In the perfect evenings of May, when the world seems to have become what it was meant to be, and memories of the Garden of Eden whisper themselves through the cool air, the copses and glades fill once more with birdsong. The human folk have gone back to their houses and get ready for their nightly sleep and sojourn in dreamland; badgers and foxes, friends of the twilight, start to roam about; and…the little folk begin to peep out from behind their hiding places.
All day long and through the night they work. And they take great joy in their work. The gnomes, those little heroes of the Winter, work relentlessly underground, enriching the soil with their strong thoughts and brawn. The undines, spirits of the water, flow through the earth, uniting all things, bringing life to every corner. The sylphs delight in the air, playing with butterflies and dragonflies; and the fire-spirits rise in their generous warmth as the days grow longer.
They work and work; for this is what they have been tasked with: to keep the Earth beautiful and rhythmic and dependable. They have been asked to be ready to work with the human folk too, if men and women wish to, and bring with them the right attitude to the earth, that great garden that we share with the nature spirits.
This is their work, and they work happily. But if you were to ask them, why they work, well…most of them cannot quite remember. They would stop and search within themselves for an answer, and they can feel that there is an answer - but what it is they no longer know. Only the oldest and wisest amongst them know - and they have become so changed from the other nature spirits, that the younger ones hardly know their language anymore.
However, it is the evenings when the fairy people take their rest. They work in the day, and in the night - but at twilight, they stop for what seems like a long time to them and watch the great Father Sun go down, and the sky bidding him farewell with all her most glorious colours - and then they share with each other all the things that they have done and seen that day.
And what wonderful tales they tell each other! How they delight in hearing all the tiniest details of the comings and goings of every single patch of ground in their neighbourhood. Sometimes, the big folk, the people, can be quite annoying to them, walking all over the place as if they owned it, without a single thought for all the little people's hard work to maintain it. But they forget their annoyance when they start to tell each other about that treasure which is a strange part of the human kingdom: the children.
When they have thought that they have heard the most wonderful things about a blade of grass that grew a little that day and stretched itself so exquisitely; or of a buttercup that held its head up in the most charming manner - they then start to speak of children: and all the company become quiet as one after the other tells a little story of an encounter they had that day with a human child. Their eyes light up. They don't know why but these are the stories they love the best, and they feel their little hearts flutter with joy when they hear them. Why is this?
Once a clever pixie asked one of the older wiser gnomes why this was: She said that it was because this was how the human folk were supposed to be. They were supposed to be like children, full of fun and creativity and play and newness, and always wanting to include everyone. The old gnome admitted she didn't know why they didn't stay like that when they got bigger, but that couldn't be helped, and one must take them as they were. Great Father Sun and Mother Earth must know why and it must all be part of their great wisdom. But only a few seemed to grow up into proper folk of the Earth. As for the rest, one just had to keep playing tricks on them until they woke up to us and who they really were. But alas! So few did.
Never mind. But, she added, when they grew up to be Earth folk, then something wonderful would happen. All ears amongst the fairies were straining to hear what this wonderful was: They became like glorious beacons of light. Where so often they seemed to walk in darkness and spread a grey mist around them, some of them began to shine with a great light. But what this light was and where it came from, she could not say.
But this was why they loved children. Because they were always full of heavenly light, and it reminded the fairy folk of where their own legends told them that they came from.
Now on that evening, a fine evening in May, the fairy folk had one by one told all their stories of the day, and all the new blossom children of May were dressed still so beautifully in their pretty colours, and everyone took delight in these May children of the Fairies - when a quiet set in. All the little folk looked at each other and realised that something was not quite right. Normally, they would get up without a further word and happily return to their work. But tonight they felt a strange uneasiness.
'What is this that we feel?' the younger ones asked. The older elves and fire-spirits spoke up first. 'This is a sadness that always comes to us now, even when the glory of our blossom children has lit up the world. Always now, we feel a sadness in our hearts, and always we forget why this is. Once, the old wise gnomes told us that the human folk were meant to tell us why. That is their task. But we never hear it from them. Their children make us happy when they run out to play amongst our leaves and grass and trees - but oh! if only their big people would tell us what they should know! Then we would be glad.'
When the fairy people thought of the big people that they had seen that day, they could not imagine that these giants held within them any kind of secret that might make the Earth rejoice. When they listened to the human thoughts, they found little there which helped them. Most of their thoughts seemed to be about themselves, and that made the fairies wonder how these big people were even able to walk about or do anything at all.
A great sadness fell upon them all - and Mother Earth felt it. So she sent one of her oldest beings to them. He appeared suddenly amongst them, wise and beautiful in his rough old appearance. He was an exalted old oak tree spirit, his face all gnarled and his brow knotted with great thoughts. And even though he was as tiny as they, he appeared somehow just like a great oak tree. The older elves knew that he was a special spirit and they turned in silent reverence towards him. All the others followed their example, sensing that here was a special being who had come to bring them a special message.
The oak spirit opened his eyes and looked at them sternly but kindly. He didn't speak at first but held them all in his gaze, reassuring them with his presence which seemed to emanate great thoughts and insights. His arms remained motionless, but they nonetheless seemed to stretch over the whole company like great oak branches, as if he held and protected them. He was searching to remember the language that these younger ones spoke, which he had all but lost. His thoughts had become greater and had spread out from the earth to the skies. Finally, he seemed to remember it; and eventually, he spoke to the quiet gathering. 'So children,' he said. 'Mother Earth has felt your disquiet and sadness. She sends me to comfort you. Your hearts are heavy.' His words were measured and slow. Each word seemed like it had been fashioned in a smithy over thousands and thousands of years. It was like honey and nectar to the fairy folk, and it lifted each of them momentarily to their forgotten home amongst the great angel beings.
'You seek to know why; and you wait to hear from the human folk what this is. You are right. You must hear it from them. Only they can tell you. But it is true - very few of them seem able to know. But when one of them learns it, and they tell you, you will remember it always. ' He paused to let them move his words in their little hearts.
'But Mother Earth will let me tell you now. But be aware! You will forget it again soon. My words do not have the same power as a human word may have. Their word can be strong and everlasting. My words are like the morning dew on the grass of your souls. Soon, they will rise again and be only a memory that is no longer clear. But I will tell you what you seek to know.'
The forest became silent. The birds had stopped singing. They too bent their listening to the old oak spirit.
'You are sad because your beauty is coming to an end. But it has to so that something greater can come to you. What is this great thing that wishes to come? It is love. You are all children born out of great wisdom. The stars wept with joy when Mother Earth was born. They delighted to see you all teem over the earth, playing and working, working and playing. But even wisdom wishes to become something greater.' The fairy folk were spellbound by his words.
'All the beauty that you maintain, all of your work that you so thanklessly do, you do as servants for the great Lord of Love.' Love - the word was like honey for the little folk. What was this wonderful new wisdom?
'I come from the oak tree race. We are servants of great Jupiter, the wise star. Jupiter is honoured among the big people as the lord of their day, Thursday. Great wise Jupiter sits on his throne next to Friday, the day of Venus and of love. And his wisdom wishes to serve Love's beauty.
Every year on the day which is coming after this night, Mother Earth celebrates with great joy - because Jupiter opens his door to let the Lord of Love come to her, and a great marriage takes place.' The little people saw the picture before their souls and their hearts warmed. The oak gnome continued, 'The human folk call this Ascension.' Again, all of nature listened. It seemed like a wonderful eternity as he uttered the word. It brought forth in their souls an ecstasy of feeling. They felt understood, seen, completed as he spoke the word. 'Few of them know it,' he said in a steady voice. Already, they felt the ecstasy fading. 'So we must help them more often. The tricks that you play to wake them up, when you hide their socks and 'lose' things for them, might amuse you in your idleness.' Suddenly, they all felt quite ashamed of themselves. 'But it will not be enough. Soon perhaps the great wise ones of the stars will decide on more urgent action.' The little folk wondered what he could mean. He was quiet and contemplative for a long time. Then he said, 'But that is not ours to decide. Now: Go back to your work and take heart. Remember in your hearts what I have said even if you cannot fully grasp it. And: help the big folk to remember their task. They are to tell you these beautiful things by the way that they behold you.' He thought for a moment, then continued. 'Nudge them to spend more time with their children. That will do them good. It will help them to lose that illness of self-importance that they suffer from, called "haste".'
With that, old oak spirit disappeared. They sat in silence for a long time. The stars had come out and each one of them seemed to sing a glorious song to the souls of the little people. Quietly, one by one, they got up again, and with a feeling of steadfast joy, returned to their work, the work of the ages for which they had been born. But each one of them felt as if they were new-born as they silently mouthed the word 'Ascension' while they set to work. And even as they mouthed it, it faded from their memory; but nonetheless flowed into all that they did and all their ceaseless work.
By Luke Barr - Priest of The Christian Community in Forest Row