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.



Winter is a time for telling tales, a time for listening to stories. I’ve been playing catch-up recently.  A few months ago I bought the DVD of the Disney film ‘Frozen’. I wanted to know what all the fuss was about.  I’d seen the array of school bags, thermos flasks, games, cards, books, pencil cases, and costumes, plus much, much more that the shops were all selling and people had told me how lovely the film was.  But after putting it into my shopping trolley I hadn’t got round to putting the disc into the player and sitting down and watching it. So I did.

The Snow Queen

The Snow Queen

You know, I thought it was lovely.  But I knew I would.  It’s no secret that I’m an old romantic, that I love a musical and a good cry.  So it had all the ingredients that I like.  But it had something else as well. If you were to do an exegesis on the film you would discover, like ‘Q’ in the background of the gospels, that the Hans Christian Andersen story of ‘The Snow Queen’ was one of the inspirations for ‘Frozen’. Ok, so there’s no talking snowman in Andersen’s story but the hearts are frozen by the touch of the Snow Queen.


Like many story tellers, like Dickens who was  writing at a similar time, Andersen reflected on the social issues of the day, examined contemporary morality and through his stories continues to make us think about deeper things. One of my favourite short stories that he tells is of ‘The Little Match Girl’. This week I’m going next door to the Deanery into the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe Theatre to see their production of Match Girl and some happier stories.  The truth is that this little story about this little girl is heart rending on the page and, I’m sure, on the stage.

It’s the story of a poverty stricken family, of a little girl who will be beaten by her father if she goes back home without selling the little bundle of matches she has carried into the winter street in her apron to sell.  Andersen writes

In a corner formed by two houses, of which one advanced more than the other, she seated herself down and cowered together. Her little feet she had drawn close up to her, but she grew colder and colder, and to go home she did not venture, for she had not sold any matches and could not bring a farthing of money.

It’s a tragic story and at the end the child is found

‘frozen to death on the last evening of the old year.’

Andersen was reflecting on the levels of child poverty in his own day in his own society and through this story, aimed at children, will have touched the hearts of the adults reading it to them as they tucked their more middle class and fortunate children in bed beneath a fluffy eiderdown.

This weekend we celebrated at Southwark Cathedral the tenth anniversary of the ROBES Project.  This is a cold weather shelter run by churches of all denominations in the north Southwark and north Lambeth areas.  It aims to reach out to those without a home who with just a little support and security can find their way back into mainstream society, back into accommodation and back into work.  It is a very successful project and over the years many people, men and women, have been helped off the streets and back into a more stable, safer life.  I have been pleased to have played a small part in that by sleeping out each year to raise money for the project.  After the sleep-out last November we have raised almost £100k and the money is still coming in.

But it is a sad indictment of our society that a story published back in 1845 in Denmark is still of relevance today.  There are still people frozen on our streets and there are still hearts frozen to the needs of the homeless.

Jesus identifies himself with those frozen out of home and out of society when he says

‘Foxes have holes, and birds of the air have nests; but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay his head.’ (Matthew 8.20)


‘Homeless Jesus’


Recently Manchester Council agreed to put a statue called ‘Homeless Jesus’ designed by Timothy Schmalz, a Canadian sculptor, into their public space.  It shows Jesus on a bench, asleep.  It’s the Jesus who challenges each of us in Matthew 25 with those arresting words

“Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” 


“Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

The truth is it’s not just the homeless who are frozen, it is those of us who simply walk by the little Match Girl and never notice.

Spirit of God,
thaw my cold heart
with your divine flame,
that I may bring your warmth
to those who are frozen.

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