Been There, Am There, Wore the T-shirt.
“I am packing my belongings in the shawl my mother used to wear when she went to the market. And I’m going from my valley. And this time, I shall never return.” (Huw Morgan ‘How Green Was My Valley’ Film.)
I live in a Valley. When I say that it has dualistic meaning because I live in the physical geography of the Rhondda Valleys and I seem to have found a spiritual travelling and dwelling place in the Valleys of life. Living in the Rhondda is a unique experience for an Englishman abroad, a man of the Suffolk fen-lands that go on for miles with only a mole hill to spoil the view. Space and distance between neighbours, air to breath. In comparison many find the Valleys claustrophobic, too cramped, too much squeezed into such small space. These Valleys have not always been like this but with the revolution brought into the Nation through the coal mining industry these Valleys became community upon community, terrace upon terrace. When the pits were shut the Valleys were left to fend for themselves. There was little in the form of enterprise and slowly these dark slag hilled places became dark in despair and lack of future hope. Like the character in the novel and film ‘How Green Was My Valley’ the seeming only prospect was to leave the Valleys to look for work, career, hope. This attitude can still be prevalent amongst young people here today. Get away from here at the nearest opportunity. We as a family chose to move into these Valleys nearly 20 years ago. When we had the chance to move we opted to stay. When I resigned being a Pastor we had offers to help lead a church elsewhere, we chose to stay. We remain, rooted, joined, deeply connected to a people and community. We may not be natural born Valley people but we are in as much as we can be. We love these Valleys. We embrace them and its amazing glorious and yet broken people.
Not Just For Passing Through.
Valley experiences are not seen as positive experiences. Christendom lives and breathes for the mountain-top times. Sermons, books, media is all about the good times, the growth, the answers to prayer, the encounters, the heavens, and always talks about tough times, the valleys, as things you will pass through. You will find the way out, you will find the table set before you, faith will unlock the stores of heaven and give you a more positive way of life. But what happens when you get stuck in the valley? What happens when the sickness remains, the divorce goes through, the relationships break down? What happens when the job dries up and the debt increases? Are we really just showing signs of a lack in our spirituality? Being a Valley dweller I have come to appreciate that valleys are not just for passing through they are for living. A valley is formed by living, flowing water. Many of the first societies were formed in valleys because it is here you will find water, food and sustenance. “Community is rarely, if ever, built and sustained on the mountain top. It is the valleys where community is established and flourishes.” “Although you can sometimes be refreshed by the rain up the mountain top, you will only ever find the river in the valley.” Valleys are full of life. Mountain-tops are only for moments of personal experience. Valleys are for community. The experience either wears us down because we are always looking for the next peak, or we learn to have a new perspective of where we find ourselves. Richard Llewellyn wrote in the novel “How green was my Valley that day, too, green and bright in the sun.” Is that how we see our own personal valleys? Like the Psalmist do we make them a place of pools?
The Verdure of the Valleys.
Song of Solomon 6:11 “I went down to the garden of nuts
To see the verdure of the valley,
To see whether the vine had budded
And the pomegranates had bloomed.”
The Shulamite goes down to the valley and finds it a fruitful place. She sees the valley as verdure. What on earth is that? Never heard of that word in my life. When I looked it up I loved it. Verdure- the greenness of growing vegetation, a condition of health and vigour. A beautiful garden, a park land, a dense forest. Places so brightly alive that it makes people feel good. The valley we are trying to escape from to find the next mountain-top may actually be the place teeming with life all along. Abbey Gardens in Bury St Edmunds, Dare Park in Aberdare, Thetford Forest in East Anglia. Beautiful, green, alive, verdure. My valley is verdure if I just open my eyes and look. Every valley will be exalted. The place where bones can live. Where hearts set on pilgrimage find amazing pools to swim in and drink deeply from. When troubled and struggling in the valleys of life we miss our surroundings by looking for the sky. Because we always think of the way out we lose all sense of perspective of where we are and frustration makes us see the pain and misery only. Our pain may be the door-way to community going to the next level. See how a community functions under tragedy. It pulls together. Connection is made. The mountain-tops create individualism. The sorrow or pain may just be the door-way to joining. To see how green the valley really is. I have stopped chasing hill tops and upper rooms and Mounts of Transfiguration. I am a valley dweller. I have learned that less is more and community is far greater than personal experience. I embrace my challenges as places of fruit bearing and connection. I walk into the valley and see that it truly is verdure.