Sunday, March 11, 2007

Oxnead, St. Michaels and All Angels

From Buxton Station, on the Bure Valley Path and Railway, I crossed the tracks and walked into open fields. A gentle gradient led over the crest of a hill, where my spirit rose as a skylark provided the appropriate sound track! The path fell away to a wooded valley. Here a bridge over River Bure provided the opportunity to play Pooh Sticks. It’s a good occupation if there are things you need to let go of, believe me! I reflected about some of those things, forgiveness and baptism. There were no doves to be seen, but a chorus of birdsong gave me much to consider! Pensively I took the path that led up-stream, through green pastures and beside still(ish) waters! Two mares, each with a foal, lifted their heads as I passed by. At the main road I turned right, crossed the bridge, avoided going to the Haflinger Stud and took the next road on the right. After about a quarter of a mile, I turned right again, just before the out-buildings of Oxnead Hall. No sign announced it but, at the end of a rutted track, lost in the woodland, was Oxnead Church!

An enchanted glade ?! Holy is better than enchanted! There seems to be a presence! Angels?! Go yourself! Taste and see! If walking or cycling are out of the question, then, when the ground is dry, you can drive right up to the church!

The building has a stillness that is almost tangible and provides a history lesson in itself. Some of the brick is Roman, some Stuart and some 19th or 20th century – bricks Ancient and Modern! It is a place “where prayer has been valid”! So bend the knee! Elaborate monuments of the Paston family dominate but a garden seat, against the south wall of the church, is in memory of “Tim Bush a most treasured and wonderful Dad”! I sat in warm spring sunshine and said the Our Father!

The way back? Return to the metalled road and turn right. Pass Oxnead Hall, the large house adjacent to the churchyard, then take the next farm track to the right – there is a way-mark! This leads down to Pooh Stick Bridge, from where you can retrace your steps to Buxton Station. (distance 3.5 k) For a longer walk, go left along the river bank to Buxton Mill (2k extra).

The people who walked in darkness........

Before central heating, electric lighting, sodium street lights and supermarkets, the harshness of late winter and Lent scarcity was experienced first hand. It was cold and dark. The waxing of the moon and lengthening of days, the growing warmth, Good Friday’s hot-cross buns and Easter’s eggs, were looked for and longed for. In the 21st century none of us experience these things with the same intensity but they need not be lost to us entirely, especially if we get outdoors a lot.

The when of Easter is really important. It was settled for us long ago, in the 7th century, at the Synod of Whitby. The principle for fixing Easter is simple. It should fall on the first Sunday, after the first full moon that follows the first day of Spring. Its about new beginnings and darkness and light! We do things with candles in church but outside the full moon shines and, for the first time in the year, night’s darkness is shorter than the length of the day’s sun!

Reflecting on these things in the 8th century the Ven. Bede wrote about “ the sun of righteousness (Jesus) , in whose wings is salvation, …….. by the triumph of his resurrection, dispelled all the darkness of death, ascended into heaven, and” filling his Church with grace. The Church, in this extended metaphor, was represented by the moon! Like the Church the moon’s glory is reflected from elsewhere!

Some of us are privileged to live in places without street lamps and need go no further than our back gardens to experience winter’s cold, darkness and the splendour of night sky. Others may need to go further afield.

Do go! Beneath the starry sky you should expect to find fresh meaning and intensity in the Psalms – try 136, 147 and 148! In the glory of the Easter full moon you will find that Psalm 8 sings in you:

When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them

(Cultural Notes: In
Norfolk the phrase human being is pronounced human bean. Gardener’s plant their spuds on Good Friday to be ready for Ascension Day.)

Picture copyright: © NOAO/AURA/NSF used with permission

Otherwise © Richard Woodham 2007