I wrote and recorded this for Through the Roof’s June Podcast and it is reproduced here by kind permission.
Last Saturday I finally fulfilled a thirty five year ambition. Ever since, as a student, I discovered Edward Thomas’s poem, “Adlestrop” I have wanted to visit the village of Adlestrop. His poem, about the time the express train made an unwonted stop there on a hot June day, brings it to life in such vivid detail, I longed to see if my imagined version of it bore a resemblance to the actual place. His poem describes the wild flower meadow and the haycocks visible from the station, but it focuses more on the sounds – the hiss of the steam, a cough, a blackbird breaking into song and being joined by “all the birds/ of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire”.
On Saturday I made my way from Hampshire to Birmingham ready for the Enabling Church conference and decided to take a detour through Oxfordshire to Gloucestershire and visit the place at last.
I pulled up in the village and parked in the car park by the village hall. A wooden shelter proclaims the name of the village, Adlestrop, in large letters, and on a bench under its roof is a plaque containing the full text of the poem. I saw the willows and willowherb though there were no haycocks to be seen. And yes, the air was still filled with that glorious birdsong, although it was a warm May afternoon, and not a hot June one. I didn’t notice a lone blackbird, but I’m sure I heard pretty well all the birds of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire. I had the time to wander slowly down the country lanes, taking it all in. I was happy when I arrived, but the peace and beauty of the place lifted my spirits no end, and I left in a state of elation.
And it suddenly struck me that there was a parallel with my life as a follower of Jesus. For many years, I read the book. I studied it. I became very familiar with its contents. I knew how they should be interpreted and was quick to argue with anyone who misinterpreted or misquoted it. But I never visited the place.
Proverbs 18.10 tells us that the name of the Lord is a strong tower. In the end it was trouble that drove me to the strong tower, and I began to discover the place for myself. I found that in Jesus there is such a place of safety, it can shield you no matter what life throws at you. The sound of His voice, which I had read of in His book, was suddenly real and present to me.
I learned not only to study the Bible (as good as that was) but to still and quiet my soul, and I discovered that in the silence and solitude, when I took the time to make myself present to God, He was always there.
Everything I had read and studied was true – but there was so much more which I had never imagined, depths of compassion, strength and patience which took my breath away.
Just as Adlestrop was so much more tranquil and lovely than I had pictured, so the place of safety when I pressed in close to Jesus was more wonderful than I had ever realised from reading other people’s experience of Him. Just as I left Adlestrop in a more joyous mood than when I arrived, so those encounters with Jesus have changed me and left me happier and more at peace.
So I pray that whatever your circumstances right now, and however busy you are, you will manage to take time to find that place of encounter with Him and will find that everything you have read in His word is true, but there is so much more, and that your rendezvous with Him will leave a permanent mark on you of quiet contentment, and a thirst that keeps you coming back for more.
Adlestrop by Edward Thomas 1878 – 1917
Yes, I remember Adlestrop –
The name, because one afternoon
Of heat the express-train drew up there
Unwontedly. It was late June.
The steam hissed. Someone cleared his throat.
No one left and no one came
On the bare platform. What I saw
Was Adlestrop – only the name
And willows, willow-herb, and grass,
And meadowsweet, and haycocks dry,
No whit less still and lonely fair
Than the high cloudlets in the sky.
And for that minute a blackbird sang
Close by, and round him, mistier,
Farther and farther, all the birds
Of Oxfordshire and Gloucestershire.