ON PENTECOST AND THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS
I have spoken quite often of my love of The Wind in the Willows by Kenneth Grahame. If not at position number one, it is certainly always near there on my list of books which I would take with me on a desert island. I have read it at least once every year (usually in the springtime) since I was seven years old, and each time I leaf through its pages (or, now - I’m slightly embarrassed to admit - scroll down the screen) I am struck by how different words which I have read countless times over the past 44 years, seem new and eerily pertinent to things that might be happening in the world and in my life. Like any truly great work of literature, I think The Wind in the Willows will never be dated, because it will always speak to a humanity that is perennially searching, growing, struggling, discovering and loving.
In Chapter Seven of the book, companions Mr. Rat and Mr. Mole decide to go out in search of Portly, the young son of one of their friends, Mr. Otter, who has gone missing. The Otter, naturally distraught, has gone to a place where he knew Portly to be truly happy, in hopes that the youth will find his way back there once again. The sad thought of a distraught father, waiting, possibly in vain, for a son to return, fills the Rat and Mole with pity, and they decide to take to the river in hopes that they will discover something, find what and whom they are looking for.
Rowing down the river, the. Rat is struck by a melody that he hears coming from the reeds, but, just as he hears it, is seems to disappear: "It's gone!" sighed the Rat, sinking back in his seat again. "So beautiful and strange and new. Since it was to end so soon, I almost wish I had never heard it. For it has roused a longing in me that is pain, and nothing seems worth while but just to hear that sound once more and go on listening to it for ever. No! There it is again!" he cried, alert once more. Entranced, he was silent for a long space, spellbound.
The two animals eventually moor their boat onto a small island, because the Rat recognises that the captivating music is somehow coming from there: 'This is the place of my song-dream, the place the music played to me,' whispered the Rat, as if in a trance. 'Here, in this holy place, here if anywhere, surely we shall find Him!'
Then suddenly the Mole felt a great Awe fall upon him, an awe that turned his muscles to water, bowed his head, and rooted his feet to the ground. It was no panic terror—indeed he felt wonderfully at peace and happy—but it was an awe that smote and held him and, without seeing, he knew it could only mean that some august Presence was very, very near. With difficulty he turned to look for his friend and saw him at his side cowed, stricken, and trembling violently. And still there was utter silence in the populous bird-haunted branches around them; and still the light grew and grew.
And there, in the beauty of nature and the warmth of togetherness, the Rat and Mole find, not only the young Portly, but so much more: the awe-inspiring presence of divinity itself. Who would have guessed that in lovingly tending to one another and their friend, they would be lovingly tended to themselves, and would be infused with warmth and light from above?
Today we celebrate Pentecost, when the Spirit descended upon a group of frightened individuals and transformed them into the Church: strong, bold, loving. But the gifts showered upon them were not ends in themselves, rather they were bestowed upon them to inspire, so that the song-dream of their Lord Jesus Christ would be unleashed on a world so very in need of its melody. And, of course, it is a melody for the ears of all people to hear, a symphony composed before the beginning of time so that all might be entranced.
Pentecost, therefore, is a time in which we should reflect on just how diligently we listen to the divine music in a world filled with the clanging of hatred and division. Pentecost is a time when we ask ourselves how well we allow this gift to inspire us, how carefully we cooperate with the challenges of its notes and rests. Pentecost is a time when we ask ourselves just what we are doing, in our chaplaincy, to continue that which so inspired the Church of Jesus Christ to be founded in the first place. Pentecost is a time when we look at how welcoming we are, how compassionate we are, how God-centred we are, how humble we are, how loving we are, and how we allow the Spirit’s movement to embolden us for our mission: to make sure that others know the wonders of life in Jesus Christ. We are not a club. We are not simply a group of people who share the same language. We are not the sum of all of the social activities we provide. We are the Church, formed at Pentecost to spread the message of salvation to everyone we encounter, both through our actions and our words. And we do this together, as not only are all welcome, but so, too, are all equal.
At the end of Chapter Seven, the Rat seeks to recount some of the words he heard from the divine song to the the Mole, who had difficulty hearing them himself. (This, is a nutshell is a beautiful theology of preaching, but I shall leave that for another day!) The Rat is unsure of what they all mean, is aware that the music can seem confusing, but, in the end, that does not matter, as he also knows that the music was given to him so that it could be passed on in love. May we, inspired by the Spirit, do the same.