Sometimes things happen in church.

Tonight, as I stood at the altar, saying the prayer of offering, someone entered the worship space and I froze. It was the way he entered, coming in fairly quickly, not walking forward to one of the altars, or coming towards the sanctuary to join us. He cut across, to the fair aisle, the hidden aisle, the place of greatest shadow. He had a hood raised, and a large puffy coat unzipped, but wrapped around him.

It might have just been a wanderer, someone seeking shelter. But it felt wrong, and I was very aware that there were only three of us at the eucharist tonight, all way up by the altar, and he was out of sight. I watched as I said the prayer, and tried to assess options.
There was a moment, just a moment, when I saw him moving and I came within half a breath of saying ‘Run! Into the sacristy. Now.’ But I wasn’t sure yet — so I did something else instead.

I left the altar and walked towards him — and towards the light switches, because we had been lulled by a light evening into too much carelessness. I think I said to the others, ‘stay here.’ I certainly thought it, and they did.

I spoke towards him, saying loudly, ‘let me give you some light, so you can see better.’
He walked towards me and said, ‘is it alright that I am here? Can I stay?’

I relaxed a bit, and said yes. He was welcome to stay to pray or for some quiet. We would continue the service. I returned to the altar and began the eucharistic prayer. He sat in a pew. Then shifted, and wandered again. He came up into the choir where we had been before we moved to the altar. I called ‘you are welcome to join us here.’ And then realised — there were handbags. He suddenly walked out.

And as I said ‘handbags’ to the congregation, one realised hers was missing, and ran like a flash after him.

‘Don’t go alone. Don’t put yourself in danger,’ I said as I too ran from the altar to follow her. By the time I caught up, they were on the path, and she had confronted him. She took her bag off him, and he did not resist.

We were very lucky. Had he wanted to harm us, he could have. For some reason, he seemed unclear of his own desire.

But later — once the adrenaline was gone — and once I had shown the tiny Tuesday night congregation where the hidden exits were, and told them that if I ever gave them a command to ‘Go’ they must obey. Into the sacristy. Lock the door. My phone will be in my bag or on the desk. Better one person in danger, and three people safe with a phone than all at risk. They must go. But later, I wondered…

What happened that Maundy Thursday night?

What happened when the soldiers came for Jesus?

I have always, always preached this as betrayal. The disciples scattering. Fear overcoming love.

But what if he wanted them to go? What if they were right to flee? Run. Scatter. Dissolve into shadows.

What if Jesus walked toward the cross, not desolate or afraid, but thanking God the others had all gotten away?




The first experience of meditation.
An early glimpse of beauty coming from chaos.
The memory of young rage and disproportionate sorrow, when beauty was almost achieved but went spinning out of control.

Spirograph: a lesson in being human.

Yesterday, a friend was hunting for Lent Blogging ideas and I suggested ’40 words that quicken or express your hope in God’. It was meant for her, not me, but I woke thinking, Maybe?

I was thinking of words like spaciousness, wonder, ellipsis, kavod — I was thinking avocet, lapwing, purr. Nowhere, in all my imagining, was the God-word spirograph. And yet, there it is.

I had just set a class to doodling, asking them to keep the pen moving, while thinking about what it felt like when the weight of the world fell on your shoulders because someone, somewhere, had convinced you that you were supposed to be perfect.

It was hard for them. They are not used to being asked to draw what they feel or to use drawing to help figure out what they feel. They were too young for irony, and couldn’t spot the raw data in the room.

So, I gave them a prompt: you can start with a circle, if you like. See where it leads you. And suddenly, pens were whirring round. And suddenly the headteacher was whispering to the teacher in the corner — remembering the hours she spent as a child, that thing, with the circles spinning round. How she loved it. What was it?

Spirograph. It was my childhood too.

The liturgical year is a gift of circles — a spiralling round that grounds us in God. And each year that passes, I am more grateful for the memories that flood, at each pancake party, of every other pancake party. That moment, in a too small kitchen, with a too large crowd, when a person with a hot pan, and a person with a wet dish nearly collide, and instead, spin and turn. The trust that comes; the awareness of something unspoken that bind you; the dance of the body of Christ.

Ash Wednesday brings different memories, of all the selves I’ve been. The years when I ran eagerly towards Lent, looking for growth, expecting healing — young, and naive, and sure that God would come gloriously. The years of loneliness and exhaustion, when Lent was a task of faithfulness, God long since hidden, disciplines lost to the struggle to survive.

It’s all there, every time. Every person, every feeling, every hope for God.

And sometimes, it seems the circle comes round, and we get to begin again.

Spirograph: the gift of childhood.
First Meditation.
Infinite longing.
Beaty from Chaos.



elusive angels

How does a story come to be?

I used to think that one must have an idea; that there must be some complex logo-rhythm that would relate character, plot and symbol into a meaningful whole.   But now I am not so sure.

Through Advent and Lent a story has been evolving on the blogs (Love Blooms Bright and Beauty from Chaos).   It is a story about angels, a story about God, and a story about what it means for the Word to become Incarnate.  Sometimes, I’ve been quite pleased with the posts.  I loved Sophia’s insistence in Wisdom Exaulteth and am still amused by sulky Jophiel in Look Again.  It’s too soon to be sure which of the Lent stories I may like.  They are too close and there is insufficient distance to see.

These stories have been fun to write, but I am not really sure where they come from.  Do they form a coherent theology?  Perhaps.  But if so, it is not the theology I would have expected to write, nor would I have realised how much I want an illustrator.

How did angels come to take centre stage?  Certainly not by my planning or intention.

Yet there they are, week after week, telling me their stories, and forcing their way onto the page.  It is fun, and confusing too.  Is there more that needs to be written, or is this it?  Do the characters live for these blogs, or is there something bigger going on here?

I kind of hope that Jophiel and Zadkiel will stick around.  I’d like to see Sophia again too.  But this seems to be their choice and not mine.  I am sure they will stay with us through Good Friday, but have no sense at all what angels might do, come Easter.

wind-rush, feather bright

Today, the sun is shining, the cat is purring, and I’m off to visit the flamingoes.  In the absence of a pancake party, they seem to be the right companions for Mardi Gras.  There is a strange giddiness in the early spring.  All around the world is whispering, ‘hope, dream, dare.’

For many years, it was the solemnity of Lent that I loved — the very challenge of it, as I walked through the cold blustry days of an East Neuk winter, or the unending snow of a New England March.  I was fairly strict with myself then, keeping absolute fasts, carefully planning Lenten disciplines, finding it very hard to go to lectures or teach lessons on Ash Wednesday, never really relaxing till I was in church.

But it feels different now.  Either I have become lazier, or my sense of God has become more gracious.

Discipline is important.  I know how much difference it makes to pray in stable patterns:  early morning silence, daily office, Eucharist. And I know that to do that, other patterns must be stable too:  bed times and rising, meeting times and meals.  The rhythms of the day, the rhythms of the liturgical year — at times, a hassle; at times, lost in busyness or complexity, but ultimately–  a gift given to us for freedom.

When I set out on my jubilee year, it was a claiming of the freedom of the desert.  I was leaving my work behind.  I was leaving my patterns of life behind.  I left knowing — at last knowing — what had long been true:  that we can’t control what people think of us or say of us or make of our stories.  There are lots of times in life when truth and perception fail to meet, and we find ourselves alternately on both sides of that chasm.

I’m learning to live with that.  And that is a form a discipline too.

I want this Lent to be about freedom.  I’m hoping for a warm blustery March that will shake us all of our illusions and leave us laughing in the midst of God’s grace.  And I want that even in — especially in — those parts of our lives where pain remains, where new pains arise, where we cause and are caused harm, despite all our desires to the contrary.

And then, at Easter, I want kites.  Bright shards of joy, riding on the winds.

I should not write when I wake giddy and yearning for flamingoes.  It is sloppy and careless.  A messy Mardi Gras parade.  So be it.  Today is for feathered flurry.  Order and ashes tomorrow.