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More feral priesthood

We live quite near a river, and I can walk down a lane and across some fields to get to it in about 20 minutes. I often do so, for there is one particular spot that I recognise as a holy place, and I love to go there to sit, listen, look, and just be aware of what’s around me. I invariably come away feeling strangely blessed.

There isn’t usually much animal life to see, a swan or or two occasionally, some Canada geese flying by, and others who value the place as I do, say that they’ve seen a kingfisher but I haven’t been so lucky. Imagine my surprise then, when a month or two back I saw a small something moving on the opposite bank. Might it be a baby moorhen? Then it started out across the river in my direction at some speed and in a straight line. It reached the bank along from where I sat, but by that time I could see that it had a long dark body. Might it be an otter? My wild life recognition is of a low standard so I asked my wife when I got home and from my description she said that she thought that it was indeed an otter.

A week or two later, sat in the same spot, under an overhanging tree, I was gazing at the river when I saw not one otter but three. One playing in the water to my left, a second to my right who sat up and looked at me, and a third swimming across the river towards the others. I felt myself to be richly blessed. I’ve returned to the same spot regularly since, in hope, but without another sighting. Still, each time I say a prayer for the otters who in blessing seemed to be praying for me. A bond had been established between us.

Yesterday morning I went for my familiar silent walk down to the river. It was a beautiful day and I stopped to gaze at a solitary proud oak in a field, the light gleaming on distant fields, the varying shades of blue of the sky, all around me looked green and verdant. But when I arrived at my holy place by the river I was dismayed to find that the tree where I sat and saw the otters, had been cut down, the trunk and branches littered and left across the path and the area cleared. It felt like a senseless act of desecration and made me very angry. I wondered what had became of the otter family? I walked home feeling very depressed.

But then I slowly started to make connections. Two months ago when I was praying for the dead one Sunday morning I sensed that my Dad who was a Quaker, was suggesting that I attend a local Quaker meeting. The place had some previous for me as 30 years ago I’d visited and bought a subsequently much treasured Celtic drum from the then Warden of the place. Some weeks later I attended one Sunday morning, wondering why I was there, and left glad that I’d gone but none the wiser.

Walking back from the river feeling depressed I remembered that years ago, walking in the Surrey hills with my drum, I’d come across what felt like a vast tree graveyard, where the hurricane had laid waste a section of forest. Appalled by what I saw and felt, I was impelled to drum a funeral for these trees and did so, standing or sitting on each and every broken stump. It probably took some time, but felt quite out of time. Suddenly I knew what I now had to do.

Arriving home I got out my drum and cleaned and tended to it. This Sunday morning I woke soon after 5, got up, washed dressed, and drank a cup of tea. I collected my drum from my shed and set out for the river. I sensed that I was at one with the women setting out early on Easter morning to visit the tomb. It was cloudy with a light breeze, dawn colours were appearing over the horizon. It was quiet with no sight or sound of human activity. Horses in a field I passed looked at me, knowingly I thought. The walk there was beautiful. When I reached the scene I took my drum out of its bag, and walked slowly around the area drumming quietly. I sat on the fallen tree trunk and drummed there. Then I went & sat on the bank amidst the debris & drummed briefly before stopping and listening, and becoming aware. Nature seemed to be taking the devastation in its stride, as if to say, ‘well this is what happens, and we know how to deal with it.’ God was speaking in the wind through the trees, and the water moving gracefully down the river. All was calm. The early morning light wasn’t bright, there was no direct sunshine, it was more of a pastel shade. The birds were singing: I could hear a cuckoo across the river. Canada geese were honking in the background. There was no sign of the otters. I felt very relaxed & at peace sitting on the bank just above the water: something I could not have done before. I felt myself healed, and that the natural world was very capable of healing itself, and was already doing so. I stayed there for a while, before getting up & walking slowly home. There had been a dying and there was also a rising. I had done what I felt that I had needed to do, whatever that was: I didn’t need to know. The walk back was beautiful, the horses in the field all turned to look at me as I passed. There was rain in the air as I got home.

I made coffee that I took down to my shed, where I hung up my drum and reviewed what had happened. This is feral priesthood: it began with the otters, then Dad suggesting I go to the Quakers, with their link to my drum, then seeing the desecration and remembering my drumming a funeral for the trees years ago, then my decision to visit the grave early this morning, and my realisation that I was following in the footsteps of the women on Easter morning, with a not dissimilar result, I went to a place that I knew as a place of suffering and death, and found a place bursting with new life, and healing. Wonderful. Thank you.

3 Comments

  1. Thank you Henry! Comming on Sunday from Holy Island of Lindisfarne with another three “Puffins” your experiences with the Nature and God came near.

  2. Very moving Henry. And it has a completeness to it, of which you were the willing and responsive agent. Certainly a sacramental intent, as far away from the rubrics of the church as you could imagine and yet, surely, precisely part of what the church universal, through its sons and daughters, officially ordained and not, are called to celebrate.

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