At the age of 16, around about June, I was looking at the book stall, one of our English teachers, Mrs Clarkson organised, when I came across a book which pictured a warrior with a flaming sword. Its title was “Hawk of May” with the strap-line “a breathtaking vision of Arthur’s Britain”. I picked it up, thinking I must read this, it was £1.95, and as I didn’t have that with me, I asked Mrs Clarkson to put it by for me. I forgot about the book until the beginning of July. To my eternal gratitude, Mrs Clarkson had kept it, and I made my purchase. It is my favourite book, and I have read it nearly every year since, along with its sequels “Kingdom of Summer” and “In Winter’s Shadow”. All three by the author Gillian Bradshaw.
I say “eternal gratitude”, because I think that this book has not only changed the course of my life, but continues to inspire me. As you can imagine, I am very familiar with the book, and yet there are still lines that I feel I am reading for the very first time. Why so inspiring then? Well, it’s not just a story of Arthurian Britain. It speaks beautifully about the natural world. There are philosophical conversations and theological reflections intertwined with a description of a kind of Christianity I still find very appealing. One such description and reflection comes when the narrator, Gwalchmai, the son of King Lot of Orkney, enters a Christian Church for the first time. He does so in the monastery at Glastonbury.
‘[There] was a plain altar, with a cross of carved wood standing against the whitewashed inner wall. The cloth over the altar, however, was richly embroidered, covered with interlocked and interlacing designs, frozen and moving at the same time..., Something about the place reminded me of the room where I had drawn Caledvwlch (his sword). ...There was a feeling of centrality, of being near the heart of something, and an intense stillness... a silent, deep listening ...It was as though the troubled water of a deep pool had stilled, and one could look down into it through limitless depths, as if into a lake of glass. At the heart of that stillness was a light, quiet as candle flames, and the sense of the first notes of a song. I felt only this, and only for an instant. ’
For a moment, forget dogma and rigid systems of beliefs, or rather see them as attempts to put that experience and what flows from it into words and practice.
What the book inspired in me was a kind of Christianity that tries to understand what is good, what is beautiful, what is true; seeks to incorporate a love of the natural world into its theology; in which stillness is the place of encounter with God, by which goodness, truth and beauty are known, if not known about, and because of that knowing, goodness, truth and beauty are lived out. Not in order to please that which is good, true and beautiful, but in response to its gift of goodness, truth and beauty to us.
Vicar’s thoughts for June 2016