Spending an hour in the Oxfam Books and Music shop last Monday, as part of the Big Help Out, I came across ‘Bringing in the Sheaves’ by Richard Coles, as I was pricing books in the biography section. Yes, I couldn’t resist, and I bought it, together with several novels as I finished my hour of helping.
It is both more and less than a memoir; it consists of a collection of thoughts and musings, associating various life experiences with significant church festivals. In the chapter headed ‘Michaelmas’ his thoughts turn to the Book of Revelation, where the Archangel Michael and his angels are described as fighting against the dragon and his angels, casting them out of heaven. Revelation promises an apocalypse, preceded by signs and portents, and, Richard Coles writes, some fundamentalist Christians in the United States, taking these signs to heart, have such an urgent sense of the coming crisis that they carry cards in their wallets to notify those who might be distressed in the event of their disappearance that they have been taken up in the Rapture.
I had heard of this before, of course, but it set me thinking about that word – rapture. We talk about a musician or singer receiving rapturous applause after an exceptional performance; a great significant event in our personal lives may be described as a moment of rapture; deep in thought we can be rapt – caught up in the moment; a deep spiritual experience can also be a fleeting moment of rapture. And these occasions can also be described as ‘mountain top experiences’ a phrase taken from the disciples’ witnessing the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor.
Mountains have that effect upon me; I can no longer climb them, but I have happy memories of many years doing just that, accompanied by youth group members who are no longer young!
I hope the writer will forgive the following quotation from his book; it struck me so profoundly that I think it worth passing on:
Misguided people who meet on a hilltop in anticipation of the end of the world that never comes are figures of fun, but I sometimes they’re right, not wrong – it’s just that they’re right in the wrong way.
Judgement need not come screaming down from the clouds like a squadron of jet fighters. It could be the moment when we finally understand who we are and what we are for.
Yes, that mountain top experience, that moment of rapture is something we may know for a fraction of time – and never forget. It is a glimpse of eternity, all too brief, before we descend to the plain and continue with our everyday lives.