Whatwoulditmean2012-12-11 at 08.19.10_Snapseed


What would it mean to you if
In a moment of startling clarity
Bright as the Morning Star
It dawned upon you that
It was you that was born that night
In Bethlehem* afar?
What would it mean to you if
By converse and counsel
Silence and prayer
It became true for you that
You were, that you are.
What would it mean for you?

SRM 11 December 2012

*Bethlehem – House of Bread, or, one might say, a House of God’s provision


Provision ...

Audio mp3 here | mp3 download here

THE ROW ABOUT the Women Bishops debacle isn’t going to go away – the UK church press has been reporting this week – though the UK press at large, it appears, has pretty much let it do precisely that. That’s not such a huge surprise though, is it?

I’ll be glad if the row doesn’t go away because, however long it takes, a positive conclusion in favour of ordaining women to the episcopate – hopefully adding thereby a richer, fuller share of feminine wisdom to the “oversight” of the Body of Christ – will ultimately have literally catholic consequences for much – and many – more than just ordained women and men – or other Christians. I’ve spoken and written before of women having actually been episcopal – guardians and overseers of Wisdom faith and the gifts of the Spirit, for many, many generations. Not always ordained though. Like Jesus and Mary Magdalene and the other Apostles. Just called. Just following. Just turning the world – in the world – upside down. Just feeding (seems like) five thousand and being the providers, and the balm of life, and the cure of woe.

Yes: this debacle flags up for us, more perhaps than anything else in a long time has, that the Church today, as at various times and places in the past, has become too bureaucratic, too Book-bound, too busy, too churchy, too greedy, too noisy, too self-important, overbearing and self-protecting – none too keen at all on the thought of taking up a cross. (Especially whilst we’re so busy with all the Christmas shopping). We’ve forgotten about Advent. Forgotten about the call to have a bit of a re-think. Forgotten about the coming of the Real Christ. Fonder by far of Father Christmas, who – the legend says – has to operate on a limited budget so that each and all the world’s children are treated equally.

And we’ve come to think that the “Body of Christ” has actually very little to do with body – female or male, gay or straight. “Holy Communion” and attendant legislation sometimes displaces plain loving, plain human holy communion. That’s especially tragic since the sacrament is about nothing if it’s not about being eucharistic, about being thankful, about celebrating the reality of Divine provision – enough – of food and of drink and of every kind of love – for the Rainbow People of God, enough for every woman, child and man upon the earth if only we’d get our Christ-act into gear and engage with some Real practical Heaven-on-Earth Salvation.

Tiresome, circular, synodical and nod-off-ical discussions about ecclesiastical authority have usurped the all-important status that Jesus accorded to servanthood, and to right-being as opposed to (ecclesiastically) doing. Yes! – Jesus thought very differently. Ask his Mother. Or Mary from Magdala. Or Jairus’ daughter. Or the High Priest and his colleagues. Or the hated, occupying, heavily taxing Roman authorities. Or just about any woman or child or man he encountered, not forgetting those who tried and crucified him.

So we need to have a rethink, an annual Advent – or “coming” rethink, about incarnation, about being in the flesh, about human life.

The consequences I’ve alluded to have to do with women and men working in necessary partnership, in our shared search for self-knowledge, as a people under God – or to put it less religiously – a people who are in charge of their own destiny only insofar as that means being “in charge” as but one member of a community, a blessed communion, a worldwide human community, comprised of all faiths and none, that was brought to life, and sustained in that life, by something Other than itself.

In the Church these consequences have to do with a host of questions, some of them ancient, some of them being brought into the light of day only in our time, and amongst which are these:

Who, what and where, was and is God – the Source of Life?
Who, what and where, was and is Mary “Mother of God” and why?
Who, what and where, was and is Jesus Christ and why?
Who, what and where, was and is the Body of Christ now, and why?

Interlude: a reflection made by the late priest and Warden of Keble College, Oxford, Austin Farrer

Mary holds her finger out, and a divine hand closes on it. The maker of the world is born a begging child; he begs for milk, and does not know that it is milk for which he begs. We will not lift our hands to pull the love of God down to us, but he lifts his hands to pull human compassion down upon his cradle. So the weakness of God proves stronger than men, and the folly of God proves wiser than men. Love is the strongest instrument of omnipotence, for accomplishing those tasks he cares most dearly to perform; and this is how he brings his love to bear on human pride; by weakness not by strength, by need and not by bounty.

Back to the questions and to the consequences –

Who, what and where, was and is God – the Source of Life?
Who, what and where, was and is Mary “Mother of God” and why?
Who, what and where, was and is Jesus Christ and why?
Who, what and where, was and is the Body of Christ now, and why?

Who, what and where, was and is God – the Source of Life?

God is the Source of Life – is the source of all things living, past, present and future: a Who – in the sense of an Other that humankind has long perceived the possibility of being in some sort of relationship with; as to what – God is a Presence that humankind has described by various means and words as fundamentally “Spirit and Truth”; as to where – God is Presence and present wherever the continuing process of Creation is taking place, and so everywhere; as to was – God has been described as having been “uncreate” and therefore outside the boundaries of humanly understood and invented time; God is the aforementioned Source of Life – the source of all things living, past, present and future. Neither fully known, then, nor a Presence that humankind may shape or conform to its own will. This Spirit and this Truth “listeth where it wills”.

Who, what and where, was and is Mary “Mother of God” and why?

As to who – Mary is said to have been a young and devout Galilean girl – a young “virgin” or “maiden” – from Nazareth; as to what – the unmarried mother of a male infant of Galilee, albeit legally promised or “betrothed” to a man named Joseph “of the House of David”; as to where – St Luke records that the birth took place “while they were there” in Judea, in the city of David, which is called Bethlehem – a town whose name in Hebrew means “House of Bread” or, one might say, “a place of provision for the hungry”. Called to be “Theotokos” – God-bearer, Mary was innocent, fearful, gracious, self-giving, faithful and ready to serve a cause higher than her own: “let it be to me according to your word”, she said, and “he has scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts, he has put down the mighty from their thrones, and exalted those of low degree; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away”.

Mary had good intuition. Mary recognised that God the Source of Life – and life itself – sometimes turns human understandings of right and wrong upside down, but with good reason. All these things Mary was, and is, still. Mary was and is a handmaid – an instrument for the perpetual bringing to birth, again and again and again of the life of God.

A prototype for the mothering of the reign of God into the midst of ordinary impoverished human life, life that’s less than it could be but far from finished with. Mary is the model for the concern for the world and for all who live in it, and of the receptivity that’s required deep in the guts of we mothering men and women and children alike.

Mary modelled and still models what it might mean to bear God into the world because (and here’s a big consequence) – because you and I are to bear God into the world in precisely the same way – concerned and protective – always ready to empower the lives of the homeless, the illegitimate, the threatened and the dispossessed; always ready to wrap a cloak tightly and warmly around innocents who must flee from the impending threat of death. Namely, you and me and all of us.

Who, what and where, was and is Jesus Christ and why?

Jesus was the name given to the male child born to Mary in the place where provision for the hungry is made; Jesus thought of himself as a son of man, nobody special, except insofar as he was a man with a burning passion, a man with a vision that he was willing to share with all-comers – a vision for the dispossessed, that all should come to believe that all of Life is intended for all of humankind. Kind, generous, deeply loved by women and men and children alike, unconcerned with material comforts for himself, understanding though not legalistically bound by laws concerning who was deemed clean or unclean, righteous or unrighteous, a friend of human failures and therefore potentially a friend to be recognised by all, a bringer of healing and truth into sorry situations – and in that sense thought by many to be truly a “redeemer” – an “Emmanuel”, a God-in-the-midst-of-our trials. Jesus, though, was also despised, mocked, hated, hunted, tried and crucified – whilst never giving up on the cause, then or in his ongoing or “risen” life – the life in which he appeared and “appears” to countless people all over the world.

This son of man sought to lead all people into understanding that he and they together were and are and will be the daughters and the sons of God – of Life. Unusually for his time Jesus had no foibles about keeping company with women – even with women who were deemed by men “unclean” by virtue only of their being women. Women loved him. He loved them and he depended upon their love, their hospitality, their generosity, their tenderness, their willingness to speak – even about strange and unfamiliar new circumstances – and their deep and abiding feminine Wisdom. And he will have been very well aware of the subtle nuance contained in the Hebrew word used to describe the life that God breathes into ‘adamah – dust; the word ruach is a feminine word! Would-be strong-men need feminine contribution.

And so to our final question – and not forgetting aforementioned talk of Advent – or coming- consequences –

Who, what and where, was and is the Body of Christ now, and why?

We are the “Body of Christ” – the successors of one who was called “Christos” – an “anointed one” – one possessed, just as we are, of the Life, the anointing, of God in him. As to what the body now on earth is to do – Jesus himself provided a clue – “you will do greater things than you’ve seen me do”. As to where the body will be at work – well those first “learners”, those first “disciples” spread out all over the world after the death and “new life” appearances of Jesus from Nazareth. They spread a “Gospel”, news of “great joy”, encouraging beleaguered humankind to a “metanoia” – a rethink, a turning, a new way of looking at life, and at love, and at hospitality, and at service, and (ordained-by-God) purpose. Some of their successors became philosophers, and scientists, and Buddhists, and Hindus, and star-gazers, and some became known as Jews. A strand of the Jewish tradition became known as “followers in the Way” or Christians.

From all of this we can gather that the “Body of Christ” will properly be doing its work in and through all people in and throughout the whole world. The body of Christ, brought into the world through the joint co-operation of God, women and men, the body of Christ that is you, and me, bears God’s anointing to the world in the same ways that Mary and Jesus modelled for us – only, to quote him again, Jesus said “you will do greater things than you’ve seen me do”.

The consequences amount to great measures of healing for humankind, wherever the Gospel, the redemption, the “coming home” is gifted, willingly, and caused to bear fruit, caused to “mother” in the reign of God – to whom “Magnificat” (“make great the Name of LORD”) may then be sung with enthusiasm by poor and rich, high and low, unfaithful and faithful, alike.

Jesus Christ, mothered of Mary, signals to you and to me the Advent of God, the coming of God, the anointing of God, the breath of God into every area of human existence today and everyday, again and again. Mary the “Mother of God” and her ordinary-but-out-of-the-ordinary son have “redeemed” us – potentially ALL of us if the body of Christ now on earth is working as it should. They have shown us the way home to ourselves. The way home to Bethlehem, the house of provision for the poor, the hungry, the destitute, the homeless, the blind, the deaf, the halt, the hopeless, the faithless, the lame, the sick and the dying; the house of provision for disciples, learners, apostles, women and children and men working as one; the house of provision for the wise – the magi – who make proper and fitting use of money and gold, and of frankincense-prayer, and of their deep knowledge, shared with the virgin Mother’s Wisdom, that in earthly life, burdened as it is by many and varied human disappointments, there’ll always be need of the salve of ointment, there’ll always be a need – in life and in death – for myrrh. Until women and children and men, precisely, “enter again into their Mother’s womb” and are born to “Immortal Love, for ever full, for ever flowing free; for ever shared, for ever whole, a never-ebbing sea” – until they’re born – eternally – beyond the grave, where the waters have broken, and the road to home is a narrow pathway through the sea; until they are completely and irrevocably anointed, “christened”, forever born again to the Source of Life and the heart of Love.

Advent then speaks of Jesus – of a human being’s coming into our world, and of his coming in, and above, and below, and with, and through, and all around us, again and again and again. Advent calls us – all humankind – to run to the House of Bread, to run to the place of provision, rejoicing and thanksgiving; to run to the place where lions lie down with lambs. And it’s very, very near, only a day’s walking in fact, from earth’s little House of Bread, to JERUSALEM – to the fulfilment of “the Vision of Peace”. God’s Shalom. For women, for children and for men.

May I be forgiven for repeating –

Yes: this debacle flags up for us, more perhaps than anything else in a long time has, that the Church today, as at various times and places in the past, has become too bureaucratic, too Book-bound, too busy, too churchy, too greedy, too noisy, too self-important, overbearing and self-protecting – none too keen at all on the thought of taking up a cross.

So we need to have a rethink, an annual Advent – or “coming” – rethink, about incarnation, about being in the flesh, about living this human life.

Come on, come on, come on Houses of Bishops, Clergy and Laity! Sleepers wake! – the watch-cry pealeth. Loudly.

Hark! Ding-dong merrily! Let’s shift ourselves and get headed to the House of Provision.

Let’s be on the way by way of a Silent Night to a plainly human, holy, communion, a plainly Real Emmanuel, God-with-all-of-us in strife-torn and weary – but still so very, searingly, present – Little Town of Beit Lehem.

Let provision for all – let provision for Christ-children born in poverty everywhere – be our prayer.

Reader, bless me, if you will, by staying right where you are, just for a few quiet minutes. Be aware of the breath in you. Close your eyes and listen to this prayer – the offering of a woman and a man – the prayer of children all over the world …

Let this be our prayer


I KNOW THAT OTHERS share the slight sense of shock that I’m feeling today. The image of my standing on a beach, 20 years or more ago, on the isle of Anglesey, near RAF Valley, came back to me this morning. A thunderous low flying military jet flew over my head, and gasping, albeit that it wasn’t a new experience, I can hear myself saying “Wow! What was that?”. For many years I’ve felt that way about Christmas. Maybe that’s why this is “Boxing Day”? My head feels slightly puddled today,  and stunned in a similar sort of a way.

And actually, it’s been a Happy Christmas. I’ve shaken hands and exchanged greetings with hundreds and hundreds of people. I’ve been the grateful recipient of a great deal of kindness and warm generosity. And I hope that I’ve been kind and generous. But deep down I’m still left with an uneasy feeling about the enormity of a UK Christmas – for it’s really the celebration, for Christians, of a particular kind of littleness that had absolutely nothing to do with any form of self-interest or acquisition.

Deep down the “still small voice” encourages me not to worry too much about the overwhelming sense of relief I feel when high festival gives way to “ordinary time”. There’s an underwhelming sense of rightness, quietness, human-sized and human-shaped littleness in the stable of Bethlehem. Natural straw instead of wrapping paper. And lying in that straw is the Word that shows us the way back to our senses – whether we pay any attention, or not …


A woman and her malnourished child in Banadir hospital in Mogadishu. Photo Reuters

ARCHBISHOP ROWAN spoke to the recent General Synod of the Church of England of his experiences in Eastern Congo:

Two weeks ago in Eastern Congo, listening to the experiences of young men and women who had been forced into service with the militias in the civil wars, forced therefore into atrocities done and suffered that don’t bear thinking about, I discovered all over again why the Church mattered. One after another, they kept saying, ‘The Church didn’t abandon us.’

The Archbishop is a shining example of a pastor continually willing to “discover all over again”. God knows how much we all need to. In common with many a clerical household, I guess, Church Times is usually to be found on or near the kitchen table in this vicarage. Mealtimes this week have therefore been especially chastened experiences. What, I’ve wondered, is this young mother praying for herself and her (beautiful) hungry little one?

And the hand of blessing laid with love upon the heads of beautiful, well cared for, well fed little ones in Bramhall Parish Church this morning was warm with desire to bless the mother and her child in this photograph – and the countless mothers, fathers and children who share their desperate plight, praying for the impossible, whilst laying-on their own tender hands of blessing. God help us: I’ve thought a thousand times this week that this madonna and her child in Mogadishu were praying together once in Bethlehem.

And the weeping for the children in Norway today is heard all around the world. Christopher Burkett has written, too, in that tragic context, about why the Church matters. God help us to widen our vision: to sing fewer songs of rejoicing in our own perceptions of personal salvation until we’re a bit surer in our hearts and minds that salvation has to be extended to each and all – or it is no salvation. Whilst I thank God for “looking after” me I must heed the Divine call to play my own part in “looking after” others. For each and every child of God is intended to be provided with a Bethlehem home, a House of Bread.

I pray for the day when, for God’s sake, sectarian divisions and some of the more nuanced religious certainties – of whatsoever religious tradition (or none) – may be set aside in favour of the one really important certainty, the one really important bit of “gospel” that Jesus alluded and alludes to again and again and again – that in the heart of God, at the heart of Life, the mother and her child in this photograph, and the hurting and grieving souls in Norway, and in every other nation under the sun, are of absolutely equal importance. With Archbishop Rowan I “discovered again” this morning why the Church matters, and why all men and women of goodwill, all over the world, matter: Christian Aid emergency envelopes “sold” like hotcakes, thank God, and we sang “We have a dream” with vigour. Dear God in heaven, help us to dream big … and to plant mustard seeds of faith and hope and real practical love wherever and whensoever we can.


EASTENDERS SCRIPTWRITER TONY JORDAN doesn’t think that God can be kept in a bottle. He’s right. And that’s why his The Nativity turned out to be so enthralling, enchanting and utterly Real. Goodness: more than one kind of “star” drew the people in. Let me admit, I’ve heard tell of this birth “for you and all mankind” thousands of times. I’ve loved the children’s presentations, the Bible readings, the old films. And still, suddenly, utterly caught by surprise, the coming of shepherds (“the angel said he’s for people like us”) and of faith-filled Magi (“Melchior will see what he’s come to see if I have to carry him to Bethlehem on my back”) moved me, tearfully, to the core of my soul.

So: what’s with Rudolph? Well, like Jordan said, God cannot be kept in a bottle. Not in the Church. Not in a stable. Not anywhere. God is everywhere, and is especially to be found, by you and me, in the most unlikely places! Alpha and Omega. Beginning and End.

… all of the other reindeer used to laugh and call him names: they never let poor Rudolph join in any reindeer games. Then one foggy Christmas Eve Santa came to say, “Rudolph with your nose so bright, won’t you guide my sleigh tonight?” Then how the reindeer loved him (fickle little blighters!) and they shouted out with glee, “Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, you’ll go down in history”.

Let’s be very careful not to leave anyone out of our games! God-in-a-Baby shows you and all mankind that the brightest and best God-given Saviour is right in front of our noses! Sitting next to us. Even if she’s a woman! Even if she’s from Samaria! ‘Tis marvellous and extraordinary! But if in Bethlehem baby then also in every you and me – with or without the name tag “Christianity”. Emmanuel! God with us, helping us see and feel the presence of his beloved people though they be in one place and we in quite another. God who opens us to the Divine presence IN and around his beloved – though we’re just a bunch of stargazers. For North, South, West or Eastenders, this is Emmanuel. God with us.

PRIVATE FEEDBACK: What did you think of The Nativity?



BISHOP DAVID CHILLINGWORTH’S WebLog “froze” for a spell this week. Lucky him, I’ve been thinking, as the temperature in my study soared to 35 degrees this afternoon … even whilst I was cheered that the Bishop’s “Frozenweb geeks” have got him up and running again. I didn’t fare so well. My entire (19 month old) computer expired in the heat about the same time as Bishop David’s froze. And it never breathed again. So there’s been a warm (hot-would-be-nearer-the-truth) welcome to a rather super HP Pavilion with super-duper widescreen. I’ve taken the precaution of blowing a 16” fan in its direction whenever it’s in action. The gentle breeze has worked wonders for me, too.

I was at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem for a month the last time I knew temperatures like these. I walked into Bethlehem to buy a morning paper and came back (all-innocent-mad-dog-of-an-Englishman) with hands enlarged like a comedian’s washing-up gloves. Must have been a snake, I ventured, whilst preparing to breathe my last. And then I felt the cool breeze of a receptionist’s desk fan and the calming psalm: “It’s into a cold shower for you, old son.” Dehydration! I lived to tell the tale. Would that a cooling breeze, or maybe a cold shower, could come to the aid of the Lands of the East. Dear Lord, teach us how to pray for, how to work for peace in every area of our lives …