On Easter morning, 2018:
The ancient church at the heart of our village hosts an annual Easter Sunrise Service -- held this year on the top of Nattadon, the tall hill just behind our house. I happened to wake very early on Easter morning, so while the rest of the family slept I dressed in my warmest jumper and skirt, laced on my studiest walking boots, whistled for Tilly, and headed out in the cold and dark.
We climbed through the oaks of Nattadon Woods and onto the open slope of the hill, the rain-rutted pathway grown visible now in the indigo light of dawn. Tilly raced ahead while I straggled behind, stopping often to catch my breath. During better times, the hound and I climb Nattadon almost every day, bounding up and down like mountain goats -- but health problems over the last several weeks have kept me on lower, easier trails. I was sorry to see how much strength I had lost as I wound my way slowly upward.
At last we reached the top of the hill. A number of people were gathered there, sharing tea and coffee and hot-cross buns, while a small fire blazed and the sun slowly rose behind clouds laying thick on the moor. *
It touched me to receive a warm welcome, despite not being Christian myself. I thought about all the centuries in which a pagan woman like me would have much to fear from the Christian church -- and so, as the Easter Service began and I silently added my own form of prayer, I felt a bone deep gratitude for this moment of inter-faith fellowship. A long time coming (historically speaking), hard won and precious. May it always be so.
The hymn chosen for the service was one I love: "Morning Is Broken" by Eleanor Farjeon. Yes, the same Eleanor Farjeon who wrote The Glass Slipper and other classics of children's fiction.
I first knew the song through Cat Stevens' version when I was an adolescent in the 1970s, and it has personal significance. There were nights as a child when I could not sleep at home due to my stepfather's violence, so I'd sleep instead somewhere outdoors (if the weather was warm enough), or in the family car (if it was cold) -- sometimes alone, and sometimes with my young brothers curled up beside me. I've always been an early riser, and many a morning as the sky lightened I'd sing "Morning Has Broken" to cheer myself up. Back then, I could not have imagined I'd also sing it one day in the hills of south-west England, with my neighbors around me, my good dog beside me, my husband and daughter fast asleep in our warm little house below....
Yes, reader, I cried. I admit it.
Morning had broken. And we headed home.
* I didn't photograph the Sunrise Service, or the people attending, in respect of privacy and the sacred nature of the event. These pictures of the fire were taken afterwards, with the Vicar's permission.