The cat and the corbel

Following the recent article in the Evening Standard about Doorkins, our cathedral cat, and the corbel that has been made of her we have received so many messages about her.  One of these included a specially written poem by John Elliot, a fan in Barnard Castle.  With his permission this is his poem.



Astute cathedral deans declare
That problems come with mouse or rat:
They need a feline living there;
And Doorkins is the Southwark cat.
Magnificat, her other name,
Conferred by clergymen, whose ways
Show us that jokes are all the same
And have not changed since we sang that
Our souls would magnify the cat.

They know that she’ll pay for her keep
By killing vermin in the church.
She finds a comfy place to sleep
And keeps watch from her favourite perch.
Her face displays a look of bliss:
She knows the service will not stop.
There’s merchandise reflecting this
For sale in the cathedral shop.
This cat and human synergy
Is very clear for all to see.

Thanks John.


I’m at Synod


There won’t be the usual Living God blog this weekend.  I’m at the meeting of the General Synod in York. So if you want to see what we are up to visit my General Synod blog here.

Wearing the robe

Last weekend I had the pleasure of preaching at the Alban Festival 2018 in St Alban’s.  What a fantastic event that is.  If you haven’t been then I encourage you to join the crowds next year.  But I thought that you might be interested in what I said at the Choral Eucharist which follows the amazing ‘carnival style’ procession through the town.  The readings for the service were Galatians 3.23-29 and John 19.23-27.

In the corner of the classroom of my infant school was a Wendy House and a dressing up box.  Inside the box were all the things we needed to let our imaginations run wild.  We could be a cowboy if we wanted, or a nurse, or a teacher, or a mum or a dad, whatever we wanted, whoever we wanted to be.  It was a box of delights, the place to become who you might one day become, to wear the clothes, the hats, the shoes.

Those of you of my age may remember a BBC children’s cartoon called ‘Mr Ben’.  Every episode featured him going into a fancy dress shop, choosing an outfit and having an adventure in that new clothing that replaced the boring suit and the bowler hat that was his everyday outfit.


When Alban met the priest Amphibalus, the hunted priest was wearing the distinctive cloak that became his name.  Alban took the man into his home so that he could escape his pursuers.  But it wasn’t long before word got out that the priest was in hiding.  Alban had already showed his strength of character by offering hospitality to this dangerous individual.  But now, as the footsteps of the soldiers approached his door, his compassion took him to a new level.  He took the cloak, he took the clothes of the priest, of Amphibalus, and swapped them for his own.  So when the door was opened and the soldiers entered they took the one now dressed as a priest, they took Alban and executed him.

Our imagination ran wild in the classroom as we learnt to see what it might be like to wear the clothes that other people wore, to stand in their shoes, to see things from their perspective.  But then we grow out of dressing up, or others discourage us from doing it, we wear our own clothes, we see things from our own perspective, who we are, where we are.

But Alban is encouraging us to have the courage to do something very different.  Alban encourages us to try on our neighbours cloak and see how things are for them.

But it’s a dangerous thing to do because once we stand where others stand then we might be mistaken for them.  What would it be like to be a refugee; what would it be like to be a loan parent; what would it be like to be homeless; what would it be like to be part of a despised minority, the target of hate crime, the one defined as the enemy, what would it be like to be excluded?  What would it be like to cross the Mexican border into the USA with your family, to see your children caged? We only can begin to know when we take the cloak and wear it.

At the cross, Jesus’ robe becomes an object to be fought over.  But if it was cut into pieces, so that each of his executioners could have a piece, it would be useless.  So, as we heard in the gospel reading, the decision was made to cast lots for it, to toss a coin, to go on the turn of a card and the winner would get this seamless robe ripped from the back of a tortured man.  We’re not told who the winner was, who it was put Christ’s clothing on his own back – and we don’t know what that felt like, as he stood there clothed in Christ.

But that’s exactly what we do, we clothe ourselves with Christ – not in that seamless robe grabbed from beneath the cross but in the robe that is Christ.  As St Paul says to the people who formed the church in Galatia

‘As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.’

We’re clothed with Christ and when we put on Christ we become identified with him.  We wear Christ in the same way as God in Christ put on human flesh when, in that Bethlehem stable, a baby was born who was the Son of God.  God wore human clothes so that we could wear divine clothes, God put on flesh so that we could put on Christ.

After a while our teacher would announce that it was time for a story and we had to pack things away.  Off came the cowboy hat, in the box went the shoes we were clattering about in, packed away was the doctors coat and we sat down back as we were before.

But when Alban took up that cloak he was transformed for ever.  It was his baptism, not with water, but with something that was equally transforming.

The great English poet of the 17th century George Herbert wrote a poem called ‘Aaron’ in which he thinks about how this companion of Moses was dressed, and in that poem he says this

Christ is my only head,
My alone-only heart and breast,
My only music, striking me ev’n dead,
That to the old man I may rest,
And be in him new-drest.

When we put on Christ, when we robe ourselves in Christ, like Alban we leave our own self behind, lay our old self to rest and are ‘in him new-drest’.  And when we dare to wear the clothes of any of our brothers and sisters, when we dare to be seen as one with the marginalised and excluded and pursued and persecuted then we will never be the same again. Because we will see the world not just from within their clothes but through their eyes, as Alban saw those waiting to take him away.

Jesus was always looking at the world from the perspective of the person he was with, he wore the clothes of those he hung out with, the tax collectors and prostitutes and sinners, he wears your clothes, he stands in your shoes, so he knows what it’s like to be you.  And when he gives himself to us in this Eucharist, when bread is placed in our open hands, when we eat this bread and drink this cup, we put on Christ and Christ puts on you, puts on me, puts on us.  In him we are ‘new-drest’ and with him we share our neighbour’s cloak, whosoever that neighbour may be.

Lord Jesus,
clothe me,
live in and through me,
that I may stand beside my neighbour
and share their cloak.

A child’s cry

‘There there. Don’t cry. Let me kiss it better.’ There’s nothing that touches the heart quite as much as the cry of a child – in pain, frightened, lost.  The instinct is always to reach out and make it better. ‘There you are – see, you haven’t hurt yourself’ and the tears dry up and they start laughing and running around again.

Hearing the cries of those children wrenched from the arms of their parents at the border of Mexico and the USA was heart-rending and I think that it was probably that which turned public and global opinion so against Donald Trump that he had to make a u-turn and an Executive Order that stopped what he had put in place, the separation of children from their parents when they were entering illegally. I thank God that he did it, that he heard the cries. But the truth is that there are many children still separated from their parents and, by what we are told, without a system in place to reunite them and there are children with their parents still being caged up. It is appalling.


I saw this picture on Twitter.  It claims (and that is all I can say) to be rosaries that were confiscated from people who had been arrested on the border.  Their dignity, their children and even their rosaries were taken from them. I was instantly reminded of my visit to Auschwitz-Birkenau. Walking around that dreadful place, the gates of hell on earth, and entering the buildings you are confronted, as you are at Yad Vashem, the Israel Holocaust Museum and memorial in Jerusalem, with collections of the possessions of those taken to this death camp. The shoes and the walking sticks and the false teeth and the bags are piled together, the ephemera of persecution. It was deeply shocking, sickening.  These things had belonged to people like me.

A few months ago I had the unexpected privilege of being presented to the Holy Father, Pope Francis, whilst I was in Rome. At the end of the brief conversation I was handed a little pouch in which was a rosary with the papal arms on it.  It was such a wonderful and moving gift.  And as I went through St Peter’s Square other pilgrims and many from South and Central America asked me to bless their rosaries, which I was delighted to do.

For those not so familiar with the rosary there are what are called series of Mysteries that take you around the beads, episodes in the life of Jesus and of Mary on which you can meditate and that can then be a springboard for prayer.  There are three traditional sets of Mysteries – Joyful (around the incarnation), Sorrowful (around the passion) and Glorious (around the resurrection and beyond). And as I saw that collection of confiscated rosaries, cruelly taken, I thought of the fingers that would have prayed those Sorrowful Mysteries, with another mother, Mary, whose son was taken from her.

After Christmas we celebrate the Feast of the Holy Innocents remembering the slaughter by a despotic and jealous ruler, Herod, of the baby boys in Jerusalem and we read something to which St Matthew refers as he tells the story.  Its part of the prophecy of Jeremiah.

Thus says the Lord,
A voice is heard in Ramah,
lamentation and bitter weeping.
Rachel is weeping for her children;
she refuses to be comforted for her children,
because they are no more. (Jeremiah 31.15)

The cries of the children and the cries of the mothers cannot be stopped with a ‘there, there’ but instead we have to sit with the noise of their sorrow in our ears as a constant reminder of what we are able to do to each other, when power and fear and jealousy get mixed up.

There is a text on the United States Holocaust Memorial that is often quoted and rightly so. The words are those of Martin Niemöller, a German Lutheran pastor and theologian who was himself held in a Nazi concentration camp and then liberated by the Allies.

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me — and there was no one left to speak for me.

That is why we have to speak out when we hear the cries wherever they come from and just pray that those who have power to make a difference will use that power – and we are not powerless in all of this. The same applies to what is happening in many places around the world, Venezuela, the Yemen, North Korea, the list grows longer every day.

There is always hope. That quote from Jeremiah continues but we don’t often hear it read to us, we stay with the sorrow – but we need to hear these words of propecy as well.

Thus says the Lord:
Keep your voice from weeping,
and your eyes from tears;
for there is a reward for your work,
says the Lord:
they shall come back from the land of the enemy;
there is hope for your future,
says the Lord:
your children shall come back to their own country.
(Jeremiah 31.16-17)

‘There is hope’, there always is.

Lord, as you hear our cries
may we hear the cries of all your children
wherever they are.

Feasting and fasting

The truth is, I’m not very good at fasting.  The suprising thing is that I was, in fact, better when I was younger.  As I became more committed to my faith I used to fast before Mass on Sunday and when I was at college being formed for priesthood the whole routine of the day was geared around being able to fast before the Eucharist because breakfast wasn’t served until after it. But ordination was my downfall.  The excuse was, ‘Well, I need to be able to minister and so collapsing halfway through a service out of hunger would be no good.’ And there you have it, my days of fasting passed away.  I’m not very good at Lent and the permissions we now get and which I have in my turn given, that it is so good to take something on rather than give something up, have done nothing to counter this undisciplined tendency that I have.


The Feast

I went to another Iftar last week, on the penultimate day of Ramadan.  This one was being hosted by the Metropolitan Police at their new headquarters in New Scotland Yard. It was great to be there. But it was a cheat on my part – I had had breakfast, lunch and numerous drinks all day.  So, whilst I certainly felt peckish when the sun set at around 9.20 and the fast for that day ended, I was nowhere near as hungry or thirsty as the Muslims alongside me. I was sharing in the Iftar but not sharing in the fast!

There has been some criticism levelled at me after the commemoration of the London Bridge attack because we – and I suppose as Dean that means I – hosted a Grand Iftar in the Cathedral itself on the evening of that day of commemoration.  Around 300 people packed the nave for the presentations that were made and the songs that were sung before the fast broke and people formed a long queue for the food.  I’ve been accused of being a ‘Muslim-lover’ which doesn’t feel much like an insult, and destroying the Christian tradition by holding an inter-faith service in the Cathedral.  As some bloggers have helpfully pointed out an Iftar isn’t a service and our Iftar, like the one the Met Police hosted, was nothing of the kind. But if I am being accused of the sin of hospitality then I am guilty as charged.

One of the things that has changed in the whole Christian-Muslim-community world of the past few years is the development of the Iftar as being something that people share in together. It is as though this meal has been brought out of the mosque and out of individual homes onto the streets – as around Grenfell Tower last week – or into other places, offices and churches. And it has helped me understand a bit more of what Ramadan and Eid are all about.

I used to think that Lent and Ramadan were equivalents, but I have learnt that they are not.  I may still be wrong but it seems to me that discipline and charitable giving are where any equivalence ends. Lent is a season of penitence and the discipline we choose for those forty odd days is meant to help us focus on that aspect of the Christian life as well as prepare us spitually for Holy Week and Easter. But the discipline is ongoing, it doesn’t begin and end each day, between dawn and dusk.  We are not waiting for sunset to have a bar of chocolate, or a glass of wine, or whatever it is that we are depriving ourselves of. Ramadan is much more about focusing the body and the mind on God, its much more about the deepening of spirituality than it is about penitence and the submission of the body as opposed to the soul. With Ramadan each days fast ends with a feast, the two are intertwined in the daily pattern that is established and which people so powerfully commit to.

Part of the whole inter-faith scene, it seems to me, is about giving us the opportunity to learn something from each other.  These past few years have certainly taught me about fasting and challenged my lack of engagement with it. Being with Hindus last year taught me about living up close to God in every aspect of my life. From Buddhism in these last few years I have learnt about focusing my thinking, what we are calling ‘mindfulness’ and finding in that peace. And from my regular visits to the Holy Land my experience of Judaism has taught me to value community at the deepest level.

But we have a much deeper and richer tradition of fasting in the Church of England than we give ourselves credit for. Thumbing through the Book of Common Prayer brings you face-to-face with some wonderful stuff including this

i) The forty days of Lent.
ii) The Ember Days at the Four Seasons, being the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday after:
1. The First Sunday in Lent
2. The Feast of Pentecost
3. September 14
4. December 13.
iii) The three Rogation Days, being the Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday
before Holy Thursday, or the Ascension of our Lord.
iv) All the Fridays in the Year, except Christmas Day.

So there are probably 67 Fast Days in the year in addition to the 40 days of Lent – and I keep none of them. Time for me to really think again and to be challenged by my Muslim friends who are now feasting all day as they celebrate Eid. But if I do fast then I must also remember those wise words of Jesus

‘And whenever you fast, do not look dismal, like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces so as to show others that they are fasting. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, put oil on your head and wash your face, so that your fasting may be seen not by others but by your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.’ (Matthew 6.16-18)

So I thank God for the challenge of Ramadan and pray that I may have the humility to learn from others as they share with me something of their relationship with God.

for the diversity of faith and practice
within and beyond the church,
I give you thanks and praise.

The tree of healing

I said last week that I needed time to reflect before I said anything about the first anniversary of the London Bridge attack. In fact I had to say a great deal without the luxury of much reflective time.  But that is the reality of life – you are asked and you have to answer. But as we approached the Sunday, which was the first anniversary – the media wanted to get answers to their questions.  In the welcome that I gave at the beginning of the service of commemoration I said this

Let me be honest, I’ve been fearful approaching this day.  Memories have risen to the surface, tears have once again flowed, scars have been reopening.  The media have been asking me what I hope for this service – my answer has been simple – I hope it helps our healing.  Whatever your hopes are, whatever your pain is, whatever has kept you awake at night, whatever anger or sorrow or guilt you’re feeling, God is here for us, God is here for you.

Love is stronger than hate.  Light is stronger than darkness. Life is stronger than death.  It was true a year ago, it’s as true today.

Olive tree

The Tree of Healing

I was fearful approaching the day, I was being entirely honest. The whole lead up to that weekend served to open up memories and wounds and, I suppose, I hadn’t, until that moment, thought that I was a ‘victim’ of the event as so many others had been. But my needs to think and reflect were nothing in comparison to the family members who came along that afternoon. Those who had been so brutally murdered, slaughtered, that evening were at the forefront of our thinking.  Whether it was in the candle lighting or the completion of the planting of the Tree of Healing, they were the ones we were focusing on.

We had decided last year that a tree needed to be planted and as we cleared the mountain of flowers that had accumulated by the needle at the south end of London Bridge a commitment was made that that would happen.  But most wonderfully the London Borough of Southwark committed to taking those flowers away, composting them and bringing back the compost so that the tree could be planted in it.

One of the moving songs in Disney’s ‘The Lion King’ is the circle of life. The lyrics say it all

It’s the circle of life
And it moves us all
Through despair and hope
Through faith and love
Till we find our place
On the path unwinding
In the circle
The circle of life.

Those flowers left as signs of love became the food for new life to grow, like that would bring healing, all part of that circle, the divine circle.

The olive tree, of course, carries huge symbolic power; its oil provides, heat and light to very many people, it helps in the cooking of food and is used to anoint particularly in the tradition of the church.  Priests have always taken olive oil and anointed the sick, as a symbol of our prayer for healing.  Babies and adults are anointed with it as they come to baptism. Monarchs are anointed with it before ever a crown is placed upon them.  But even more significantly for Jews, Christians and Muslims when the dove returned to Noah in the ark it carried a branch of the olive, a sign of peace and of God’s blessing.  This will be our tree of remembrance but also our ‘Tree of Healing’.  Around its pot will be inscribed a verse from scripture that was read at the end of the service as with the families we gathered at the tree.

‘The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.’ (Revelation 22.2)

But as moving as all that was, as emotional as it was as we all gathered on London Bridge at the end of the service it was the Grand Iftar held in the Cathedral later that evening which spoke so powerfully to me.

For the two weeks before the commemoration a group of twenty of us had been meeting to rehearse a ‘play for voices’. The script ‘Testimony’, had been put together by local writer, Michelle Lovric, from the memories that we had been sharing with her over the last year.  She had turned our reflections back into an account of that evening and afterwards.  It took thirty minutes for us to ‘perform’ and we had practised it, in her apartment and in the Cathedral, on many occasions over those weeks.  But standing there and speaking my own words and hearing my friends speak their words to a nave full of people was emotional and powerful and staggering.

Part of that was about being reminded of what happened, part of it was hearing about what had happened to others, part of it was about realising how strong our local community has been, and part of it was about recognising how much I had depended over these months on God and on my sisters and brothers.  The Iftar began with the Borough Market Choir singing ‘Lean on me’

‘Lean on me, when you’re not strong, and I’ll be your friends, I’ll help you carry on, for it won’t be long, till I’m going to need somebody to lean on.’

Bill Wither’s words are powerful. It was part of the healing for me. But I’ve got a lot more thinking and praying and talking to do.

Lord Jesus,
you do not forget us
and hold us in the palm of your wounded hand;
as we continue to remember the events of a year ago,
the dead and the injured,
the traumatised and the sorrowful,
heal our memories,
bind up our wounds,
calm our fears
and remember us in your kingdom.

Broken Beauty

This is the sermon I preached this morning in Southwark Cathedral.  The readings were Deuteronomy 5.12-15; 2 Corinthians 4.5-12; Mark 2.23-3.6

One of the joys of Sunday – for me – apart from being here with you of course – is watching ‘Antiques Roadshow’.  What could be more quintessentially British – a bunch of well dressed, well spoken people in the grounds of a stately home talking in the sunshine about a piece of pottery – and envious, intrigued and delighted faces looking on?

But then, horror of horrors.  The pot that was grandma’s, given to her after the war by an old spinster neighbour who looked after them as children – there’s always a good backstory – the pot has been repaired, it isn’t perfect after all.  The owner looks closely as the expert points it out.  Eagle eyed they’ve spotted where the damage has been concealed.  It would’ve been worth millions but now ….


Broken Beauty by Alison Clark

Alison Clark is with us as our Artist-in-Residence, part of our commemoration of the events one year ago when terrorists attacked our neighbourhood, the events we’re marking all day, but especially this afternoon as the families of those who died in that attack, people who were injured and representatives of so many groups of people caught up in the terrors of that night gather here to remember the past and look forward to the future.  And in the evening, with the local Muslim community, we will be hosting a grand Iftar and local people will be sharing their memories.

Alison is calling her work, ‘Broken Beauty’ and as part of it she’s employing a Japanese technique called Kintsugi.  Instead of concealing damage to a piece of porcelain the Japanese repair it using gold, the scar is not hidden but glorified, the damage not avoided but confronted.

St Paul in our Second Reading likens us to clay jars.  In the world of the Corinthians into which Paul was speaking, these jars were as commonplace as plastic bottles are to us.  They were used for everything, transporting, storing, but they were fragile and the rubbish heaps that archaeologists dig through testify to that.

Paul suggests that we’re as fragile as these clay jars and that that fragility is not a mistake on God’s part.  This is who we are.  We were made from the clay of the earth and God breathed life into us, but ‘remember you are dust and dust you shall return’ says the priest to us on Ash Wednesday.

We are very easily damaged, very easily scarred.

Jesus is in the synagogue.  It’s the Sabbath and there were rules about the Sabbath, handed down from God to Moses, the rules we heard in our First Reading.  And then a man approaches Jesus.  He has a withered hand.  It meant he couldn’t work and people look on him as cursed.  It was the day when no work could be done but it was a day of blessing and Jesus gets to work and tells the man as the others look on

‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was restored.

The hand was repaired but the hard hearts of those ready to condemn Jesus for making good what was bad, for showing compassion, those hearts couldn’t be changed, until they were broken.

‘We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed; always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be made visible in our bodies.’

Paul’s powerful words spoken into the fragility of our lives speak to our community today.  Those with such hard hearts that they sought to destroy what was beautiful here have not succeeded.  Yes, eight lives were lost and eight families and eight groups of friends will be grieving today in a way I cannot imagine.  Yes, numerous people were injured, physically and mentally and they bear the scars.  Yes, this church was damaged and this area was scarred.  But what is fundamental about this part of London, what was fundamental about this community was not destroyed but was strengthened – that deep sense of inclusion, that deep joy in diversity, that absolute passion for life.

Broken beauty sums it up.  We carry in our fragile, earthenware body the death of Jesus, as he bears on his hands, on his feet, in his side the marks of the violence we inflicted on him.  And God has glorified it, the Lord of the Sabbath, brings us blessing, so that the life of Jesus is always visible in us.

And to remind us of the truth, of broken beauty, bread will be taken and it will be broken. It’s the only way we can share it.  We hold in our hands the brokenness of God who touches our scars with his own wounded hands and makes them shine with a glory like his own.

Lord Jesus,
you do not forget us
and hold us in the palm of your wounded hand;
as we remember the events of a year ago,
the dead and the injured,
the traumatised and the sorrowful,
heal our memories,
bind up our wounds
calm our fears
and remember us in your kingdom.

Time to reflect

As you can imagine, this weekend is extremely busy for all in the community in which Southwark Cathedral is set. I will be posting a Living God blog but after the events and services around the commemoration of the first anniversary of the terrorist attack on London Bridge when I too have had time to reflect.

All I can ask now is, please pray for all of us, but most especially those who will be remembering a loved one who died, those who were injured, those who bear physical or mental scars and all who witnessed the horror of that evening.

Living, loving God, hold us all in the palm of your hand. Amen.

‘Excuse me!’

One of the many privileges of being the Dean of Southwark – and there are many – is my daily commute. Seven minutes of gentle strolling along Bankside and Clink Street is all it takes to get from the Deanery to the Cathedral, watching the river and gazing at the City skyline with its every growing number of high buildings.  I live at 51 Bankside and so the walk takes me past 1 Bankside, the famous Anchor Pub, outside of which Tom Cruise sat in Mission Impossible, but even more importantly than that, where Pepys and Dr Johnson drank.


Part of my daily commute

But at whatever time I make that journey – and it’s usually very early – I never have the path to myself.  It seems to be one of the city’s favourite running and jogging routes and Lycra clad individuals run towards me and past me all the way along.  It does make me feel even more ashamed of my lack of fitness but that’s another matter.  But then there are also the people making their way to work – some lovely friends who are heading to the Salvation Army offices on Victoria Street who always give me a cheery ‘Morning’ but mostly people with their heads down and there headphones or ear buds in.  They’re in another world.

I caught part of ‘Woman’s Hour’ on the radio last week.  The item that I heard was all about what was called ‘Pavement Etiquette’ and whilst it was very much, and rightly so, about the safety of women out alone on streets, it made me think about this.

There’s something very British about how we behave on pavements.  Gone are those old standards of not allowing a lady you are accompanying to walk by the gutter. But any kind of regulation – as has been tried, so I believe, in the past – is fiercely resisted.  We will queue for hours in a very orderly fashion but no one is going to tell us how to walk or forbid us crossing a road where we will.  Boris’ removal of street barriers in London gave us the freedom once more to wander at will, not like those foreigners who can be prosecuted for jaywalking!

But it isn’t that that bothers me as much as the times nowadays that I can’t seem to anticipate which way someone is going to move when we’re walking towards each other – and you get into that embarrassing dance of both moving the same way – a kind of ‘Pedestrian Jig’! Because they haven’t noticed I am there, on the same pavement, until it is too late – and not even an ‘Excuse me!’

The advice from Jesus, to be honest, on this matter is slightly confusing.

‘Greet no one on the road.’ (Luke 10.4) he tells the seventy as they prepare to go off on mission.  But then Jesus meets so many on the road, it’s where most of his ministry takes place, out there on the ‘pavement’, on the street, by the roadside, greeting and being greeted.  Obviously the instruction to the disciples was because they were, literally, on a mission, an urgent task, and nothing could distract them from it. Set the pace and don’t stop. But it’s not an instruction for how we behave when we’re walking.  Instead the road to Emmaus, meeting the two walkers, is a much better model.

‘Jesus himself came near and went with them.’ (Luke 24.17)

Walking with Jesus

Walking with Jesus

The problem is, when we isolate ourselves, whether walking or whatever we are doing, we become oblivious to the other person, there’s no ‘Excuse me’ any longer, because there is only one person in the world that I am inhabiting.  As John Donne so famously said

No man is an island,
Entire of itself

But we can often behave as though we are an island. So I’ll continue enjoying my daily walk – but it would be even better if there were others walking with me.

Lord Jesus,
may I recognise you on the journey
and walk with you.

Warming the heart

Listen sweet Dove unto my song,
And spread thy golden wings in me;
Hatching my tender heart so long,
Till it get wing, and flie away with thee.

In every generation there are great story tellers, Homer and Chaucer, Shakespeare and Dickens, Blyton and Rowling.  They all tell their stories and those stories, which we then tell to each other, help to interpret truth to growing generations.  Among my favourites is Hans Christian Anderson.  By the harbour in Copenhagen sits the Little Mermaid testifying to the power of his storytelling.  But my favourite amongst the stories he tells is ‘The Snow Queen’, which, as the story begins, we hear ‘Tells of the mirror and its fragments’.

A new generation know a bit of that story through the work of that other great storyteller of our times, or rather an interpreter of stories, Disney, because Hans Christian Anderson’s great story can be glimpsed, just about, in that popular animated movie, ‘Frozen’.


Heartlessness on the Israel -Gaza border

Both versions of the story centre on what happens when a shard of the evil mirror or the frost from Queen Elsa’s hand, enters the heart.  The heart at the very centre of the person is frozen, dies, is turned to stone.  Humanity is lost, love is lost and, as in those final moments of the film ‘Frozen’ on the icy wastes of the harbour, it takes an act of true love to bring the warmth and life back to the heart.

‘I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’ (Ezekiel 36.26)

It’s the promise of God through the prophet Ezekiel, it’s the life of which St Peter speaks so eloquently to the enraptured crowd on that first day of Pentecost.  The apostles, with Our Lady, have been locked away in the room that’s become for them both security and prison ever since, in an expression of true divine love, in that space Jesus broke bread and shared it, poured wine and drank it, gave them his body and blood and washed their feet.  But that warmth of divine love was replaced by the chill of fear.  The windows were bolted, the doors were barred, their hearts were locked until the wind blew out what locked them in and fire warmed their frozen hearts.

George Herbert uses another metaphor to tell the story in his poem ‘Whitsunday’.  Instead of a frozen heart, a stone heart, he likens it to an egg being hatched.

Listen sweet Dove unto my song,
And spread thy golden wings in me;
Hatching my tender heart so long,
Till it get wing, and flie away with thee.

The mother bird sits on her eggs not allowing them to get cold.  She uses her own heart’s heat to warm those eggs until life breaks through the shell and the chick takes wing ‘and flie away with thee.’ It’s a wonderful image.

Pentecost brings us to life, like a hatching egg, a tender heart brought to true life, so that that heart beats with the beat of God, the rhythm of life is the rhythm of God.

The heartlessness of so much around us needs challenging.  Watching the horrific scenes from Israel last week as live ammunition was used on unarmed protestors on the Israel/Gaza border, seeing how the administration of the USA could heartlessly and for purely political and ideological reasons make a change to the status of Jerusalem by moving its Embassy and so unsettling and threatening what is always a fragile paece, registering how our own government deals with the status and rights of long term residents of this nation, our friends and neighbours, all these things remind us that the cold, frozen heart is not just something that can exist in the individual but in the structures that we create, in the places and communities that we inhabit.

When Jeremy Irons was in this Cathedral a few weeks ago reading to us T S Eliot’s ‘Four Quartets’ he read these words

The dove descending breaks the air
With flame of incandescent terror

The descending dove hatches the egg, warms the heart, turns stone to flesh and brings us to life, so that our heart beats in time with the divine heartbeat making Easter live for the whole of creation, as what was dead was brought to life.


A heart warmed by the Spirit

As Peter says to the listening crowd

“You have made known to me the ways of life;
you will make me full of gladness with your presence.”


This is a story really worth telling, the truth of God come down from heaven which gives life to the people and thaws the frozen heart and makes flesh the heart of stone.

Come, Holy Spirit,
fill the hearts of your people
and kindle in us the fire of your love.

In the Steps of Martin Luther

A Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage 2017

Canda, Jerusalem, Mucknall

Southwark Diocesan Pilgrimage 2016

Hearts on Fire - Pilgrims in the Holy Land

A good city for all

A good city for all

In the Steps of St Paul

Southwark Cathedral Pilgrimage June 2015


Reflections from the Dean of Southwark

Passion in real time - a retreat for Holy Week

Led by the Dean of Southwark, the Very Revd Andrew Nunn

Andrew Nunn's reflections from General Synod

the personal views of the Dean of Southwark