Wednesday, December 28, 2016


Life is bitter-sweet.

That is why, in the midst of Christmas – the twelve-day-long celebration of God coming to be with us – we raise our glasses to remember Stephen (26th Dec), stoned to death by a mob who felt their world threatened by his beliefs concerning Jesus;

and John (27th Dec), exiled to a Roman prison camp, his mind un-hinged enough to see the world more clearly than most ever do;

and the Holy Innocents (27th or 28th or 29th Dec), children murdered on the orders of a ruthless king who brooked no possible rivals.

We don’t wait until Christmas is over. We do not compartmentalise joy and sadness, celebration and anguish; because life does not compartmentalise these things. But neither do they cancel one another out. Instead, they add depth to one another.

Life is bitter-sweet. Savour it this Christmas.

Holy Innocents

Depending on where in the world you live, yesterday, today, or tomorrow is the Commemoration of the Holy Innocents, the day we remember the infant boys of Bethlehem killed on the orders of Herod the Great.

Luke brings together the testimony of Mary’s relatives, Joseph’s family, and the shepherds to demonstrate that the people of Bethlehem, who were fiercely proud of their historical connection to King David, embraced Jesus’ family. Matthew tells us the price they paid when that family came to Herod’s attention, and the entire town refused to bring forward any information as to their flight to Egypt.

This is the story of a community of resistance. Some doubt its historicity, consider it propaganda. But it is reliably historical – and, indeed, has been so, repeated many times over.

On these of all days, we remember before God all children caught up in conflict, and cry, how long, O Lord?

Saturday, December 24, 2016


Today’s #AdventWord is #Celebrate

(The Christmas Eve ‘Christingle’ at Sunderland Minster.)

Friday, December 23, 2016


Today’s #AdventWord is #Live

#lifeinallitsfullness #celebrate

Thursday, December 22, 2016


Today’s #AdventWord is #Animate

The accompanying reflection, by Br. Mark Brown, read:

“The Spirit of God animates us, but it all happens in the flesh: every deed of kindness, every act of generosity, every word of encouragement happens in the flesh. Every embodiment of Christ’s grace or truth or love happens in the flesh – or it doesn’t happen.”

Wednesday, December 21, 2016


Today’s #AdventWord is #Abide

To abide is to remain with Jesus. To go where he goes, and to stop for whom he stops.

Jesus told his disciples to abide in him. In the first instance – the very next morning, he would be crucified – only the women and James’ barely-adult kid-brother John dared do so.

Where will Jesus call us to abide with him today?

Tuesday, December 20, 2016


Today’s #AdventWord is #Prune

In the northern hemisphere, tomorrow is the ‘shortest’ day of the year. Daylight itself is pruned right back, and we are invited to slow right down, and submit ourselves to being enfolded by love, in order that the fruit of love might flourish in our lives.

Monday, December 19, 2016


Today’s #AdventWord is #Simplicity

A digital advertising board has recently been placed beneath the Minster. As I walked past it today, it was advertising...nothing, which instead made it a mirror reflecting what we already have, and might or might not value or be content with...

Friday, December 16, 2016


Today’s #AdventWord is #Awaken

The sun was already starting its descent in the sky when a songbird pierced the fretful sleep-walk of my anxious thoughts, and I awoke to the gift of the present moment. Better late than never.

Thursday, December 15, 2016


Today’s #AdventWord is #Trust

Trust is a choice, to give ourselves to others, that is not dependent on their trustworthiness, or indeed ours, but on God’s character.

Because he entrusts his life to his heavenly Father, Jesus can submit himself to the trust of those who would handle him with care, such as the woman who anointed his feet with perfume; those who would unintentionally let him down, such as the disciples in whose storm-caught boat he slept; and even those who schemed against him, who ultimately subjected him to public execution.

Wednesday, December 14, 2016


Today’s #AdventWord is #Surprise

The Royal Mail alternates its yearly Christmas stamp designs between nativity scenes and other seasonal images. (Religious-theme stamps are always available if that is important to you, but you have to specifically ask for them in the ‘other’ years. Personally, I love the alternating mix.) Today four cards arrived, all bearing a jolly snowman - and the stamps blessed me with joy before I ever opened the envelopes. God is not only to be found in a manger, but in all kinds of surprising places.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016


Today’s #AdventWord is #Mend

Earlier this year, the Minster was broken into. Among other damage, an elegant oak door was smashed off its hinges. It was repaired by a specialist wood restorer, who constructed a frame of vice-grips to hold the wood fast while the glue set. You need to know the material you are attempting to mend...

Today I heard the news that a dear friend has died, unexpectedly and far too soon. I am heart-broken. That is, my ability to make good choices is severely impaired (the heart is the seat of the will). But my mind (the seat of thoughts and emotions, by which we perceive and process the world) is also broken: I am overwhelmed, mentally and emotionally, by a world without her.

My heart and my mind need to be mended. This will be a slow, painstaking process, which has not even begun. My heart and my mind need to be held in place, by a frame.

The frame that is needed to hold my heart is a simple but robust rule of life. I shall continue to say morning prayer, whether or not my thoughts or emotions can engage with the words. The discipline itself will hold me in the place where mending can take place. I will need to be gentle with myself, but I need a frame.

The frame that is needed to hold my mind is quite different, and surprising. This frame is grief. Grief holds my broken thoughts and emotions in place allowing mending to take place. This is the deep knowledge of the skilled Restorer.

May my friend rest in peace, and rise in glory. And may it be so of her friends, too.

Monday, December 12, 2016


Today’s #AdventWord is #Rely

A glass star hangs from a tiny hook by the finest of threads.

Sunday, December 11, 2016


Today’s #AdventWord is #Glow

Even the sky put on rose vestments for Gaudete (Rejoice!) Sunday.

Friday, December 09, 2016


Today’s #AdventWord is #Promise

This nest, against the dusk, caught my eye, and brought to mind Psalm 84.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016


Today’s #AdventWord is #Act

What will you do with the resources God has given you in answer to prayer?

I will seek to offer hospitality, to the few as I would to the many – and to the many as I would to the few.

Tuesday, December 06, 2016


Today’s #AdventWord is #Be

Here is Bede, Sunderland’s great monastic scholar and the Father of English History, as depicted in the window of the Bede Chapel, Sunderland Minster. He kneels on the beach in prayer, and is my companion at Morning Prayer, whether I am found in joy or sorrow, and whether I am fully present or distracted.

Today I have needed to wrestle with many distractions, in order to be present to, and at prayer for, those who are hurting.

I am struck that the word Be is found in the name Bede; and by the way in which both dark and light depict his face, his world, my world.

Monday, December 05, 2016


Today’s #AdventWord is #Commit

Sometimes commitment requires that you hang on in there, however unpromising things look...

Saturday, December 03, 2016


Today’s #AdventWord is #Play

Parkrunners set off at Sunderland Parkrun.

Friday, December 02, 2016


Today’s #AdventWord is #Light

This photo was taken just before the start of the Age UK carol service, each year the first of our season, with over 300 people in attendance today.

Thursday, December 01, 2016


Today’s #AdventWord is #Proclaim

I have had a hell of a day today, beginning with a delayed and stressful train journey. By the time I got home, I felt like I needed one of the stunning the-heavens-proclaim-the-glory-of-God sunsets we regularly get here on the east coast. Instead, I got the faithfulness of the first twinkling stars, appearing despite cloud cover, despite light pollution. A different proclamation, a quieter one – if we can differentiate the volume of silent proclamation – and perhaps the one I actually needed to hear today...