BY DAVID TORKINGTON WHEN WE MOVED a few months ago I was delighted to discover that there were fairies at the bottom of the garden after all! Not the sort you see in children's books dancing around toadstools, but the sort you see prancing around the stage in the local dramatic society's production of Iolanthe.
At first I thought my eyes were deceiving me, but several sitings later I was convinced that what I saw was real enough. Then sadly, after two further sitings through my binoculars I was forced to admit that they were not fairies after all but Dominican sisters taking their daily constitutional. However, my disappointment was short-lived because I soon discovered that there are many advantages in having a Dominican convent at the bottom of the garden once you learn how to make friends with the natives.
I've already borrowed half a dozen eggs when a slight mishap left me one egg short of a full English breakfast. Then they kindly lent me a pint of milk when the local dairyman let me down. But most exciting of all, they've given me access to their library, so long as I return what I borrow more promptly than the eggs and milk that I haven't returned at all!
Only yesterday I made a discovery in their library that may be to our mutual advantage. Their Dominican brothers have brought about a periodical entitled Spirituality that I'd never heard about before although its first issue was published over a year ago. I've only just finished the first article of the first edition, but I've already found it helpful.
It was written by Fr Donagh O'Shea, whom I remember when he was a student but I'm sure he won't remember me. He told a most moving story of a young Chinese girl to whom he was introduced while lecturing on spirituality at the Regina Mundi in Rome. She'd been brought up in Peking, or Beijing, as it's now called, where her Catholic upbringing came to an abrupt end at the beginning of the Cultural Revolution.
HER PARENTS WERE petrified to teach her about what was most precious to them for fear it would become so precious to her that she'd speak about it outside their home, and they'd find themselves in prison like so many others who'd been reported to the authorities by well-meaning neighbours.
Those close to her had suffered much for what we can take so easily for granted. Her cousin had spent seventeen years in jail and her fiancé had been so cruelly treated during a three years prison sentence that she didn't recognise hint at the end of it.
She told Fr O'Shea that when she was in her twenties she'd visited her uncle who spoke to her behind closed doors about the Faith she'd heard so little about since she was a small child. Once he was sure they were both alone and safe from any unwelcome visitors he raised a floorboard and unwrapped a small booklet on the Stations of the Cross. She begged him to let her hide it in her clothes so that she could take it home where, with the aid of a torch, she read it under the bedclothes.
Wave after wave of emotion rose up from somewhere deep down within her. For the first time in her life she came to realise how lovable must be that Someone, who had been all but unknown to her for the greater part of her life, had been prepared to die for her. When her mother heard her sobbing she joined her, and they sobbed together with sadness for the Man who'd come to give them everything He had, to fill their lives with joy, and then paid for it with His own.
But it was a sadness mixed with joy because she also discovered that He who had been in some way lost to her had been found alive and well and living and loving her still.
I was almost in tears myself when I'd finished reading her story for the tears that I couldn't shed for the faith that I have taken so easily for granted. I have whole libraries of books at my disposal but I have been misusing them for so long searching for insights into the Faith to enable me to write for others what I should be living more deeply for myself.
The Dominican tradition has always insisted that you should first receive and make your own, what you would hand on to others, or you will have nothing to hand on at all, but the emptiness within yourself.No, I'm not sorry that there aren't any fairies at the bottom of the garden after all. I'd rather have Dominicans any day, wouldn't you?t