More than anyone else I know, Wordsworth wrote most tellingly and beautifully of the precious years of childhood. In his “Ode on the Intimations of Immortality… in Early Childhood “ he writes
“Our birth is but a sleep and a forgetting…
for trailing clouds of glory do we come
from God who is our home.”
Wordsworth was suggesting nothing less than the possibility that before we are given birth into the world that will become our home, we bring with us into this world a memory of a divine influence that, while it fades as we mature, never entirely leaves us. I think this is why among my great joys is sharing with you some of those moments that Wordsworth calls “intimations of immortality,” moments when that never forgotten early world breaks through in places and at moments we least expect them.
Come with me to such a place and such a moment. The place is an old well half hidden in a deep shaded gully about half a mile from my grandfather’s farm in Ireland. In the summer it was often my task to go to the well for water for the farm kitchen.
The track would wind down into the gully to the dark mouth of the well. Sometimes a sunbeam would pierce the still depths. I would sometimes think of the well as the entry point by which people from another world could come into mine. It would take many years before I would read the Celtic traditions around such wells, traditions that predated Christianity by millennia , speaking of the well as a sacred place where the waters of the goddess flowed from her womb and fertilized the earth.
There was another place, very different. The vaulted roof of my parish church was richly adorned with planets and stars painted in gold. One day we children were told “When you boys and girls sing loudly those planets and stars shine more brightly with the light of another world”. And so it was, because when I looked up they did indeed shine more brightly and I knew another world was near.
Yet another moment. I am in confirmation class, seated on the carpeted floor of the rector’s study, a fire flickering and dancing in the grate. The warm book lined room is a weekly oasis from the Spartan rooms of our boarding school close by. I treasured every weekly session.
The rector points us to a place in our open Prayer Books. He asks one of us to read. A voice responds.
With angels and archangels
and with all the company of heaven,
We laud and magnify thy glorious Name,
Evermore praising Thee and saying
Holy Holy Holy Lord, God of power and might,
Heaven and earth are full of Thy glory .
Glory be to Thee, O Lord Most High.
The voice falls silent and in the silence the rector says very quietly and solemnly “Do you know that when those words are said in Church something wonderful happens? The wall and the window behind the altar fade away and we look at a vast host of creatures and people. Some are angels but there are also all those who have worshipped God before we were born and who still worship in Heaven. And, for a moment, when we say or sing these words we all worship God together. Then the wall and the great window return and the wonderful moment is over. Always remember these words. This wonderful heavenly song is called Sanctus.”