Vicar's Letters

As I write I’ve just finished watching the 2014 film adaptation of ‘Into the Woods’ on BBC 4, by the composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim, who died just a few weeks ago. It took me back a quarter of a century to my first experience of ‘Into the Woods’ with Leeds Youth Opera at the Civic Theatre (now the Leeds City Museum), a fantastic and inspirational group celebrating its 50th year in 2022.

If you don’t know the plot then, in a nutshell, several classic fairy tale characters (Cinderella, Jack, Little Red Riding Hood and the childless Baker and his wife) find their stories intertwine as they must each go into the woods. They soon find that they will need to help each other out if their dreams are to become a reality. There are many twists to the tale, and many dangers in the woods, and it all gets very nasty when the Giant’s wife comes after Jack, trampling down everything in her path.

Going into the woods is something that features in so many stories and fairy tales from Pooh Bear to Narnia, and from tales of witches and dragons to Gruffalos. When I was a child I had a little musical box that featured a revolving picture of two children going into the woods with the tune ‘Whenever I feel afraid’ from ‘The King and I’.

I love the woods in all seasons, but there are times when I have been afraid. I remember at age 5 walking back to our holiday home on the Isle of Skye past a dense wood at dusk. The trees almost seemed to be pointing just as they did in ‘Teeny-Tiny and the Witch-Woman’, a rather scary children’s story based on a Turkish folk tale, which my sister had in her bookcase. I remember clinging to my dad in terror as he lifted me up to give me a piggyback. I also remember a time when Chris lived in Norway and I led us on a walk deep into the woods. With a slight wobble in his voice Chris said that we should be careful as there could be a bear lurking – highly unlikely, but I soon navigated us back onto the main forestry track!

Sometimes life can feel a bit like wandering through a thick, dark wood, feeling lost, fearful, vulnerable and alone. Sometimes it may feel like we have lost our way with God. Or it may feel like we are going round in circles, getting more and more wound up and anxious – like the story of Pooh bear and Piglet walking around and around a spinney of larch trees hunting for a whoozle. As more and more tracks appear in the snow ahead of them Piglet, in particular, gets terribly frightened, believing that now it is they who are being hunted by the whoozle, and a wheezle and then several more whoozles.

The best thing for Pooh and Piglet wood probably have been to have stood still and taken a few deep breaths. And often the same is true for us. If we stop still in the woods, breathe deeply and look around we will see, smell and touch the beauty, and sense the gentle wisdom of the trees, their roots deep and sustaining. The woods invite us to be still and nourish our souls, to ‘be still and know that I am God.’ (Psalm 46 v 10)

Eventually Pooh looks up and sees Christopher Robin sitting reassuringly in the branches of an oak tree. The woods invite us to look up with wonder and know that ‘God is our strength and refuge’ (Psalm 46 v 1). When we look up we see the tree branches reaching out as if embracing the world around them, we see branches which are a safe refuge for the squirrels, birds and a thousand invertebrates. The woods remind us of our interconnectedness, our living for each other.

Whether or not you are able to physically go into the woods, why not take time this month to close your eyes and go into the woods of your imagination. Go into the woods, not with the fear of meeting wolves, bears, witches, or giants, but with the hope that you will find peace and the deep nourishment of being at one with your Creator, the Living God, who loves you and walks alongside you on every path you tread.

God bless,



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