Marvelous happy it was to be
Alone, and yet not solitary.
O out of terror and dark, to come
In sight of home.
Water de la Mare The Pilgrim
(quoted from Watership Down)
ON MY LIVING room wall is a picture
of a desert grotto. Painted in vibrant acrylic colours, the run-down
grotto is an oasis of colour and coolness amidst a searing world.
I often look up from what I’m doing and see the painting
and think of coming home. Like the painting, Watership Down by
Richard Adams evokes feelings of yearning and thoughts of belonging.
Everyone longs for a place where “everyone knows your name.”
But unlike the sitcom, becoming a community is an odyssey. What
makes a community form? What makes a community a home? Watershed
Community has been asking these questions for ten years. Richard
Adam’s novel is an uncanny parallel, reflecting this quest
for freedom, this search for home.
Watership Down is a well-crafted tale of a group
of rabbits forced to leave their home by an apocalyptic vision.
Fiver, a small nervous rabbit given to glimpses of the future, is
one day overtaken with images of blood and destruction when he and
his brother Hazel discover a sign board at the edge of their warren.
They try to warn the Chief Rabbit, but they only manage to convince
a handful of rabbits to join them in their exodus. Confronting the
unfamiliar, being forced from conformity to creativity, they travel
far and encounter many adventures. Along the way they come across
different groups of rabbits, each organized differently. Cowslip’s
warren is well fed and artistic, but strangely melancholic. The
hutch rabbits live securely, no longer relying on their own abilities.
Efrafa is well hidden and efficiently run, almost impervious to
any foe. Each of these models offers hope and warning, but Fiver’s
group of rabbits can’t assimilate with any of them. They must
find their own way.
The story begins and ends with images of primroses, the first flowers
of spring. It begins with death and ends with life after death.
Undoubtedly Watership Down is an allegory of a life’s journey.
Although grounded in the rabbit’s world, the vision that emerges
in this story has a broader reach. For the vision that Fiver and
Hazel eventually articulate is a kernel of some of the best philosophies
and constitutions we know: to live in harmony with ourselves and
fairly with others. Not only to find a place, but a better way to
live. With beautiful irony, Adams has the creatures we habitually
destroy point us towards how to live in peace.
Fiver and Hazel, many of us at Watershed longed for a spiritual
home where we could be ourselves. We too were roused by a dream.
We started as a small study group in a conservative church. Our
vision was of vital small groups building community and outreach
within the church, but we soon realized that we were evolving with
serious differences of belief. Our leader had a dream of an earthquake
one night. Sadly, we didn’t listen to it, and doctrinal differences
led to confrontation and eventual excommunication. But the vision
of a better way to live together still called us.