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The Man with the Hammer: A Reflection for Holy Week by Dr Wendy Dackson


[Jesus’] enemies were not the notorious sinners whom society casts out…it was not the gross sins such as shock respectable people which sent Jesus to the Cross: it was the respectable sins which are in the hearts of all of us.

(William Temple, ‘Palm Sunday to Easter’, pp. 15-16)

I think we all benefit from at least one blood-curdling liturgical moment in our lives. We are particularly blessed if that moment falls during one of the major liturgies of Holy Week.  It is even better if it is something that could not be scripted, planned, or rehearsed.  Finally, it may have the most profound impact if it is a moment that strikes the individual, but goes unremarked by others.

My moment was on Maundy Thursday of 1996, at St. Christopher’s Episcopal Church in River Hills, an upmarket  north suburb of Milwaukee.  We had completed our elegantly austere agape meal, observed our orderly liturgy of redundant foot-washing (of course, nobody arrives at these things un-pedicured), and duly observed the Holy Eucharist.  At this point, clergy and lay assistants, under the ever-watchful eyes of the Altar Guild, began to strip the altar bare for the prayer vigil that would occur between Thursday evening and the beginning of the Good Friday liturgy.  During this, the congregation recited the 22nd Psalm, as bit by bit, the sanctuary became darker and more sinister.

Notably absent from the congregation was the critical mass of adolescent members of St. Christopher’s.  They had a different job—to assemble the wooden cross that would be a prominent feature of the following day’s dramatization of the crucifixion. It was something that needed to be done, and giving the task to the young people was seen as a way of involving them in the work of the church. As we read aloud the psalmist’s words of agony and despair, I heard hammers striking wood and metal as the youth of the parish undertook their work.

I also heard laughter.

Laughter is a fine thing in the workplace—it both helps people bond over their common purpose, and at the same time demonstrates that they are indeed bonding.  It helps relieve tedium, releases creativity, reduces stress, and makes people want to go to work.  Whole corporate cultures are being built around making workplaces enjoyable.

But there is something chilling about young people laughing while they are nailing together an instrument of torture and death, as the congregation pretends to ignore the laughter while piously reciting the great psalm of the crucifixion.

I never want to forget this.  It is the essence of Good Friday for me.  It is the heart of what the Crucifixion means.  We, each of us individually, and all of us together, are the ‘man with the hammer’.  As the quote from Archbishop Temple, with which I opened this reflection, indicates, it is not the ‘big’ sins,  not the conscious sins, not the ones that make ‘respectable’ people turn away in shock and horror, that actually brought Jesus to Calvary.  It’s nice, in an individualist society, to think that what I personally and by-myself did, was why Jesus died.  Individual sin leads to individual salvation—that’s the key to a lot of evangelical preaching and proselytizing, like the Buffalo City Mission’s Easter address tells us:

Let me be clear—I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, fully human and fully divine.  And if Jesus died for my sin, in my place, that sin has to be cosmically damaging enough to warrant the death of the Son of God who is himself God.  And nothing I could do by myself is that damaging.  So, I don’t buy the kinds of petty, individual sins that are being confessed in the Buffalo City Mission video.  An extramarital affair, excess drinking, boosting a sports drink from the local convenience store—they’re not innocent, they’re damaging to others, but that is not anything close to enough to send the Son of God to a painful, shameful, violent death.

It’s bigger than that. It’s the stuff we can’t see about ourselves, how we are a part of larger, more damaging systems, sometimes beyond our control, that are our really damaging sins.  It’s the “just following orders”, so often cited by those obeying the commands of those higher up the economic and political food chain, that is really damaging.  And sometimes, we do not have a choice in whether we commit heinous sins or not.

Over the summer, I read Oliver Pӧtzsch’s Hangman’s Daughter series.  As fiction, they are a bit silly, but Pӧtzsch’s research was interesting.  He himself was the descendant of a hangman’s family in Bavaria.  Pӧtzsch explained how the torturer/executioner was an ambiguous member of society.  His work was seen as necessary to social order, and thus well compensated.  But it was also ‘dishonorable’, because the essence of the work was to cause and prolong suffering, and to take human life.  As a result, the hangman’s children could not be baptized, could not marry into an ‘honorable’ family or pursue an ‘honorable’ occupation.  They were subject to verbal and sometimes physical abuse by the ‘respectable’ people. Yet, because of their knowledge of human anatomy, herbal remedies (they had to keep people alive through the course of torture), they were also often sought, under cover of night, as healers, often more trusted than ‘real’ physicians.  So, although marginalized, they also benefited at some level from their marginalization.

I don’t know what it was like for an executioner in Roman-dominated Palestine at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion.  But it is entirely possible that the man standing on the hill did not have a choice in his occupation, could not refuse to execute whoever was sent to him.  The character of the actual person who drove the nails into Jesus’ hands is so repugnant to us that none of the Gospels acknowledge him as a person—we only guess that he must have existed because a crucifixion could not occur without him.

It’s hubris to think that any one of our petty, individual sins is enough to warrant the death of God’s Son who is himself God.  But whether or not we are the one who ultimately drives the nails, we are all part of systems that pierce the heart of the One who was, and is, and is to come.

The man who shed the blood of Jesus was also the first (literally) to be washed by that blood.  But it is a shower that stains as much as cleanses.  And we are the man with the hammer.


Good Friday

I am
The man
Who stands
On the hill
With the nails in his hands.
And I watch
And wait
For another

Because I must

Take the nails

From my hands

And put them into his.

—Wendy Dackson


Easter at Christmas: A Thought for Holy Week by Taylor Carey


The last time I heard Easter proclaimed triumphantly from the pulpit was actually on 25th December. Priests, you see, are exhausted for most of Advent, and leading the Christmas Day service is a bit like finishing a marathon. To add insult to injury, they’ve already had to address a congregation of boozed-up irregulars at midnight mass, in which the stench of alcohol threatens to overpower the incense. So, that Christmas morning, our poor priest hauled himself into the pulpit one last time, and gave a great cry: “Alleluia, Christ is Risen! Happy Easter!”

Of course, plenty of people had already stopped listening by this point, and so didn’t notice. They were probably thinking about their turkey, or the potential for their child to explode into a violent temper tantrum and demand presents. Some people, like the Churchwardens, grimaced (though perhaps this is the perennial vocation of Churchwardens), whilst others chuckled faintly. But, maybe because I’m an infuriatingly pious toad, I began to wonder if our unfortunate clergyman had a point.

I once read an interview with an Abbot, who said quite simply that Easter was the only thing Christianity had to offer today’s world. He didn’t mean the annual celebration, so much as what Christians take Easter to mean. If the celebration of the Incarnation at Christmas invites us to ponder the self-giving, endlessly generative potential of that which we call God, then Easter offers Christians a way into an encounter with what that God is like. To put it into the sharp formulation of a famous work of theology, God is absolutely Christlike, and it is thus through the suffering of Christ, nailed to a tree, that we catch a glimpse of God’s nature.

Christ rises from the tomb, because nothing can hold Him back. Such is His perfect response to the endlessly creative God; his total communion with the loving Father. Various strands of philosophy and theology have found the fleshly realities of Easter somewhat disconcerting, to say the least. Remember the twin influence of Hebrew and Greek thought, so deeply woven into the Christian consciousness. Jewish eschatology pointed towards a ‘last day’ on which the dead would be raised (hence Martha’s ironic misunderstanding of Jesus at Bethany, in John’s Gospel), but, for Judaism, life after death, in Sheol, was quite literally a ‘shadowy’ affair. Of course, the Sadducees, Hellenised as they were, thought life after death to be a plainly ridiculous idea. Christianity has been marred by a history of dualism, too; everyone from Christian Platonists to Puritans has, at some stage, slipped into a crude distinction between soul and body.

But here’s the point that I think our hapless priest might just have distilled. God’s relationship with us arises through the material reality of our universe. Creation is a relationship, not a process, and what the Church witnesses to is the consistency of God in that relationship. A witness to this consistency must involve historical memory – the Church actually living out the possibilities of Christian humanity.

How do we know what these possibilities are? Well, they are laid before us most completely in the self-giving of Jesus Christ upon the Cross. It is Christ’s action which provides the basic focus of unity in all Christian language and discourse, and this to which we must return in thinking about growth in our lives of faith – and indeed the social, communal and political possibilities of the world.

Christians believe, then, that there is nothing which the outstretched arms of Christ cannot touch. Here is the essence of what Christianity has to offer. Easter is, in this sense, all we have to give the world; after all, what could possibly be more fundamental? At Easter, we know what that God, who survived a precarious birth in the slums of Bethlehem, is actually like. We are given afresh the possibilities of humanity, even amidst the most tragic realities of a compromised world; a world of suffering; a world that can see the unconditional love of God as a threat to be destroyed.

So, Happy Easter indeed. Given our brief reflections here, perhaps we ought to follow the example of that priest, and say it more often.


This reflection was originally broadcast as a thought for the day on ‘Marx My Word a Philosophy discussion programme on St Andrews Radio.

Taylor Carey

‘Consumer’ Feedback On ‘The Pilgrim Course’

Lay Anglicana first wrote about the Pilgrim Course on publication, last October. The Revd Peter Crumpler kindly – and sportingly – gave us his first reactions before he had had a chance to try it out on any potential students or disciples. If you have not yet looked at Pilgrim or used it yourself, you may like to read his post before continuing with the attempt below at a further description in the light of practical experience in a group. The Pilgrim Course also has its own website, with new resources being added to it constantly.

We have just used Pilgrim as our benefice Lent course. Between 15 and 30 people attended the sessions each week, including two people previously unknown to any of us from another part of the deanery, attracted by the publicity in The Church Times and elsewhere.

Of the parts that have been published, we decided that ‘Turning to Christ’ was not appropriate in view of our audience – seasoned Christians one and all – and that we would begin with the second course on The Lord’s Prayer.

Sowing and Reaping

The Leader’s Guide explains the thinking behind the course, and confirms the first impression that this is to be a course for a generation.


Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? The course is explained in terms of the church year, as well as the calendar year (unless you happen to live at the equator). A cycle of sowing and reaping, and sowing and reaping in a virtuous circle envisages the gentle evangelisation of the unchurched or formerly churched, followed by fellowship and discipleship, followed by a further round of ‘sowing’.

Publishing cycle

Which comes first, the chicken or the egg? In the long run, a community can decide whether it wants to begin with the follow stage or the grow stage. Different Christian groups will choose different paths. For example, a community where there is experience of drawing new people in, and a will to do so, might want to begin with ‘sowing’. Another group, perhaps from a smaller rural community where the congregation consists of the old reliables with little fresh blood coming in, might  choose to concentrate on growing or ‘reaping’ their existing members, in the hope that they might then turn to sowing.

However, at present there is no such consideration as only the first two in the follow stage have been published. It is obvious that one sows before one reaps, but less obvious that the egg comes before the chicken. I see the temptation to begin with the follow stage, and then (some 18 months later) publish the grow booklets. But I suggest it might have been better to publish first the second stage, so that existing groups could be led into the next stage. The problem will cease to be a problem in 2015, of course, when the last booklets are published. Meanwhile, in the session that I led I did tweak the readings (shortening the discussions on the Prodigal Son, and adding some thoughts of Corrie Ten Boom to make the session a little more complex). I was encouraged in this by whoever tweets on behalf of Pilgrim, who reassured me that it is essential to tailor the sessions to those attending. I worried that punitive lightning might strike, appalled at my temerity, but in fact the session went quite well and the heavens took it in good grace.


Overall impression

There was considerable enthusiasm about the course (in a restrained, Anglican sort of way). The mixture of bible reading, discussion, and audio and video clips, ensured that the sessions remained lively. I would very much like to hear from anyone who has used it to ‘sow’, in other words with seekers or new Christians.

The choice of which Lent course to use has been made for us for many years to come.

Chopsticks In Heaven And In Hell

Photograph by  alamodestuff (

Photograph by alamodestuff (

“A great warrior who had lived with honour and truthfulness died and was greeted by a gatekeeper of Heaven, who was to be his guide.

He was taken at once to a gigantic banqueting hall and saw that everyone sat at long tables laden with the finest food imaginable. The most peculiar aspect of the feast was the chopsticks. These were five feet long and made of silver and teak. The warrior asked his guide about them, because it was impossible to eat with them.

‘Ah yes’, said the guide. ‘But see how we do things in Heaven’. The warrior turned and saw that all the banqueters were using the chopsticks to feed the person sitting opposite. Later, the warrior, being deeply curious, asked his guide if he might be given a glimpse of Hell.

‘Of course’, said the guide, and led him back into the banqueting hall they had just left. When the warrior pointed this out, the guide replied, ‘To look at, Hell is no different from Heaven.’ The multitudes sat, as before, at tables groaning with the finest foods. The warrior was confused. It seemed exactly the same as Heaven. ‘Observe’, said the guide, ‘No one can trust his neighbour.’ The warrior saw that the people with their long chopsticks were trying only to feed themselves, and thus, amidst plenty, they starved.’


favourite 001Last week, we had an extract from one of Deborah Cassidi’s anthologies. My copy of this one, first published in 2003, is now falling apart from extensive use.

The above extract was chosen by the actor Richard Griffith, who says of it:

A Buddhist story – often told at O Ben services held in August to commemorate the lives of those who have died during the previous year. It may have originated from Korea or Japan and has many different wordings. There is also a similar story in Jewish tradition.



I find this intriguing, and have been wondering whether there might also be a Christian version of this story. Here is another Buddhist version of the story:

A woman who had worked all her life to bring about good, was granted one wish: “Before I die let me visit both hell and heaven.” Her wish was granted.She was whisked off to a great banqueting hall. The tables were piled high with delicious food and drink. Around the tables sat miserable, starving people as wretched as could be. “Why are they like this?” she asked the angel of death who accompanied her. “Look at their arms,” the angel replied. She looked and saw that attached to the people’s arms were long chopsticks secured above the elbow. Unable to bend their elbows, the people aimed the chopsticks at the food, but missed every time and sat hungry, frustrated and miserable. “Indeed this is hell! Take me away from here!” She was then whisked off to heaven. Again she found herself in a great banqueting hall with tables piled high. Around the tables sat people laughing, contented, joyful. “No chopsticks I suppose,” she said. “Oh yes there are. Look – just as in hell they are long and attached above the elbow, but look… here people have learnt to feed one another”. She saw the difference between hell and heaven; that was the helping hand.

According to the story, it shows that hell and heaven can be seen here and now; anywhere there is selfishness or the selfish, there will be restlessness, hunger, crimes, civil war etc. that can be called ‘hell’ and wherever there is generosity or help, there will be happiness, joy, harmony, unity etc. that can be called ‘heaven’. In each moment of our life, we can see hell and heaven; whenever we are selfish, that means we are in hell and life can be miserable. Whenever we are generous to others, we are in heaven and life can be happy. Have you ever experienced hell and heaven in your life here and now?

I find the conclusion interesting – it is not quite the one I would have drawn, which is that heaven and hell may indeed look like the same place; how we perceive it depends on our closeness to God. This thought is partly prompted by C S Lewis’s ‘The Last Battle’, when ‘those who will not see’ still perceive their surroundings as a stable:

But not everyone found this new land to be so appealing. To get there, Narnians were thrown through a stable door, with the belief that they would be killed (inside there was supposed to be a guard who would kill anyone sent in – but had, before this time, been taken out by a good Calormene). A group of dwarves who, in the midst of the last battle of Narnia, sided only with themselves, made it clear that they didn’t want to do anything with King Tirian, the last king of Narnia, nor with the Calormenes, the evil followers of Tash who had invaded Narnia and were destroying it . These dwarves fought against both sides, and in the end, had been captured and thrown into the stable by the Calormenes. Despite the fact that Aslan had enchanted the door so it would bring the people into this safe, realer, better version of Narnia, the dwarves could not see it. They believed they were in a stable, without light, and anyone who tried to suggest anything else was tricking them. Even Aslan, with the gifts he was willing to bestow upon them, could not convince them otherwise:

Aslan raised his head and shook his mane. Instantly a glorious feast appeared on the Dwarfs’ knees: pies and tongues and pigeons and trifles and ices, and each Dwarf had a goblet of good wine in his right hand. But it wasn’t much use. They began eating and drinking greedily enough, but it was clear that they couldn’t taste it properly. They thought they were eating and drinking only the sort of things you might find in a Stable. One said he was trying to eat hay and another said he had got a bit of an old turnip and a third said he’d found a raw cabbage leaf. And they raised golden goblets of rich red wine to their lips and said, ‘Ugh! Fancy drinking dirty water out of a trough that a donkey’s been at! Never thought we’d come to this.’ But very soon every Dwarf began suspecting that every other Dwarf had found something nicer than he had, and they started grabbing and snatching, and went on to quarreling, till in a few minutes there was a free fight and all the good food was smeared on their faces and clothes or trodden under foot. But when at last they sat down to nurse their black eyes and their bleeding noses, they all said: ‘Well, at any rate, there’s no Humbug here. We haven’t let anyone take us in The Dwarfs are for the Dwarfs!’

‘You see,’ said Aslan. ‘ They will not let us help them. They have chosen cunning instead of belief. Their prison is only in their own minds, yet they are in that prison; and so afraid of being taken in that they can not be taken out.’

‘Where There Is No Vision, The People Perish:’ Jeffrey John


Three Healings of the Blind: Meaning for Today

…the doctrine of original sin exactly expresses the view of all the New Testament writers: that all human beings, though capable of union with God, are born out of communion with him. It might be better to call it ‘original alienation’, since sin is now generally taken to refer to sins we commit (‘actual’ sins as opposed to ‘original’ in the old vocabulary).

There is no need to take this estranged state to be the result of a historical ‘Fall’, still less to suppose that the faithless or unbaptised are automatically damned; but the fundamental meaning of ‘original sin’ still feels like a true diagnosis of our human condition. We feel alone and exiled in a strange, unimaginably vast and otherwise apparently empty universe whose meaning and purpose are not clear to us. The prospect of our own death and the death of those we love seems to make it even more meaningless. The fact of sickness and suffering can sometimes make it feel actively hostile. The power of sin and selfishness…oppresses us. Yet at the same time we have intimations that there is a meaning to our existence that transcends the physical world. We find it hard to accept that our highest values and experiences of love or beauty are simply reducible to chemical configurations in the brain. Most of us still have an instinct to believe in God…but…we cannot be certain that God isn’t just a projection of our own needs and longings, a way of keeping going when it might otherwise all seem pointless…

This self-enclosure, the existential unrelatedness  is the spiritual blindness and deafness of  which Scripture speaks, and it takes the miracle of God’s intervention to pierce through it. That is not to say that God had ever left the world completely in the dark. To differing degrees, in every age and every culture people have seen something of his light and reality. But in Christ the fullness of God’s light broke into the darkened world…

The gospel is above all a gospel of restored relationship…the first restoration of that relationship is very appropriately described as moving from darkness to light, the first opening of our spiritual eyes to the light of God’s reality and presence with us. The conversion of Saul on the Damascus road was said to be accompanied by a dazzling light which blinded him until he was baptised into Christ, when the ‘scales fell from his eyes’ and he became able to see again. In baptism the imparting of that new light of spiritual vision is symbolised by the giving of a lighted candle, with the command to ‘shine as a light in the world, to the glory of God the Father’…But it is important to see, as Mark’s miracle at Bethsaida and John’s story of the man born blind both remind us, that enlightenment and conversion are always partial and gradual…still in this world we walk by faith not sight (2 Corinthians 5.7).

We also have to face the disturbing fact that, as individuals or as a church, we can lose the light of faith or mistake it altogether. In the book of Revelation, St John writes to the church in Laodicea – the rich, complacent, lukewarm church that still thinks it sees, but in reality seems to have turned its gaze on itself…

Such a church, or such a Christian, desperately needs new vision and may frequently pray for new vision – but in fact does not want new vision at all, but only more energy to carry on doing the same old things in the same old way. Real new vision, God’s new vision, always brings challenge and change. But if we rule change out beforehand, it negates the prayer. The greatest danger…is the kind of blindness exemplified by the Pharisees. This is the mechanism of the will…which enables us determinedly not to see the truth when it is unmistakeably presented to our eyes. …And we must note carefully: this is the special sin of religious people, when we get so bound up in our own interpretation of Scripture and tradition, or in preserving our religious institutions and the status quo, that in order to protect them we will be prepared to turn truth, reason, love and justice upside down – all in the name of God himself. It is the syndrome that down the centuries has led so many Christians to suppress their best human instincts in order to …oppress those whose vision differed from theirs, and to claim Christ’s sanction for it….The sin of the Pharisees drove them to crucify Jesus, and it remains the deadliest sin to which the religious are prone.

This extract is taken from ‘The Meaning in the Miracles’ by the Very Revd Jeffrey John. (pages 136-140)


‘Giving It Up’: Maggi Dawn

md 001


The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes

Marcel Proust

Of all the traditions associated with Lent, probably the best-known is the practice of giving something up for the six and a half weeks from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday…but why do we give things up? Where did the tradition begin, and what is it supposed to achieve?

There’s clear evidence that for at least 1500 years the Church has kept a period of fasting during the weeks before Easter, and it’s thought that it may date even further back to the very early Church. The word ‘Lent’ comes from the Anglo-Saxon word Lencten, from which we get out word ‘lengthen’ and it referred simply to the fact that the weeks leading up to Easter were the early spring days that were lengthening after the winter solstice. The oldest traditions of Lent are interwoven with the idea of spring. Greek Orthodox communities treat the first day of Lent as a celebration of the first outdoor day of the new year: spring is the beginning of new life after the death that came with winter, and so we should go outside to greet it.

In medieval Europe, fasting and abstinence were not restricted to Lent. Eating meat was prohibited by the Church at least one day in every week of the year, and Friday continued to be a ‘fish day’ until late into the 20th century as a reminder that it was on Friday that Christ died…the fast has several purposes. It’s supposed to remind us daily that we depend upon God for everything, to draw us closer to God in prayer, to reconnect us to the idea of community, and to help us follow Christ’s journey through the wilderness and on to Jerusalem. It’s all too easy, though, simply to give up some treat or other…and not really engage with the deeper meaning of Lent.

…As we walk through Lent this year, we can explore the idea that there is another kind of ‘giving up’ that we could do. If we’re to draw closer to God, we need to be willing to give up some of our entrenched ideas about God in order to see him more clearly. It’s not so much giving up ‘false gods’; it’s more about identifying false or blurred images of God that have been picked up from the surrounding culture or from our imagination, and allowing them to be replaced. We need to allow the light to be shed on those places where our idea of God is too harsh too weak, too small, too fragile, too stern.

We’ll begin this Lenten journey, then, by looking at the traditions of Lent to gain a clearer picture of what they are for, and what biblical imagery they reflect. Then we’ll see what Jesus said about fasting and what he gave up when he fasted in the wilderness. We’ll look at the way some Old Testament characters traded in their old idea of God for a true encounter, and see how different the real God was from their expectations. Then we’ll see how Jesus turned people’s ideas about God upside down. Finally, in Holy Week we’ll follow some of the events of the last week in Jesus’ life and discover how different he was from the Messiah people were expecting. In the process, we may find that our own preconceived notions of what God ‘ought’ to be like come in for some re-examination.

This Lent, then, whether or not you’re giving up chocolate or anything else, I invite you to take a journey with me through biblical tales of fasts and wildernesses to seek a clearer vision of God. As we travel, let’s pray for grace to be flexible enough in our thinking to allow God to reveal himself to us. As I’ve been writing this book, I’ve been surprised at the way in which my own ideas have been changed all over again. To see God more clearly almost certainly means being surprised at what we discover.

Let’s take the prayer of St Richard of Chichester (1197-1253) as our daily prayer:

Thanks be to thee, my Lord Jesus Christ,
For all the benefits thou hast won for me,
For all the pains and insults thou hast borne for me.
O most merciful Redeemer, Friend and Brother,
May I know thee more clearly,
Love thee more dearly,
And follow thee more nearly,
Day by day.

Giving it Up
Daily Bible readings from Ash Wednesday to Easter Day

Maggi Dawn


The idea of ‘giving something up for Lent’ is widely known and discussed today – yet how many know that the ancient discipline of the Lenten fast had several purposes? It was designed as a reminder of our daily dependence on God for all our needs, to draw us closer to God in prayer, to reconnect with the idea of community, and to help us follow Christ’s journey through the wilderness and on to Jerusalem. How many of us simply abstain from some treat or other for a few weeks and fail to engage with this deeper meaning of Lent?

This book shows how Lent can be a time for exploring a different kind of ‘giving up’, one that can transform our lives. If we are to draw closer to God, we have to be willing to give up some of our entrenched ideas about him, in order to see him more clearly. In a series of daily studies, Maggi Dawn shows how, throughout Scripture, people were radically changed by encountering the true God. If we follow their examples, we can allow the Holy Spirit to shed his light on our ideas of God that are too harsh, too small, too fragile, or too stern. Then God will graciously reveal himself to us and bring us to an Easter joy that is richer and more profound than ever before.

Contents include:

Section 1: Giving up (Ash Wednesday to Saturday)
Section 2: Jesus in the wilderness and beyond (First week of Lent)
Section 3: Other wildernesses (Second week of Lent)
Section 4: Changing perceptions (Third week of Lent)
Section 5: Changing communities (Fourth week of Lent)
Section 6: Changing your mind (Fifth week of Lent)
Sections 7: ‘The end of all our exploring’ (Holy Week)
Easter Sunday

‘Landmarks: An Ignatian Journey’ by Margaret Silf

Margaret Sio 001

Carrying God In A Bottomless Bucket


Carrying God to the world sounds like a tall order – and if we think we can really do that, we may be teetering on the brink of a Messiah complex!

There was a time when I used to think that we could receive grace from God into our own ‘containers’, rather like the old days when people used to take their jugs and jars out to the milk-cart to get their daily supply of milk. How much you got depended on the size of your container. When it came to grace, I thought, I would receive as much as my heart would hold, and if I hoped for more, I would have to do something about ‘expanding’ my heart. This way of looking at things served me reasonably well for a while (even though, as you can see, it is rather a me-centred approach to the problem) – until, that is, the bottom fell out of my bucket.

Maybe there have been times in your life when your ‘system’ packed in, and your tried and tested methods of doing things just didn’t seem to work any more. Maybe it was some traumatic experience that brought you to a fuller realisation of your own inability to save even yourself, let alone the rest of the world. Or maybe it was just the gradual advance of a sense of personal helplessness, when it came to questions arising out of your journey with God. Whatever it was, it quite possibly left you feeling as though your solid certainties had become unreliable, and the jug you had been using to collect your ‘daily grace’ from the milk-float of your prayer, had sprung a leak.

Every life is shot through with little ‘dyings’. At the time they seem only to diminish us, but over time, if we look back reflectively, they may become the very moments when we really came alive. The bucket becomes a pipe. The few litres of grace we might have held in our bucket turn into the possibility of a constant stream that – at last – is free to flow through our open-ended hearts.

We can no longer bracket ourselves with neat beginnings and endings, and when God removes our brackets and leaves us feeling naked and bereft, he is actually throwing open our limiting barriers and exposing us to the glory and pain of eternity. Pain, because we cannot bear, lightly, the truth that we are not ourselves the purpose of it all, but the provisional containers through which the Purpose flows; and glory, because that Purpose is so infinitely greater than anything our blinkered hearts could ever have imagined.

Once the ends are off our life’s pipeline, and the certainties we thought we held are dissolved in the acid of experience, grace can flow, freely. Or not so freely? For myself, honesty demands that I acknowledge the many blockages and resistances that cling to the walls of my own heart’s channel, like limpets to a boat’s hull. Detaching the limpets is painful. Yet even here, there is great promise: the more freely grace flows, the more clear the channel becomes. What begins as the merest trickle will swell, and the more power it gathers, the more surely will it remove my barnacles.

I cannot give God to the world. Only God himself can do that. But I can give him some space, and if space is what I seek, where might I find it if not in my own inner emptiness? In those places that hurt me so much that I try to fill them up with achievements and attachments. When I learn to let go of those false friends, then space is something I find I have plenty of. I can give God my empty broken bucket, to be a little segment in a channel for his peace.



An Ignatian Journey

Margaret Silf

978 0 232 52254 9
Paperback |256 pp |234 x 156 mm

Price: £12.99
 Publi9shed by Darton, Longman and Todd

‘I know of no publishing house which has ever offered to reimburse a buyer who remains dissatisfied after reading one of its books. I think Darton, Longman and Todd could safely make the first such offer with Landmarks. I delighted in following Margaret Silf’s journey of exploration today … lucidly written, down to earth, free of jargon, full of hope and encouragement.’

Gerard W. Hughes

‘Margaret Silf is one of the most talented spiritual writers, and her Landmarks will become a classic.’

Margaret Hebblethwaite

Landmarks help us to find ourselves when we think we are lost. When we don’t know where to begin, they give us a starting point. When we think we know where we are, they give us the confidence to keep going. And if we think we have arrived, they remind us that there is always something more, somewhere beyond …

This is a book of Landmarks for the heart’s journey. Written out of the author’s own prayer and lived experience, and inspired by her practical explorations of the insights of St Ignatius Loyola, it opens up questions which concern us all:

– How can we recognise God’s ceaseless action in our lives and begin to discern his will?

– What does ‘fallenness’ mean for us today?

– How can we live true to ourselves and make decisions in freedom?

– How do we penetrate our deepest desires and become free of the lesser attachments that obstruct them?

Big questions – but as Margaret Silf shows, there are clues to be discovered in every moment and situation: at home, at work, in the garden, in the market, in the bath!

Landmarks will help us discover and deepen our individual journeys. Written for both groups and individuals, it is illustrated with drawings and diagrams, and contains exercises and suggestions for prayer and reflection. Be warned, however. Landmarks are not for armchair pilgrims. They are for People of the Way.

Humanity, Love and Justice – by Ann Memmott

Different Brain Design? Spot The Difference!

Different Brain Design? Spot The Difference!

Ever heard women dismissed using phrases such as, “Women are so irrational.  I saw one of them in hysterics once; they’re not really fit for high office”?   Or been embarrassed to be with someone who tells you that ‘them Blacks’ aren’t to be trusted?  Deeply uncomfortable stuff. Unfounded prejudice is the opposite of what Jesus brought to the world.  This much we know.

When prejudice is found, groups form to counter it.  One for minority ethnic groups.  One for women.  One for LGBTQ issues….and each group works hard to say, “We are loved by God too; we have gifts to bring.  Please do not deny us a place at the table.”

There’s another group in our parishes who encounter prejudice based on myth and fear.  It contains around a million people in the UK. Some 400,000 women.  Around 140,000 people from minority ethnic groups.   Close to 240,000 people who identify as LGBTQ.  It is people like me.  Autistic.

I’m also female, and Christian.  I’m an owner of a Professional Practice and Adviser to the Government All Party Parliamentary Group for Autism.  I’m a mum and a school Governor.  I’m part of the LGBTQ community, a respected national trainer/adviser on Autism and autistic.  Not ‘mildly’ autistic.  Properly autistic.  Autism is how my brain is designed, from birth.

Powerful word, autism.  But not always in a good way.  The autism community is reclaiming it as worth respect, something bringing skills and love as well as challenges.

What went through your mind?  Some will say, “Wow, great!” Some do a full, “Hey I once saw the 1988 Rain Man film…aren’t they all in Institutions somewhere?…something to do with badly behaved boys isn’t it…this must be something about giving money to the ‘poor suffering families’…I’d better stop reading before she asks me to get my wallet out…!”.

Nope.  Relax!   Pretty much everything you thought you knew about autism is a myth.   Ready for the real stuff?    It’s almost as likely to be women as men.  It’s not anything to do with having a low score on IQ tests.  It’s not a mental health condition.  It’s a brain design.  Most women with autism are almost indistinguishable from other women.  And we’re generally lovely people who are already in your churches and communities, but hiding.  Why?  Because we’re often afraid of the reactions of others.

We think autism used to be respected in ancient societies.  Generalising, we’re ten times more accurate than other people.  We often have some senses that are super-sensitive, so may  hear and see detail that others could only dream of.   Often brilliant at memorising texts and speeches, though very literal about how we interpret wording. And we are usually super-honest and utterly unimpressed with social ‘schmoozing’, so are the natural enemies of sociopaths.  Thus an ancient village society may have a fantastic sociopath-spotter and  wild-animal-spotter in their midst. Someone who could use their intense eyesight to track animals…an amazing sense of taste to spot traces of poison in berries and foods…a fab sense of smell to detect an oncoming forest fire, a great memory for tribe tales or religious texts.  Not better than others, but different – and that difference may have had a real benefit to society.

But it’s at a cost.  All that super-sensing by our brain stops us processing much information about people’s expressions, voice tone, body language.  Even recognising people is much harder.  We often cannot see and hear others properly in busy, noisy places under flickering fluorescent lighting.  If we’re kept in those busy, noisy places for too long, our brain wiring eventually ‘overheats and short circuits’.  We’ll do everything we can to avoid that. On brain scans it’s looking similar to an epileptic seizure, but without the physical event.    Until the wiring has a chance to ‘cool down’ in a quiet space, we might behave randomly or go completely silent for a short while.  It’s been unfortunate that the science has only just spotted this as a physical brain-event.  It meant some people thought that we were insane/not to be trusted/manipulative/dangerous. No. We just need to stay out of sensory/social overload, same as those with epilepsy may need to avoid strobe lighting.

We are socially clumsy when asked to communicate in ‘non-autistic’ ways.  We don’t mean to be.    It was easy to believe that we lacked empathy.   But what we lack is the bit of the brain that can easily see your face/hear your voice tone.  We learn to ask good questions about how you are, and really think about the answers.   I’ve so many wonderful, warm, caring autistic friends – whether verbal or not, whether of high IQ or not. Many of us are doing specialised jobs of every kind in society – from Clergy and artists to poets and authors.  From childminders and parents to top scientists and engineers.  Many others are denied a job because of myths and misunderstandings.

Alas, in some church situations, old myths may still abound.  In some churches we’re told that people like us can’t be trusted because we have a ‘mental problem’ of some sort.  That if we encounter prejudice or predatory behaviour, they cannot trust our evidence because autistic people are irrational, paranoid, lacking the mental capacity, etc.    Remember how women were dismissed as being ‘irrational’?  It’s the same for autism.  If even one autistic person out of 100 does something amiss, it’s often assumed the other 99 are just like that.  Not so.  Respecting differences and different needs is so important.

I’m just one person, helping bring together groups supporting women, and the LGBT community , and the minority ethnic communities, and people disabled by their environment etc….and saying as fellow Christians, “You are loved.  God wants us to learn from one another, to cherish each others’ friendship and uniqueness… to walk in the light of Christ towards a world where we grow in faith, love and respect for one another.”  That’s a world worth praying for.

Want more info on autism and your church?  Here are the national church guidelines commissioned by the Rt Revd John Pritchard, Bishop of Oxford.



Ann We are very grateful to Ann Memmott for this introduction to autism and the need for churches and congregations to learn a little more about the viewpoint of those on the autistic spectrum. You can read more about her and the projects she is involved with on her website.

Ann is:

“a national disability and autism consultant, working to improve understanding of how to make use of the considerable gifts of disabled people.  Her work is supported by the Fairweathers community fund.

Ann is the author of the “Welcoming and Including those with Autism and Asperger Syndrome in our Churches and Communities” guidelines. These are part of the national “Opening the Doors” report on learning disabilities and autism, by the Church of England.

Ann also works as an adviser for many organisations, businesses and charities.  Ann is an adviser to the All Party Parliamentary Group for Autism, and works with English Heritage, the Church of England, British Standards Institute, Crown Prosecution Service and many other national organisations on how to ensure easy access to buildings and written materials for people on the autism spectrum.”

Send Not To Know For Whom The Bell Tolls


Protestors demonstrate against Nigeria's anti-gay law.‘A far-off country of which we know little’, was the shameful excuse of Chamberlain as to why Britain should not go to war with Germany over the invasion of Czechoslovakia. But we are no longer islands, entire of ourselves (if we ever were) thanks to modern mass communications.

Unless you have been hiding under a rock without access to the internet  for the last week you will know that Nigeria has just passed a law which:

outlaws “gay clubs, societies and organizations, their sustenance, processions and meetings,” or anyone who helps them, imposing jail time of up to 10 years for offenders.

Homosexual acts were already illegal in Nigeria, but the Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Act… means ...anyone married to someone of the same sex can get up to 14 years. The law was met with condemnation from the United States, Britain and Canada, with US Secretary of State John Kerry saying it “dangerously restricts freedom” of expression and association of all Nigerians. And UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said: “Rarely have I seen a piece of legislation that in so few paragraphs directly violates so many basic, universal human rights.”

And what crime is it that is being targeted? What canon of jurisprudence is offended?  As A E Housman wrote bitterly (but, as he thought, satirically):

Oh who is that young sinner with the handcuffs on his wrists?
And what has he been after that they groan and shake their fists?
And wherefore is he wearing such a conscience-stricken air?
Oh they're taking him to prison for the colour of his hair.

'Tis a shame to human nature, such a head of hair as his;
In the good old time 'twas hanging for the colour that it is;
Though hanging isn't bad enough and flaying would be fair
For the nameless and abominable colour of his hair.


In the face of this offence against natural justice, Christians will ask what the Anglican Church in Nigeria has to say. After all, even if you accept that homosexual physicality is a sin (which most of us don’t), Christ was happy to sup with all. The depressing answer is:

Aloysius Agbo, the Anglican Bishop of Nsukka said Tuesday, “Every Christian in Nigeria is happy about the development … especially when he did that contrary to the pressure from the western world.” Being gay is “unnatural, unwise and ungodly,” he said. “If our forefathers have done that [same-sex marriage], many of us would not have been born.” On Monday, the Presbyterian Prelate Emele Mba Uka also praised the new law. “Homosexuality as one of the greatest human deviant behaviours has been with man from earliest times. Man has fought it for a long time but it refuses to die,” he said. Uka equated gay sex with “incest, rape and adultery” and said that such a “perverse sexual lifestyles attract God’s punishment” which is “hell.”


And what has the Anglican Communion to say on the subject, in particular the Archbishops of Canterbury and York? Nothing. Nothing at all. Pin-drop silence.

Now, Nigerian Christians are our brothers and sisters in Christ. So it behoves us to allow for their interpretation of Christianity to differ from ours. BUT the Nigerians apparently do not play by the same rules, they feel perfectly self-righteous in creating a civil law to make it illegal to, as it were, have red hair, and despise those who disagree with this interpretation of the words of Our Lord.

1,101 people have signed a petition asking our Church leaders to give a lead, and make it clear that this legislation does not conform with Christianity. There has been no statement from Cantuar or Ebor. It is possible that we are running into the same problems that Cantuar had over the Anglican Covenant (in which there was a strong undercurrent of anti-LGBTQ attitudes). A liberal, ‘bien-pensant’ Westerner finds it very difficult to take issue with someone who is black: it is a problem of inverted racism.  And in the case of Archbishop Justin, this is doubly hard because he has spent so much time in Nigeria, and his experiences when captured led, in part, to his work in reconciliation. He is in a genuinely difficult position.

But ++Justin has asked members of the Church of England to undertake a concerted programme of ‘conscious evangelism’. Sorry, but I doubt that I am alone in lacking enthusiasm for this task at a time when our Church refuses to stand up for our Christian beliefs.



Savi Hensman has written a clear-headed and incisive piece for Ekklesia about the situation which I urge you to read. She says:

In this context, some overseas religious leaders may fear that anything they say may be twisted to try to show that local defenders of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) rights are following a western agenda, hence making matters worse. However silence allows untruths to take hold, including the notion that God is on the side of those who hurt and vilify those made in the Divine image.

Truth is of vital importance in the New Testament (e.g. John 8). No human can be confident that he or she knows the whole truth. But sharing what one knows or believes to be true on important matters, and listening to others’ responses in order to adjust or build on this, can help to create a world where destructive forms of untruth are exposed.

Church leaders could perhaps point out that human rights are by no means a purely western concept – indeed the United Nations and international human rights organisations criticise European and North American as well as other governments when they act in cruel and unjust ways. In this interconnected world, not challenging injustice in another country may result in bolstering the power and prestige of those mistreating others. This is not about ‘the West’ standing in judgement but Christians everywhere being ready to come to the aid of the needy and oppressed.

How did Niemoller’s poem go again?

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out– Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me–and there was no one left to speak for me.

Photograph courtesy of LGBTQ Nation

Ann Lewin, T S Eliot and Lancelot Andrewes on The Epiphany

AL 001

 It is a multi-layered story, as many of these birth narratives are, and three layers in particular draw our attention. First there is the nature of the visitors: Magi, astronomers from further EAst, led by a star to find a newly born king. They are often called Wise Men, but if we think about the nature of wisdom as the Bible describes it, that may not be the most suitable adjective to describe them. They were certainly clever, there is no doubt that they were well-versed in the study of the stars. But perhaps if they had been wiser they would have done a little research into the nature of the King this new-born child would replace….

There is nothing sentimental about our journey to make our offering. T S Eliot wrote memorably about the journey the Magi had ‘A cold coming we had of it‘, he began. He borrowed the words from a sermon preached by Lancelot Andrewes, one-time Dean of Westminster and Bishop of Chichester and Winchester, on Christmas Day 1622, in the presence of King James I. Andrewes said of the wise men:

A cold coming they had of it at this time of the year, just the worst time of the year to take a journey, and especially a long journey. The ways deep, the weather sharp, the days short, the sun farthest off, the very dead of winter. Venimus…. ‘we are come’…And these difficulties they overcome, of a wearisome, irksome, troublesome, dangerous, unseasonable journey, and all for this they came. And came it cheerfully, and quickly, as appeareth by the speed they made. It was but vidimus venimus, with them ‘they saw’ and ‘they came’ no sooner saw but they set out presently…they took all these pains, made all this haste that they might be here to worship Him with all the possible speed they could. Sorry for nothing so much as that they could not be there soon enough, with the very first, to do it even this day, the day of His birth…And we, what should we have done? Sure these men of the East will rise in judgement against the men of the West, that is with us, and their faith against ours in this point. With them it was but ‘vidimus venimus‘, with us it would have been but veniemus (we will come) at the most. Our fashion is to see and see again before we stir a foot, specially if it be to the worship of Christ. Come such a journey at such a time? No, but fairly have put it off to the spring of the year, till the days longer, and the ways fairer, and the weather warmer, till better travelling to Christ. Our Epiphany would sure have fallen in Easter week at the soonest.

Ann Lewin concludes her chapter:
“We are challenged by the Epiphany story to think about how willing we are to set out on the journey of offering ourselves to God.

What are the gifts of Gold, Frankincense and Myrrh that we have as individuals or groups/churches to offer to God in loving our neighbours?

What obstacles do we have to overcome in order to make our offering?

Come freshly to us now, Lord God,
and as we offer you our lives,
renew in us your gifts….

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