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Friday, 21 March 2014

A Dream of Mad, Mad Moon (John 4)

If this desert's all there'll ever be
Then tell me what becomes of me.



It's the song of the wanderer that gets trapped. The one who searched beyond the final crest. There was a dream - and the wanderer pretends to have wings instead of arms, and heads out.

The final crest wasn't all it was cracked up to be. It really was for the birds, as it turns out. And love was left behind, in a desert land. And there's a dream conjured up by that mad, mad moon - a dream of rain. A dream, ironically, of Newcastle, where it rains so much you can't wait for a touch of sun and sand.

But the sun and the sand - that's the real delusion. A pretence of warmth, of sunshine and cloudless days. But cloudless days are, in the end, a curse.

A woman goes down to a well in the noonday sun. A daft time to go down to a well in a hot and dry land. You going to go lugging water around, you want to do it in the evening, when it's cool. Like Rebekah, those centuries earlier. She'd gone out to get water in the evening. But then Rebekah was a good girl. She was allowed to hang around with the other women. Maybe this woman isn't so welcome with the others. Maybe the other local women think she's no better than she should be. Five husbands already - and now she's shacked up with another bloke. Is he the grudging foster-dad to a host of her brood by her previous relationships? Or has she never had a child - her barrenness fraying her marriages, and another reason for the women's scorn.

I guess we don't know. I'm just filling in circumstantial detail. But those five husbands and a live-in love-interest - one after another - as she pretended to have wings for her arms, took off in the air - and tried to find places that the birds never see.

One marriage after another, like a succession of ridges on the fringes of the desert - each promising shade and rest, each revealed in turn as dunes.

It's not that there's anything wrong with a sand dune in the desert. You can get a bit of shade, some shelter from the sun, even from the drying wind. But you won't last long. The thing that you need above all else is water. The woman's flown from passing shade to passing shade - kept out of the heat for a while each time - but she needs something more, something life-giving, something that will quench her thirst.

Within the valley of the shadowless death, they pray for thunderclouds and rain. She goes down to the well, and finds the one who can pour out an absolute torrent of what she needs. There was nothing wrong, maybe, with all those husbands, each considered individually. But she could never have got the thing she ultimately needed from them.

And then after a day or two - after she's kicked up the fuss in the town, and they've wondered who that was, and some have believed, and some have laughed, and some have simply stayed at home in the shade - does she follow? Does she pray? Does she praise God? Or does she go back to her mundane life, and start to wonder again whether - beyond one last desert ridge - she'll find another oasis?

A fall of rain? That must have been another of your dreams.
A dream of mad, mad moon.

Mad, Mad Moon - lyrics Tony Banks, from the 1976 Genesis album A Trick of the Tail. Details from the cover, by Hipgnosis)

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