It is May when Sally Vickers’ Mr Golightly walks on Dartmoor early on a spring morning:
Mr Golightly had also woken early that morning and he took himself off to his place of contemplation on High Tor. The last time he had visited he had spotted ravens. And there was one now, beak laden, its powerful wing-beats making nothing of the wind.
Mr Golightly sat on the flat, table-shaped rock and tried to remember why a raven was like a writing desk. He watched the anxious parent ravens and their brood, three puffed-up, sooty young thugs, almost ready to fly.
One of the adult ravens arrived and tried to stuff a morsel of live stuff into the bill of one of the young. But the young raven turned its head, the wriggling meal was not to its liking. Was it full? Anorexic? Or plain rebellious? Apparently, not even ravens were immune to concerns about their offspring. This notion that a creator had influence over the objects of its creation – where on earth did that idea come from? A parent, even a raven parent could tell you it was nonsense . . .
To sit on a rock at the top of a Dartmoor tor is to be able to scan the countryside for miles around; to be able to consider the world with quietness and detachment. Mr Golightly watches the independent young ravens asserting their independence and realises how difficult it is for one person to influence another; being responsible for someone does not create a capacity to control, direct, or, often, even to suggest what that person might do.
The ravens are instructive to someone struggling to cope with pastoral ministry.
There is always a desire to be in control, to manage situations, to guide people’s thinking. There are times when there is a desire to try to lift burdens away from people, to assume that it is possible (and reasonable) to lighten their load.
In college days there were those of us who recoiled at the idea that counselling should be ‘non-directive’, what was our role if not to point people in the right direction? It took a long time to accept that respect for a person’s dignity, as a unique individual made in the image of God, brought with it the requirement to accept that they must make their own choices.
The passing years have brought a Golightly-like awareness that one can do more than make an offer to try to be of assistance; that anything more will be probably be rebuffed and that even the suggestion of advice may be too much. Like the ravens, people will make their own choices and go their own way.
Mr Golightly’s Holiday is probably a better handbook of pastoral theology than most that were ever on the booklist; to sit on a flat rock at the top of a tor on a May morning would be an education in itself.