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Intercessions for Lent 1 – Year C -series 2 – 14 February 2016


The Temptation of Christ, Cathedral of Monreale, Sicily via Wikimedia


The Collect

Almighty God, whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness, and was tempted as we are, yet without sin: give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit; and, as you know our weakness, so may we know your power to save; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

The Liturgy of the Word

First Reading: Deuteronomy 26.1-11

Moses spoke to the people, saying: When you have come into the land that the Lord your God is giving you as an inheritance to possess, and you possess it, and settle in it, you shall take some of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you harvest from the land that the Lord your God is giving you, and you shall put it in a basket and go to the place that the Lord your God will choose as a dwelling for his name. You shall go to the priest who is in office at that time, and say to him, ‘Today I declare to the Lord your God that I have come into the land that the Lord swore to our ancestors to give us.’ When the priest takes the basket from your hand and sets it down before the altar of the Lord your God, you shall make this response before the Lord your God: ‘A wandering Aramean was my ancestor; he went down into Egypt and lived there as an alien, few in number, and there he became a great nation, mighty and populous. When the Egyptians treated us harshly and afflicted us, by imposing hard labour on us, we cried to the Lord, the God of our ancestors; the Lord heard our voice and saw our affliction, our toil, and our oppression. The Lord brought us out of Egypt with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm, with a terrifying display of power, and with signs and wonders; and he brought us into this place and gave us this land, a land flowing with milk and honey. So now I bring the first of the fruit of the ground that you, O Lord, have given me.’ You shall set it down before the Lord your God and bow down before the Lord your God. Then you, together with the Levites and the aliens who reside among you, shall celebrate with all the bounty that the Lord your God has given to you and to your house.

Psalm:  91.1-2,9-16

Whoever dwells in the shelter of the Most High ♦ and abides under the shadow of the Almighty,

Shall say to the Lord, ‘My refuge and my stronghold, ♦ my God, in whom I put my trust.’

Because you have made the Lord your refuge ♦ and the Most High your stronghold,

There shall no evil happen to you, ♦ neither shall any plague come near your tent.

For he shall give his angels charge over you, ♦ to keep you in all your ways.

They shall bear you in their hands, ♦ lest you dash your foot against a stone.

You shall tread upon the lion and adder; ♦ the young lion and the serpent you shall trample underfoot.

Because they have set their love upon me, therefore will I deliver them; ♦ I will lift them up, because they know my name.

They will call upon me and I will answer them; ♦ I am with them in trouble,
I will deliver them and bring them to honour.

With long life will I satisfy them ♦ and show them my salvation.

Second Reading: Romans 10.8b-13

What does scripture say? ‘The word is near you, on your lips and in your heart’ (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because if you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For one believes with the heart and so is justified, and one confesses with the mouth and so is saved. The scripture says, ‘No one who believes in him will be put to shame.’ For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all and is generous to all who call on him. For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’

Gospel Reading: Luke 4.1-13

Praise to you, O Christ, King of eternal glory.
The Lord is a great God, O that today you would listen to his voice.
Harden not your hearts.
Praise to you, O Christ, King of eternal glory.

Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the wilderness, where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing at all during those days, and when they were over, he was famished. The devil said to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become a loaf of bread.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “One does not live by bread alone.”’ Then the devil led him up and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And the devil said to him, ‘To you I will give their glory and all this authority; for it has been given over to me, and I give it to anyone I please. If you, then, will worship me, it will all be yours.’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is written, “Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.”’ Then the devil took him to Jerusalem, and placed him on the pinnacle of the temple, saying to him, ‘If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down from here, for it is written,  “He will command his angels concerning you, to protect you”, and  “On their hands they will bear you up,
so that you will not dash your foot against a stone.”’ Jesus answered him, ‘It is said, “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.”’ When the devil had finished every test, he departed from him until an opportune time.

Prayers of Intercession

The Church of Christ

Lord, you drive us once again into the desert as you challenge us to make a choice: a choice which is simple, but not necessarily easy. Give us, we pray, the clarity of insight to know the right path, the path that leads to your kingdom; and give us also the courage and the perseverance to reject the tempting well-worn tracks of habit, and the merely expedient.

Lord, strengthen us against temptation: in your mercy, hear our prayer

Creation, human society, the Sovereign and those in authority

Lord, open our eyes to the glory of your creation, as we open our hearts to you this Lent. Give us a clearer vision of your presence in and through all things, even in the troubled areas of the world which it seems can never know peace. Show us how to intervene in a way that will help, not make situations worse.

Lord, strengthen us against temptation: in your mercy, hear our prayer

The local community

Lord, we thank you for the gift of community. Through our human companions we know the essence of living: warmth and laughter, quietness and sadness; who we are and who we could be. We thank you for the joy of sharing as we journey the pilgrim road together.

Lord, strengthen us against temptation: in your mercy, hear our prayer

Those who suffer

Lord, in the midst of struggle and pain, we trust in your love that endures. Help us to bear one another’s burdens as courage moves us onwards and our faith trusts in the future. Companion on our journey, protector at our side, you comfort us with the assurance of your presence.

Lord, strengthen us against temptation: in your mercy, hear our prayer

The communion of saints

Lord, we pray for your servants who are now with your saints, where sorrow and pain are no more, neither sighing, but life everlasting.

We bring before you………… May they rest in peace and rise in glory.

Merciful Father, accept these prayers….


Prayer after Communion

Lord God,
you have renewed us with the living bread from heaven;
by it you nourish our faith,
increase our hope,
and strengthen our love:
teach us always to hunger for him who is the true and living bread,
and enable us to live by every word
that proceeds from out of your mouth;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Copyright acknowledgement (where not already indicated above): Some material included in this service is copyright: © 1989 National Council of the Churches of Christ, USA Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000 Invitation to Confession (Lent) © The Archbishops’ Council 2002 Collect (1st of Lent) © The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)


A Season in Hell by Taylor Carey 



‘I am not sure’, writes George Steiner of the most haunting tragedy of the twentieth century, ‘whether anyone, however scrupulous, who spends time and imaginative resources on these dark places, can, or indeed, ought to leave them personally intact. Yet the dark places are at the centre. Pass them by and there can be no serious discussion of the human potential’.[1] His remarks are directed in part against the poet Sylvia Plath, whose ‘holocaust poems’ – Lady Lazarus, Daddy, and Mary’s Song – employ the systematic annihilation of European Jewry in the service of vivid metaphor. Such usage reveals a ‘subtle, corrupting fascination’ which remains at the heart of our culture; yet, argues Steiner, poetic appropriation of Auschwitz usually fails to do justice to the singular horror, the staggering barbarism, and the ineluctable tragedy of that mid-century Arschloch der Welt. The failure remains with us, as does the haunting memory of that time when centuries of civilisation, and generations of cultural and artistic achievement, gave way almost without protest to the insanity of mechanised slaughter. Those who sent 1.5 million Jewish children to the gas chambers had, in the evenings before the days of carnage, read Schiller’s Letters Upon the Aesthetic Education of Man, and, weeping, turned to the consolations of Schubert’s String Quintets or the triumphal humanism of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Condorcet had assured them that ‘all people whose history is recorded fall somewhere between our present degree of civilisation and that which we still see among savage tribes’, yet that very ‘civilisation’ incubated a neurotic impulse which hungered for bloodthirsty destruction. [2] Such a culture is our inheritance; its history and memory have become our responsibility. Seventy-one years after the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, how are we to relate to Europe’s season in hell?

Conceptual difficulties abound. The Shoah is usually defined as the slaughter of six million Jews from 1939 to 1945, and the systematic murder of various other ‘undesirable’ groups.[3] A fuller account would surely encompass its antecedents: Kristallnacht, that terrible catharsis of 1938; the Nuremberg Laws of 1935, which denied citizenship to European Jews; and the Enabling Act of 1933, the legal foundation upon which the terroristic policies of Nazi government were built. The backwards march could go on, chronicling innumerable manifestations of a brooding, frustrated continental ennui which regarded flourishing European Jewry with shame, disgust, jealousy, and loathing. Perhaps the genealogy of anti-Semitism can be traced back to St Paul; the ‘rift’ with the Synagogue among early Christian communities, and the origins of the worship of Jesus as divine remain among the most controversial topics in contemporary historical scholarship.[4] We may never possess a complete account, though widespread historical episodes, from the Crusades to the Dreyfus Affair, provide narrative anchors. Jew-hatred, for practical historical purposes, may not possess an exact beginning or end, yet its ugly, bloated midriff disfigures nearly every period of Western history on record.

At least two dangers attend any ‘explanation’ of the Shoah. The first is a form of reification, whereby Auschwitz is taken as the indictment of a generation, and raised to a singular, meaningless fame. This might be called the danger of contingency. The second is its opposite: the Holocaust somehow acts as a cipher for the entire history of human evil, despite being – in practical terms – just one more episode of familiar, barbarous violence. This might be termed the danger of universalisation.[5] The problem with the former is that all evil becomes relativised, and the concrete connections between human action and its consequences are sundered; we may yet have another Auschwitz, a terrifying possibility that we can scarcely comprehend, so long as we meet any modern manifestation of evil with the comforting quip that ‘at least it’s not the Holocaust’. The problem with the latter is its absorption of various and diverse manifestations of persecution into one, ahistorical category; if any instance of injustice constitutes a first step on a road to Birkenau, why should the Shoah have occurred, quite specifically, between 1939 and 1945?

It is to this twin-headed conundrum that George Steiner has dedicated much of his illustrious, polyglot scholarship. It is perhaps worth mentioning in this regard that his own perspective on the Holocaust (denied a capital letter for much of his early career, and generally not referred to directly by most writers until the 1960s) has shifted across and between the two positions as his thought has developed.[6] In an early, prize-winning essay entitled Malice (1952), Steiner subsumes the Holocaust within a broader discussion of human evil. The juxtaposition of high culture and barbarism displayed by Beethoven-loving camp commandants is contextualized in broader patterns of human wickedness. The old adage that ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ is offered by Steiner as an explanation for Europe’s ingrained anti-Semitism, particularly at a period in history when economic frustration and hardship ran high, and neighbouring Jews seemed to prosper.[7] In later years, however, his position changes: the Holocaust becomes not simply another manifestation of human evil, but rather a singular phenomenon which lies buried in the nexus of civility and barbarism deep in the heart of European culture.  An empirical claim to uniqueness may of course be tenuous; Steiner recognises that ‘quantitatively there have been worse killings’, and that systematised, mechanical mass murder did not in fact originate with the Nazis.[8] Thus an adequate account of the Shoah, if possible at all, must be found elsewhere: ‘if there are qualitative differences between the Shoah and the innumerable examples of mass-murder which punctuate history both before and since, they must lie very deep: in that symbolic and metaphysical-theological realm which I want to point towards’.[9]

Which realm is this? In part, it is the domain of institutionalised Christianity, which Steiner holds responsible for some of the gravest acts of evil that humanity has witnessed. For Steiner, Christianity has established the grounds upon which humans can be rendered ‘subhuman’. Furthermore, it has applied this cruel and demonic label to the very womb in which it was created – Judaism. Golgotha and Auschwitz exist in a tragic, tangled nexus of neurosis, since ‘in the fascinations of Nazism, those starved, beaten, gassed to extinction were not men and women and children but vermin, members of a species other than that of man’. This was only possible because of the ‘symbolic symmetry’ with the Jewish denial of Jesus’ messiahship:

In the eye of the believer, God had, through the incarnation of Christ, through the descent of the divine into human form, affirmed, attested to the literal godliness of man. Man had, in Christ, been of the nature of God. This modulation had been scorned by the Jew. Was it not inevitable that the Jew, who had refused transcendence for man, should bear the final, logical consequence, which is to be made less than human?[10]

Very little could be said in defence of institutional Christianity during the Holocaust; as usual, its only redeeming features may be found among the individual lives of selfless human beings – the Edith Steins, Etty Hillesums, and Dietrich Bonhoeffers of the world – whose generosity and self-sacrifice belied the stasis of their churches’ grandees.[11] Alone among many of his contemporaries, the Anglican theologian and philosopher Donald MacKinnon, whose friendship with Steiner lasted until MacKinnon’s death in 1994, diagnosed the extent to which Christianity was implicated in the phenomenon of barbarism at the heart of European civility. ‘If for the Christian’, argued MacKinnon,

‘it is in the events of the first Good Friday that the sense of the final judgement of the world is to be glimpsed, as well as the foundations of its hope, he must also remember that part of the price paid for the accomplishment of these things in human history was the unmentionable horror of anti-semitism whose beginning can be traced in the New Testament itself and whose last manifestation in our own time was Christian acquiescence in the ‘final solution’’.[12]

To a very great extent, argues Steiner, such a gulf of antagonism between Judaism and Christianity cannot be bridged.[13] At the same time, however, it is precisely the Arnoldian retreat of the Sea of Faith – in Europe, specifically the Christian faith – which Steiner places at the heart of his understanding of the Shoah. It is in his working through of these seemingly contradictory premises that we may glimpse the enduring spectral presence with which the Holocaust haunts European civilisation today.

Steiner’s 1970 T.S. Eliot Memorial Lectures, published during the following year as In Bluebeard’s Castle, equip him with a distinctive and much-quoted phrase, ‘the blackmail of transcendence’.[14] It is this which he believes has contributed most to the persecution of Jews throughout history, a narrative of resentment which drew together its various sub-plots most completely in the Holocaust of the twentieth century. For Steiner, Judaism has blackmailed Western civilisation through the creation of three ultra-demanding systems of morality: the Law of Moses, the commands of Christ, and, finally, the secular messianic philosophy of Marx and utopian socialism. Each of these has burdened European society with an ethical load too heavy to bear, and has thus created a source of shame, and a lingering flicker of resentment which directs its heat again and again to its covenantal source in the religious identity of Israel. ‘Three times’, argues Steiner, ‘Judaism produced a summons to perfection and sought to impose it on the current and currency of Western life’:

Deep loathings built up in the social subconscious, murderous resentments. The mechanism is simple but primordial. We hate most those who hold out to us a goal, an ideal, a visionary promise which, even though we have stretched our muscles to the utmost, we cannot reach, which slips, again and again, just out of range of our racked fingers – yet, and this is crucial, which remains profoundly desirable, which we cannot reject because we fully acknowledge its supreme value.[15]

Viewed in this way, the Holocaust constituted the supreme rejection of theology, the ultimate statement of contempt for a system of obligations of which the Jewish people were a constant, damning reminder. Yet – and this is crucial – such a rejection could only have become a possibility as the Christian fabric of European civilisation was discarded. It was displaced by an Enlightened vision of progress which, following the revolutionary fireworks of 1789 and 1815, floundered in the long, hot, summer of boredom. This lasted until the advent of the First World War, and was marked by stasis, deceleration, and conservatism, and by peace broken only in 1830, 1848, and 1871, and during short, limited conflicts between hegemonic powers. The frustration was thus twofold: Enlightened modernity launched itself in protest at the clerical demands of Christendom, which beat a hasty retreat on Dover Beach. Yet secular progressivism, exemplified all too quickly by the dark satanic mills of an industrialised, alienated society, failed to meet the human spirit’s demand for transcendental consolation, and instead stared in envy at its revolutionary past, miserably contenting itself with its distinctly anti-revolutionary heroes – Stendhal, Musset, Byron, and Pushkin.[16] Concomitantly, the exponential growth of finance and industry produced ever more frequently the phenomenon of the ‘urban inferno, with its hordes of faceless inhabitants’.[17] This combination of ‘extreme economic-technical dynamism with a large measure of enforced social immobility, a conjunction on which a century of liberal, bourgeois civilization was built, made for an explosive mixture’.[18] It created a neurotic itch that was only worsened by the horrors of the First World War, which itself proved more than ever that humanity’s secular utopian dreams all too often ended in disaster. Europe yearned for another revolution, even as its faith in the human revolutionary project dwindled; with stasis and disappointment came the impulse for chaotic violence described by Freud as a ‘perverse longing’ for destruction.

Of all of this, argues Steiner, the Jews stood as a terrible, infuriating reminder. For him, it comes as no surprise that it was a culturally Christian, yet increasingly agnostic or atheistic, society which turned all of its monstrous technical capability to the end of the destruction of European Jewry:

It is when they are exhausted or degenerating that organs and muscle tissue secrete contagious and maleficent substances into the human body. So it was that the original Pauline and Patristic theology of Jew-hatred, together with the more general and even deeper-lying resentment of monotheism and sacrificial morality, took on their terrible, festering virulence precisely as Christianity and a belief in God as such began receding from spiritual habits and intellectual-political adherence of Western civilisation. There is a perfect logic in the anti-Semitism of a Voltaire. There is a clear pattern in the fact that the Auschwitz-world erupts out of the subconscious, collective obsessions of an increasingly agnostic, even anti- or post-Christian society. Long-buried, and freed of doctrinal inhibitions and abstractions, the symbols and metaphors which cluster around the Judaic invention and “killing” of God…turned murderous’.[19]

Steiner’s is an astonishingly confident vision, which for all its mellifluous eloquence, may ultimately be found wanting in its detail. Steiner himself has frequently stressed that, despite all his years of scholarship, no answer to the question of ‘why the music didn’t say “No!”’ is forthcoming. Yet perhaps this is the wrong, but telling, question to ask. Music, for Steiner, has become the ‘prayer of the unbeliever’, the avenue of human existence which most supremely allows for God’s presence – whether or not in terms of conventional religious belief – to be acknowledged as utterly fundamental to human existence. Music and art defy the secular, since they cannot admit of closure among any number of negotiations of human perspective. They belong to the realm of human subjectivity, which itself eludes exhaustive definition as an object of human awareness – for the simple reason that human minds are not objects at all. As such, all music and art raises the question of the transcendent, the very question which religious traditions never answer, frequently muddle, but always hold open. To take music, art, and literature seriously is to allow for the possibility of taking time, of investing one’s object of awareness with potentially infinite attention, to covenant always to hold open human practices against what cannot be realised within human history: a total, final perspective, the last word about human existence and meaning.[20] The Jews could be slaughtered. But their presence was a stark reminder of what couldn’t be banished from the universe by any empire.

Could it be that, as those who oversaw the systematic liquidation of children read that exquisite comment of Immanuel Kant about ‘starry heavens above me’ and ‘the moral law within me’, and ingested the romance of Rilke; as they felt the utter transcendence of Beethoven’s late quartets, or allowed themselves to be drawn into the sublime dance of Bach’s cello suites; as they reached the summit of the Missa Solemnis, or lost themselves in the epic landscapes of Wagner’s Parsifal; could it be that they realised this terrible truth, this earth-shattering epiphany? And did that realisation so damn them, so completely mock their infatuation with ultimate and final power, and humiliate them to such an extent, that they were driven in an ever more nihilistic, rabid, and crazed fashion to destroy that small and defenceless population who so embodied, at the heart of European civilisation, the hope and transcendence woven into the very fabric of the human spirit?


* * *

Or perhaps that is all too simple.

I have stared down at those three cracked and lop-sided steps which lead to the gas chambers in Auschwitz-Birkenau. I have leant against the wall of the sanitation block as a Rabbi mumbled the Kaddish, and blew the Shofar. It was a damp, bleak, freezing day. And it was appropriate, tempting, and seductive. This was the Auschwitz everyone wanted to know. This was the contingent Holocaust (“How could they have done this?”), soon to become the universalised Holocaust, in the hands of well-meaning school education officers (“So what do you think about human rights now?”). Tempting, very tempting. But not uncomfortable enough.

The late Gillian Rose, has, as ever, provided a piercing and insightful diagnosis:

To Plato, doing wrong could only occur if one lacked knowledge of what was right – one could not wittingly intend wrong; to Aristotle, it was possible to intend and act rightly but unwittingly to incur wrong…To modernity, this dilemma of contingency acquires a systematic twist: for, it is possible to mean well, to be caring and kind, loving one’s neighbour as oneself, yet to be complicit in the corruption and violence of social institutions. Furthermore, this predicament may not correspond to, and may not be represented by, any available politics or knowledge.[21]

Perhaps this is where Steiner’s thoughts edge us. There is a danger that we might read him as suggesting that each and every perpetrator of the Holocaust sought only the tragic reconciliation of their atheism and love of Schubert. This would be absurd; at the individual level, many Nazis were mundane, petty, uneducated, and cruel – and indeed extremely kind. The point, perceptively made by Rose, is that individual morality relates dialectically to its institutional framework. We may struggle to see the injustices upon which our kindnesses are premised:

[I]t is the very opposition between morality and legality – between inner, autonomous ‘conscience’, and outer, heteronomous institutions – that depraves us. Simultaneous possession of inner freedom and outer unfreedom means that the border where cognitive activity and normative passivity become cognitive passivity and normative activity is changeable and obscure. There is a diremption in our agency and in our institutions…[22]

Perhaps even those who visit Auschwitz without a gross caricature of Nazism often fail to grasp the full implications of this point. It is not enough to ask ‘could I have done this?’ (the answer, ‘yes’, is immediately obvious). The point about Auschwitz, about the Shoah, is the radical questioning of that ‘I’, and the terrible, horrific realisation that it rested then, and may rest now, on unimaginable violence.  To so question ourselves might, as Rose puts it ‘contribute to a change of awareness and a questioning of our sentimentality as modern citizens, protected in all ‘innocence’ by the military might of the modern state. For, in modern dirempted polities, it is the relation between the…inner and outer boundaries of our self-identity and lack of self-identity that turns us into strangers to ourselves as moral agents and social actors’.[23]

I can recall those three steps to the gas chamber vividly. They were steps to hell. And it may be that we all need to go there. At least for a season.


* I owe the title to the second of George Steiner’s T.S. Eliot Memorial Lectures, delivered in 1970.

[1] George Steiner, In Bluebeard’s Castle: Some Notes Towards the Re-definition of Culture (London: Faber & Faber, 1971), 32.
[2] Marquis de Condorcet, Political Writings, ed. Steven Lukes and Nadia Urbinati (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2012), 5.
[3] To adapt a working definition offered by David Cesarani in The Holocaust: A Guide for Students and Teachers (London: Holocaust Educational Trust, 2010).
[4] The literature is vast and overwhelming. See Daniel Boyarin, Border Lines: The Partition of Judeo-Christianity (Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 2004), and Jacob Neusner, Jews and Christians: The Myth of a Common Tradition (London: SCM Press, 1990). These and other perspectives are brilliantly incorporated into Simon Schama’s The Story of the Jews: Finding the Words, 1000BCE-1492CE (London: The Bodley Head, 2013), chapters 5-9.
[5] These competing ‘pillars’ of interpretation correlate to the respective positions of Emil Fackenheim, To Mend the World: Foundations of Future Jewish Thought (New York: Shocken, 1982), and Zygmunt Bauman, Modernity and the Holocaust (Oxford: Polity Press, 1989).
[6] For an excellent survey, see Catherine D. Chatterley, Disenchantment: George Steiner and the Meaning of Western Civilization after Auschwitz (Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press, 2011).
[7] George Steiner, Malice (Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1952), 13, 16-17.
[8] George Steiner, ‘The Long Life of a Metaphor: An Approach to “the Shoah”’, Encounter (February 1987), 57.
[9] Ibid., 57
[10] George Steiner, ‘Through That Glass Darkly’, No Passion Spent (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 342-343.
[11] For an unflinching look at Christianity’s many painful silences, including the Holocaust, see Diarmaid MaCulloch, Silence: A Christian History (London: Allen Lane, 2013).
[12] Donald MacKinnon, The Borderlands of Theology (London: Lutterworth Press, 1968), 103. For a survey of the fascinating dialogue between MacKinnon and Stein on the subject of tragedy (with particular reference to the Shoah), see Graham Ward, ‘Tragedy as Subclause: George Steiner’s Dialogue with Donald MacKinnon’, The Heythrop Journal, 34 (1993), 274-287.
[13] Steiner, ‘Through That Glass Darkly’, 345. I would not put as much emphasis theologically on this point as Steiner (I do not dispute his cultural-historical argument). For a more nuanced view, see Rowan Williams, ‘The Finality of Christ’, On Christian Theology (Oxford: Blackwell, 2000), 93-106.
[14] Steiner, In Bluebeard’s Castle, 41.
[15] Ibid, 41.
[16] Ibid., 21-22.
[17] Ibid., 23.
[18] Ibid., 24.
[19] Steiner, ‘The Long Life of a Metaphor’, 59.
[20] For a discussion of secularism, see Rowan Williams, ‘Has Secularism Failed?’, Faith in the Public Square (London: Bloomsbury, 2015). For an overview of its effects on the humanities and human imagination, see Roger Scruton, The Face of God (London: Bloomsbury, 2013).
[21] Gillian Rose, ‘The Future of Auschwitz’, Judaism and Modernity: Philosophical Essays (Oxford: Blackwell, 1993), 34.
[22] Ibid., 34.
[23] Ibid, 35.

“Beyond The Collar – Confessions of a Vicar” by Mark Edwards


The Revd Mark Anthony Edwards is the Team Vicar at the churches of St Cuthbert’s and St Matthews in the benefice of  Christ the King in the Diocese of Newcastle, where he has served since 2008. He lives in the vicarage of St Matthew’s in Dinnington.

This is the outer layer of the onion. Peel it off, and you will find beneath the story of his time as an Anglican priest. He studied for the priesthood at Cranmer Hall, Durham, and was ordained deacon in 1995 in Carlisle Cathedral. He then became an assistant curate, first at   Ulverston (St Mary with Holy Trinity and St Jude), and then, after he was priested in 1997, at Barrow-in-Furness (St John the Evangelist) from 2000 to 2008. Since then he has served as Team Vicar at  St Matthews, Barrow-in-Furness  with   Christ the King, Newcastle and was also Chaplain to the Northumbria Police from 2008-2012.

So far, so commonplace, you may say. But peel off the next layer, and you will find him working as a lay pastoral assistant in the Baptist Church. 1984 found Mark Edwards studying at Morland Bible College. He had come to faith through the help of ‘a godly pastor’ at Chester City Mission, where he had been spending a lot of time.

41ULf1EnE8L._And why had he been spending a lot of time at the Chester City Mission? Well, and it is at this point that Mark’s life story departs from the usual well-worn tracks, he had been sleeping on the floor of this church because he was homeless. And why was he homeless? Well, he had been discharged from a mental health hospital, where he had been sectioned. And why was he sectioned? He had tried to commit suicide. And why had he tried to kill himself? He had been in care from the age of 3 until the age of 17. Mark’s first book, ‘ Tears in the Dark’, covers the period of his life up until his ordination as deacon in 1995.

D. Gray, in reviewing this book, says:

Mark Edwards is my vicar so I can see the continuing results of his book from his difficult childhood to his calling to the priesthood. The book is full of struggle and love and God’s intervention by placing Mark’s wife Lesley in his path when he needed love the most. She was and is his Godsend and I recommend “Tears in the Dark” not just as a good read but as a learning tool for all who suffered in childhood and beyond


Mark Edwards seems to be a living breathing exemplar of the adage, ‘if God gives you lemons, make lemonade’. It is pretty clear that, not only has he turned his own life around, he is devoting himself to those around him. He says ‘when I am not involved in Ministry I am on duty as a volunteer community First Responder with the Ambulance Service’. And you will realise that this is just the tip of the iceberg when I tell you that he was awarded the MBE in 2010 ‘for services to the community of Barrow in Furness’. How many other priests do you know who have had a similar award?

I have not met Mark, but we have spoken on the telephone and I can vouch for his endearing openness and the ability to project his love of God and his fellow man. ‘Beyond the Collar’ is available as a Kindle publication rather than in hard cover, but he drew the following personal warm responses to his book:

‘ A pacey fluent irresistible read with a Tiggerish bounce, nakedly candid, forthright and impressive ‘ Quentin Letts 

Mark Edwards takes the reader on a personal emotional roller-coaster, while conveying what it’s like to be a vicar in a Northern industrial town ” Editor of The Independent Chris Blackhurst

‘ A very honest and revealing book and a good read ‘ – ITV Lorraine Kelly

‘ Well worth the read.’ Natalie Haynes ( Booker Prize Judge)

‘ A powerful story’ BBC Television Songs of Praise Pam Rhodes

” A refreshing down to earth account of the difficulties and challenges facing a Vicar and his family “ ( Church of England Newspaper )

“ A no-holds-barred honest laugh-out-loud funny sometimes raw Auto-biography of a Vicar“ Pattie Moys ( Minister)


chiefs visit 2007008

Beyond the Collar: Confessions of a Vicar [Kindle Edition]


Kindle Price: £4.27 includes VAT* & free wireless delivery via Amazon Whispernet
* Unlike print books, digital books are subject to VAT.

What the Revd Mark Edward says about this book:

I was inspired to write this sequel ‘ Beyond the Collar ‘  to reveal what life is really like (warts and all) behind the dog collar for a clergyman and his family living in the vicarage and serving the parish.

The book picks up from where my last one left off at my ordination in 1995 and tells the story of my curacy and my first living as Vicar serving in two deprived parishes.

‘Thinking About Lent’ by Ann Lewin

The Fight Between Carnival and Lent by Pieter Bruegel the Elder 1559

The Fight Between Carnival and Lent by Pieter Bruegel the Elder 1559

Most people think that behaviour matters and prayer helps it. The truth is that prayer matters, and behaviour tests it. Archbishop William Temple

Fifty years or so ago, at each of the weekly confirmation classes I attended, the vicar read some verses from Philippians 3. In the Authorised Version, just about the only version available at the time, the words weren’t very exciting. But they stayed with me, surfacing from time to time, and coming to life anew as different NT translations appeared: ‘I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection’ (Philippians 3.10). On good days, when I’m asked what I really, really want, I know that’s my answer: to know Christ, to be open to receive the gift of the risen life, to live it to God’s glory and the benefit of my fellow humans.

Not all days are like that, thought. There are all kinds of things that distract me from that focus. Paul knew about that too, and wrote about our need for discipline as an athlete needs to keep in training. Lent comes as a timely reminder, so I shall select one of my self-indulgences and attempt to show it who’s mistress. But Lent isn’t primarily a time for self-improvement, although that may be a spin-off. It is a time to grow, and my real aim, as it has been for some years, is to do less, and to be more: to spend more time doing nothing, being still, listening, looking, waiting in expectancy for God. And that kind of prayerfulness doesn’t only operate in the times we label payer, nor does it stop with the end of Lent, but grows in the whole of life, through Easter and beyond. It’s another way of expressing what the Benedictines call conversion of life: a steady, continual turning to focus on God, opening up to God’s Spirit, so that Christ can live his risen life in us.

Quite a challenge. And responding to it will keep me going for the rest of my life, let alone my Lents. But Lent comes to remind us to make space, paradoxically, to work at doing nothing, to make ourselves available to receive God’s gift of life. For it is all gift. The risen life is not something I can achieve by my efforts, nor is it something I can do better than anyone else. We are not in competition over this, as we sometimes are over our Lenten discipline (is it more merit-worthy to give up chocolate or alcohol?) Receiving the gift of life means letting God free me to be ‘God’s work of art’ (another phrase from Paul in Ephesians 2.10, this time from the Jerusalem Bible); it is coming to know deep down that I am precious in God’s sight, and honoured, and loved  (Isaiah 43.4). My response will be tested out in engagement with life, as I seek to enable others to receive God’s gift, with all that implies of involvement with issues of social concern.

For me the question is not so much how I can best use Lent, but how I can best let God use it in me.


This extract from the works of Ann Lewin is taken from Seasons of Grace.


Seasons of Grace
Inspirational Resources for the Christian Year
Author(s): Ann Lewin

Ann Lewin draws on her extensive experience as a retreat leader and writer to provide a feast of spiritual nourishment for the entire Christian year. Her minimalist style is… …read more
ISBN-13: 9781848250901
ISBN-10: 1848250908
Publisher: Canterbury Press Norwich
Published: 31/08/2011
Format: Paperback
RRP: £14.99
Stock: This item is currently in stock and will be dispatched within 48 hours.

Intercessions for 4th Sunday before Lent (Proper 1): 9 February 2014


The Collect

O God, you know us to be set in the midst of so many and great dangers, that by reason of the frailty of our nature we cannot always stand upright: grant to us such strength and protection as may support us in all dangers and carry us through all temptations; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

¶ The Liturgy of the Word

First Reading: Isaiah 58.1-9a(b-12)

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back. Raise your voice like a trumpet. Declare to my people their rebellion and to the house of Jacob their sins. For day after day they seek me out; they seem eager to know  my ways, as if they were a nation that does what is right and has not forsaken the commands of its God. They ask me for just decisions and seem eager for God to come near them. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen it? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ “Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please and exploit all your workers. Your fasting ends in quarrelling and strife, and in striking each other with wicked fists. You cannot fast as you do today and expect your voice to be heard on high. Is this the kind of fast I have chosen, only a day for a man to humble himself? Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed and for lying on sackcloth and ashes? Is that what you call a fast, a day acceptable to the Lord? “Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen: to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke? Is it not to share your food with the hungry and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter – when you see the naked, to clothe him, and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood? Then your light will break forth like the dawn, and your healing will quickly appear; then your righteousness will go before you, and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard. Then you will call, and the Lord will answer; you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I. “If you do away with the yoke of  oppression, with the pointing finger and malicious talk, and if you spend yourselves on behalf of the hungry and satisfy the needs of the oppressed, then your light will rise in the darkness, and your night will become like the noonday. The Lord will guide you always; he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land and will strengthen your frame. You will be like a well-watered garden, like a spring  whose waters never fail.  Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins and will raise up the age-old foundations; you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls, Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.”

Psalm 112.1-9(10)

Alleluia. Blessed are those who fear the Lord * and have great delight in his commandments.
Their descendants will be mighty in the land, * a generation of the faithful that will be blest.
Wealth and riches will be in their house, * and their righteousness endures for ever.
Light shines in the darkness for the upright; * gracious and full of compassion are the righteous.
It goes well with those who are generous in lending * and order their affairs with justice,
For they will never be shaken; * the righteous will be held in everlasting remembrance.
They will not be afraid of any evil tidings; * their heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.
Their heart is sustained and will not fear, *until they see the downfall of their foes.
They have given freely to the poor; their righteousness stands fast for ever; * their head will be exalted with honour.
The wicked shall see it and be angry; they shall gnash their teeth in despair; * the desire of the wicked shall perish.

Second Reading: 1 Corinthians 2.1-12(13-16)

When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. However, as it is written: “No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him” – but God has revealed it to us by his Spirit. The Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the thoughts of a man except the man’s spirit within him? In the same way no-one knows the thoughts of God except the Spirit of God. We have not received the spirit of the world but the Spirit who is from God, that we may understand what God has freely given us. This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned. The spiritual man makes judgments about all things, but he himself is not subject to any man’s judgment: “For who has known the mind of the Lord that he may instruct him?” But we have the mind of Christ.

Gospel Reading: Matthew 5.13-20

Jesus said: “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practises and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

I turn as so often to Jane Williams:

“God expects us to begin to see the world through his eyes, whereas we were rather hoping that he might see it through ours…God wants us to be heart-broken with love and longing for the world, as he is…We cannot allow ourselves to be satisfied with having just our own needs met. That’s why Jesus says that his disciples are to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world. Their faith is not just – or even primarily – about themselves, but about their participation in God’s work in the world. This is the fulfilment of the law…essentially a corporate thing…designed to build a people whose life together reflects the nature of God…God’s gift to us…allows us to put others before ourselves. It allows us to care for the world as God does, so that we are incomplete while others suffer. ..This gift does very little for our own…sense of self-importance, and it will be sneered at and misunderstood by all who do not possess it. But it is a present that interprets the whole world, once you have the knack of it.”

Prayers of Intercession

¶The Church of Christ

Lord, grant to the members of the Body of Christ the inward happiness and serenity that comes from living close to you. Daily renew in us the sense of joy, and let your eternal spirit dwell in our souls and bodies, filling every corner with light and gladness. Then, salted with your word, may we season the earth. In imitation of your Son, the light of the world,  may each one of us in turn illumine the life of our neighbour. Finally, filled through your Holy Spirit with all joy and peace in believing,  may we be diffusers of life in your name.

Lord, help us to help you scatter the darkness from this world: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶Creation, human society, the Sovereign and those in authority

Give us, Lord God, a vision of our world as your love would make it: a world where the weak are protected, and none go hungry or poor; a world where the benefits of civilized life are shared, and everyone can enjoy them; a world where different races, nations and cultures live in tolerance and mutual respect; a world where peace is built with justice and justice is guided by love; And give us the inspiration and courage to build it, through the power of your holy spirit. *

 Lord, help us to help you scatter the darkness from this world: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶The local community

Lord, thank-you for teaching us how to give, as well as how to receive, and how to support each other on life’s journey. Generous God, save us from the meanness that calculates its interest and hoards its earthly gain; as we have freely received, so may we freely give,  sure in the knowledge that what we gave, we still have; what we spent we kept;  whereas what we held on tight to, we thereby lost. While you have told us it is more blessed to give than to receive, give us also the humility to allow others the blessing of giving to us, in your name.

Lord, help us to help you scatter the darkness from this world: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶Those who suffer

Lord, grant to all those who are bearing pain your spirit of healing, your spirit of life, your spirit of peace and hope, of courage and endurance. Cast out from them the spirit of anxiety and fear and grant them perfect trust in you so that in your light they may see light and know the truth of your promise that we shall not be overcome.

Lord, help us to help you scatter the darkness from this world: in your mercy, hear our prayer

¶The communion of saints

We give thanks that life is eternal and we remember those whom we loved who have gone before us and are now in the fullness of light in your kingdom. We give thanks for all that reflected your lifht in their lives and pray that we may all walk with them in that light.

Lord, help us to help you scatter the darkness from this world: in your mercy, hear our prayer

In the illustration, salt crystals reflect light so that they represent both the salt of the earth and the light of the world.


*This is a prayer of the Revd Trevor Williams, leader of the Corrymeela Community, an ecumenical community of reconciliation in Northern Ireland. It is included in Deborah Cassidi’s anothology ‘Favourite Prayers’.


Copyright acknowledgement : Some material included in this service is copyright: © 1973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Pub. Hodder & Stoughton Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Archbishops’ Council 2000.Some material included in this service is copyright: © The Crown/Cambridge University Press: The Book of Common Prayer (1662)

Peace And Reconciliation: Sebastian Faulks


I offer you today for reflective Saturday reading this extract from Birdsong. I do so partly because it was chosen by Mary Batchelor for inclusion in The Lion Literature Collection: On the Human and Divine and partly in the context of Archbishop Justin Welby’s stated priorities. This is how Mary Batchelor introduces this extract:

In the First World War, Allied and German soldiers dug tunnels into no-man’s-land, to provide listening posts near enemy lines. The war was all but over when Captain Stephen Wraysford was sent underground to check for enemy activity. In explosions that followed, both Stephen’s companions and German soldiers were killed. One of the German soldiers was Joseph, and his brother Levi, along with Lamm, worked urgently to release the trapped men. Levi knew he would find alive either his beloved brother Joseph – or the enemy who killed him.

“It was Levi’s work, not Lamm’s that had loosened the earth sufficiently at the end of Stephen’s coffin for him to be able to crawl out of it…

On hands and knees he moved back among the debris his own explosion had made. About a yard further along he could see where the tunnel was still intact. It was here that Lamm had broken through. Levi pushed Lamm back and climbed into the British tunnel himself. Tricked by the echo of Stephen’s tapping, he turned the wrong way, and began to walk away from him.

Gurgling and spitting earth from his mouth, Stephen clawed his way forward, shouting as he went. He could see light from some lantern swaying in the tunnel ahead of him. There was air. He could breathe.

Levi heard him. He turned and walked back.

As the tunnel roof lifted, Stephen moved up into a crouch and called out again. The lantern was on him.

He looked up and saw the legs of his rescuer. They were clothed in the German feldgrau, the colour of his darkest dream.

He staggered to his feet and his hand went to pull out his revolver, but there was nothing there, only the torn, drenched rags of his trousers.

He looked into the face of the man who stood in front of him and his fists went up from his sides like those of a farm boy about to fight.

At some deep level, far below anything his exhausted mind could reach, the conflicts of his soul dragged through him like waves grating on the packed shingle of a beach. The sound of his life calling to him on a distant road,; the faces of the men who had been slaughtered…his scalding hatred of the enemy, of Max and all the men who had brought him to this moment; the flesh and love of Isabelle, and the eyes of her sister.

Far beyond thought, the resolution came to him and he found his arms, still raised, begin to spread and open.

Levi looked at this wild-eyed figure, half-demented, his brother’s killer. For no reason he could tell, he found that he had opened his own arms in turn, and the two men fell upon each other’s shoulders, weeping at the bitter strangeness of their human lives. ”

Sebastian Faulks (1953-)

Birdsong, 1993

Thought For Saturday Of The Fourth Week In Lent: Evelyn Underhill

A Fish In The Sea

Mystics, trying to tell us of their condition, often say that they feel ‘sunk in God like a fish in the sea‘.

We pass over these phrases very easily, and forget that they are the final result of a long struggle to find the best image for an admittedly imageless truth. Yet prayer is above all the act in which we give ourselves to our soul’s true Patria; enter again that Ocean of God which is at once our origin and our inheritance, and there find ourselves mysteriously at home. And this strange, home-like feeling kills the dread which might overcome us, if we thought of the unmeasured depth beneath us, and the infinite extent and utter mystery of that Ocean into which we have plunged. As it is, a curious blend of confidence and entire abandonment keep us, because of our very littleness, in peace and joy: content with our limited powers and the limitless Love in which we are held. Nothing in all nature is so lovely and so vigorous, so perfectly at home in its environment, as a fish in the sea. Its surroundings give to it a beauty, quality and power which is not its own. We take it out, and at once a poor, limp, dull thing, fit for nothing, is gasping away its life.

So the soul sunk in God, living the life of prayer, is supported, filled, transformed in beauty, by a vitality and power which are not its own. The souls of the saints are so powerful because they are thus utterly immersed in the Spirit: their whole life is a prayer. The Life in which they live and move and have their being gives them something of its own quality. So long as they maintain themselves within it, they are adequate to its demands, because fed by its gifts. This re-entrance into our Origin and acceptance of our true inheritance is the spiritual life of prayer, as it may be experienced by the human soul.

Far better to be a shrimp within that ocean than a full-sized theological whale cast upon the shore.


This week’s guest post from the hereafter is by Evelyn Underhill. 1875-1941

It is taken from ‘Lent with Evelyn Underhill’ (2006); the extract is from The Golden Sequence

The illustration comes from a photograph of S.E.A. Aquarium in the Marine Life Park at Resorts World Sentosa, Singapore. Uploaded to Wikimedia in January 2013 by Smuconlaw.

Living in the Dust – 11 September: Wendy Dackson


Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return. (Liturgy for Ash Wednesday)

 But Jesus bent down and started writing on the ground with his finger.  As they persisted with their question, he straightened up and said, ‘Let the one among you who is guiltless be the first to throw a stone at her.’  Then he bent down and continued writing on the ground.  (John 8.6-8, New Jerusalem Bible)

When we finally escaped from our building, it was quite hard to breathe normally in the street:  dense fumes; thick, thick dust; a sort of sandstorm or snowstorm of dust and debris; large flakes of soft grey burned stuff falling steadily.  In the empty street, cars with windows blown in, a few dazed people, everything covered in this grey snow. (Rowan Williams, Writing in the Dust:  Reflections on 11th September and its Aftermath)


It’s usually a cold, dismal morning when winter has lost its pristine snowy charm and become tiresome, that I arrive at an early church service and hear the words of the Ash Wednesday liturgy.  Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  We are part of the cycle of life, death, and decay, which we can neither change nor escape.   In time, we will disappear, and there will eventually be no distinctive trace of our individuality—our achievements, or commitments, our aspirations.  The words are meant to remind us that we are not God, perhaps even to remind us that we are not very important, that we don’t make a difference.


Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Our lives are filled with dust, both literal and metaphorical.  How many times do we see and hear advertisements on the radio and television about Dyson vacuum cleaners, HEPA air filters, and the need to replace our mattresses periodically because they’re full of highly allergenic dust mites (which would not thrive were it not for an abundance of dust)?  And we are the source of all that dust which we are told we must avoid for our own good—we shed enormous amounts of skin cells, and other bits produced by our own bodies.  Not only shall we return to dust entirely at some future point after death, but we are grinding imperceptibly into dust as we go about our daily activities.  Dust is never something we welcome more of into our lives.  Even metaphorically, dust is a negative.  We say something is ‘dusty dull and dry’ when we find it boring; we say that our desire for an opponent in a legal or business proceeding is that we will ‘grind him into the dust’; and as a child on the playground, almost every foot race began with the words ‘eat my dust’ as we took off  as fast as we could and left the other runners behind.  (Being no athlete, nobody ever ate much of my dust.)    Cheeky adolescents take a finger to the dirt on the back of the family car and write ‘Wash me’.  We are hyper-vigilant about dust, offering to remove a speck of it in our neighbor’s eye while ignoring a log in our own.  Dust, in the Western Educated Industrialized Rich Democratic world (what moral psychologist Jonathan Heidt calls WEIRD, because it is the ‘outlier’ to the norm of human existence on Earth), is unimportant, insignificant except as something to be avoided, and then more as an irritant than a danger.  Dust is temporary, fleeting.  Dust doesn’t make a difference.


Until a bright Tuesday morning in September of 2001.  At that point, dust, and the people who made it, asserted themselves as a force to be reckoned with.  In lower Manhattan, dust became unavoidable, significant, and dangerous—and it made a permanent difference.


Most of us saw the airplanes fly into the World Trade Center on television or on computer screens via internet connections.  I was about 1300 miles southwest of New York City at the time, on a one-year sabbatical replacement contract in the religion and philosophy department at a small college in rural Kansas.  I was preparing for my first class of the day (a ‘senior capstone’ seminar in applied ethics titled ‘Responsibilities for the Future’).  I had collected my books and notes, when I heard a scream of absolute terror from the office adjacent to mine.  My colleague had CNN on her computer, and saw the first plane hit a tower.  By the time I had reached my classroom and moved my students down the corridor to a room with a cable connection, the second tower had been struck.  The rest of my day was spent in what I wanted to think of as practical action:  standing with the psychology instructors as they offered counsel to students (this part of Kansas was home to a number of aerospace manufacturing facilities as well as an Air Force base, and there was a real fear that there might be an attack there), helping to arrange a trip to the nearest mid-sized city so that the cheerleaders could donate blood, phoning my own family members in the New York metropolitan area to see if they were okay.  And knowing that a number of classmates from my earlier MBA studies had work addresses in the World Trade Center, and were probably dead or dying, and might not be recovered or identified.


As dramatic as that felt at the moment, it was still at a much greater remove than the current Archbishop of Canterbury, who was essentially next door to the Twin Towers, at Trinity Wall Street, the wealthiest Anglican church on the planet.  The tiny, eloquent book of reflections from which the description above is drawn, was published early in 2002.  I received a copy as a gift from a dear friend in England, and this is the tenth year in which I’ve paused on or around the anniversary of the first ‘successful’ attack on the US mainland in almost two centuries (the last was the War of 1812).


I have not been able to listen to the Ash Wednesday words in the same way ever since.  Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.  Yes, perhaps.  But we do not return to the same dust from which we came.  What we do between our entering this world and our leaving it, the dust we generate, matters; it makes a difference.  The dust doesn’t change without our participation—and the dust does change, and in its turn, it changes us.  The dust created on 11 September 2001 had, and still has, the potential to make a difference.  It has realized that potential, both in the armed conflicts and further loss of life occasioned by the attacks—and by the impetus to greater inter-religious and cross-cultural understandings that those attacks have inspired.  The dust has both confirmed some prejudices that existed before the attacks, and it has clouded and obscured others.


We live in and with the dust that we are.  What happens in the dust between our conception and our decay matters.  Rowan Williams talks about John 8, the story of the woman ‘caught’ or ‘taken’ in adultery.  He suggests that when Jesus bends down and writes on the dusty, dry ground, two truths emerge.  First, the refusal to give an immediate judgment creates a space between the actors in the drama, in his words, a ‘breathing space’ that helps in sympathy and understanding that would never have happened had he given into the demand for making a fixed interpretation.  Secondly, that this hesitation, more than anything written ‘in the dust’ is what is important—this space for understanding and reflection, not the particular interpretations given.  What is written in dust is less important than the time we take to do the writing.


The dust of 11 September 2001 is now a part of the dust from which we come.  What will we do with that dust, how will we live with and in it, and how will it shape the dust to which we, and all humanity, eventually return?


We are honoured that The Episcopal Cafe has reblogged this as its lead today. Thank-you again, Wendy.

1. The main illustration, of the cross made of ashes, is by Ansis Klucis, downloaded from Shutterstock under licence.

2. New York, N.Y. (Sept. 14, 2001) — A fire fighter emerges from the smoke and debris of the World Trade Center. The twin towers of the center were destroyed in a Sep. 11 terrorist attack. U.S. Navy Photo by Photographer’s Mate 2nd Class Jim Watson, downloaded from Wikimedia under CCL.

3. The bottom illustration of a star nebula, galactic dust,  is by William Attard McCarthy and downloaded from Shutterstock under licence.

Boot Camps for Bishops?

The problem begins in childhood. Small English boys are allergic to small English girls (see Molesworth, Just William et al). Then many of them (perhaps most of our bishops) are sent to single-sex schools. The female of the species acquires a sort of mystique, which persists into adulthood.  Take, for example, Phileas Fogg of  ‘Round the World in Eighty Days’. Having rescued an Indian princess from suttee, as you do, he brings her back to London, but is not quite sure what to do with her. It is left to Aouda to sort matters out:

“Mr. Fogg,” said Aouda, rising and seizing his hand, “do you wish at once a kinswoman and friend? Will you have me for your wife?”
Mr. Fogg, at this, rose in his turn. There was an unwonted light in his eyes, and a slight trembling of his lips. Aouda looked into his face. The sincerity, rectitude, firmness, and sweetness of this soft glance of a noble woman, who could dare all to save him to whom she owed all, at first astonished, then penetrated him. He shut his eyes for an instant, as if to avoid her look. When he opened them again, “I love you!” he said, simply. “Yes, by all that is holiest, I love you, and I am entirely yours!”

Apart from the obvious, what is the point of the female of the species? Many English men, even these days, are uncomfortable with women as work colleagues. They would rather be drinking that patronising toast, ‘The Ladies, God bless ’em!’, after which the ‘ladies’ would withdraw into their ‘withdrawing room’.

In all the discussion surrounding the Measure on the admission of women to the episcopate, the realisation is slowly dawning on many of us that the problem is not any failing on the part of women at all. Nor is it  fundamentally a problem of  ‘taint’, except at a visceral rather than a theological level. It is a problem of the collective unconscious of our bishops.

Lenin famously asked ‘What is to be done?’. It seems now too late to hope that slow evolutionary change will bring about the reform we need in the running of the Church of England. Let us be bold and take inspiration instead from the Little Red Book (and other works) of Mao Tse Tung! The aspect of his recommendations for revolution which I think might be particularly helpful are those concerning ‘criticism and self-criticism‘. I’m sure the poor bishops feel they have been offered plenty of criticism already, but I wonder how much self-criticism is going on. Here is an extract from “On Coalition Government” (April 24, 1945), Selected Works, Vol. III, pp. 316-17:

Conscientious practice of self-criticism is still another hallmark distinguishing our Party from all other political parties. As we say, dust will accumulate if a room is not cleaned regularly, our faces will get dirty if they are not washed regularly. Our comrades’ minds and our Party’s work may also collect dust, and also need sweeping and washing. The proverb “Running water is never stale and a door-hinge is never worm-eaten” means that constant motion prevents the inroads of germs and other organisms. To check up regularly on our work and in the process develop a democratic style of work, to fear neither criticism nor self-criticism, and to apply such good popular Chinese maxims as “Say all you know and say it without reserve”, “Blame not the speaker but be warned by his words” and “Correct mistakes if you have committed them and guard against them if you have not” – this is the only effective way to prevent all kinds of political dust and germs from contaminating the minds of our comrades and the body of our Party.

May I suggest that bishops take themselves in batches to one of the conference centres generally used by the Church of England. There we must hope they will engage in serious sessions of criticism and self-criticism. A week should suffice, I think. If, however, we don’t think the bishops can be left to carry out their own re-education, we can perhaps import one of those self-appointed experts beloved of television reality programmes. The latter-day Miss Beale and Miss Busss  in charge of converting ‘ladettes to ladies‘ are an appealing prospect (and I challenge any bishop to gainsay them). But I think they might find Sir Roy Strong more to their taste, and he very successfully ran a boot camp for people to lose weight.

Once our bishops have learnt to apply the lessons of Maoism, the Church will be free once more for mission and evangelism in its attempt to build Jerusalem in England’s green and pleasant land.

Temptation: Thought for the First Sunday in Lent

 The collect for today is:

Almighty God,
whose Son Jesus Christ fasted forty days in the wilderness,
and was tempted as we are, yet without sin:
give us grace to discipline ourselves in obedience to your Spirit;
and, as you know our weakness,
so may we know your power to save;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Temptation, like the teenage term of approval ‘wicked’, gets rather a good press these days – if you put the word in your internet search engine, you will get page after page offering you the delights of assorted temptations. The process of overcoming your misgivings to yield to the seven deadly sins of anger, avarice, envy, gluttony, lust, sloth, and pride is presented as at least as enjoyable as the ‘sinful’ (term of approval again) pleasure itself. Advertisers capitalise on this trend to market everything from fast cars to chocolate.

All of the deadly sins (with the notable exception of envy) give at least momentary pleasure when merely sipped, as it were, and in homeopathic quantities could scarcely be described as sinful (no doubt the Archbishop of Canterbury himself is occasionally tempted by a teeny- weeny glass of sherry or a spoonful of chocolate mousse and he is obviously neither a drunk nor a glutton). And without a modicum of lust, the human race would be extinct.


The risk is the one taken by the young lady in the limerick:

There was a young lady of Riga
Who went for a ride on a tiger.
They returned from the ride
With the lady inside,
And a smile on the face of the tiger.

Mick Jagger summed it up:
It’s all right letting yourself go, as long as you can get yourself back.
In other words, who is in control: the temptee or the tempter?

In the words of Thomas JeffersonDo not bite at the bait of pleasure till you know there is no hook beneath it.

Or, as we read in the first letter of St Peter: Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour.

Not that the Devil has it all his own way, as Hilaire Belloc tells us. Sometimes he too is in the position of the lady from Riga:

The Devil, having nothing else to do,
Went off to tempt My Lady Poltagrue.
My Lady, tempted by a private whim,
To his extreme annoyance, tempted him’

The Bible repeatedly warns us of the dangers:

Let no one say when he is tempted ‘I am tempted by God’; for God cannot be tempted with evil and he himself tempts no one; but each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin; and sin when it is full-grown brings forth death. James 1:13-15

The problem is the relative strength of the temptation concerned versus our consciences. As La Rochefoucauld said:

If we resist our passions, it is more because of their weakness than because of our strength.

Edmund Cooke warns us:

So you tell yourself you are pretty fine clay,
To have tricked temptation and turned it away.
But wait, my friend, for a different day;
Wait till you want to want to!

If we repeatedly overrule our conscience when it pricks, it will eventually wither away, like a muscle that is never used. Books of quotations are full of one-liners on this subject. Some recommend giving in at the first hurdle:

I can resist anything except temptation Oscar Wilde;


I deal with temptation by yielding to it.  Mark Twain

Or you can regard all attempts as doomed in advance:

Temptation is an irresistible force at work on a moveable body : H L Mencken.

Just saying ‘no’ may be difficult, but it is not impossible:

I count he who overcomes his desires braver than he who conquers his enemies; for the hardest victory is the victory over self : Aristotle.

Or this, by C S Lewis:

A silly idea is current that good people do not know what temptation means. This is an obvious lie. Only those who try to resist temptation know how strong it is….A man who gives in to temptation after five minutes simply does not know what it would have been like an hour later. That is why bad people, in one sense, know very little about badness. They have lived a sheltered life by always giving in.

Mere Christianity Book 3 Chapter 21

The corollary is that each successful attempt at overcoming temptation strengthens the sinews:

Every conquering temptation represents a new fund of moral energy. Every trial endured and weathered in the right spirit makes a soul nobler and stronger than it was before.
William Butler Yeats

John Bunyan makes a similar point:

Temptations, when we meet them at first, are as the lion that roared upon Samson; but if we overcome them, the next time we see them we shall find a nest of honey within them.

Of course, what makes resisting temptation difficult for many people is they don’t want to discourage it completely. As St Augustine of Hippo famously said:

Give me chastity and continence, but not yet.

Franklin P Jones suggests: 

Nothing makes it easier to resist temptation than a proper up-bringing, a sound set of values – and witnesses


But, joking apart, being in the grip of temptation, unable to resist, is no laughing matter, as Danzae Pace knew:

Being out of control is one of the worst feelings in the world, sometimes even worse than pain. It is its own kind of pain.

Clarissa Dickson Wright describes the searing pain of the alcoholic, trying to climb back to the light after having descended into the pit:

After my father’s retirement from hospital, there was a huge upsurge of violence. From then onwards my mother and I… were bashed about on a weekly basis, sometimes just bruises, sometimes broken or cracked ribs, and always verbal abuse…when my father had gone it was as if a gale had stopped blowing or a great black cloud had passed away…sometimes people for various reasons, particularly grief, will drink heavily for a while, but then come to their senses and stop. This is not the way for us alcoholics: once the illness has kicked in there is no way we can go back to controlling our drinking. …there is a saying that religion is for those who don’t want to go to hell, spirituality is for those who have been there. The (AA) steps are all designed to focus on a power greater than yourself, whether it is God or the power of the group…just so long as it isn’t you.
‘Spilling the Beans’

But the most tempting temptation of all must be the one that appears to Christ: to do something that is in the interests of those he came to save:

After forty days in the desert, Christ is first tempted with bread. To use his divine power to satisfy extreme hunger seems reasonable enough. What use will he be in God’s service if he is physically weak? The second temptation sees the tempter…turning the words of scripture back upon him. ‘It is written…’ so surely it must carry divine approval if he demonstrates his confidence in God’s protection? The third temptation is also carefully angled. Surely it is in the interests of those he came to save that he should control the world as soon as possible? Each temptation seeks to justify the means by the end. Jesus’ rejection of these temptations commits him to a life of hardship and self-denial, to patient trust in his heavenly Father’s care and to achieving God’s mission by God’s means. 
‘The Ministry of the Word’, by the Rt Revd David Stancliffe

O Lord, we have no strength against those multitudes of temptations that daily assault us: be thou pleased either to restrain them or to assist us, and in thy faithfulness suffer us not to be tempted above that we are able to overcome. Amen.
Prayer of Richard Allestree

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The illustration is a photograph taken by masyras and downloaded from wikimedia under CCL of ‘Temptation of Christ and Satan in the desert’ at Chora Church in Istanbul.

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