AS WITH most people who are tied to an official calendar, I have come to operate, as it were, an unofficial one in tandem with it.
Orthodoxy has a way of starting hares. It cannot be many more Easters before the locals find out that I am much attached to the Emmaus story, which is the Gospel for Easter Monday. But who would hear it then? A voice from a misty classroom is heard saying, “Freely translate”; and so the congregation listens to it on the evening of Easter Day, year after year.
It was, after all, on the evening of his resurrection day that Christ caught up with his friends, and it was in their house that (according to my calendar) the first evensong was sung. But only after they recognised him in “the breaking of bread”.
The stranger guest had become host. There were little country chapels in Suffolk on whose notice-boards was painted: “Lord’s Day, 11 a.m. Breaking of Bread”.
I am to visit Credenhill, Thomas Traherne’s parish. I can scarcely believe it. Just as I have a personal calendar, so I do a private map; and Credenhill is well marked as an Emmaus.
The young rector, instructing his pupil Mrs Hopton in the basics of Christianity, had been unnerved by the Herefordshire night:
Another time, in a lowering and sad evening, being alone in the field, when all things were dead and quiet, a certain want and horror fell upon me, beyond imagination. The unprofitableness and silence of the place dissatisfied me, its wideness terrified me, from the utmost ends of the earth fears surrounded me. How did I know but dangers might suddenly arise from the east?
He was then convinced that he was “made to hold a communion with the secrets of divine providence”, and assured of “the comfort of houses and friends”.
I used to walk in Cornwall at Easter, keeping to a radius of the poet James Turner’s house, but frequently getting so far from home that the hospitable axial became lost. Where was I? Where was home?
I was on the vast headland of Pentire, and the lighthouse on Trevose had begun to flash and moan. Or I was striding along to Egloshayle in a salty wind, and hearing the church bells all along the Camel. This road was said to be haunted by a white rabbit. It dogged the traveller’s heels and could not be shaken off. A man who tried to shoot it shot himself.
Our Suffolk lanes are haunted by a hound named Shuck. My track is haunted by a big black cat who would do anyone in for a tin of Whiskas. “Creatures are multiplied that our treasures may be multiplied,” Traherne assured Mrs Hopton.