All is Gift

My friend Joyce Smith has sent me another picture tweet of a Gannet in flight. The caption is by Henry David Thoreau. Joyce writes:
Dear Friends, This graceful gannet witnesses to beauty in our present lives as well as to our future hope.
With my love and prayers, God bless, Joyce

I was inspired by the photo to try and capture my feelings in a poem.

All is Gift.

Gannet soars,
taking a path between earth and heaven.
Grace in flight buoyed up by the whisper of God’s breath
A joyful beauty here.

She reminds us of God’s creative love fashioning the world
spreading signs and reflections of His heaven –
brooding under, over and within Creation.
Entrusting this message not to us but to a creature of His artistry.
The gentle flap of her wing carries her through clouds,
across an ever-moving  sky,
from time to time she drops to kiss an azure sea,
beak dipping
foaming wave forming, where love breaks.

Gannet carries a gift from God,
A message from His heart ;
“Enjoy the freedom of grace-filled life.
I glide around you revealing the beauty above, below and within you
for I am always there.”

Look up and see, look down and feel.
Look within and breathe.
Live for a while in true harmony with all that I have made.
But know,
(and here Gannet flies away to spread her wings of beauty),
that all is gift.

[Mr G]

May hatred melt away – the message of a cross of nails for 9/11

Cross of Nails, Coventry Cathedral photo by Mr. G

On November 14th, 1940, the Luftwaffe blitzed the City of Coventry with bombs. So fierce was the bombing that a new word was coined by the Nazi’s for wholesale destruction – to Coventrate.

A victim of the bombing was the medieval Cathedral. It also had a word : Forgive.

Today, if you visit Coventry, the new Cathedral, designed by Basil Spence and opened in 1962, hugs the old. A remarkable fusion of death and re-birth, though truthfully, the symbol for both is of reconciliation and Resurrection.

Another symbol is the Cross of Nails.

On the morning after the destruction, a local vicar, whose own church had suffered much damage, picked up from the Cathedral ruins three sharp nails, which had been part of the roof, and with a bit of wire, bound them into a cross.
He was not to know then that his Cross would become the potent sign of what was to be a worldwide community of the Cross of Nails, dedicated to prayer and action, especially in dark and broken places.

Those three nails, now gilded and placed in the Sanctuary of the new part of the Cathedral, (see photo above) were to inspire a remarkable ministry.
It was, and is, a portent for good in a dark world so much  in need of light and hope.

This ministry is summed up in the Coventry Litany of Reconciliation and in this weekend of special remembrance both of the atrocities of what happened 20 years ago, known forever as 9/11, and all that has transpired subsequently both bad and good, it is an appropriate Litany to pray, either alone or with others.


All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.
The hatred which divides nation from nation,
race from race, class from class


The covetous desires of people and nations
to possess what is not their own.


The greed which exploits the work of human hands
and lays waste the earth.


Our envy of the welfare and happiness of others,


Our indifference to the plight of
the imprisoned, the homeless, the refugee,


The lust which dishonours the bodies
of men, women and children’


The pride which leads us to trust in ourselves
and not in God,


Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another,
as God in Christ has forgiven you


You may also like to ponder these prayers offered in remembrance of 9/11 and those whose lives were lost and the many whose lives were forever changed.

The prayers are from an array of faith leaders from many religious traditions. They were found in the internet from Huffington Post, Prayers for Peace & Healing on 9/11 Anniversary.

 Jesuit Prayer:

In times of pain, give me comfort, in times of despair, give me hope. In times of hatred, give me love. In times of doubt, give me trust. And even when I feel far from you, be close to me, Loving God.

                                                        Fr. James Martin, S.J.

Jewish Prayer:

We pray to live with memory, with constant love, with the promise both to combat evil and to cherish goodness. Do not let our pain cloud our hopes or crush our hearts. Help us grow through this tragedy, keep faith with its victims, and sustain our trust in you.

                                                      Rabbi David Woipe

Hindu Prayer:

While our landmarks collapsed in a cloud of smoke and debris, beneath a surge of shock and rage, something awakened in our hearts: compassion.

                                                      Radhanoth Swami

Sikh Prayer:

Universal Creator, grant us resilience in the face of hate, and the courage to face it with dignity. May we all unite and share one another’s pain and tears. May the hatred in the world melt away in Your boundless and everlasting love. And living in Your Will, may all find peace, harmony and serenity.

                                                      Dr. Satpal Singh

Christian Prayer:

 Dear God: We seek your grace to strengthen us as we commemorate the lives of loved ones who have been lost on this day of anguish for our country and our world. Lord, teach your children to love each other as much as they profess to love you.

                                                 Bishop T. D. Jakes

Muslim Prayer:

There was a prayer from an Imam but this picture, of a young Muslim holding up cardboard signs, is to my mind, one of the most powerful expressions of hopeful prayer.

Pray for him and all that he stands for.

[Mr G]

Ephphatha – ‘be opened’

Photo: detail ‘Art & Faith Matters’ Lynn Miller

Ephphatha – ‘be opened’

A Meditation by Piers Northam on last Sunday’s readings: Isaiah 35:4-7a James 2: 1-10, 14-17 Mark 7: 24-37

Over the years in my design career I’ve worked on quite a few projects in Kuwait and, along the way, I picked up one or two Arabic phrases – mostly to do with food, numbers or building sites.  One expression – and I can’t remember why I learnt it, though I think we might have been playing games with one of our clients’ children – was the Arabic for ‘Open sesame!’ which is ‘iftah ya simsim!’ [افتح يا سمسم  ]

And of course that word iftah (open) comes from the same root as the word that we hear Jesus say this morning as he opens the ears and loosens the tongue of the man in our story.

Ephphathà!  [’eφφαθά] – be opened!  

I’m drawn to this word because it seems to me to be what God is all about: openness.  Openness to us and to our concerns; arms stretched open on the cross in an embrace for the world and all humanity; a heart never shut to us – always open to welcome us when we turn to him; ready to come running down the road to meet us like the prodigal son’s father.

And it seems to me that it’s what God asks of us too: openness to him, but also openness to each other.

’eφφαθά – be open! 

It’s why I pray the prayer I always pray before my sermons – that our eyes be opened to God’s presence, our ears to his voice and our hearts to his love – because it seems to me that that’s what God is asking of us.  That we are aware of his presence in the world and in each other; that our hearts are open to others just as his is open to us. 

’eφφαθά – open your hearts! 

These last weeks the crisis in Afghanistan has once again highlighted the agony of those who are forced from their countries and livelihoods, their families and familiar surroundings to flee; to undertake dangerous journeys and to leave everything that they’ve ever known behind – to become refugees because the alternative is simply too dangerous or too awful to contemplate.  As the world seems to become ever more troubled – through war, tyranny, oppression, economic collapse and natural disasters brought on by climate change – the  numbers of refugees leaving their homes and seeking asylum and the chance of life elsewhere are on the rise – and this poses a real challenge.  How do we deal with these people?  Where do we put them?  How might they impact on our own lives?  Our instinct is to think of people of different nationalities as ‘other’. 

And yet, as we read in James’s letter, we must beware showing partiality: treating people differently and favouring some whilst disadvantaging others. 

We find it a lot easier to deal with people who are clean and fed than people who are grubby, hungry and needy.  But God is shockingly blind to all of that.  He doesn’t hear their accent or notice the colour of their skin.  He simply sees a beloved child.

Our reading from James last week told us to ‘be doers of the Word, not merely hearers’.  And here he is again, underlining the importance of actions alongside our faith.

Jane Williams sums it up rather well:

‘ “Faith changes the way you live”, James says, in that obnoxiously black and white way of his.  You might feel tempted at this point to turn to that nice St Paul, who really understands the importance of faith, and doesn’t go droning on about having to do things as well.  Dream on.  Try reading Romans 6.  There is no escaping the New Testament conviction that faith is a commitment to a changed way of life because it is a commitment to trying to see the world with the eyes of God.’ 

We have to open our eyes to the world – and to those refugees around us.

’eφφαθά – open your eyes! 

The first half of our Gospel story is interesting though – Jesus is in the region of Tyre when the Syrophoenician woman asks for his help for her daughter.  Remember, she’s a Gentile, not a Jew.   Jesus’ words sound rather like some of the rhetoric that we hear at the moment much closer to home:

‘Let the children be fed first, for it is not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs.’ 

In other words, he’s suggesting that the Jews should come first and merit his attention and his help before anyone else.  But the woman challenges this, certain that God’s provision is for everyone and that there’s enough to go round. 

I can’t work out whether she really is opening Jesus’ eyes to the breadth of his Father’s love, or whether he draws her on to say this as a test of her faith and so that others might hear it.  But whichever way, she’s unafraid to open her mouth and challenge the view that some are more important and deserving than others in God’s eyes.

And it seems to me that it’s incumbent on us too – that we open our mouths to challenge these attitudes.

’eφφαθά – open your mouths! 

I’ve felt very disturbed by stories I have heard in the news recently – first about RNLI lifeboatmen being abused and criticised and possibly facing the threat of criminal proceedings because they continue to risk their own lives attempting to rescue illegal immigrants in trouble at sea.  And then by the actions of the Government in the last couple of months as they have put the Nationality and Borders Bill through parliament criminalizing people who attempt to seek asylum here and those who help them.  There are plans within the bill to imprison people for 4 years if they arrive illegally by sea in small boats for example – this despite the fact that the cost of housing a prisoner comes it at around £42,000 per year as against around £9,000 per year for putting someone through the asylum system.  People do not get into those boats lightly: it’s a last and desperate resort and our country’s response to this seems heartless in the extreme.  I say I’m disturbed.  I’m not.  I’m appalled and disgusted – and deeply, deeply ashamed that this sort of thing is going on in my name. 

And as Christians we should all be opening our mouths to cry out loudly against this behaviour which speaks of shut minds, shut hearts and the very partiality that James warns against.

’eφφαθά – open your mouths and cry out! 

There is no sense in the Government’s approach – it seems to me plain wicked if I’m honest – evidence shows that where we work to help people and do our best to integrate them into society, they fast begin to build new lives and to contribute to that society, socially, culturally and economically.  But it requires some initial generosity on our part.

In thinking about all of this, I came across a story of another Afghan, Sabir Zazai, who arrived in this country seeking asylum in 1999 in the wake of the troubles in Afghanistan then.  The joke was that he was ‘sent to Coventry’ but he speaks of the warm of welcome that he received there. 

‘I left home in search of peace and reconciliation and I found myself in a city associated with peace and reconciliation. […]  Coventry inspired me and especially its cathedral; both old and new buildings have been a real source of hope for me and many others seeking protection in the city.

One sunny day I sat in the cathedral ruins […]  My eyes were caught by the word ‘Forgive’ engraved behind the cross that was burnt during the [World War II air-]raids.  On reflection I thought forgiving is a gift from God, but only if we use it often to be more forgiving to one another and more welcoming and understanding of others’ needs.  This way, we can build a more welcoming and hospitable society in which people fleeing persecution and human rights violations can rebuild their lives in safety and dignity. 

Wise words.  Sabir – the 23-year-old refugee who came to the UK over 20 years ago in the back of a lorry with not a word of English – is now based in Glasgow where he serves those seeking asylum and refuge as CEO of the Scottish Refugee Council, and as chair of the City of Sanctuary movement. In Coventry, a city rebuilt after the Second World War on peace, reconciliation and sanctuary, he worked tirelessly to make life better for all those in similar situations to himself and became CEO of the Coventry Refugee and Migrant Centre. His drive, energy, compassion and commitment have been extraordinary and were marked by his award of the Civic Prize for his efforts in bringing peace and reconciliation to the City of Coventry. 

The refugee who brought peace and reconciliation…

What would happen to him today?

‘Then, looking up to heaven, Jesus sighed and said ’eφφαθά’
– open your eyes to what is happening…
– open your hearts to the heart-wrenching stories
– open your hands to do what you can
– and open your mouths to speak words of welcome
   but to cry out against injustice! 

’eφφαθά! – be opened!


Piers Northam
5 September 2021

Sabir Zazai with his father, after receiving an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Glasgow.

In a nutshell!

When I was in Norwich recently I visited the Shrine of St. Julian of Norwich.

The Church of St Julian is within the parish of St John Timberell. It is located in King Street.

The Shrine itself is on the North side of the Church, where the vestry might have been. Unlike the church, which I would describe as Anglo-Catholic and ornate, the room which is built where the Shrine used to be, is fairly plain but certainly prayerful.

The original Shrine was torn down at the Reformation as part of the widespread acts of religious vandalism by the so-called reformers. The Church itself was destroyed by a German bomb during WWII. During rebuilding, excavations revealed the foundations of what was thought to be a medieval cell so it was rebuilt and is the Chapel of Mother Julian which we see today. Her more lasting legacy is her personal story and the writing which came from it.

Julian was so named after the Church where she resided in the latter part of her life, and where she lived out her life as an ‘Anchoress’ (someone who withdraws completely from the world to live a life of prayer in total solitude., though she was able to pray for and give spiritual advice through a window.)

She is known for just one book—The Revelations of Divine Love– which record sixteen visions granted to her by God on May 8th and 9th 1373 and it is her reflections on these over a 20 year period.  The Visions came to her when she was just 30 and they followed an illness which took her to the brink of death. Shortly after this she took up residence in a room built onto the church of St Julian & St Edward, Norwich.

At the heart of her thinking was the realization of our Lord’s suffering on the Cross which she accepted as the result of John 3:16—God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.

For Julian, Christ’s sacrifice demonstrated the immensity of God’s Love and it was the central theme of her meditations. Alongside this she saw Christ’s nurturing of a new humanity (our re-birth into eternal life through the Resurrection) as like the action of a Mother giving birth to and nurturing  of her child. This idea of God as ‘Mother’ as well as ‘Father’ was more common in Medieval times than the masculine emphasis of later ages and perhaps only today is there an appreciation of God as embodying both male and female—a view that has restored women to their rightful place as co-equal with men. Celtic Christians, in an earlier time, had understood this too and they coined the phrase—“there is in the heart of God a mother’s heart.”

Julian saw the heart of the Gospel as God simply loving us—holding us in His love which is deeply tender and never leaves us. She saw that God was in everything good and this led to her famous vision of the hazelnut which she held in the palm of her hand. Asking God what it meant she understood that it represented all that God has made. It was so small it could have simply disappeared but it did not because God was continually loving it. From this she concluded that everything good is loved like that by God and everything has its being because of God’s love. The Hazelnut became for her the symbol of this and she saw that it had three characteristics—God made it. God loves it. God keeps it.

God was Maker, Lover and Keeper of all.  This was at the heart of God sending Jesus to love us into His Kingdom through his life, his suffering on the Cross and the new life He gives us through the Resurrection.

Julian’s Revelations can be summed up in a few beautiful words that she wrote: “Love was our Lord’s meaning. And I saw for certain, both here and elsewhere, that before ever he made us, God loved us, and that his love has never slackened nor ever will”

‘Love was our Lord’s meaning’ and we are caught up in that meaning. It is the Gospel in fact, as it were, in a nutshell !

Julian Shrine Chapel; Photo: PN


Most Holy Lord

the ground of our beseeching

who through your servant JULIAN

revealed the wonder of your love grant that as we are created in your nature and restored by your grace

our wills may be so made one with yours that we may come to see you face to face and gaze on you for ever