Voice i

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OUR COLLECT TODAY asks that we “sheep” may hear God’s voice and respond to its call so that all may be gathered into one flock.

Yesterday in Cumbria I heard the voice, and witnessed the tending of shepherds – only recently engaged in round-the-clock marathon to rescue flocks buried deep in snow. The local church is part of what’s appropriately called The Good Shepherd Team.

There are smiles of relief and pleasure in all the communities around at the sight of spindly legged white coated lambs skipping on fresh newly green hillsides. Not long ago the taut faces of over-stretched shepherds driving their quad bikes over threatening snow-drifts were their only hope. The lambs now run to the sound of both the bikes and the shepherd’s voice.

Does a lamb experience joy in the now warming sunshine? Well, whether it thinks about it or not, a lamb often looks and sounds as though it’s full of the joys of Spring. William Blake was moved, as I am, to ponder

Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee
Gave thee life & bid thee feed.
By the stream & o’er the mead;
Gave thee clothing of delight,
Softest clothing woolly bright;
Gave thee such a tender voice,
Making all the vales rejoice!
Little Lamb who made thee
Dost thou know who made thee

Little Lamb I’ll tell thee,
Little Lamb I’ll tell thee!
He is called by thy name,
For he calls himself a Lamb:
He is meek & he is mild,
He became a little child:
I a child & thou a lamb,
We are called by his name.
Little Lamb God bless thee.
Little Lamb God bless thee.

Yes, whilst but a tiny part of the grand sweep of nature all around it, the lamb speaks to me of beauty and grace.

And beauty and grace, a doe, a gazelle, are the meaning, actually, of the name Tabitha. Of Aramaic and Hebrew origin, and translated as Dorcas in Greek, our reading from the Acts of the Apostles today tells of a Tabitha devoted to good works and acts of charity – the word charity itself being derived from the Greek word charis – which also means grace!

Beautiful people committed to caring for others in need – widows amongst these – are usually well thought of. So when Tabitha died in Joppa, and the disciples realised that Peter was nearby in the cosmopolitan city of Lydda, they sent for him, and the widows in their grief held the clothes that Tabitha had made and were keen to show Peter what a good and well loved woman Tabitha had been – a woman possessed indeed of both beauty and of grace.

That this story should be set in Joppa, now called Jaffa, is of significance. Joppa is one of the oldest port cities in the land of Israel and the Mediterranean. Due to its natural advantages, a hill above a bay, and its strategic location on the crossroads of Israel, the city was a centre of historical events over thousands of years.

The story is set in a port – a place of goings and comings and comings and goings. So people will have a good memory for events from the past, both distant and recent. Is this why Peter was called to “come without delay” – ? Are the people of coastal Joppa only too well aware of Peter’s having once seen Jesus call Jairus’ daughter to rise up from the dead? Only too well aware of departures and arrivals, of comings and goings?

Well, at any rate, Peter arrives. And acting in a way almost exactly like Jesus before him – for he’d truly been a ‘disciple’ and had learned his apostleship from his Christ – Peter sent all the grieving chatterboxes out of the room. The graceful, beautiful Tabitha needed to hear only one voice at this moment in her history – needed only to hear the quiet call of Peter: ‘Tabitha, get up.’

And he echoed the voice of his Christ, and he called her to the new life, and he beckoned her to the healing, the restoration and the oneness that had once been offered to him, and he offered her his hand, as though asking her ‘dear one, filled with beauty and grace, please come and dance.’

Please God that, on our own way to paradise, when we sheep need to be plucked from danger, we might hear the call of one who prays ‘get up’ – and take the proffered hand.

So this little story ends with the rejoicing that surrounds the gift of life where previously all had seemed lost. And Peter, the Rock upon which the story depends, stays near the coast for a while, there in the midst of all the comings and goings, with a namesake, a man called Simon – whose name means ‘obedient’ and whose profession, that of a tanner, meant that he lived, as Pope Francis would have it, ‘with the smell of the sheep’. Obedient Pastor Peter lives among working people having raised, and even now continuing to raise up ‘Tabitha’ – ‘beauty and grace’.

Looking backwards now for a moment, to John’s Gospel, we heard tell of its being winter in Jerusalem. I’d never dreamed that Jerusalem would experience snow until I woke up to a white Mount Zion, one Advent Sunday morning, years ago. Yes: winter. Cold and perhaps a bit of gloom and doom around the place. Hurry up the new life. Roll on Spring. Jesus is walking in the temple, in ‘Solomon’s portico’, bringing to mind historical reminiscences of Solomon’s great wisdom.

And there the wise Jesus hears the unwise and mocking words of an angry mob that will – in just a few moments time, and not for the first time – take up stones to throw at him:

‘How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.’

‘Ah!’ Jesus replies. ‘But I have told you plainly. It’s just that you won’t believe.’

Here we see a shepherd, in the depths of threatening ‘winter’, who is wise enough, and teacher enough, to model for anyone watching that a good shepherd will never abandon his sheep – not even under the most intense pressure of violence against his person. No-one will pluck the Father’s beloved sheep out of his hand. No-one. And the Father and Jesus, like Jesus and the sheep, ARE ONE.

Of course this same Jesus was soon to be plucked from the midst of the sheep and was crucified, dead and buried. Fearful friends stood around, clutching his clothes and the tattered tales of the things he had wrought in their hearts and souls and minds and bodies. But ‘beauty and grace’ in the soul of Jesus heard the same gentle call that would later be heard by Tabitha, and by the entire flock of God in every age, past, present or future.

Jesus, Tabitha, little flock, ‘dost thou know who made thee?’.

‘Get up.’

And now He is risen. And Tabitha with him.

Christ is risen; we are risen!
Shed upon us heavenly grace,
Rain and dew and gleams of glory
From the brightness of Thy face,
That we, Lord, with hearts in Heaven
Here on earth may fruitful be,
And by angel hands be gathered,
And be ever safe with Thee.

Bishop Christopher Wordsworth

He is risen. We are risen.

And generations of shepherds have lived in obedience, with ‘the smell of the sheep’ to tell of good news:

Father, Beloved and Spirit, together with the flock. We are, all of us, all the sheep in the world, called home to the safety of the sheepfold; to be One.





THE RESURRECTION LIFE – loving and living and dying and rising …

Happy Easter


BANK HOLIDAY weekend affords a happy extension to “left brain time.” There are always more books I want to read, more paintings I want to paint, more photographs I want to make, more writing to be done, more poems to unfold, more prayer to be celebrated, more people to share some time and stories with, more songs to be sung, more colours to be marvelled at, more silence to be revelled in – than time ordinarily allows. And that very fact is cause for thanksgiving! Life is indeed a rich tapestry. The signs of the reign, the joy of God, are all around me. And I’m immensely thankful for the connections that blogging makes possible with people all around the world.

Today’s artwork is inspired, in Eastertide, by Mary Magdalene, beloved apostle of Jesus, first witness to new life in the Resurrection, loyal provider of intimate and loving support and sustenance, someone generous, open-hearted and giving, someone who just “knew” instinctively, what Jesus’ mission on earth was about, someone released, by God’s goodness, from the kind of prison every one of us finds ourselves in from time to time.

All human persons are “bedevilled” by “Legion” the perpetually underlying and taunting belief that somehow we’re failing to make the grade, we’re unlovable, bigger and better “failures” than anyone else, destined to be “alone”, faithless, heartbroken, misunderstood, wretched. All human persons yearn for the kind of release that Jesus’ love and acceptance brought about in Mary’s life; for the kind of release that she brought about in his.

Mary Magdalene: someone cruelly maligned and abused by religious patriarchy and misogyny across the centuries, but all the while someone I’ve admired and looked to as an icon of life’s richness and fullness, of life’s goodness and generosity, of life’s being – under the vivifying reign of God – a beautifully, colourfully, gorgeously dressed dance with our Creator.

Sydney Carter described Jesus as The Lord of the Dance. In my heart I think of Mary of Magdala as Jesus’ dance-partner and she is clothed, dressed, like the environment all around and about her, in colour and glory. And theirs is a partnership, theirs is a dance that, far from being exclusive and excluding, invites you and I to join. “Shall we dance?”, Mary asks. “And shall we sing?”, asks the Lord of the Dance. And sometimes the colours blur a little in the swirling. And sometimes they’re blended by our tears …

Have you seen the wonder of it? Have you seen Mary’s dress?


MY FATHER has a small square Instamatic photograph he made of me when I was a boy of 5 or 6, just waking up, in a white ridge tent, pitched on the side of Lake Bala in North Wales. I’d gone to sleep dreaming about my first angling success, having landed the tiniest tiddler you ever saw, the night before. Pride and delight was mixed, poignantly and paradoxically, by my sadness at the death of the little chap. So my patient Dad provided a small matchbox into which the little fish was reverently placed before I presided solemnly over my first burial.

I must have slept deeply and well. I remember now the slight chill, and the scent of canvas, a small camping stove, sausages, a boiling kettle. But even then I was never at my sharpest in the early mornings. Colours melded, waking encountered mist and a measure of reluctance. “Wake up, son. Rise and shine. It’s breakfast time.” And Dad’s photo captured the half-awake moment when the night became light and – through canvas and my own mind’s mist – boyish delight and colour glowed, stretching, reaching, like the spectrum in this painting.



EASTER HOLIDAYS, I suppose rather obviously, occasion a procession of thoughts about resurrection, about new life and the way it arises and surprises – leaping out of roundedness and edginess and colour. Holidays become holy days and the art and craft of Life come much more clearly – and frequently – into focus. As the lovely hymn has it: “Colours of day dawn into the mind, the sun has come up, the night is behind.”

Easter’s wonderful, and it’s great that Easter Sunday stretches onwards into Eastertide. Resurrection shapes and moulds me, calling me both inwards and upwards, downwards, outwards and sideways, beckoning me into fuller, freer use of the great gift of imagination, and into the times and places of rich and iridescent colour, in contemplation and in meditation, in people and in prayer, in books and in art, in hymnody and psalmody, in human creativity, in food and drink, in love and laughter, in freshly laundered soft cotton clothes, in divinely fashioned lakes and trees and sky and flowers. Easter reaches me, touches me, heals me; the Risen Jesus models for me a person possessed of both roundedness and edge, a person who loves enough and is quietened often enough to make of every day a holy day. I’ll try to be a more observant disciple.



Mary stayed outside near the tomb, weeping. Then, still weeping, she stooped to look inside, and saw two angels in white sitting where the body of Jesus had been, one at the head, the other at the feet. They said, ‘Woman, why are you weeping?’ ‘They have taken my Lord away’ she replied ‘and I don’t know where they have put him.’ As she said this she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, though she did not recognise him. Jesus said, ‘Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for?’ Supposing him to be the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have taken him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will go and remove him.’ Jesus said, ‘Mary!’ She knew him then and said to him in Hebrew, ‘Rabbuni!’ – which means Master. Jesus said to her, ‘Do not cling to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go and find the brothers, and tell them: I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.’ So Mary of Magdala went and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord and that he had said these things to her. John 20.11-18

THE MARY MAGDALENE of my own imagination doesn’t look at all like some of those depressing religious pictures. Not a haloed saint, not miserably gazing upon a skull set down in the middle of her dressing table, not wanton, bare-breasted, or mournfully reflecting upon her dreadfulness and that of others “of her kind”. No, my Mary Magdalene, first apostle, is an ordinarily beautiful, fully alive, self-aware, tactile, tender, practical, imaginative and lovely young woman. Human and humane. Someone possessed of an extraordinary ability to empathise, a bit of a loner perhaps, someone who “gets it” when Jesus speaks, someone who, just because she’s lovely – inside and out – is great to be around. And Jesus loves her.

I don’t know who made the gorgeous image above – (I’d love to know – and would gladly credit it) – but here’s the girl in my heart, using her own imagination to tell Jesus that she understands more than perhaps even he thinks she does; that she loves him; that loving him heals her and makes her whole; that her love might bring something of healing to him.

Here’s the Mary I imagine went on from this Prologue – this genesis, this in-the-flesh close-breathing, this out-of-the-ordinary, tearful, beyond-the-Law touching of the Word-before-time, this “costly” anointing, this first moment of tender intimacy, and wholly mutual acceptance – to have a thousand little conversations with Jesus, long before the ultimate events of what we’ve come to call Holy Week (“it’s no wonder they call you the Master, love. None of us have ever met or dreamed about someone quite like you”). A thousand little conversations about what was to be in the future, their future, everybody’s future (the future of R S Thomas’ “mirrors in which the blind look at themselves and Love looks at them back”) – after the “return” to “my father and your father”, to Where we came from.

Mary, imagine …, Mary, turn around …, Mary, can you feel it? …, Mary, the colours …, Mary, the joy of it …

Yes, I can imagine. I want to imagine. We all do. But if you died first, Jesus, God knows what I’ll do. You must be careful. We need you. Don’t strain so. O God. I know you’ll have to go. And I shall want you to, of course. Yes, we’ve talked about it often enough. But will you really come back to me? From the inside out? Jesus, I believe. Help me when my heart breaks. Help me in my unbelief …

Mary, Mary, Mary. I will. I will. I truly believe we’ll find each other on the inside …

If fully human Jesus was Everyman then Mary of Magdala is Everywoman. To prostitute her memory is wicked calumny – (how many unseeing men, half-dead, dull-in-heart-and-mind-and-head, have done that through the centuries?) – calumny of a kind that has led, and still leads, to immeasurable sickness of head and heart and soul and mind and body. Masculine and feminine, each needs the other. ( Both traits found in both women and in men, heterosexual or homosexual – it’s an “other” that’s the key requirement here). Thank God that the crisis wrought by precisely that sickness, and agonisingly recognised as the “hole in the heart” not just of the Church but of humankind generally today, can hardly help now but to point humankind everywhere on earth towards the light of a “more excellent”, a wholly more natural, and healthier, God-given way.

Human relationships, as much as for any of the ways we relate to the Divine, are not to be patronising, patriarchal, law-bound, or shame-laden. Human relationships will thrive, and the reign of God come to be felt among us, when they instinctively include, and resist exclusion. Love is not to be imprisoned or entombed. And, post-crisis, then and now, a wider-reaching Love is here to stay. Though patience is still required, though sin and death appear yet, in places, still to prevail, a new way of loving is here to stay. A new Way, a new Truth, a new Life.

Mr Vernon Dursley to Harry Potter about a certain (Wise old? Dove-like?) owl:

‘If you can’t control that owl, it’ll have to go!’
Harry tried, yet again, to explain.
‘She’s bored,’ he said. ‘She’s used to flying around outside. If I could just let her out at night …’
‘Do I look stupid?’ snarled Uncle Vernon, a bit of fried egg dangling from his bushy moustache. ‘I know what’ll happen if that owl’s let out.’
He exchanged dark looks with his wife, Petunia.

Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, J K Rowling

On Resurrection Day, “when it dawns on us”, in Mary and in Jesus, Wisdom is encountered entre deux. Wisdom’s used to flying around outside, she’s done so since the genesis of things, and before that, too; she carries messages home – for the inside, the God-side. Yes, there’s real intimacy here, a communicating communion sort of a business. But an early lesson in wisdom for all humankind is “do not cling”. Let him, let her, fly. Let the Spirit blow where She listeth. Something’s dawning. Look at the sky.

Ascension – returning – to the fullness of God lies yet ahead, though this very Resurrection morning it is an energising Hope. A hope that will ultimately change the course of the history of worlds. For there will be a returning, a tender returning, a deeply intimate, glorious, colourful, joyful, prayerful, fulsome returning for Everyone to the One who is both “my father and your father”. Don’t cling today beautiful Mary. But, believe me, lovely, knowing, wise and giving Mary, the day will dawn when we may cling, and we may laugh, and we may talk and pray and sing “We’re an Easter people! All of us! And alleluia is our song”.

And on that day I believe Jesus will be heard greeting his Mary of Madgdala as Rabbuni. Teacher. Master … She’s beautiful. Just like this painting. An ordinary, beautiful girl. Just sometimes a little bit wild. And she gets it, perhaps she is, Wisdom.

Jan Richardson and her husband Garrison Coles have made the
exquisitely beautiful The Hours of Mary Magdalene. Enjoy it here



New life – thank you, Colin & Hazel

WHAT A GLORIOUS Resurrection celebration we’ve shared in Bramhall today! – so many people to thank, as always, all of whom made their contribution to our Worship by way of preparation, cleaning, sprucing, hours and hours of service order preparation, Newala linking, sourcing Fair Trade Easter Eggs, (and distributing and eating them), providing transport and encouragement, music (thank you for your glorious composition, Caitlin) and other artistic gifts, drawing families and friends together, remembering the sick and the suffering, presence, prayer, puppeteering (Double Act – you’re not only lovable, you’re also a bunch of geniuses) and praise.

Surrexit Dominus Hodie. The Lord is Risen Today – in The Heart of God and in and through countless millions of witnesses to the Life of God within all of us. Yesterday and today the Word of God is “Let there be light”. And there was light, and there is light, and there will be light. That’s how it is that we’re able to wish the entire created Universe a richly happy and blessed Easter.

St John Chrysostom (c.347-407) preached a sermon, the Reverend Ann Hyde reminded us at 8am, about that great Resurrection for which Jesus of Nazareth was willing to surrender his own life that it might be forever proclaimed: that great Resurrection in which

not one dead remains in the grave.

We who shall live together in all eternity are called today and every day to begin living resurrection with every other child, woman and man upon earth NOW. And as love’s surety we’ve been given tomorrow’s bread and the “new wine of the kingdom” today. So we sing and shout and leap and love for joy, “Hooray!” – though we’ve probably used the more ancient “Alleluia!” today.

God’s doors are opened wide. In the fullness of God there’s no need for closed doors – no need for a door to keep in the warmth, no need for additional security, or draught exclusion, or protection from heresy, or difference – on the outside or on the inside. No tomb on earth is to remain sealed.

No matter the size of the stone seal at the door, the loving, compassionate, welcoming and sustaining Word of God – with or without the help of the pious or the preacher – will roll the stones and the walls of division, false piety, self-satisfaction and suspicion away. Joy, sheer and perfect and unadulterated joy filled the heart, soul, mind and body of the beloved Mary Magdalene. “I’ve seen the Lord!” she said, never, ever, to be separated from his tender embrace again, nor he from hers. Jesus would ascend to the Father. And as he returned to the embrace of God so Mary – and you and me – came to be given pledge and healing feeling – sacramental sign of tender touch, indeed the tenderest possible embrace, on the inside!

God’s alive so we’re alive! Really alive! Happy, happy, happy Easter!