Yesterday's sunshine had me heading for the Surrey Hills (where butterflies were sadly few - I might have missed the Green Hairstreak and Dingy Skipper this year, thanks to the vile April-May weather). On the station platform as I waited for my train, I noticed an unhappy-looking middle-aged man wearing a windcheater and clutching a Bible, from which he was reading to the two men within earshot, with exhortations of his own thrown in at intervals. The gist seemed to be that we are all bound for Hell unless we resist the snares and wiles of Satan. Those of us not actively on the Lord's side are doing the Devil's work and it's a poor lookout all round. His audience was not receptive to this harsh eschatology, alternating between studiously ignoring him and asking him to pipe down. Undeterred, he pressed on with what was clearly to him an urgent mission...
As I got on the train, I assumed that that would be the last I saw of
him - but no. At the end of my walk, there he was again on the station
platform, as I waited for the train to take me home. He did not look as
if he'd been enjoying a ramble in the Surrey Hills, but rather was still
about the Lord's work, addressing a young woman with a trail bike, who
was proving unreceptive. I walked to the far end of the platform and
admired the view.
Whenever I come across one of these freelance street preachers, I think
of the poet Christopher Smart (remembered today chiefly for his cat Jeoffry), whose religious mania led him to exhort passers-by to fall to
their knees and pray. Smart was overwhelmed by his sense of the love of
God - surely the best form of religious 'mania' to have - and was for a
while confined in an asylum. Samuel Johnson was touchingly sympathetic:
“I do not think he ought to be shut up. His infirmities were not noxious
to society. He insisted on people praying with him; and I’d as lief
pray with Kit Smart as anyone else.” Indeed.