Come away, O human child!

Come away, O human child!
To the waters and the wild
With a faery hand in hand,
For the world’s more full of weeping than you can understand.

from Yeats, ‘The Stolen Child

I first heard these lines quoted by a teacher at school… not in context, as until today I had never read the whole poem, but in response to something I had said or done.

When I was a child, my mother used to call me a Cuckoo child -because, I suppose, I made little sense to her and was apparently a force to be reckoned with… very wilful. I myself recall feeling quite disconnected from the daily life of my family, and indeed of the world -a feeling that may have been particular to my mind or might be common to all children, certainly it would explain the resilience with which so many children live through and recover from difficult circumstances -a sort of inbuilt unworldliness or otherworldliness. And it is a quality that is often expressed in poetry such as Yeats’, or perhaps one that poets recall or retain and write about.

There is something in common and something very different too, in the religious life. The Bible calls Christians to be ‘in the world but not of it’, which might sound a little like escapism or cold detachment, and there are those Christians who, whilst acknowledging and cultivating (sometimes to phenomenal levels) their longing for God , eschew human interaction as much as possible. A personal relationship with God is certainly appealing, but the idea of sharing God with other people may not appeal, you only have to drop into an unfamiliar church service and sit in ‘someone-else’s-seat’ to recognise the truth in that.

But that is absolutely not what Christ had in mind when he taught his disciples ‘to love one another as I have loved you’.

But love hurts. And the temptation to just ‘be quite kind and nice’ to people, or even just ‘be fairly civil’ instead, usually suits most of us -and when even this small effort is often spurned or fails to achieve the reception we would choose -then many people withdraw… ‘ouch -that hurt- well I won’t be doing that again!’

But Christians are called to keep loving -not just ‘being quite pleasant’… though that is a start… but to love, in a way that means -I will let these people into my heart, even though I know that it is going to cost and I will gain nothing by it… this is different from the popular ‘eros’ kind of love, which hopes for a very tangible response, and it is not the ‘do-gooding’ attitude of  someone who hopes God is watching carefully. It is the thoughtless, giving sort of love, ‘agape’, that a small child first has for a parent or guardian…regardless of what they may or may not receive in return.

The cost is high -the sorrow, in my experience, usually outweighs the joy; and the temptation to run away from the pain of loving and living in a fully human way can be such that, like the changeling of Yeats’ poem, we can choose to take the ‘fairy’s hand’ and be lost. But as everyone knows -the lot of those who run off with the fairies is, ultimately, not a happy one -because unlike human beings, they have no soul –

-and so many brave people discover that the human heart has an infinite capacity to love and to be broken, and that the human soul is not destroyed by the process -in fact the contrary is true.

About Jemma

Learning to be both a priest and a human being in the Anglican Church
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