Mum’s the word … thoughts for Church and World on Mother’s Day

The flower-and-chocolate trade has been in full spate as Mother’s Day is used to plug the nasty retail gap between St Valentine and Easter. All over the country, stereotypically inept husbands and small children wrestle with toasters as they aim for the perfect breakfast-in-bed for the woman of their lives. Motherhood is honoured, as in millions of kindly acts we say thank you to those who have borne us, and quite probably done most of the nurturing, too.

The English Church has historically taken a wider view of this day, seeing ‘Mothering Sunday’ as an opportunity to focus not only on our own mothers, but also on our ‘mother’ the Church, and on Mother Mary. Biologically the Lord’s mother, Mary is by pious adoption the mother of all humanity, the lowly one whom all generations will call ‘blessed’ (Luke 1.48).

But such mother-talk is at best ambiguous, at worst obsolete, at least in the New Testament. Unlike John, who happily depicts the disciple sharing a home with Mary after the crucifixion (John 19.27), the synoptics are less willing to accord her any unequivocal position of honour (‘My mother, brother, sister are those who do the will of my Father,’ says Jesus a little huffily —Mark 3.35; Matthew 12.49; Luke 8.21). Perhaps this is the voice of the far-flung Apostolic Church reminding his blood relatives (notably in Jerusalem?) that belonging to Christ is not through blood but baptism — a lesson the Church of England, with its dainty devotion to ‘family life’, still tries hard to forget. It was with good reason that the mediaeval Church emphasised the role not of parents but of godparents, not simply officers of nature but signals and witnesses of divine adoption and new life.

As for ‘Mother Church’, the notion of a maidenly global gaggle, even one protected by the Spirit’s outstretched wings, is one that might easily grate. ‘Reveal her unity’? Guard her faith’ (Prayer G)? Surely, for better or worse, ‘we’ are the church, and we had better say so. Not driven sheep or sheltered chicks: just people, baptised. Perhaps when we’ve had a thousand years of leadership from people who aren’t straight white men, we may be able to revisit the idea of Church as Bride and Mother, but for now these metaphors represent (and maybe even cloak) such an unjust reality for half the world’s population that their use requires vast numbers of footnotes and riders, and might for now be best abandoned.

Secular Mother’s Day is also far from uncontroversial. In addition to those who find the day difficult because of various sorts of maternal experience given, received or denied, there are many social matters to address. Who best provides children with the love they need, and what sort of domestic arrangements best secure it? Solving that question brings the left and the right in their boxing gloves striding towards the ring. For some, the one thing needful is the love and security children require to grow and prosper. Who gives it (and in what combinations of committed carers — two mums, a dad and a grandma, whatever) is inconsequential. For others, only a man and wife spliced together in holy wedlock can be entrusted with the task, and no number of child cruelty stories begin to shake that fundamental view.

So should Mother’s Day be shelved until we have greater consensus? By no means. We have all been carried by a mother and, no matter how that child-bearing was experienced, we should be grateful to her or to any others who have shown us a mother’s love. It is something to celebrate, without reinforcing gender stereotypes or claiming to identify spurious complementarities between the sexes.

Some mothers will have inspired the admiration of their children by a gentle constancy at home, always ready to feed, bandage or celebrate as appropriate. Others will have been remarkable for resilience and determination in the professional sphere, by labour and ability resourcing their family’s life, freeing husbands or partners to stay at home with the sewing and the school run. Still others will not have been mothers at all. Yet, by accepting (like Mary) an unlooked-for role, they have come to be loved like a mother by their unintended children. Relations and friends, old and young, men and women: they have all with indefatigable love assumed as a willing responsibility of care that which was first known as a biological need to suckle. And now love calls out to love in the ungovernable joy of gratitude.

Some people inevitably paint any social change in colours of deep perturbation. But, more cheerily, I find this particular move away from sexual and gender-governed expectation to be wonderfully liberating. It seems to be evidence of humanity at our best, when we receive what evolution bequeaths us, and evolve it further in response to our needs and legitimate desires. Although motherhood has been for centuries a prime opportunity for malign collusion between biology and culture (learning to mistreat women because we could: the loathsome ‘barefoot in winter, pregnant in summer’ trope), we are finding surely better ways of providing for the perpetuation of our species and recognising the delightful diversity of human love and the scope it gives for permanent, faithful and stable relationships. Alas, we are still scoring negligibly on the violence and ecology papers (so ‘perpetuating the species’ suddenly looks a more questionable act), and we must aim to do urgently and significantly better.

If hardship and sorrow are ever present, we need the guidance, affirmation and support of mothers of either sex, those who know us well, and are committed to us for the long haul. There are relationships that can afford to be virtual, trivial, temporary. But this isn’t one of them. It has to be right. And where nature has failed to provide, inventive humanity must make good the lack.

‘Man hands on misery to man,’ says Philip Larkin. ‘It deepens like a coastal shelf.’ With his analysis we might be content to agree, but his solution is grim and wayward. ‘Get out,’ he says, ‘as early as you can, and don’t have any kids yourself.’

The way to make global progress is not by abstaining from living in committed relationship, but by being boldly involved. For most of us, love will not be particularly heroic or newsworthy, but will be made up of small daily kindnesses, like breakfast on a tray. But even these most basic acts are mother­-and-father to new beginnings: they warm hearts till stone turns to flesh. Any kindness communicates the stuff of God, and that’s why Mother’s Day matters. I pray you’ll have a good one, whatever your circumstances.


Broadening the Vision

In his typically extensive account of the so-called Cleansing of the Temple (John 2.13-22 and synoptic parallels), Professor NT Wright (in Jesus and the Victory of God, 406-428) invites us to think of the Jerusalem Temple as an enormous cross between Westminster Abbey, the Houses of Parliament and Buckingham Palace, the seat not simply of pious religious practice but of the nation’s life as a whole.

In fact, says Wright, it was not a cleansing at all: the rot had gone too deep for mere reform; though, to be sure, the Pharisees were recognising that a religious system so heavily reliant on liturgical barbecues would more than probably benefit from a greater emphasis on study of the word. Yet despite this hint of proto-Protestantism, this is no preview of Luther with hammer and nails. We see rather the one who will be crucified performing an ‘enacted parable’ of the Temple’s destruction, a piece of street theatre with the uncompromisingly potent political message that the end was in sight for the phony high priesthood of Herod’s cronies.

And how could he be so sure? Leaving aside the cunning expedient of postponing the writing down of the Gospels until after the Temple had been destroyed (Discuss), there were indications both outside and in that its days were numbered. From without, the Romans, like many empires before them, were keen to bring to heel this irritatingly monotheistic province that would worship neither the classical pantheon nor, even more expediently, the divine emperor. From within, financially-driven corruption gnawed at the integrity of the whole institution, reducing its ethos and purpose to a determination to squeeze yet more income from a sacrificial system no longer affordable to the poorest, so that this ‘House of Prayer for all nations’ became instead a den of thieves.

Only it wasn’t a den of ‘thieves’ in the sense of cheerful burglars and honest swindlers hustling pennies out of old ladies’ handbags. As Professor Wright points out, the word used is lestes or brigands, meaning people like Barabbas, zealots who knifed Roman squaddies by night and kept themselves scarce by day beneath the stalls of the pigeon sellers. Or something like that. Jesus certainly seems to be insisting that anyone who claims loyalty to the Temple and its cult must raise their eyes and broaden their vision far beyond the narrow national interests that did not begin to reflect his conception of the Kingdom of God, which, if it is to be truly that, must make room even for those hostile individuals whom the zealots oppose.

This manifesto commitment is unlikely to impress anyone keen on a career in the anti-terrorist squad. But it nevertheless provides an opportunity to consider the vexed subject of belonging, and to ask ourselves whom we regard (in Mrs Thatcher’s phrase) as ‘one of us’, and whom we relegate far beyond the pale of any dignified membership of our various human communities.

In a world that is so perplexing and sometimes terrifying, it is quite understandable if our default is to keep the shutters of our vision fairly tightly closed. If we cannot see what worries us, or all the people we neither understand nor feel inclined to like, we may just feel calmer and sleep more easily.

But this is not a strategy worthy of any who regard themselves as children of God, or who belong to any of the several constituencies for whom any closed-mindedness should be anathema. And it will not be enough simply to buy sandwiches for beggars or to try to look less disapproving next time we meet someone who writes violin concertos for a living, or who has multiple piercings or purple hair. Or perhaps both.

The distinguishing mark of those whose breadth of vision takes them significantly beyond themselves is surely an ability to see the connection between their own concerns and priorities with the rest of the world, locally and globally. I am, for example, always impressed and delighted when our pupils recognise that, although academic success is important, it only makes complete sense when seen as part of a greater whole. After school, the nurturing and development of a person in university should lead into a productive working life, with continuing attention to a generous hinterland of all the ties and interests that accompany the narrowly professional. Together this wealth of disposition and experience might one day enable them to contribute to an engagement with people with a very different human experience, relating to them in such a way as to reach new levels of mutual understanding and launch virtuous cycles of peaceful abundance.

Now, regaining Paradise is never without cost and danger. It is not surprising that within a short time of staging his protest, Jesus of Nazareth had been tried and crucified. But a vision so narrow as to include only ourselves and those easily mistaken for us will equally obstruct and constrict our lives until, like the Temple itself, we corrode and perish from within. It is clear which of these roads will lead to life. All we need now is the grace to pursue it.

This is a version of a homily preached on 7 March 2018 in Magdalen College School, Oxford

No Tweeting? Now maybe I’m not quite so sure …

I once had a parishioner who loved to tell the old joke that every morning he would read the obituaries in the local paper. If he didn’t find his own name among them, he concluded that he hadn’t died in the night, and so he got up and began the day.

For many, such active checking back in with the world after an eight-hour off-line sleep takes the form of logging into Twitter as soon as the alarm has sounded, before casting even half an eye on messages, mails, news and weather. First, we need to see whether our American followers have paid due attention overnight to our final Tweets of the day before, re-Tweeting us into more phones and homes and giving us the sort of attention we undoubtedly deserve.

So far, so commonplace. Most of us recognise the part of our insecure selves that craves the unchallenging affirmation of public agreement or smiling approval. And we acknowledge that Twitter is one of the better one-stop shops for finding it. So it seems obviously wise to abstain from the whole experience now and again, to try to wean ourselves off this need for constant positive attention, and to silence the endlessly chuntering, jesting or clamouring voice within that is determined to have its say, no matter how ill-informed the opinions or asinine their expression.

Now, very few of us are sufficiently rich, underemployed and self-obsessed to be in a position to transmit our views continuously all day long but it’s still sensible to know our Twitter limits and to stick to them. In this respect Tweets are a little like cigarettes: more than 20 a day and you’re probably in trouble.

There are also practical benefits to a Twitterfast, not least an increase in available time to devote to other improving literature, owing to a significant reduction in the printed matter that clogs our brain each day, including much of the posing and posturing, the flirting and flouncing that drains of disapproval even those with permanently-pursed lips, and is intolerably hard on even the most understanding nerves.

And yet, despite these benefits, I find myself missing the little blue bird during my own Lenten Twitterfast. This, as the rigorous will point out, is precisely why I should give (and offer) it up. But I miss the company of so many good people that it seems that I have ended up renouncing a blameless ‘them’ rather than a questionable ‘it’. I miss, for example, people I know in real life whom I also find online. They are the guardians of some of my memories, so to some degree they constitute who I am. Yet without Twitter I would probably hear from them only once a year (and they from me) in the printed news and scribbled half-promises of the Christmas card.

Then there are those I do not know well, but have come to recognise and rely on for all that they bring to the common table of the Twitterfeast: something quirky, amusing, challenging, informative; anything from the condition of traffic on the Oxford Road to the latest thinking on whole-class feedback. Or maybe they just have certain little things they like to say, which others are kind enough to listen to; just as in the olden days we’d have listened to each other’s pet hates and hobbyhorses as we loitered in the corner-shop or queued for the bus.

And that’s exactly what Twitter’s like a lot of the time. These aren’t bonds of family or close friendship (not hoops of steel); but they could become such, and for all their lightness of touch the relationships we form with people who are even only tangentially part of our electronic landscape do matter: their words may be only typed on a screen and their faces reduced to an icon or logo. But we know the power of icons and logos and should not too readily abandon them here.

In the past I’ve written in favour of a Twitter detox (Here, 6 January 2016), but I begin to think now that I was wrong. Of course, now that I’ve set my hand to the plough, I’ll have to keep going, but perhaps rather than simply withdrawing into an e-free wilderness, the best means of avoiding any unhelpful dependency on Twitter and all its works is to engage more carefully and reflectively on this characterful pursuit, maybe even in conversation with friends, followers and other social media users.

Now, I may be mightily deceiving myself, like the boozer who thinks they can pop in for just the social half-pint now and then. Time will tell. But despite my no doubt flawed reasons for entering the Tweetzone, I do grow more certain that sharing in a genuinely common life is the only way to cure people and nations of all that ails us. That will surely include the common life of the web. And for that to flourish, perhaps we need to gird ourselves with true wisdom and genuine discipline and, having remembered our password, boldly log on once more.

Dream Large, Live Larger: A homily for Lent I

There’s a fair chance that you are more familiar with the temptation story in Matthew and Luke than with this year’s account in St Mark. Those two writers begin modestly enough with Satan tempting Christ to make bread from stones; then encouraging him to test the swiftness of the angelic rapid-response team by throwing himself off the Temple roof; and to accept his invitation to survey the kingdoms of the world before bowing down to worship him. Each of the temptations is followed by a short burst of Bible-quote ping-pong which remains to this day a game highly favoured by certain individuals.

Mark gives us none of this sense of neat progression. His scheme, quite simply, describes Jesus experiencing Satan’s temptation in the company of ‘wild beasts’, followed by the restorative ministry of angels.

I find that the wild beasts draw my attention to the world of instinct and appetite; to the lower pleasures of a world that is sharp of fang and fleet of foot; that seeks power and domination without limit or mercy, determined to be top dog at the trough and to pass on its selfish genes to generations earmarked by Fortune for global ease and a life of charmed comfort.

Much that tempts human beings in every generation (sin is a leopard that doesn’t significantly change its spots) is a taste for power or pleasure, or a mixture of the two; or the means to fill a gap that we ourselves have created in pursuit of power or pleasure, image or reputation. For creatures with such an endless appetite for novelty, it is astonishing that we allow ourselves to be duped by the same unsatisfying bilge day after day. We know from plentiful experience that saying mean and destructive things (for however great a reward of laughter); or misusing media; or being too dedicated a patron of the hospitality industry; or being too free with friendships or unfathomably fond of financial reward will not make us flourish. We know because we tried them all last weekend or last year — and we were fairly miserable then, too. And yet (O mother Eve, you’re right: we are so beguiled!) we return to these temptations and click on Yes, yes, yes with all the reflective capacity of a somnolent goldfish.

And the endlessly repeated disappointment is so exhausting that we too might gladly opt for a non-corporeal existence and hope that a pure, selflessly angelic love will start to course through our bloodless veins and lead us to an altogether more beautiful life. But we are physical, we do have appetites and we are drawn relentlessly to the quest for pre-eminence by the human condition to which we are subdued. Yet help is perhaps at hand in the form of that disposition which Christ demonstrates in his baptism, now in the temptation, and in all that follows. I refer to the disposition on which we are focusing this half-term at MCS, namely Motivation.

Jesus of Nazareth is motivated throughout his life by an absorbing desire to perform God’s will and to proclaim God’s reign as the ultimate cosmic game-changer and assertion of the deepest possible reality. For us, our motivation may be more modest, yet it will be no less consuming of our attention and formative of our lives.

To give Motivation a chance to do its work with us, I recommend three courses of action for us to pursue this Lent or, if you prefer, until the end of term.

Firstly, believe in the glory of humanity. Whether or not you ‘do God’, please ‘do humanity’, for without a belief in our proper significance and potential we will continue to be easy prey to powerlust and will utterly fail to flourish.

Secondly, devote just 2 or 3 minutes each evening, again whether or not you ‘do God’ or are a Lent-keeping Christian, to an examination of the day. Just look back and see where you experienced joy or consolation, and where there was sadness, emptiness or desolation. Having noted it, ask why it was so, and see what difference this exercise might make to tomorrow.

Thirdly, please dream. Dream proper dreams, not of character-clogging riches or slick beauties who take your breath away as you board the night-flight to Planet Lovely. (For the record, I do naturally hope that you will be swept off your feet at least once in your life, and that it won’t just be your harassed spouse getting handy with the Hoover.) Let your dreams be of a world changed: a world where international aid is neither begrudged nor tainted, but given in generosity and goodness; a world where the orphans of war know peace and love and laughter; where the young people in our cities are kept safe from the danger of knives and any other destruction; and where our old people experience comfort, dignity and companionship. Please dream of a world where we don’t work for just a big house or shiny car, but for a whole world of security, shelter and clean water for all. In short, dream of a world that is as vast and wonderful as dreams should be. Anything duller, smaller or less daring will have no hope of renewing our desires and putting out of reach the fruit of the forbidden tree that causes all our woe.

We will need to help each other to be motivated in bringing any of this about. But in the end there is no reason why we should not be raised to levels far above the brute beasts’, and be made much wiser and more discerning the next time some infernal serpent offers us a dodgy second-hand version of ourselves or our kind. For we have also kept company with the King of the Angels, and we know there is a better way.

Delivered in Magdalen College School, Oxford, Thursday 22 February 2018.

Ordinary at Epiphany — a school homily

It is some consolation in the retail wasteland between Christmas and Valentine’s Day (in which we are cruelly deprived of meaning and purpose through having literally nothing to spend our money on) to recall that the Church is only half way through the Christmas holiday. Having reached Epiphany, we turn our attention away from shepherds and St Luke’s stinking menagerie, and find a house for the Holy Family, simple perhaps, but enough to receive their exotic ‘wise’ guests whose faithful starlit plod has led them westwards to Bethlehem, ‘the least of the tribes’, (Micah 5.2, Matthew 2.6) to alight from their ‘galled, sore-footed, refractory camels’ and open up their precious gifts.


This would provide a perfect theme to consider at the start of a new term. We could speak of perseverance, resilience and bravery, and it would no doubt be a heartening and improving experience.


But the picture is not quite so simple, for as we consider the coming of the Magi to this entirely human child, we think also of the Baptism of the adult Christ, and his first sign performed at the wedding at Cana of Galilee. In the first story, Christ joins the queues of the repentant at the river, drawn by John the Baptist to a washing-away of sins, only to be acclaimed by the Father as the ‘Beloved Son’, a relationship confirmed by the Spirit, descending in the form of a dove. At Cana, nature is transformed as water is tasted and seen to be graciously-provided wine, and all within the context of a marriage, celebrating love’s transforming power in ordinary human lives.


So much ordinariness. So much transformation. Yet we humans are largely useless at living with our own ordinariness, and will do almost anything to circumvent or mask it. We dress it in finery and designer labels, trying to be special with cars and upmarket postcodes, as if by adding a veneer of apparent success we can add a cubit to our inherent worth.


Alternatively, we run from being ordinary, resisting participation in our flesh-and-blood communities, taking refuge anywhere that will save us from the fear of failure, doing anything to distract us from the way things really are.


Worst of all, we build aggressive façades to disguise and reconstruct ourselves, kicking, spitting, scratching; vehemently defending positions we do not hold; striking an improbable pose; then posting unpleasantness on increasingly anti-social media, making ourselves so much less than the ordinary people we were trying so hard not to be.


None of this is necessary, or remotely intelligent behaviour. For all these three Epiphanies reveal what can happen when our own ordinariness and that of others is welcomed, celebrated and embraced.


The Magi follow with integrity their brightest light, not shrinking from an ordinary child, but discovering one who will live in such union with the Father that his nature is announced in prophetic gifts as royal, divine and life-giving.


Likewise at his Baptism, Christ’s humble participation in the washing-away of uncommitted sins brings unexpected affirmation and a dramatic commissioning for an extraordinary future.


Then finally, when at Cana all that is ordinary is exposed to the transforming power of God, it becomes wonderfully different, vibrant and fertile with deep rich notes of glory and joy.


Our New Year perseverance is therefore perhaps needed not in persuading ourselves and others how wonderful we are, but in accepting and befriending our basic human ordinariness, so that by loving and valuing ourselves as we are, we might come to love our neighbours also. Who knows? We might even begin just quietly to explore a tentative love of God.

A tip-trip triptych —Reflections on death, life and cardboard boxes

Even the man who worked at the tip could see that dumping box after box of books into the paper skip was wrong. ‘Would a charity shop not take them?’ he asked. A well-meant question, but these weren’t airport thrillers. There’s not much demand for mouldering commentaries on the books of the Bible, still less for painstaking accounts of the revival of religious communities in the Victorian Church of England.


With a house-move imminent, I had done my best to find a dignified afterlife for these unwanted books. As many clergy and seminarians as I could entice had picked over the carcass of the library, but an irreducible amount of printed matter still remained. ‘They’ll maybe do some good when they’re recycled,’ I hoped.

‘Probably be cardboard boxes,’ he said.

‘There you go then.’ I was satisfied. ‘You can do plenty of good with a cardboard box.’


And I should know. Our house was about to be filled with them and they in turn filled with all of our possessions, or ‘worldly goods’ as the Prayer Book perceptively calls them. For even the heaviest oak table or costliest antique is no more than an artefact to serve and please us during our limited time on earth, and to suffer who knows what after our demise: perishing in fire or crumbling to dust, and finally rotting in the earth to fertilise the food of future generations. Property is certainly not an end in itself. It means something only when its matter changes from form to form answering needs and giving joy everlastingly: not only swords into ploughshares, but ploughshares into pots and pans, pens, pins. The contribution made by my discarded books was not as it had been, but it nonetheless continued. Whereas once, perhaps, they had explained the place of the poor in holy scripture, now, perhaps, new boxes would carry food to the hungry. Their life was changed, not ended.



Moving to a new town or job is also a time for recycling all that we have been in the past, as we take our skills and dispositions and put them to service in an unfamiliar context. At a time when so many seem anxious about their place on the career ladder, this notion of recycling rather than ascent may be helpful. To reflect on past experience, identifying what excites or bores, satisfies or exasperates us; recognising too those capacities we have in abundance, and those which would challenge the wildest of horses to drag from within us. This is a wise process that should guide and motivate our decisions to move or remain.


I have been especially grateful to this sense of being recycled as for thirty years I have negotiated the twin roles of teacher and priest, in Britain and abroad, in monastery, cathedral, parish and school. And now I move from the brash and exciting complexity of a South London parish and Church of England comprehensive school to a highly competitive independent day school in Oxford with 900 very well-motivated pupils producing stratospherically impressive exam results year on year.


I do not feel that this is a promotion from being a Croydon vicar or a demotion from my previous role as a cathedral canon. And the fact that my superiors will all be lay people is by no means an affront to my ordination. I’m simply being recycled, allowing different qualities to be employed in a different way, as I pray the old Mirfield Fathers’ prayer that ‘my life may be hallowed, my way directed and my work made fruitful’.



These preparations for moving have been going on amid journeys to and from a hospital 200 miles away, where my mother is struggling with an inability to retain oxygen. We obviously pray that the situation will be corrected by time and medication, but she and we have had to face the fact that she may not be returned to health.


This is one of the unspoken functions of a hospital, to bring us inescapably face-to-face with our own vulnerability to disease and death. It is one of the reasons we wash our hands in antibacterial foam as we pass through doorways around the building. Of course, there are practical benefits from this, but we also apply the foam like a sort of magical protective against any secret danger that may be lurking to entrap us.


I think this is also a reason why hospitals tend to be quite noisy places, even during the night. Like our ancestors making an infernal din to drive out evil spirits, hospitals are full of the ‘rough music’ of activity: the exits and entrances of porters and cleaners; the loud questions to deaf patients, asking how they are doing today? And the interminable beeping of a thousand machines whose tones (even if they indicate illness) are preferable to the silence that would indicate the end.


This end need not frighten us, though we may have legitimate worries about how those left behind survive without us. The dying itself is not an end but another great recycling, just as when we are born into active life, so ceasing to be only the longed-for fruit of lovers. Whatever else religious believers will want to say about God’s provision for the departed, it is surely the case that in death we move from an active life to a life expressed and lived in the loving memory of family and friends. All that we have been and done will continue in the fond old tales of those who have known us, and in the lives of our children, if we have them. In them we hope for a better version of ourselves, as our essence is passed on genetically to all who follow. Life for us all will be changed not ended.


There is a wonderful scene in the film Scent of a Woman, in which a blind Al Pacino invites a beautiful English girl to learn how to tango. She is naturally alarmed at the prospect, fearful of embarrassing consequences. But the tango, he explains, is not at all like life. ‘There are no mistakes in the tango. … If you make a mistake, get all tangled up, you just tango on.’


This is the image to imitate. As things come to the end of their usefulness, or as we find ourselves in a sort of professional cul-de-sac, or as our lives near their end, we embrace these changes not thoughtlessly, ungratefully or callously; but determined to enter into a new phase of life in which we are set free, enabled to tango joyfully on.

The Beautiful Name – a short poem in long lines

By those who barely utter it, but mutter it head-bowed, in cope and veil of incense cloud, lifting their biretta’s brim.

By those who thunder it with fire, a Yes, Oh Yes of Molly Bloom desire.

By those who chant it day and night, hooded and habited, hovering on the neum’s ancient melody like a bird on the constant air.

By those who sing it sublimely through the centuries, or who strum it fresh in late-night fire-lit fellowship.

By those who barely know their meaning, but say it seeking safety, a ladder and a life raft.

By those who curse it, oath it, spit it out in the green phlegm of anger, treading coarsely on its gentle bloom.

By those who’ve long known it, but sheathed in a heavy brocade the fearful shining of its scalpel blade, that cuts and slices through sinning to demand a new beginning.

By those who grieve and hurt, hunger and die at the wayside of a world that will not care; who call it croakingly, empty and dry with despair.

By all kinds and in all places, this holy name of Jesus will be said, sung, whispered, shouted, honoured, worshipped, cursed and prayed all ways, all days, while earth spins round as humans’ home and harbour.