“I sometimes wonder if all pleasures are not substitutes for joy.” CS Lewis
On our second evening in Norbury at The Crown B & B, we heard about a Eucharist service that evening at the St Michael’s and All Angels’ church. Just a short walk from the pub, we grew eager to attend the liturgy and prayers and explore this particular parish as well. Yesterday while at the Norbury Church (which is located more on the outskirts of the village), we had scoured the graveyard for Wilks’ headstones and found only a Jane Wilkes, which we believed to be the daughter of William and Mary, great grandparents times seven of Wayne. Therefore, we were excited to check the graveyard at Saint Michael’s’ before the Eucharist service for more Wilks buried there.
Evening darkness began to settle which limited our search. The atmosphere grew wet and chilly, but we found the sanctuary warmer and inviting. Inside, we joined 4 octogenarian widows and one female vicar for the most beautiful message on suffering and the liturgy of the gathering. We also sang 3 hymns—every verse of every song which I truly loved. Two of these sounded familiar from childhood. Truly there is found a depth of white-hot devotion in these tried-and-true old songs of Christianity. They always inspire me to ardent devotion and service.
As a lover of liturgy, occasionally I have felt lonely and alone in charismatic settings—yearning for high praise and liturgical adoration. My husband and I are worshippers and absolutely love the corporate expressions found within the walls of the charismatic church. Jesus is there! It is definitely one way to hear the voice of the Lord, touch the divine, and be changed and prepared for the week ahead. However I also long for the structured and more silent avenues of adoration that comes through liturgical reading and response.
As I grow older, perhaps, I could turn to this way of worship entirely. That is why I savored every line, pre-written and pre-thought by Christian forebearers tested in the fires of affliction to find God faithful. I can glean much from their prescribed words of devotion in how to glorify the person, body, and blood of Jesus. On that chilly night in Norbury. we were small in number but fervent in heart as we spoke and sang words of life that have been relevant to thousands of Christians for centuries. My soul stood erect within in honor of Jesus who bought my life and those that have gone before unswervingly.
After the service, the church administrator helped Wayne look for Wilks’ family records and found none. The books they had were not old enough. Our conversation, though, with the four widows was quite enlightening as one of them remembered a Wilks’ family living in Polly Moor, a nearby hamlet in the Shropshire area. Wayne had this information as well, and so it was good to have it verified.
The next morning we walked back to the church and then carefully walked up and down the gravestones’ grassy knolls to read each engraving. At last, Wayne found what he was looking for! William Wilkes. Mission accomplished. Following these little points of light along the way, became the norm for connecting the dots. We did feel the breath of God with each discovery.
Highly recommended by Norbury locals, we left the church to began a drive along a route called the Long Mynd which is Welsh for “mountain ridge.” Interestingly, it is pronounced “long mend.” That is exactly how we felt leisurely climbing up and coasting down the hills and winding the steep curves. Soaking in the English countryside landscapes, the moments, the adventure became therapeutic as a long, soothing massage with oil that brought deep calm and healing.
This journey to touch the root of family core in England has been a revelation and a kind of restoration or mending of the soul. We allowed the beauty and serendipitous discovery of the adventure wash over us to cleanse. The breezes on mountain slopes blew away the cluttered cobwebs to bring order. The sunshine burned deeply below the skin to the bones of our hearts to revive. The sheep made us giggle. The landscape caused us to yearn for heaven. We felt joy, deep down elation—the kind that only God can give.
Oh, and the adjective beautiful falls short of description. I must add ethereal, sublime, and divine. The undulating verdant pastures before us sang of seasonal order yet had an ancient haunting allure—unchanging and timeless, capturing the gazes of millions of farmers, patriots, and wanderers for thousands of years. Now the spell of autumn began to turn the summer green to varied and muted colors of ambers, purples, and golds that gleamed in the shorter days of vicissitude. Grazing sheep with both white legs and faces as well as wild ponies dotted the land. Wild ponies. I could scarcely believe my eyes. I felt like we fell out of CS Lewis’s wardrobe into an enchanted land.
Locals call the small horses “wild ponies,” and they look similar to the Shetland ponies that I am familiar with in the states. They are magnificent galloping across the hills. And the hills! They are as mesmerizing as the Scottish highlands. Wayne’s family was blessed to be situated in such a beautiful place. Now we both feel kinship to Shropshire and all it’s delights. How elevating to experience them in every season.
In every locale and discovery, we sensed the nearness and joy of God. Today has also brought home the deep work of the abiding presence of God as father and dearest companion—as mender of the soul. He that goes before us and follows us is here to heal and to mend. The journey is the long mend—up and over the bruises of satan and the hard punches of living. Oil is the joy of our journey to heal and revive the heart. The Lord’s word to us was and is, “I’m here for the long mend.”