Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Something so small. So old.

Let me begin by clarifying something: My father was never one to tell stories, exaggerate or reminisce. In fact he avoided telling any tales, be they of his many wartime missions as a bomber navigator in the Royal Air Force (and his times in India after the war ended.) Or his early childhood in Fishguard. Or his times in seminary. In fact, and I hope that I am not doing his memory a disservice, I do not even recall him reading me a bedtime story. And I hope that my recollection is wrong in that respect. For I loved him dearly.

My memory is crystal clear in one exception to my father’s reticence, even shyness, when it came to telling a story. I can’t recall the exact time and situation, but certainly remember the place. It was his study in the huge Victorian vicarage in Worcester, a house that would engulf at least three modern vicarages! (Ah, how times have changed!) And something must have sparked off a conversation. Perhaps something we had seen on television, or a homework assignment. Whatever it was prompted my father to begin to tell a story. And what a riveting story it was.

It had taken place only a couple of years previous to us moving into this suburban vicarage. We had lived for many years in the small rural village of Himbleton, and it was there that my father had been asked, as vicar and priest, to visit a farmhouse that was host to extraordinary events.

I can close my eyes and see him now, sitting at his roll-top desk, and telling how, in this farmhouse, the family was afraid. Furniture was moving in violent ways. Windows were being inexplicably broken, and a threatening aura prevailed. There had been, he told us, no recent tragedy in the house (which dated to 1420). Neither were there any young people involved, which, he explained, could sometimes create spiritual mischief. And I remember him smiling at this point. What next?

He went on to describe how he insisted on celebrating the Eucharist in this house, with the family attending. Then, how during that mass he felt a great sense of relief, and (and here’s where it becomes different) an urge to tell the family to look for a stone in the house. That he did. And the house was at peace.

He paused, saying that a couple of weeks went by, and then the farmer called him to say that in replacing a floorboard in the old scullery they had found a piece of amber, about an inch in length and less than that in width. But they were afraid to move it because the disturbances in the house had resumed. And so, he told us, he had to go and lift out and destroy the stone with a coal hammer. In his telling, as he took the stone outside there was a great deal of spiritual reaction and even violence in that large bookshelves were toppled and kitchen pots spilled, but once the hammer fell peace also descended.

Do you understand that story? I certainly don’t.

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