For Bramhall, March 2013

A HANDWRITTEN CARD found amongst the papers of the late poet Sally Purcell bears the following anonymous and unsourced quotation:

Y sobre todo tendras / los regalos de mi pecho, / las finezas de mi amor, la verdad de mi deseo …

a translation of which is

And above all you have / gifts from my breast, / the subtleties of my love, the truth of my desire

  • the Epigraph in Sally Purcell’s Collected Poems

It’s possible, sometimes, to fall especially for anonymous poetry. The world’s sacred scriptures are full of it. Our ancient forebears believed that poetry (from the Greek for “to make”) carried the Word of the un-nameable maker, the breath, the creativity, the encouragement, the enthusiasm (the from-God-ness), the feeding, the fire, the grace, the glory, the hearing, the hope, the knowing, the order, the passion, the seeing, the voice, the will, the work and the yearning of the divine. So, for me, with this little anonymous Epigraph. And I wonder whether it is the very key to Sally Purcell’s life and poetry. And I wonder, too, whether I’m so attracted to it because it holds a key to what I want to be mine.

Writing for The Times of 19 November 2002, Libby Purves remembered her friend: “like Spender’s archetypal poet she was born of the sun, walked a short while towards the sun, and left the vivid air signed with her honour.” Ah! – notwithstanding my many frailties and failures I’d like to think that a beloved friend, some day remembering my life, might be able to say such a thing of mine. The home and the love we all long for will surely be the place where all the vivid air is signed with honour, God’s honour, your honour, and mine.

Here in this exquisite Epigraph is a hint of that Kingdom come, here, today, in us, on earth, in our breasts, in our souls, in our most intimate known and knowing depths – as it is in heaven. It’s an extra-ordinary sort of a love that tells someone that they have “gifts from my breast”. There’s warm and life-sustaining intimacy in the suggestion that another has some understanding of “the subtleties of my love”. An achingly beautiful reaching and being reached in “the truth of my desire”. I can imagine Jesus whispering these words to Mary Magdalene in Easter-morning Resurrection light. (Or perhaps they’d be her words whispered for him) …

And above all you have / gifts from my breast, / the subtleties of my love, the truth of my desire

… Yes, inwardly, perhaps more intimately than outwardly, poetic life creates resurrection-life in the same wonderfully incarnate, intimate and fully in-the-flesh way as did His. And you and I may smile and bask in Easter’s light. Warmed inside. The subtleties of love. The disciple’s delight.

May you soon celebrate just such a joy-filled Easter Feast!


I’M OFF TO A DAY CONFERENCE on “Catholic Evangelism” tomorrow. I’m not wholly sure whether it’s going to be about Catholic Evangelism (capital C, capital E) or catholic evangelism (small c, small e), and I’m rather hoping for the latter … hoping, that is to say, for a catholic evangelism that really is about good news (evangelism) universally applied (catholic), ie, for everybody – no matter their “faith tradition” or lack thereof – everywhere.

I’ve spent a very great deal of my life passionately pondering what exactly constitutes good news, and in particular why having some sort of acknowledged relationship to / with the Source of our lives might matter – to individuals, to communities, to nations, to our world, to the whole created order – some of these whole and healthy, some desperately broken, hurting, and in need of that Divine touch that brings healing. And I’m consistently finding that old definitions of what it means to be Catholic, or Protestant, or Christian, or shades in between all of these, don’t fit all sizes any more, if they ever did.

Christ everywhere …

What constitutes Good News in a ‘catholic’, pluralistic world? Where is an / our anointed Christ to be found? (as I’m sure such a Christ is indeed to be found, anywhere in the world, and across the world’s faith traditions). And the questions are so important to me because as a Christian priest, seeking always to live and learn – to be a disciple – after the pattern of Jesus of Nazareth, I have observed that some kinds of Catholic, some kinds of Protestant, and some kinds of “Christian” plainly do not represent very good news for many people at all. So catholic evangelism must be something quite different, something much more open, something prepared always to be held to account as to the reach of what it purports to be good news. Catholic evangelism will not, I think, be too prescriptive.

Feast of life for all

Catholic evangelism will offer the “feast of life” to people in the “highways and byways” won’t it? Catholic evangelists, personal and corporate, will have dismantled their drawbridges. Catholic evangelism will be less concerned (although not wholly unconcerned) with the Faith of our Fathers and hugely more concerned with Faith Being Received Today. When I’ve asked adults over the past thirty years whether they’d like to come to confirmation classes, so that they can be presented to the bishop, confirmed, and thereafter receive Holy Communion many have politely declined. When I’ve offered the Sacrament of Holy Communion “no questions asked” it has been the case, more frequently than I can count, that the recipient has ended up doing the asking, seeking to confirm a present and acknowledged reality – satisfied hunger – in their lives.

Let’s explore!

And I remember that Jesus was ever ready to go the extra mile for children, too. “Do not try to stop them for the Kingdom of Heaven belongs to such as these”. Catholic evangelists will work hard at becoming more, well … catholic – so that they’re more plainly seen to be, well … “Christian” or “Anointed”. Catholic evangelists will be interested in marginalised multi-tasking-capable women, tax collectors, prodigal sons, unimaginative but very opinionated men, quieter and more imaginative men, too, and in lost sheep. Catholic evangelism won’t chastise the lost sheep for having left the fold in order to “explore”, still less tell the poor creature that God forbids it. Instead truly catholic evangelists (like Jesus of Nazareth) will make the fold larger so that there’s the space for MORE sheep to engage in the business of exploration, to engage, that is to say, in their God-given Life!

The Sound of Silence

One of the biggest growth areas in our parish (liberal Catholic with blurry edges – a bit like my paintings!) – has been a call to shared and silent meditation in the parish church – arriving and departing in companionable silence. No coffee or handing out electoral roll forms afterwards. And numbers in excess of many a church’s entire Sunday congregation have responded to a call – we believe a Divine call – to dwell for a space, together in the “house for the Church”, to wait upon the Word that touches life in silence. (The Word – not words. There’s not “even” a Bible reading). It’s life-changing, say many participants. It’s the only occasion in my month when I’m really and deeply aware of the heartbeat of God, the pulse of life, say others. This silence, this “that’s not very Catholic” but absolutely catholic encounter is breathing into our common life new elements of what it means to bear good news in our lives today, what it means, first and foremost to BE the Body of Christ now on earth, what it means to be religious in the original sense of the word (religare) – reconnected, re-membered. Restored to what we’ve forgotten.

Old assumptions yield

So whether tomorrow proves to be slanted more to Catholic Evangelism, or to catholic evangelism, I hope we’ll be asking the same question – What is Good News? – at least sometimes. Because, remembering Louis MacNeice’s Mutations again:

… old assumptions yield to new sensations.
The Stranger in the Wings is waiting for his cue.
The fuse is always laid to some annunciation …


Henri, I want a blessing …

YOU ARE MY BELOVED. On you my favour rests. – I’ve just come across this extraordinary little series of films and have found myself transported into the company of angels and archangels. Blessed be God for his eternal grace at work in Henri Nouwen (1932-1996) – dear Wounded Healer. Truly beloved.



IMAGINING. I think that’s one of our chief works as humans. It’s how we co-create with the Source of all life. And imagining is what I’ve been doing all day. First in a fairly routine sort of early morning meeting, later in a scintillating encounter between an artist, Stephen Raw, an architect, John Prichard, two churchwardens, Ralph Luxon and Sue Taylor, and a photographing priest who thought he was in photographic heaven, moi …

I took many dozens of photos. Mindful of my manners though I will check with the artist before sharing too many more than the one above. This is a little trio of beautiful articles in a Stephen shaped cave. Not the work of the artist, but absolutely the work of the artist, if you know what I mean? Stephen’s studio feels like a coloured X-ray of his heart and soul and mind and body; a statement of faith and an act of imagination and creation. We came away energised at some profound level. We’d been standing on holy ground. I shall hope to stand there again. And there was good coffee! And cookies.


Later in the day I imagined a lovely local man being now in the nearer presence of God. I was deeply moved by his wife Sheila’s beautiful reading of Psalm 121 during a memorial service at nearby All Saints’ where Harry had been the organist until his sudden and unexpected death. The music, sung, played and listened to, together with Fr David’s quite simply superb shepherding of the service, and a fine address, made for one of the very finest funeral thanksgivings I’ve ever experienced. I’m deeply grateful for that and know that Harry’s family must surely be yet more thankful. Harry was an artist in his own distinctive and giving way. Perhaps all of us, in early morning meetings, artist’s studio, thanksgiving service in Church, or wheresoever we may be, are, each and every one of us, artists in our own distinctive ways.

How did  God bring about such an extraordinary work, I wonder? And I only come near being able to approach an answer when I make time in my life to imagine ….

Update: with Stephen Raw’s kind permission: my photos are here


THE FULL HOUSE for the joy-filled Baptism of Maximilian this morning gives me (another) opportunity to head up this post with my very favourite account, by a simply wonderful narrator, of Jesus’ Baptism! But more than that, it’s always such a joy when our House for the Church is full of people come to celebrate the goodness of God and the richness of the gifts we revel in. And there’s no greater gift to a family than that of an infant. Nor, perhaps, any greater responsibility laid upon older shoulders. Bringing infants to Baptism in and into the House of the Lord provides glorious opportunity for all of us to reflect upon the giftedness and gratuitousness of our lives, upon our hopes and our aspirations, what – in co-creating with, and in, and surrounded by God – we want to make of our world, our humanity, our society, our church – for Maximilian, for ourselves, and for God.

“I baptise with water”, said John the Baptist. One who will come after me will baptise with Holy Spirit. And so it came to pass. Today and every day humankind is baptised “new every morning” by the Spirit of Divine Grace and Love. Perhaps that’s why Maximilian and his wonderful parents were smiling so much in our sacramental celebration of the fact this morning. Perhaps that’s why people had travelled from far and wide to celebrate the gift and the treasure. Yes! – wherever and whenever humankind is “baptised” in the Spirit of God we can rest assured that the Source of our Life continues to turn the world upside down. “Whoever has seen (this human) me has seen the Father” said the anointed Jesus to Philip. And this morning he might have said “whoever has seen Maximilian has seen the Father”. What a joy, what a commission, what a responsibility – this living of the Life and Love of God in and through each one of us, dear created people.

Mother and Father, Sister and Brother of us all,
in company with Jesus,
in the power of your Spirit,
with prophets, priests and royal leaders,
and with every woman, man and child
upon the face of the earth,
we bless you for the gift of life and of abundance.
And as we bless you we also ask
your blessing for ourselves that we may be
inspired, strengthened and encouraged daily
to share that life and that abundance
throughout the world.


DON’T KNOW HOW I MISSED IT because Terence Handley MacMath’s back page interview is usually the first thing I read in Church Times and I’ve only just today got around to that of the 3rd June, a wonderful session with Pádraig Ó Tuama, peace-worker and poet. The whole back page is worth hunting through the newspaper pile to recover, but I – especially – just loved this:

Language also inspires me. I’m from Cork, and grew up in a family where the Irish language was very important. A friend from Dingle, in West Kerry, told me that, in the dialect spoken in that region, instead of saying “muinín thú” for “I trust you,” the dialect there uses the phrase “mo sheasamh ort, lá na choise tinne”: “You are the place of my standing, on the day when my feet are sore.” I remember writing a poem on the back of a torn envelope after that conversation.

I bet he wrote a poem! “You are the place of my standing, on the day when my feet are sore.” Isn’t that just exactly the vocation of the Body of Christ now on earth? What a glorious, glorious image!