Wednesday, February 14, 2024

Ash Wednesday


A poem written for Ash Wednesday 2024:

You have heard it said that you are too little, or too much, to be accepted;
and, taking those words to heart, you have been consumed by their flames.

You have heard it said that you are more deserving than others;
and, internalising that mantra, you have been razed by its fire.

But I say to you, rise up:
by the grace of God
arise from the ashes,
O Phoenix,
dust stirred to life by the kiss of love,
by the breath of God
that gives life to the dead.

You are the phoenix of Christ,
given new beginning in his name.
Neither too little nor too much,
nor deserving nor undeserving,
simply loved to life,
again and again.

Do not fear returning to dust.
Receive this mark upon your head,
a sign of hope, and trust.
And by the grace of God,


Tuesday, February 13, 2024



There have always been autistic people among us, we simply haven’t always understood or valued them. I love Ann Memmott’s take on Nicodemus, a friend of Jesus who displays autistic traits:

He is an expert in the scriptures – they are his specialist subject – and offers expert advice to his peers.

He first comes to Jesus at night when there would be less sensory stimulation and crowds of people to overwhelm him. In their conversation, Jesus offers him a metaphor, which he takes literally and therefore as impossible, so that Jesus needs to unpack the idea in a different way.

After Jesus has died, Nicodemus brings spices to embalm him, but he brings an excessive amount – wanting to help, but totally over the top.

All these things are common autistic traits, within the spectrum of lived experiences of autistic people.

I also love that as a neurodivergent, autistic vicar, who recognises myself in Nicodemus, I am Priest in Charge of St Nicholas Church. For Nicodemus and Nicholas are the same name - Victory of the Common People - in two different forms [nike demos, nike laos].


Thursday, February 08, 2024



In the Gospel reading set for Holy Communion today, Mark 7.24-30, Jesus visits Tyre.

Tyre is one of the world’s oldest cities, her ancient walls rising out of the Mediterranean, a jewel of the sea, a drop of human creativity in the ocean.

It was famous for two things: firstly, purple dye. The story goes that Tyre was founded by the god Melqart for his lover Tyrus. One day they were taking a romantic stroll along the beach with her dog, when it bit into a shell and its fangs dripped purple. Tyrus requested that Melqart make her a dress in the same colour: he gathered up every sea snail he could find, boiled them to extract the dye, and presented her with her prize. From then, it became the choice of kings and queens and emperors: Mark (and John) will report that at Jesus’ coronation as King of the Jews, the Romans will put a crown on his head and a purple cloak on his shoulders, a Tyrian robe.

The other thing Tyre was famous for was high quality wood from the cedar forests of Lebanon, that part of the mainland they controlled. This wood made the best ships – Tyre had two harbours, one facing north and the other south, and a fine merchant navy, crossing the Mediterranean, founding colonies on her shores, including Carthage and Cadiz, through trade not conquest, and even venturing out into the Atlantic – and the best temples.

David, king of Jerusalem, was friends with Hiram, king of Tyre. When David made the arrangements for the temple his son Solomon would build, he contracted Hiram to supply wood and purple yarn and cloth – including the great curtain that hung in front of the Holy of Holies – in exchange for wheat, Tyre possessing no arable land of its own.

Such alliances were often cemented by marriage, including Solomon, and the later king Ahab, who married Jezebel, daughter of a king of Tyre. Jezebel championed the worship of the gods and goddesses of the Canaanite pantheon, reigning in tumult and eventually being thrown to her death from a window, her blood licked up by dogs, reminiscent of the dripping fangs of Tyrus’ dog.

No one could capture the island, though many tried. Nebuchadnezzar besieged and captured Jerusalem but besieged and failed to take Tyre. Again and again, they withstood enemy armies, until Alexander the Great. They held out against his siege, too, until in frustration he had his army throw great stones into the sea, building a causeway they could march along, all the while the Tyrians throwing boulders and flaming arrows back at them. Eventually, causeway complete and a mercenary navy recruited from Tyre’s treacherous neighbours in Sidon, Alexander’s forces captured the city. The women and children had already been evacuated by sea to Carthage, but the men were struck down, including 2,000 who were crucified – the Romans weren’t the first or only ones to use crucifixion to make a point.

The Greeks settled the city, the Romans following, though all the while Tyre managed to emerge, Phoenix-like, from its own ashes – the word Phoenician, meaning worker-of-purple-red-dye, and phoenix, or purple-red bird, share the same root.

To this city, now connected to the mainland, Jesus came. Trying to lie low, the word gets out. A Hellenised woman of Syrophoenician origin (that is, the Phoenicians of this coast, rather than the Phoenicians of their daughter colonies around the Mediterranean) comes to see him. Her young daughter has been taken captive by an unclean spirit, and she begs him to cast it out.

The following exchange is enigmatic, a weaving of several threads of yarn. In saying that it is not good to take the children’s bread and throw it to the dogs, Jesus may well be making the point (his own, or the view of his disciples) that he must attend to his own people before the neighbouring peoples. But the relationship between them has always been more dynamic than that. Perhaps we might hear, in his words about throwing down and dogs, in this Tyrian context, a concern about violence. He makes the point that young children should be fattened up first. Perhaps he is implying that the casting out of demons is a violent business – later, in Mark 9.14-29, we see Jesus cast such a spirit out of a boy, who is convulsed terribly, such that, at first, he appears left dead – and it would be better to wait until the young girl was bigger, stronger.

But the mother responds by pointing out that even the dogs get to eat the crumbs that fall from the table. Crumbs falling is far gentler than bread thrown or cast out. Perhaps she is indicating her trust that Jesus can cast out the occupying spirit without causing further violence to her little daughter.

And Jesus says, It is done, as you understood it could be when you came to me.

Jesus comes, not as an invading conqueror – not making a way, where there was no way, for control over another's autonomy and dignity – but hidden; proclaimed by a whisper on the wind; to restore us to our own self, and to one another, and to the God who made us in and for love: you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and all your mind and all your soul and all your strength, and love your neighbour as yourself. He treats all with gentleness and compassion, with concern for their dignity and choice and partnership.

He comes that we might all be Phoenicians, phoenixes, rising to new life from the ashes.