Michael Fairless.

The Roadmender online

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no comparison, no rivalry between them; they are the complement of
each other, and a little child shall lead them. It is easy to
understand that desire to shelter under the dear mantle of
motherhood which has led to one of the abuses of modern Romanism.
I met an old peasant couple at Bornhofen who had tramped many weary
miles to the famous shrine of Our Lady to plead for their only son.
They had a few pence saved for a candle, and afterwards when they
told me their tale the old woman heaved a sigh of relief, "Es wird
bald gut gehen: Die da, Sie versteht," and I saw her later paying
a farewell visit to the great understanding Mother whom she could
trust. Superstitious misapprehension if you will, but also the
recognition of a divine principle.

It was Behmen, I believe, who cried with the breath of inspiration,
"Only when I know God shall I know myself"; and so man remains the
last of all the riddles, to be solved it may be only in Heaven's
perfection and the light of the Beatific Vision. "Know thyself" is
a vain legend, the more so when emphasised by a skull; and so I
company with a friend and a stranger, and looking across at the
white gate I wonder concerning the quiet pastures and still waters
that lie beyond, even as Brother Ambrose wondered long years ago in
the monastery by the forest.

The Brother Ambrose was ever a saintly man approved of God and
beloved by the Brethren. To him one night, as he lay abed in the
dormitory, came the word of the Lord, saying, "Come, and I will
show thee the Bride, the Lamb's wife." And Brother Ambrose arose
and was carried to a great and high mountain, even as in the Vision
of Blessed John. 'Twas a still night of many stars, and Brother
Ambrose, looking up, saw a radiant path in the heavens; and lo! the
stars gathered themselves together on either side until they stood
as walls of light, and the four winds lapped him about as in a
mantle and bore him towards the wondrous gleaming roadway. Then
between the stars came the Holy City with roof and pinnacle aflame,
and walls aglow with such colours as no earthly limner dreams of,
and much gold. Brother Ambrose beheld the Gates of Pearl, and by
every gate an angel with wings of snow and fire, and a face no man
dare look on because of its exceeding radiance.

Then as Brother Ambrose stretched out his arms because of his great
longing, a little grey cloud came out of the north and hung between
the walls of light, so that he no longer beheld the Vision, but
only heard a sound as of a great multitude crying 'Alleluia'; and
suddenly the winds came about him again, and lo! he found himself
in his bed in the dormitory, and it was midnight, for the bell was
ringing to Matins; and he rose and went down with the rest. But
when the Brethren left the choir Brother Ambrose stayed fast in his
place, hearing and seeing nothing because of the Vision of God; and
at Lauds they found him and told the Prior.

He questioned Brother Ambrose of the matter, and when he heard the
Vision bade him limn the Holy City even as he had seen it; and the
Precentor gave him uterine vellum and much fine gold and what
colours he asked for the work. Then Brother Ambrose limned a
wondrous fair city of gold with turrets and spires; and he inlaid
blue for the sapphire, and green for the emerald, and vermilion
where the city seemed aflame with the glory of God; but the angels
he could not limn, nor could he set the rest of the colours as he
saw them, nor the wall of stars on either hand; and Brother Ambrose
fell sick because of the exceeding great longing he had to limn the
Holy City, and was very sad; but the Prior bade him thank God, and
remember the infirmity of the flesh, which, like the little grey
cloud, veiled Jerusalem to his sight.

As I write the monastery bell hard by rings out across the lark's
song. They still have time for visions behind those guarding
walls, but for most of us it is not so. We let slip the ideal for
what we call the real, and the golden dreams vanish while we clutch
at phantoms: we speed along life's pathway, counting to the full
the sixty minutes of every hour, yet the race is not to the swift
nor the battle to the strong. Lying here in this quiet backwater
it is hard to believe that the world without is turbulent with
storm and stress and the ebb and flow of uncertain tides. The
little yellow cat rolling on its back among the daisies, the staid
tortoise making a stately meal off the buttercups near me, these
are great events in this haven of peace. And yet, looking back to
the working days, I know how much goodness and loving kindness
there is under the froth and foam. If we do not know ourselves we
most certainly do not know our brethren: that revelation awaits
us, it may be, first in Heaven. To have faith is to create; to
have hope is to call down blessing; to have love is to work
miracles. Above all let us see visions, visions of colour and
light, of green fields and broad rivers, of palaces laid with fair
colours, and gardens where a place is found for rosemary and rue.

It is our prerogative to be dreamers, but there will always be men
ready to offer us death for our dreams. And if it must be so let
us choose death; it is gain, not loss, and the gloomy portal when
we reach it is but a white gate, the white gate maybe we have known
all our lives barred by the tendrils of the woodbine.


Rain, rain, rain: the little flagged path outside my window is a
streaming way, where the coming raindrops meet again the grey
clouds whose storehouse they have but just now left. The grass
grows greener as I watch it, the burnt patches fade, a thousand
thirsty beads are uplifted for the cooling draught.

The great thrush that robs the raspberry canes is busy; yesterday
he had little but dust for his guerdon, but now fresh, juicy fruit
repays him as he swings to and fro on the pliant branches. The
blackbirds and starlings find the worms an easy prey - poor brother
worm ever ready for sacrifice. I can hear the soft expectant
chatter of the family of martins under the roof; there will be good
hunting, and they know it, for the flies are out when the rain is
over, and there are clamorous mouths awaiting. My little brown
brothers, the sparrows, remain my chief delight. Of all the birds
these nestle closest to my heart, be they grimy little cockneys or
their trim and dainty country cousins. They come day by day for
their meed of crumbs spread for them outside my window, and at this
season they eat leisurely and with good appetite, for there are no
hungry babies pestering to be fed. Very early in the morning I
hear the whirr and rustle of eager wings, and the tap, tap, of
little beaks upon the stone. The sound carries me back, for it was
the first to greet me when I rose to draw water and gather kindling
in my roadmender days; and if I slip back another decade they
survey me, reproving my laziness, from the foot of the narrow bed
in my little attic overseas.

Looking along the roadway that we have travelled we see the
landmarks, great and small, which have determined the direction of
our feet. For some those of childhood stand out above all the
rest; but I remember few notable ones, and those few the emphatic
chord of the universe, rather than any commerce with my fellows.
There was the night of my great disappointment, when I was borne
from my comfortable bed to see the wonders of the moon's eclipse.
Disappointment was so great that it sealed my lips; but, once back
on my pillow, I sobbed for grief that I had seen a wonder so far
below my expectation. Then there was a night at Whitby, when the
wind made speech impossible, and the seas rushed up and over the
great lighthouse like the hungry spirits of the deep. I like
better to remember the scent of the first cowslip field under the
warm side of the hedge, when I sang to myself for pure joy of their
colour and fragrance. Again, there were the bluebells in the
deserted quarry like the backwash of a southern sea, and below them
the miniature forest of sheltering bracken with its quaint
conceits; and, crowned above all, the day I stood on Watcombe Down,
and looked across a stretch of golden gorse and new-turned blood-
red field, the green of the headland, and beyond, the sapphire sea.

Time sped, and there came a day when I first set foot on German
soil and felt the throb of its paternity, the beat of our common
Life. England is my mother, and most dearly do I love her swelling
breasts and wind-swept, salt-strewn hair. Scotland gave me my
name, with its haunting derivation handed down by brave men; but
Germany has always been to me the Fatherland par excellence. True,
my love is limited to the southern provinces, with their medieval
memories; for the progressive guttural north I have little
sympathy, but the Rhine claimed me from the first, calling,
calling, with that wonderful voice which speaks of death and life,
of chivalry and greed of gold. If you would have the river's
company you should wander, a happy solitary, along its banks,
watching its gleaming current in the early morning, its golden
glory as it answers the farewell of parting day. Then, in the
silence of the night, you can hear the wash and eddy calling one to
another, count the heart-beats of the great bearer of burdens, and
watch in the moonlight the sisters of the mist as they lament with
wringing hands the days that are gone.

The forests, too, are ready with story hid in the fastness of their
solitude, and it is a joy to think that those great pines, pointing
ever upwards, go for the most part to carry the sails of great
ships seeking afar under open sky. The forest holds other wonders
still. It seems but last night that I wandered down the road which
led to the little unheeded village where I had made my temporary
home. The warm-scented breath of the pines and the stillness of
the night wrapped me in great content; the summer lightning leapt
in a lambent arch across the east, and the stars, seen dimly
through the sombre tree crests, were outrivalled by the glow-worms
which shone in countless points of light from bank and hedge; even
two charcoal-burners, who passed with friendly greeting, had
wreathed their hats with the living flame. The tiny shifting lamps
were everywhere; pale yellow, purely white, or green as the
underside of a northern wave. By day but an ugly, repellent worm;
but darkness comes, and lo, a star alight. Nature is full for us
of seeming inconsistencies and glad surprises. The world's asleep,
say you; on your ear falls the nightingale's song and the stir of
living creatures in bush and brake. The mantle of night falls, and
all unattended the wind leaps up and scatters the clouds which veil
the constant stars; or in the hour of the great dark, dawn parts
the curtain with the long foregleam of the coming day. It is hard
to turn one's back on night with her kiss of peace for tired eye-
lids, the kiss which is not sleep but its neglected forerunner. I
made my way at last down to the vine-girt bridge asleep under the
stars and up the winding stairs of the old grey tower; and a
stone's-throw away the Rhine slipped quietly past in the midsummer
moonlight. Switzerland came in its turn, unearthly in its white
loveliness and glory of lake and sky. But perhaps the landmark
which stands out most clearly is the solitary blue gentian which I
found in the short slippery grass of the Rigi, gazing up at the sky
whose blue could not hope to excel it. It was my first; and what
need of another, for finding one I had gazed into the mystery of
all. This side the Pass, snow and the blue of heaven; later I
entered Italy through fields of many-hued lilies, her past glories
blazoned in the flowers of the field.

Now it is a strangely uneventful road that leads to my White Gate.
Each day questions me as it passes; each day makes answer for me
"not yet." There is no material preparation to be made for this
journey of mine into a far country - a simple fact which adds to the
'unknowableness' of the other side. Do I travel alone, or am I one
of a great company, swift yet unhurried in their passage? The
voices of Penelope's suitors shrilled on the ears of Ulysses, as
they journeyed to the nether-world, like nocturnal birds and bats
in the inarticulateness of their speech. They had abused the gift,
and fled self-condemned. Maybe silence commends itself as most
suitable for the wayfarers towards the sunrise - silence because
they seek the Word - but for those hastening towards the confusion
they have wrought there falls already the sharp oncoming of the

While we are still here the language of worship seems far, and yet
lies very nigh; for what better note can our frail tongues lisp
than the voice of wind and sea, river and stream, those grateful
servants giving all and asking nothing, the soft whisper of snow
and rain eager to replenish, or the thunder proclaiming a majesty
too great for utterance? Here, too, stands the angel with the
censer gathering up the fragrance of teeming earth and forest-tree,
of flower and fruit, and sweetly pungent herb distilled by sun and
rain for joyful use. Here, too, come acolytes lighting the dark
with tapers - sun, moon, and stars - gifts of the Lord that His
sanctuary may stand ever served.

It lies here ready to our hand, this life of adoration which we
needs must live hand in hand with earth, for has she not borne the
curse with us? But beyond the white gate and the trail of woodbine
falls the silence greater than speech, darkness greater than light,
a pause of "a little while"; and then the touch of that healing
garment as we pass to the King in His beauty, in a land from which
there is no return.

At the gateway then I cry you farewell.

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Online LibraryMichael FairlessThe Roadmender → online text (page 6 of 6)