SUMMER days. Each of them unimaginably perfect. Days which I longed for when I was in Australia. And that was ungrateful, because my brother showed me so much to love in New South Wales, which I would then dream about in East Anglia.
Mike the churchwarden bumps me down the farmhouse track to take me to matins, and I talk about the two waterways that dominated the life of Christ: the big freshwater lake called the Sea of Galilee; and the Mediterranean, the immense middle sea of Europe. He walked on the shores of both, and his existence was moulded by their characters.
Galilee had a way of suddenly blowing up a storm, like an erratic person,creating fear. This is why the disciples were angry with Jesus for going to sleep on their boat. Like most seamen, they couldn’t swim. Nelson was unable to swim. Men who went to sea purposely were unable to swim, because it prolonged death by drowning.
Jesus recruited the four people who were to spread his teachings, on the same day: two sets of brothers, Simon and Andrew, and James and John. It still sounds haphazard or divine rather than sensible.
I chose my second prayers from those which Robert Louis Stevenson wrote for his household on Samoa, where he reigned like a ruler of the British Empire. He was struggling to stay alive; for consumption would carry him off. An enormous creative energy was also consuming him, and an amazing range of masterpieces, from Treasure Island to The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, plus scores of letters that travelled by sea to his London publisher. And all this in a house full of family, servants, and, in a way, subjects. The energy of the Victorians remains inexplicable to us.
Saying Stevenson’s Samoan prayer in our country church does not require much adjustment. It could have been written for it. “Lord, behold our family here assembled. We thank Thee for this place in which we dwell; for the love that unites us; for the peace accorded us this day; for the hope with which we expect the morrow; for the health, the work, the food, and the bright skies, that make our lives delightful; and for our friends in all parts of the earth. Let peace abound in our small company.
“Purge out every heart the lurking grudge. Give us grace and strength to forbear. . . As the clay to the potter, as the windmill to the wind, as children of their sire, we beseech of Thee this help and mercy for Christ’s sake.”
Two mighty roses, William Lobb and Rambling Rector, are climbing their way to the roof, and must be carefully pruned. Gardener friends arrive, cautiously not giving advice.