HERE BEFORE OUR ARRIVAL

our Bramhall Oak this afternoon - here before our arrival

THE ARCHETYPAL ENGLISHMAN, wilting in the heat of this extraordinary afternoon, I watched the “Vicarage Oak” standing unperturbed in majesty just soaking it all up. And I was filled with admiration for the great tree’s stature, strength, roots, trunk and many branches, and meditated for a space on “our” oak’s having been here for a long, long time before our arrival. All of which brought Fr Bede Griffiths to mind again, and sent me back to the front-of-house cool of my study in search of Max Warren (1904-1977) – one-time General Secretary of the Church Missionary Society who wrote, out of his own oak-like stability, roots, trunk, branches and deep wisdom:

When we approach the man of another faith than our own it will be in a spirit of expectancy to find how God has been speaking to him and what new understandings of the grace and love of God we may ourselves discover in this encounter. Our first task in approaching another people, another culture, another religion, is to take off our shoes, for the place we are approaching is holy. Else we may find ourselves treading on men’s dreams. More serious still, we may forget that God was here before our arrival.

Amen! Though I want to note that I’m sure that Max Warren would use gender-free language today, for new understandings of the grace and love of God are discovered in encounters with oak trees, and – as Fr Bede would have it – with atheists, and with all women and men. And all this discovering, and all of life’s multifarious, marvellous and extraordinary encounters began long before the Vicarage Oak had taken the shape of an acorn, and aeons before I was a twinkle in my parents’ eye …