I saw the very sky where the angels sang

I'm back from the Holy Land! - not strife-torn Israel, where ancient hatreds prevent Arabs and Jews from experiencing how joyful and pleasant a thing it is to live in unity and godly love.

I'm back from the Holy Land! - not strife-torn Israel, where ancient hatreds prevent Arabs and Jews from experiencing how joyful and pleasant a thing it is to live in unity and godly love.

This Holy Land was a bus-ride away, to the village I described last month, where my wife was born and where the Bible stories she heard, at school and chapel, burned a permanent and lively place in her imagination and consciousness.

Our tour started in the garden-of-rest at the Crematorium! It covers an area of former wilderness called the Horse Pasture, where wild flowers grew and children delighted to play. The entrance still exists, next to the community centre.

We went through the gate cautiously: for here, on either side, the waters of the Red Sea were piled up while the Israelites passed through on dry land (Ex.14 v 22) pursued by the Egyptians. Safely inside, we looked back: the waters returned and covered the chariots and horsemen.

Another critical event in the life of Moses occurred in the Horse Pasture: the voice that came out of the burning bush which was not consumed. Obviously, it was a gorse bush.

We searched, without hope; but a fringe of wild ground remains at the back of the gardens - and there was one gorse bush, in unseasonable flower!! 'Put off thy shoes from off thy feet, for the place whereon thou standest is holy ground' (Ex.3 v5). I really felt I ought; but it was muddy.

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We passed the school, where these stories were imbibed. Just before the beck, Molly showed me exactly where Eli, aged 98, (whose eyes were dim, that he could not see - I Sam.4 v 15), fell off the gate and broke his neck.

Frankly, I'd forgotten the story! I remembered Eli only in connection with the beautiful account of the child Samuel's call in the temple at eventide. But Molly knew. She had passed the very spot four times a day.

The five-barred gate she had described was gone. I wasn't surprised, after 3000 years! A gap in the hedge showed where it had been; and the kerb was lowered at that exact point, so I knew her memory was accurate.

Molly wanted to paddle in the beck, as in the days of Eli. Instead, we walked up Waterloo Road to Spixworth Lane where, at the corner, a gate once led into the Playing Field.

It is an inauspicious spot. But Molly confided that here, as shepherds had watched over their flocks by night, the angel of the Lord had appeared, and the sky filled with a multitude of the heavenly host, praising God and saying 'Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men' (Luke 2 vv13-14).

I had hoped for a setting more dramatic - yet as I surveyed the unprepossessing scene, I realised that here, before me, the sky seemed just the right 'shape' to embrace the celestial company. There was 'miles of sky': and I'm blessed if I didn't very nearly hear the heavenly host myself.

We visited the church and admired a striking collage (with plenty of sheep!) which was the work of children from the school. Clearly, the stories are still being told, and the wonder and enchantment continues.

My friend at Loddon, Ray Ford MBE, is no churchman, but can't resist reading this column to check what nonsense I'm proffering. I've never forgotten one sally of his: “I always know when you haven't got anything to say, because you start talking about the Bible!”

I might have taken offence if I hadn't been laughing so much! But he was never more wrong. The Bible isn't a last resort. It is the foundation document of British culture.

Many who have made this country their own cherish other scriptures - and rightly, if those sacred writings promote peace, compassion, and respect. But our sweet quality of life, so widely attractive, (for all its blemishes), was shaped by the Christian religion.

Today, though, we're not pulling our spiritual weight. Typical British complacency is allowing our heritage to slip away. By 'heritage' I mean more than the National Trust; I mean the wells that feed everything distinctive and wholesome in our national consciousness.

Let those who will, sneer. I'm no fundamentalist - but a Christian country derives its life and nourishment from the Bible, and the roots of our culture - our values and beliefs - lie embedded deeply among Molly's stories.

So do something for Lent!

Check my Bible references. Sensuously enjoy physically handling The Book again. Don't let callers at the door tell you what it means! Don't even worry about believing it! Read it as literature. Rediscover it. Catch the spirit of it.

It is the rock from whence we were hewn.

Goliath was slain up Horsford Lane. I'll reveal more in the autumn!