My mother, a Cockney, who had a beautiful voice, brought me up believing that Wales was the Land of Song. When I married a Welshman I discovered that Wales is also the Land of Story. I learned this first from my father-in-law, a bard and a preacher and an utterly amazing man. He rarely preached in English, which was a great loss to me. I would watch his congregations—in those days he could pull in quite a crowd—sometimes close to tears and often chuckling or laughing out loud. However, he always included a few English words to give me something to ponder on. One night he said, “God is delightful.” He repeated it, drawing out the words. “ God is de-light-ful.” I sat there and thought, I shall never forget that. Not only have I never forgotten it but those words have been a subtle influence throughout my life.
As well as poetry and preaching he told stories and drew stories out of people. If someone came to him with a problem before long he would be telling a story, and then another, and suddenly there would be understanding—an Aha! moment—as the penny dropped.
He was only following in a long tradition. The Old Testament is one marvellous story after another and in the New Testament Jesus takes the art of story telling to a whole new level. Of course, as any stand up comedian will tell you, it’s the way you tell them.
We hear God in Genesis thundering out at Adam and Eve, “Who told thee thou wast naked?” At least, those words always seem to be “thundered” when read at Christmas services, but, who knows, perhaps it was said in tones of gentle enquiry. I love that description of God walking in the garden in the cool of the evening, which is something I’ve been enjoying for the last couple of weeks. Flowers and shrubs are more highly scented at the end of a hot day. Before Adam and Eve turned the world upside down I can imagine them walking with God, listening to Him telling them delightful stories of Creation.
Recently, my brother-in-law and his wife were over here from New Zealand. They spent a nostalgic time visiting different farms and catching up with news of various branches of the family; above all telling stories and sharing histories. Proving, I thought, that Wales is still a Land of Story.
It seems I am wrong. Thanks to some Male Voice Choirs and an encouraging number of junior choirs we are still just about a Land of Song, though not in the Anglican church apparently. The lack of choral music in Llandaff cathedral seems to have been giving rise to great concern for several years. It’s shameful that the Cathedral of the Archbishop of Wales can’t support one of the best church choirs in the British Isles.
Now, sadly, here, in the north, we seem to have lost the art of story telling. The Bishop of St Asaph has had to import an American, Mark Yaconelli, into the Diocese to teach us how to tell stories. Is this just another failure of the Church in Wales, or are we really no longer a Land of Story?