, because it allows me to philosophise on his art. I am actually able to show off. I repeat some of this poem by heart. Edward FitzGerald, the author, was buried near my house when I lived near Woodbridge, and had, like many Victorians, difficulty with conventional Christianity, and found an acceptable version of life in this old Persian poem.

Thus the potter and his model passed the time; the latter awed by the swift hands that were making his face. Dare I make some tea? How is it that Jon, the terracotta sculptor, can not only draw out my face, but my experience - even something akin to my soul?

Lamentations for Lent, of course, and in this tragic book the following: "The precious sons of Zion, comparable to fine gold, how are they esteemed as earthen pitchers, the work of the hands of the potter!" But when God shapes us, are we not heavenly? And when Jesus uses his own spit to create a healing clay, what then?

Jon, the clay sculptor, takes my image away to fire it. I feel very Etruscan: both fragile and lasting.

"Do you use special clay?" I ask.

"No, ordinary clay," he says.

But not ordinary hands or eyes, if it comes to that.

He accepts a sip of sherry - no more than a robin - and takes me back to Sussex with him. There is hot sunshine on the old brick wall where he has been. Like the children in the burning fiery furnace, I will emerge angelic. Eventually, I will return, having been dried for a month; for his kiln fires me at 900° Centigrade.

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