20 November 2009


… not faith by fable lives,
But from the faith the fable springs

Robert Penn Warren: Love’s Voice

The Rabbit, perched on the Dragon’s ophidian neck and hanging tightly onto his bovine ears, was tired from the long flight through clouds and ice and rain, but his eyes were bright with excitement. In the grey chill of a mid February Mancunian morning they had at last come to the end of their journey. “What, Jitù, in the Name of the Nine Emperors are we doing here?” demanded the Dragon. “Come to see the Dancing Dragons, Yinglóng.” replied the Rabbit.” You didn’t have to come, although I am very grateful for the ride.” he added hastily. “Let’s wait over there.” he said and pointed to the corner of the square in which they had landed. “None of them can see us, but we shall have a wonderful view of them. Don’t you find all this very exciting?”
“No; I find it all rather depressing. In the real world we don’t actually exist, you and I. Doesn’t it worry you that we are merely part of a myth, a corporate figment, a story men tell sitting around the fireside.” He laid his camel shaped head on his ten great claws and sighed. “We seem to me to be merely their make-believe answer to unanswerable questions. Men are rational beings who live as best they can, and then they die. They come from nowhere, and they become nothing. I have never quite understood why they are so enthralled to these stories. Do we honestly make any essential or substantial difference to their lives?”
As was his wont when thinking, the Rabbit slowly scratched the back of his right ear, leaving his left ear stuck up in the air like some eccentric furry flag pole. “I think,” he said quietly, “that without that storytelling, the New Year for the folk in every China Town would be a sad festival. For them you are their symbol of a kindly power, of wisdom and strength. You are their model of excellence and success. When the people in the streets see your effigy they remember that there is an eternal force that keeps them safe from danger. They cannot see that strength, they do not hear it call, they can neither touch it nor taste it, but in the pantomime of the dance the spirit of the dragon brings them hope, and that is a most precious gift.”
The noise around them swelled into an approaching crescendo of gongs and cymbals, firecrackers and drums. Round the corner into the square where the Dragon and the Rabbit stood came a crowd of excited laughing people following the dancing dragon - twenty joyous undulating metres of yellow and orange shimmering silken scales, and a vast horned mask of red and green and gold, its cavernous mouth stretching after the great scarlet pearl of wisdom carried on a long pole before it.
“Oh, Gold Moon-Rabbit,” sighed the Dragon, “do you really believe in all this? “ “Yes, I think I do” answered the Rabbit slowly. “I believe in that power of which all this hope and joy is a dancing shadow on a wall. Today, Old Dragon, we are a piece of that shadow, and it points us all to the stars."



To Man he gave a countenance to look on high and to behold the heavens, and to raise his face erect to the stars.
Ovid: Metamorphoses 1

In the corner of the field next to the old labourer’s cottage stood a tall ash tree, its curving branches still bare beside the new greening of the hedge. Three ring necked parakeets replete with pear blossoms sat in the sun, their ever moving long tails  keeping their balance on the high insubstantial branch of their choice. Every so often one of them would walk sideways along the slippery bark and, almost quicker than the eye could comprehend, turn upside down, its beady eye glittering in the sunlight. A black bird sang a love song to his brown hen while two fat pigeons, stuffed with stolen corn, basked lazy in the sunshine.

    Into this place of sun dappled peace came a short legged climbing Kentish cat intent on catching pigeon for his larder. Stuck in a low branched fork, he made a foray to his left along a perilously bouncing slender branch. He clung on for dear life, backed down to the safety of the fork again, tried the slightly bigger branch to his right, but that began slowly to sag, rotten wood threatening to break. Retreating again to the fork, with his hind feet firmly anchored to the trunk, he stretched out unsheaved claws making out that he was about to spring. His hind legs slipped again and defeated he curled up into a tight ball of  fur. Ignoring the scornful avians overhead and  dreaming of  his  brown pottery bowl in the kitchen, he slept.

    From a bank at the far end of the field two youngsters watched the drama of the day unfolding.  A slim light brown body, twenty centimeters nose to tail, pretty rounded ears, long nose and whiskers, white bib and stomacher, sturdy clawed feet, quite still except for whiskers  aquiver: a weasel looking for a breakfast egg or a tender chick for her kittens.  Falling out of the sky,  black   crested   and   cloaked  in iridescent blue like a pair of feathered acrobats, the lapwings landed close to their nest  some 40 yards from the rough grass where they had hidden their new chicks. They circled the empty nest, dancing and beating their wings, and screaming their haunting cry into the quiet of the morning. Disconcerted by the violence of the movement and the shrieking of two birds larger than herself, the weasel froze, then turned and scuttled away into a patch of tall thistles to search elsewhere for breakfast.

    Peace returned. The birds in the tree preened their feathers; the cat went home for Whiskas; the lapwings fed their chicks; and the weasel, at last, found a mouse for her hungry family.

      The young man put out a hand and pulled his girlfriend to her feet.      

    “Come on,” he said, “we’ve got things to do.”
    “Must we go?” she asked. “It’s so … sort of timeless here, and safe.”
    “Yes, we must. Got to get to the Bank before it closes. Presents to buy!”

    She laughed and they ran through the field gate back towards the village. ‘Thus Glory fades’ murmured the Gatekeeper. Silently he folded his four great wings, and a flaming sword turned every which way about the path.



I stood on a hillside overlooking Doone Valley. I was
nine years old. It was the perfect day - bright clear
sunlight, bird song, a slight breeze, the sort of day when
all’s well with the world and God is in his heaven. I
stared across the tops of the trees far into the horizon,
and for a split-second moment I lost everything -
sunlight, breeze, bird song, and in that ‘infinite moment’
it seemed to me I glimpsed eternity. What this huge
panorama of an immortal landscape so golden, so
delicate, so strong, seemed to be showing me was my
own insubstantial finite mortal self looking as if through
an invisible window into a world both infinite and
immortal, stunningly beautiful but to a child
frighteningly powerful. Its essential loveliness was
overwhelming, and so also was my sense of loss that I
could not remain for ever a part of this miraculous

Over the years the experience has been repeated,
but never with quite the same power, never with quite
the same sense of awe as I knew then. I have come to
look on these slivers of joy as times of spiritual
revelation; not so much like that first Exmoor invisible
window onto the otherness of eternity, but rather as the
absorbing of the individual that is myself into both the
greater wholeness of the natural world and into the
immanent hand of God. With this blessed sense of
absorption comes the perception, the belief that I must
as best I can care for this world in which I live and its
inhabitants amongst whom I live, and honour the God
from whom ultimately all this world has come.

I have no formal Creed, but since the age of nine I
have looked on the natural world and all its inhabitants
much as a girl looks on her first lover - exciting,
beautiful, pristine, unmatchable. I have heard God in the
music of Mozart, I have recognised God in the greeting
of a smiling stranger, I have seen God at work in the
meticulous and generous care taken by our street
cleaner. I have shied away from the ugliness of decay,
been sickened by the stench of blood and the injured
scream, and mourned for lives broken and wasted by
cruelty and greed. Where, in these things, is the love and
the presence of God? But as the shining beauty of the
memory of the first love is never wholly lost, so I have
never quite failed to find the a reflection of God
everywhere and in all things. A God who is omniscient,
eternal and ineffable and yet a God who knows and
loves each sparrow who falls to the ground - in this God
do I believe.