Yes. I remember Adlestrop—
This famous poem written by Edward Thomas were about a tiny station stop in the Cotswolds, but those words could equally have been written by a walker visiting a country church.
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.
For those who love to sit and muse in a churchyard, these words conjure a familiar setting of rural peace. A brief tranquillity in the hectic bustle of modern life, whether whilst walking the dog, or just when taking a break from work. I seem to spend much time at my desk, often on video or phone calls, and taking a short walk at lunchtime refreshes me; it keeps me feeling rooted and grounded and energised.
The experience of lockdown during Covid has taught us just how important nature and the natural world around us are for our mental wellbeing, as well as our physical health. To feel the wind on our faces, the earth beneath our feet, to see the trees, to hear the sounds of life all around us. To breathe deep, and feel re-connected to it all.
Churches and churchyards have long been places of such peace and pilgrimage, places many of us instinctively go to when the world seems shifting under our feet and we wish to be grounded once more. These places which have stood for centuries can offer a sense of solidity and stability that is found in few other public places.
The local parish church can be part of this sense of being rooted and grounded, in a specific place that has seen generations of our ancestors through baptisms, weddings, funerals, plague, famine, celebration and joy. And of course the seasons and cycle of the year helps us to be rooted in the natural world, and this has been celebrated by the Church for centuries – Lammas and the harvest, All Souls, Christmas, Lent, Easter, Whitsun to name but a few.
Sometimes when visiting and stopping a while in a church, wherever it may be, I wonder about this sense of place and connectedness, both with the here and now but also stretching back through time. And this connectedness is not just with the place, but also its people. How many others have stood here before me?
Being rooted and grounded gives us foundations – emotional, mental, spiritual, as well as the more obvious physical sense of stability. And these places of peace, of solace, of tranquillity, are places where we can re-connect on so many levels. With the earth, with nature, with God, with our inner self.
And I feel that the physical place where we can find this re-connection is also a pointer to the fact that we are rooted and grounded in the love of God. It is this love that sustains us every moment – and not just us, but all that is and exists. Like plants in the earth, our roots must go down and be nourished and drink deep – mentally, emotionally, spiritually – or else we can feel lost and shaky and uncertain, especially when the “certainties” in our lives that we had relied on for stability become less predictable and sure.
Summer now draws to a close, and harvest is upon us. But those words of Edward Thomas still conjure an incredibly vivid experience. It makes me want to go out in the sunshine, and breathe that warm air; a longing for the sounds and smells and utter peace of the church and churchyard. To stand quietly among those who lie at peace around me. To wonder, how many have done the same? And to be rooted and grounded in the love and peace of God that this place symbolises and shares simply by its very presence among us.