It was all going to be so Spiritually Moving. That was before a damp, five hour walk through the English countryside. Instead of arriving at her destination, an abandoned Victorian church, full of poetry and prayers, Paula arrived moist and cursing. The church was not the majestic Gothic ruin the travel section of the New York Times reported it to be. Barely a tracing of walls and roof, it was a sublime disappointment. Clover covered the ground where pews and floors used to be and thickets of blackberries tumbled over a cracked, multi-angled display of rock and rubble, all that remained of the altar.
And there, waddling through the jagged stones was a rabbit. Lop-eared, furry, and brown, it reached out its silky neck to bite off one the berries, voluptuously swollen by many days of rain.
Paula saw it and snorted. A rabbit grazing in the foundations of a church seemed to be further proof of the Englishman’s godlessness. Like this pathetic non-structure, the church she attended in London was void of life, including peckish rabbits. When she showed up for Mass on Sundays, the rector, abandoning his stereotypical English reserve, would sprint down the main aisle to meet her: He is starting a young person’s reading group. Would she be interested? Would she be willing to bring some of her American university mates?
A rabbit grazing in the foundations of a church seemed to be further proof of the Englishman’s godlessness.
If Paula wanted to see the hearts of the English moved by something greater than themselves, she nipped down to her neighborhood’s pub after Sunday service. There, she found men and women clustered around flat-screen tellies, watching the local football match. She often heard the tune “A Mighty Fortress is Our God,” robustly accompanying a good-natured exploration of Player A’s sexual prowess or Team X’s lack thereof.
Paula sighed. She missed being in a crowded church where people sang hymns instead of football songs. She missed a God that she could recognize.
Thunder rumbled. Exasperated, she looked up into the graying sky. If she tarried much longer, the five-hour walk back to her Bed & Breakfast would be in a downpour. She departed, her heavy steps carelessly treading on twigs and sod. There were no churches here.
The rabbit, usually frightened by loud noises, did not notice Paula’s departure. Back tensed and rigidly arched, it crouched on the altar’s remains, laboriously expelling tiny droplets of excrement.
In one of those droplets was a cluster of blackberry seeds.
As the rain began to fall, the seeds sunk deep into the soil, blessing the loam with the promise of new life.