Lilith by George MacDonald
Chapter V. The Old Church
I followed him deep into the pine-forest. Neither of us said much while yet the sacred gloom of it closed us round. We came to larger and yet larger trees--older, and more individual, some of them grotesque with age. Then the forest grew thinner.
"You see that hawthorn?" said my guide at length, pointing with his beak.
I looked where the wood melted away on the edge of an open heath.
"I see a gnarled old man, with a great white head," I answered.
"Look again," he rejoined: "it is a hawthorn."
"It seems indeed an ancient hawthorn; but this is not the season for the hawthorn to blossom!" I objected.
"The season for the hawthorn to blossom," he replied, "is when the hawthorn blossoms. That tree is in the ruins of the church on your home-farm. You were going to give some directions to the bailiff about its churchyard, were you not, the morning of the thunder?"
"I was going to tell him I wanted it turned into a wilderness of rose-trees, and that the plough must never come within three yards of it."
"Listen!" said the raven, seeming to hold his breath.
I listened, and heard--was it the sighing of a far-off musical wind--or the ghost of a music that had once been glad? Or did I indeed hear anything?
"They go there still," said the raven.
"Who goes there? and where do they go?" I asked.
"Some of the people who used to pray there, go to the ruins still," he replied. "But they will not go much longer, I think."
"What makes them go now?"
"They need help from each other to get their thinking done, and their feelings hatched, so they talk and sing together; and then, they say, the big thought floats out of their hearts like a great ship out of the river at high water."
"Do they pray as well as sing?"
"No; they have found that each can best pray in his own silent heart.--Some people are always at their prayers.--Look! look! There goes one!"
He pointed right up into the air. A snow-white pigeon was mounting, with quick and yet quicker wing-flap, the unseen spiral of an ethereal stair. The sunshine flashed quivering from its wings.
"I see a pigeon!" I said.
"Of course you see a pigeon," rejoined the raven, "for there is the pigeon! I see a prayer on its way.--I wonder now what heart is that dove's mother! Some one may have come awake in my cemetery!"
"How can a pigeon be a prayer?" I said. "I understand, of course, how it should be a fit symbol or likeness for one; but a live pigeon to come out of a heart!"
"It must puzzle you! It cannot fail to do so!"
"A prayer is a thought, a thing spiritual!" I pursued.
"Very true! But if you understood any world besides your own, you would understand your own much better.--When a heart is really alive, then it is able to think live things. There is one heart all whose thoughts are strong, happy creatures, and whose very dreams are lives. When some pray, they lift heavy thoughts from the ground, only to drop them on it again; others send up their prayers in living shapes, this or that, the nearest likeness to each. All live things were thoughts to begin with, and are fit therefore to be used by those that think. When one says to the great Thinker:-- "Here is one of thy thoughts: I am thinking it now!" that is a prayer--a word to the big heart from one of its own little hearts.-- Look, there is another!"
This time the raven pointed his beak downward--to something at the foot of a block of granite. I looked, and saw a little flower. I had never seen one like it before, and cannot utter the feeling it woke in me by its gracious, trusting form, its colour, and its odour as of a new world that was yet the old. I can only say that it suggested an anemone, was of a pale rose-hue, and had a golden heart.
"That is a prayer-flower," said the raven.
"I never saw such a flower before!" I rejoined.
"There is no other such. Not one prayer-flower is ever quite like another," he returned.
"How do you know it a prayer-flower?" I asked.
"By the expression of it," he answered. "More than that I cannot tell you. If you know it, you know it; if you do not, you do not."
"Could you not teach me to know a prayer-flower when I see it?" I said.
"I could not. But if I could, what better would you be? you would not know it of yourself and itself! Why know the name of a thing when the thing itself you do not know? Whose work is it but your own to open your eyes? But indeed the business of the universe is to make such a fool of you that you will know yourself for one, and so begin to be wise!"
But I did see that the flower was different from any flower I had ever seen before; therefore I knew that I must be seeing a shadow of the prayer in it; and a great awe came over me to think of the heart listening to the flower.