My friend Gill has shared with me photos of the Winter Iris, Iris Unguicularis, growing in her Cumbrian garden at this time of year. This clump forming iris has tiny rhizomes and long, narrow, sword shaped evergreen leaves. It grows wild throughout the Mediterranean area where it is naturally winter flowering. It is extremely variable both in flower colour and size. It is native to dry, sunny soils and flowers best against a sunny wall where it can be left to form large clumps. Ideal then for the Lake District at this time of year! The Iris in Gill’s garden is, however, unaware of the restrictions on its growth and just gets on with it anyway! Which brings joy to us.
Nature never sleeps. It just rests awhile drawing breath. Look around you, see the green shoots pushing at the hardened ground.
Ah, we might sigh, beauty is a pinprick of light in the cold earth. Our ancient ones saw this time as hovering between darkness and light. Earth is poised between Winter and the journey towards Spring. The sky begins to lighten. Soil gives birth to snowdrop, aconite, hellebore; crocus; daffodil, all puncture the seemingly sleeping ground. Early budding of trees as nature yawns, stretching its arms, drawing us into the embrace of renewing life.
There among the signs is Iris unguicularis, Winter Iris. She brings to our attention her warm history, Infancy spent in North Africa, Syria, Mediterranean climes Holy Land perhaps.
We sense the warmth of her hope that nature will dust away all dregs of human darkness, pointing us to the light and the beauty the wisdom, passion and purity of faith, which transforms.
Held in the lamplight glow of another’s attention time slows… space for a shared unfolding: the creases, rucks and pleats of story and experience, passion and sorrow carefully laid open.
In the cradle of this shared moment we are free to wander and explore: huddled close as we walk in step; or running free after fresh vistas; or simply sitting in easy company – pondering together and drinking in the view.
Scudding brightness pinpricks details to be pointed at and revelled in. Notions, like skylarks, twist and turn; cloud-pictures drifting and shifting, to crystallize when they are named.
And afterwards, the joy of sacrament: the recognition of new knowings… and the sense that we have been seen and heard and cherished – and that together, we have grown.
Piers Northam 14 January 2022 (with thanks to Ros, Susan, Julia, Lynn and Marion)
The daily reflections by the Church of England this week were by The Rt Revd John Inge, Bishop of Worcester.
On Friday he reflected on Matthew 22: 15-22. It was the encounter between Jesus and the Pharisees who were trying to entrap him. The meeting centred on the place of Caesar in the scheme of things and whether paying taxes to him went against one’s loyalty to God. Who was greater?
Jesus knew their hearts and so called them hypocrites but he willingly took up their challenge. Calling for a coin, he asked whose head was on it and whose title. ‘Caesar’s’ they answered. So, said Jesus, give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.
As ever there is more depths to Jesus’s answer and I thought about that when I received Joyce’s tweet this week. The caption has something very important to tell us and it begins its message in Jesus’s response to the Pharisees.
John Inge said that Jesus was able to assert the sovereignty of God over all things, while appearing superficially to support the emperor.
At another level, there is an unspoken message. John Inge went on to say that Caesar’s head is that of a human being. Human beings are made in the image of God. Citing Genesis 1:27 : “In the image of God, he created them; male and female he created them and God blessed them.”
Thus, in a very subtle way Jesus told the Pharisees that all things (even them!) were God’s. This important message reminds all of us that we reflect the image of God. Each one of us is ‘stamped’ with God’s image and likeness – even if sometimes we are not shining with that image as brightly as we could!
There is however, another implication. If we are all stamped with the image and likeness of God, we are all equal in God’s sight. He loves everyone, everything, that he has made.
According to the Genesis poem of Creation, God saw everything that he made and makes as very good. That’s very important for us to know. Of course, we don’t always believe nor act as if it is true. Life’s experience and circumstance can tarnish us and the goodness can fade. But it never goes completely away. It can be burnished very easily into brightness but we have to go to the maker to see to that. He has the polish to do it. It is called Love. We are rubbed by it in prayer, through conversation and study of His word and through the actions of Jesus and the Spirit. Also, we can polish each other with mutual love and encouragement. The image of God in us never goes away. God sees to that, though we do have to reach out to Him.
One of the great joys of the Gospel is that it’s about God being good to us.
So what’s this got to do with the little Blue-Tit? Well, it seems she knows that she is secure in the love of God and, like all Nature and Creation reflects the beauty and love of God. This is why she’s not too bothered about comparing herself with others. She’s just content with God loving her as she is.
Some of you will know the Butterfly Song which begins – If I were a butterfly. The Chorus is worth turning into a little prayer.
For you gave me a heart and you gave me a smile You gave me Jesus and you made me your child And I just thank you Father for making me, me
Rt Revd Dr Guli Francis-Dehqani is the Bishop of Chelmsford who recently took her seat in the House of Lords. Last week she spoke to the second reading of the Nationality and Borders Bill. It was just over 1 year since the body of eighteen month Artin washed up on the shores of Norway. He and his family drowned in the English Channel on the previous 27th October as they tried to make their 3rd attempt of crossing from Calais to Dover. Over one year later, as Bishop Guli spoke from the heart, people like Artin are still dying and are neglected. Bishop Guli’s words need heeding.
Bishop of Chelmsford’s Speech to the House of Lords during the second reading of the Nationality and Borders Bill
It’s a privilege to have been part of the debate and I look forward to following this Bill through and benefiting from the collective wisdom here.
I believe I’m one of relatively few in this House who have experience of both sides of the asylum and refugee system, having first come to this country as a refugee from Iran in 1980. The plight of those fleeing violence and persecution and the difficulties in navigating identity and finding a new home are not abstract or intellectual propositions for me, but part of who I am. And it’s with that perspective that I offer some thoughts now.
Often, I see asylum seekers presented either as victims, who require help but have no agency, or as chancers, seeking to abuse generosity – criminals, even. Neither approach is helpful. How different discussions might be if we reframed the debate in terms of the best way to work with potential future citizens, neighbours and friends. Not every asylum seeker will meet the criteria for being a refugee. But many will, and they’ll become part of our nation and community. How we treat them in the process has consequences for the sort of society we’re creating – the kind of nation we want to be.
We’ve heard it said repeatedly that citizenship is a privilege not a right. I dispute the binary nature of the claim, but I agree that citizenship, and other statuses, require a need for people to belong and contribute. Belonging can be fostered by welcome and how asylum seekers are received, but it also relies on there being real opportunities to contribute.
A system that respects human dignity, encourages agency rather than victimhood, gives people a chance to be heard and contribute is a system that’ll foster healthy communities and build up future citizens.
In Chelmsford Diocese we’re proud of our work with refugees and we’ve played a leading role in community sponsorship. We believe civil society needs to play its part in the welcome and building up of our neighbours. I hope to hear more from the Minister on community sponsorship schemes, but I also want to make the case that that is never enough.
We need a policy framework that gives future citizens the chance to contribute in meaningful ways. The opportunity to work, particularly for those facing long delays in the asylum process, would be one such chance but is sadly absent from the Bill
Indeed there is much in the Bill that doesn’t meet the tests of providing for agency, dignity and a chance to be heard. I’m concerned that the provision to remove citizenship without notice is a denial of the right to be heard, and one that has wider implications that seem to be unacknowledged.
I am concerned too that the proposed differential treatment of refugees [depending on how they arrived] is an example of learning the wrong lessons from the hostile environment and I’ll be listening carefully to proposed amendments in that space.
I’ve spoken to a great many people over the years, and am yet to find the asylum seeker who was deterred from coming to the UK because they’re barred from working, or housed in substandard accommodation. The situations from which people flee, and the promise of hope and a new life, greatly outweigh any deterrent. And yet these hardships are real and serve as barriers to contribution and to fostering a sense of belonging.
No one disputes the challenges facing the asylum system. But I’m troubled by some of the implications of this Bill. I’m not clear what problems differentiated treatment, or deterrence policies will solve, and fear that aspects put in jeopardy the agency and dignity of many vulnerable people.
[In conclusion], If you will indulge a bishop a Biblical reference, St Paul writes in his letter to the Hebrews “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some have shown hospitality to angels”. My Lords, it is better for the soul of this nation, and for creating good future citizens, to treat people with the greatest possible respect and dignity, rather than with hostility and doubt.