Dwelling Spaces

Tuesday, 23 May 2017


View of Manchester from the Cathedral © Robert Watson

This morning I put on my dog collar with a heavy heart and a sense of trepidation. What does it mean to wake up in the morning, as a vicar, to hear the news of an attack like the suicide bombing in Manchester? After initial prayers for those caught up in the bombing, thoughts turn to your own community. What effect will it have on people here? And what words can I offer into that? The swirl of your own distress about what has happened somehow needs to be oriented towards God. Within an hour, the first conversation, a man walking home with his paper, feeling like nowhere is safe now. Also not knowing how to respond. I urge him to do good and believe in the goodness of others. Because that is apparent too. One bomber versus thousands of people helping because they were there, or it is their job, or they could do something small to help another. Twitter full of offers of beds, tea and phones. A narrative of hate, some would say evil, juxtaposed with a narrative of love, care and compassion.
And so this is where I begin when I think about our world. The truth is that we all carry within us a mixture of love and hate, of good and bad. We all have a choice about which direction we want to move towards, to love more or to hate more, to do good things more often or bad things more often. I wish I was more consistent in my choices, but even the most consistent person does not live a perfect life of love and goodness. And what are we to do about this? In a bomber we might see the magnification of a hate that we sometimes see in ourselves. In a grandfather who swoops down to keep an unknown young girl safe until he can find a way to reunite her with her parents we see a magnification of care and love that we sometimes see in ourselves.
And this is why the Christian story gives me hope. Because it is a story of original goodness. It is a story that both recognises the extraordinary value of every life, and this capability we all have of choosing to do good things and bad things. It is a story of a God who loves and cares so much about people that these good and bad choices are not left hanging, but are gathered up by One who judges justly. And in this gathering up also offers the opportunity of repentance and forgiveness. I cannot give an answer to why bad things happen, but my trust is in a God who can hold all that together and calls us into a story of hope and redemption.

Wednesday, 1 March 2017


Today I had a new experience. As part of the Ash Wednesday service I had the opportunity to perform the 'imposition of ashes'. One by one the congregation came forward and I marked the sign of the cross on their foreheads whilst saying 'Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return. Turn away from sin and be faithful to Christ.' It was very moving, rich with symbolism, and also a little weird! Being daubed with ash is not really a part of 'normal' life, so why do it?

I guess one of the most similar activities is soldiers putting their camouflage streaks across their faces so that they can blend into the landscape. They are wanting to become like the earth so that they can't be found. If they do it successfully they might be more likely to live another day. Being 'ashed' on Ash Wednesday is a similar reminder that we are all walking on a narrow line between life and death.  Day-to-day I don't think too much about my own death, whilst all around me personally and through the news I see and hear about people who have stepped from life to death, or are about to. These rituals of faith are ways to help us hold such tensions. Life is inevitably and inexorably linked to death.  The Christian story lifts up that tension and places it in a bigger story that describes why life is given and how death is redeemed. It comes with no promise that the pain which now accompanies the severing of life will be any less. But the promise is of a companion for the journey who has travelled that way before.

Thursday, 22 December 2016

The God who sees me

Image result for afghan girl with green eyes
(Photo: Steve McCurry, National Geographic)

“I feel like God has seen me.” These words were spoken to me by one of the women after the Free Range Chicks conference in November. We had had a wonderful couple of days, and it is this simple but powerful statement has stayed with me. When she said it, I thought immediately of Hagar in Genesis 16. Pregnant and alone, she has fled from abuse into the wilderness. And there, by a spring, God sends an angel to her who tells her about the son she will have, and tells her she must return to the camp. The encounter leads her to worship this God who has seen her. What an amazing thing!

Hagar was a woman, a slave, pregnant and vulnerable. Running from the people she knew, she would have had no hope for the future. It was likely that she and the baby would have been killed if they had been found, or they would’ve died in the wilderness. She was worthless in the sight of the world. But one who looks with different eyes had seen her. The God who seeks out the one missing sheep, the God who comes to seek and save the lost, this God was watching. The effect of this God seeing her, telling her He knew all about her, and giving her hope for the future was powerful. She calls God ‘the God who sees me’ or ‘who looks after me’, and wonders how she can still be alive despite having seen this God herself. An encounter with God the Almighty One should have been the final straw meaning certain death for someone who thought they were worthless, but it is the opposite. Suddenly she realises that she has value in the eyes of God. God has found her, and literally turns her life around, sending her back with purpose. When we allow ourselves to be seen by God, it opens our eyes to who we really are. God is our Creator and so understands utterly who we are. He has mercy on our failings and reveals who He has called us to be. This can and should give us the confidence to become that woman or man. It is a powerful gift to be seen for who we really are.

As we move towards Christmas in the rush of life, my prayer for you is that you will find a moment to be still. Perhaps take that moment now to pause and become aware of God with you. Become aware that this is the God who sees you. And allow that realisation to change you. The God who sees you is the one who loves you. This Christmas time this is God’s gift to you, that you are seen, really seen, by Him.

Wednesday, 31 August 2016

The Olympic Spirit

Once again I find myself captivated by the Olympic Games. There is something about seeing representatives from 200+ countries (and this year a team of refugees) all together in one place that makes me think of how wonderfully varied our world is, and how amazing it is that people can be drawn together in this way. What has particularly stood out to me this year is the competitors talking about the years of hard work and sacrifice that have gone into getting them ready. Some have spoken about training towards this moment for 8 years or more. And it got me thinking about what qualities the medal winners have that make them the best in the world. I am sure you can probably think of your own list, but these are some that have struck me, and that encourage me to think about my own journey of faith.
  • They know what they are good at and they train to get better at it – one of the women’s judo champions had tried 5 different sports before she settled on judo, but once she did that and focused on her training she has become the best! We are all good at something, but it is often hard not to compare ourselves with others and to want to be good at something different. But it is important to value the gift(s) that we have and to develop them, that way we make the contribution that is uniquely ours to make. Romans 12.4-8 talks about how we each offer a different gift and encourages us to use them well.
  • They persevere – the GB team pursuit cyclists talked about how they hadn’t won any competitions in the last 4 years, but they kept going, working on changing and improving the smallest things, even removing their rings when they cycled, training long days and even through holidays. They won the gold in a tense final that saw them behind until a last huge effort pushed them into the winning time. 2 Peter 1.5-7 says make every effort to add to your faith, and one of the things to add is perseverance. Life and faith are not straightforward and the ability to keep going through the tough times, to keep trusting in the goodness of God can be a huge challenge. We need to encourage each other to keep going, to persevere.
  • They fix their eyes on the goal – winning a medal at the Olympics dominates the thinking of the competitors for years. Mo Farah talks about dreaming as a child about winning an Olympic medal, he won nothing in 2008, another 4 years of training led to great success in London 2012, but his eyes had been fixed on the medal for a long time. Hebrews 12.2-3 talks about fixing our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith. Considering all Jesus has done for us helps us not to grow weary and lose heart.