It was like a church to me.
I entered it on soft foot,
Breath held like a cap in the hand.
It was quiet.
What God there was made himself felt,
Not listened to, in clean colours
That brought a moistening of the eye,
In a movement of the wind over grass.
There were no prayers said. But stillness
Of the heart’s passions — that was praise
Enough; and the mind’s cession
Of its kingdom. I walked on,
Simple and poor, while the air crumbled
And broke on me generously as bread.
R. S. Thomas: The Moor, from Pietà, 1966
R. S. Thomas was an Anglican minister so he knew exactly what ‘traditional church’ was like but in this poem he discovers a different church while walking on his local Welsh moorland.
One enters a church with reverence taking the hat off and you expect a certain quiet – that is if there is no service in progress – so this description is an apt translation as he sets foot on the moor. And by holding his breath giving greater attention to the surrounding as he first sets foot on the moor.
But in this ‘church’ there is no listening to God via the pulpit. Here God is known as a feeling. The clean colours implying perhaps that the moor is clean and sinless – so we may assume there is no litter to corrupt the eye. If it was a windy cold day then that may have provoked a watering of the eye. On the other hand the feeling of the presence of God due to the beauty of the moor may have been so overwhelming that this caused such moisturising.
In church communication with God is by prayer – but on the moor there is direct communication between God and man via the environment. The stillness of the heart’s passions is communication if considered as a religious response from walking on the moor in the form of a settling peace within the poet. This could then be regarded as an automatic prayer of both praise and thanks – especially by R. S. Thomas being tuned to religious thought.
The mind’s cession of its kingdom gives an emphasis to the exhilaration in this moment such that the mind is expanded in wonderment in trying to give comprehension. But then the move as he walks on – the breaking away from this intense communion – clearly likened to a church communion where there is the breaking of bread.
I think in today’s twenty four by seven world we all need to find time to escape into a place of solitude – to find our own moor and perhaps in the still and beauty of a such a sacred place experience the presence of God and a settling within. If my bible memory is correct JC had to do likewise when he was overwhelmed by the masses that pressed in on him.
Here are some wonderful images of the Welsh Moor on Tom Clark’s Blog.