It happened almost at the same moment: we heard the call of the cuckoo and, as if that wasn’t joy enough, turned a corner on the hill path and saw the tiny foal lying in the heather. Holding tightly on to our dog, we watched the days-old animal muster control of its long thin legs and trot to its mother’s side.
I am grateful for this week in the Herefordshire hills, with the birdsong as my shacharit chorus, the blackbirds, pied wagtails, chaffinches and goldfinches, and with the dawn sun on the young leaves of oak and alder. The bluebells are out, the wild garlic too, primroses, cowslips and wood anemones. In almost every field (you’re back on the lead dogs, I’m afraid) are lambs.
There have been so many losses in our community, so much illness and worry. And beyond, across the world, all the cries for urgent help, and all the loneliness of grief. It sits in one’s heart, fills one’s thoughts and calls out in one’s prayers. And one can’t take people’s troubles away; at best all one can do is maybe for a brief time make wounds a little less painful to bear.
Therefore I am grateful for these days, not to get away, but rather to take strength, to experience the flow of something deeper, the resilience and renewal of life in the simplicity of its wonder, and feel it fill the soul with quiet restoration.
Shavuot, the celebration of God’s word at Sinai, is just over a week away. But that revelation is also every day, in the very current and essence of life. ‘Zeh Eli: This is my God,’ goes the song in the Torah: right here is your presence, in the dawn light shining in the river as it runs over the stones, in the green glow of young leaves and in the maple’s red.
I was privileged to listen to a dialogue between two great teachers of Bible, Professor Michael Fishbane and Professor Ellen Davis (a Christian scholar from whose book Scripture and Agriculture I often quote). They spoke on Psalm 19, which we read every shabbat morning. It opens with the sunrise and nature, turns to Torah and the wisdom of its teachings, and concludes with the soul’s desire to be pure of wrongdoing so that it can hear God’s voice.
That Psalm contains one of my favourite verses:
Day utters speech to day and night whispers knowledge to night;
There is no speech, there are no words, in which their voice is not heard.
Ellen Davis cited lines from a poem, a commentary, or perhaps in truth a contemporary Psalm in itself, by Malcolm Guite. He listens ‘In that still place where earth and heaven meet’ and understands that ‘these are all God’s words.’ (David’s Crown: Sounding the Psalms, Psalm 19)
It’s one of the deepest joys of human life, overhearing as God speaks in the birdsong and the trees, sensing the oneness of all things, feeling that same spirit flow also through me as it flows through every life.