Month: March 2021

Mourner’s Hope

The photograph is another taken by my friend Gill Henwood.
The rays of the sun bathing the daffodils and the graves in Colthouse Quaker Burial Ground, Cumbria, speaking to us of God’s hope, love and compassion in these dark days of personal and community sadness.


Today, March 23rd, we in the United KIngdom are holding a National Day of Reflection, March 23rd 2021—a year since the first Lockdown in the fight against Covid 19. This is a day to acknowledge grief and loss over the last year. It will be led by His Royal Highness, Charles, Prince of Wales. His Royal Highness said: “Whatever our faith or philosophy may be, let us take a moment together to remember those who have been lost, to give thanks for their lives, and to acknowledge the inexpressible pain of parting.

There is a call for all to take part in a minute of silence at 12 Noon, in gratitude for the devotion, kindness and care of NHS Staff and all other care workers and as a time for those who have lost loved ones , especially to COVID 19, to reflect, remember and grieve, whilst seeking the hope amidst the darkness. A hope which Christians and members of other faiths find rooted in God. It is a day which is close to Holy Week when Christians follow a yearly holy pilgrmage with Jesus to Calvary. We believe and proclaim that, in God the Father transformed earthly darkness into light; pain into joy; suffering and death into new life and He triumphed over all that is not love by God’s sacrificial, self-giving love in His Son Jesus from the Cross.

Against this background, we reflect on all that has happened since March 23rd last year whilst looking forward with renewed hope and trust to the time ahead. It is also a time when say thank you to all who gave their all in the care of others. It is also a time when we express sorrow for what as a nation and personally we didn’t do right but with a repentance that with the guidance of a greater power than frail humanity, we can get it better in the future. We dare to say, to God be the glory!

My friend, Michael Manley, Canon Missioner at Carlisle Cathedral, has written a beautiful and poignant hymn prayer which has both a personal and public context. It is a prayer which expresses both grief and hopefulness. It is deeply moving but each will make of it what they can and must. It will  be sung for the first time at a Reflection Evensong in Carlisle Cathedral at 5.45pm on the 23rd and it can be accessed on Face Book –


We give them back to you O Lord
Those whom we loved – but could not hold.
We dare to trust they weren’t alone
For all are yours and all are known.
Through nursing care, we understand
You sat beside them, held their hand.

We thank you for the angels there
who day and night fulfilled our prayer:
to hear their sighs in whispered breath
and speak your peace to ease their death.
We leave them in your warm embrace
Now raised to life within your grace.

We could not mourn as others may
Nor offer all we hoped to say.
We could not gather all as one
To toast their name or sing their song.
Yet at your table now they dine
And with us join in bread and wine.       

Lord help us on our lonely road
to voice the grief and share our load.
You know the pain the fear the loss:
You held our wounds upon your cross.
Then rose, still scarred, to life reborn,
In us, let hope, new purpose dawn.               

We give them back to you and trust
Your love that gave them each to us.
You did not lose them when they came
Nor we, in letting go again.
Help us to see we’re all but one
that death’s defeated, love has won.

Creator, Spirit, Word made flesh
In you   is life, and all is blest.
Receive our prayer and bring us home
By love transformed, your image own,
With all your saints who’ve gone before
To worship you for evermore.

© Chapter of Carlisle Cathedral, March 2021

It can be sung to the tune Melita (Eternal Father, strong to save), or Surrey

Flower of the Five Wounds

Photo of a Passion Flower, taken by Piers Northam in the Chiltern Hills.


The Passion Flower

Yesterday the church began Passiontide which is the week leading up to Holy Week, the second half of Passiontide. One of the signs of this season is a beautiful flower known as the Passion Flower.

Tradition has it that when Christian missionaries arrived in South America in the 16th century they found a flower which symbolised the death of Christ. They named it  la flor de las cinco llagas— the flower of the five wounds.  Later it came to be known as the Passion Flower.

A lot of symbolism was read into its design.

The five petals and five sepals spoke to the missionaries of the five wounds of Christ. Taken together, they represent the ten disciples who did not deny Christ (excluding Judas and Peter); the Radial filaments of the flower, known as the corona, represent the Crown of Thorns. The three stigmas at the centre of the flower symbolise the nails used in the crucifixion. The spiraled tendrils curling from the flower are symbols of the whip used to scourge Christ.

The fragrance of the flower helped to recall the spices used to embalm the body of Christ. Finally, the globular egg-size fruit of the plant was seen as a symbol of the world that Christ came to save through his suffering.

Using this plant, which grows wild in South America, the missionaries were able to teach the natives about Christ’s Passion in much the same way as St .Patrick taught the Irish about God by using the shamrock.

photo | Piers Northam

Freedom involves others

Another Tweet from my friend Joyce Smith.

The quotation from Pope John Paul II is from a sermon he preached to young people in Baltmore in 1995.
It has a dual context.

First, it is a call to seek that kind of freedom which results not in self-centredness. Freedom is not about getting our own way regardless of others. This is enslavement and mainly to a ‘You’ which is a false self.

Real Freedom must be seen in context of the freedom of others. Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of President Roosevelt once said: “Freedom makes a huge requirement of every human being. With freedom comes responsibility. For the person who is unwilling to grow up, the person who does not want to carry his own weight, this is a frightening prospect.”

Pope John Paul’s words are actually those of Abraham Lincoln. Here’s an extract from his sermon:

“One hundred thirty years ago, President Abraham Lincoln asked whether a nation “conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal” could “long endure.” President Lincoln’s question is no less a question for the present generation … Democracy cannot be sustained without a shared commitment to certain moral truths about the human person and human community. The basic question before a democratic society is: “how ought we to live together?

Surely it is important for America (and everywhere) that the moral truths which make freedom possible should be passed on to each new generation. Every generation … needs to know that freedom consists not in doing what we like, but in having the right to do what we ought.”

This shared freedom was spoken of upon by President Barak Obama who preached a eulogy in 2015 for Pastor, Reverend Clementa Pinckney, who with eight of his congregation was shot dead by a gunman in Charleston. In an anguished sermon he pleaded that, my liberty depends on you being free too. In order for that to happen, President Obama said that we need a different road from that of violence. We need the road of grace and that, he said, requires an open mind and, more importantly an open heart.

So the second context of the quotation of John Paul II requires of us a persuit of freedom which centres not on what we want to get from life but rather, what we can do with and for others.. Freedom requires of us a life dedicated to the service of others. This involves us in seeking grace, as President Obama recognized, but a grace which is Amazing. A grace that can only come from God.

This is centred on living a Freedom that can ony be found in the truth of the Gospel – a truth which Jesus says in John Chapter 8, will set us free. We are encouraged to live in this truth. As Pope John Paul said at the end of his sermon:

Always be guided by the truth – by the truth about God who created and redeemed us, and by the truth about the human person, made in the image and likeness of God and destined for a glorious fulfillment in the Kingdom to come

[Mr G and Joyce]

Man in Background ?

Josefina de Vasconcellos, they fled by night.detail
Cartmel Priory. Photo: Mr G.

St. Joseph’s Day 2021

Josefina de Vasconcellos, the sculptor, was commissioned on a  number of occasions to carve large statues of the Holy Family.  What never fails to strike me is that always Joseph is central to the scene.  He does not lurk in the background or act like some passive kind of bystander.  Josefina shows him as a strong fatherly figure who is a protector of both Mary and Jesus.  It is clear that Josefina had a soft spot for the shadowy figure from the Christmas story and was determined to give him the prominence he deserves.  Perhaps it was because she was graced with the female form of his name.

One particular statue of the Holy Family, which I’ve featured on this blog before, is one that was graphically very different.  It can be seen in Cartmel Priory in the Lake District.  It is called They fled by night and it was inspired by the flight into Egypt taken by the Holy Family to escape the threat of King Herod.

It is a very powerfully real  statue.  Mary is shown to be exhausted with her head leaning backwards as she rests in Joseph’s arms.  Joseph is holding her and looking down with loving compassion. Despite being exhausted himself he was concerned only about her. Meanwhile in the foreground of the composition, Jesus is leaping forward as he embraces the future. 

What I like about Josefina’s portrayal of Joseph is that he is not the shadow figure that we find in the Gospel.  Apart from Matthew’s ‘dream’ sequence when an angel tells Joseph it is God’s will to take Mary as his wife, and an incident when Jesus was 12, Joseph plays no further part in the Gospel story.  There is a reference to him when Jesus is called the carpenter’s son but we are left wondering – what happened to Joseph?

We can invent our own story but I like to think that Joseph was content with his role in making the Incarnation possible.  In a world like ours which celebrates status and fame it isn’t a bad thing to be background people.  Those with a quiet but firm faith are the bedrock of the Church. They seek nothing more than to proclaim Jesus, not necessarily in words or spectacular deeds but with a fidelity towards Him which simply shouts faith in all they do and are.  In Josefina’s statues Joseph comes across as a dependable, caring and protective parent.  If I could choose a guardian angel, it would be like him. 

It is good to think of him as the dependable one who may be in the background but whose care of Jesus and Mary is truly godly.  Joseph, who can be relied upon and sought nothing for himself.  Does that describe you?