I remember one late summer evening looking up to see Bredon Hill – long and low on the horizon – crowned with fire. It only took a few moments before I saw what was happening – a farmer burning wheat stubble – but for those few moments of wonder and astonishment the familiar landscape was transfigured, apocalyptic.
Ever after I felt as though I had an inkling of what George Fox experienced on Pendle Hill or, even more so, what Thomas Traherne – that quiet mystic – was describing when he wrote that the corn he saw was:
“orient and immortal wheat, which never should be reaped, nor was ever sown. I thought it had stood from everlasting to everlasting.” From Centuries of Meditation
Something of the intensity of Traherne’s vision is rendered in glass in a striking memorial to him in Hereford Cathedral. It’s tucked away in a little side chapel; its glory are the stained glass windows created by Tom Denny.
Backlit on a warm sunny day, the two windows glowed emerald – for green Herefordshire and ruby – for blood and passion and – perhaps – the mystic fire as well.
There’s another link to be made. I’ve a friend who has long been involved in crop circles – helping make them for a time. He wrote of the experience in a blog post on the Good Funeral Guide a couple of years ago, describing:
In between the tired and dew damp teams leaving a circle just as the sky is lightening, and the first wide eyed croppie entering the design, something profound happens which tells us more about things like homeopathy, belief, peer pressure and religious experience than almost anything else in our modern world. It is an extraordinary experiential game, a sociologist’s dream, the echo of our own curiousity that has changed lives for better and worse and significantly shaped our modern culture in the short time since a UFO obsessed nature artist persuaded his drinking partner to spend their Friday night after the pub making indentations in the corn, partly to fool the world into thinking a spaceship had landed, but with unmistakable devotional undertones, an attempt to call down the aliens he longed to meet.
What an incredible phenomenon to create from nothing, for camera batteries do fail in them, odd earth lights do zoom about the corridors of wheat, synchronicites build until it makes your ears pop, you really do feel like the New Jerusalem is just behind a veil in front of you, and with a bit of courage and faith you can pop through it.
There is a mystery everywhere, at the edge of sight, just beyond easy reach, but, if we pay attention, in the sudden strangeness of the world around us, we may, sometimes, be graced with a glimpse.