Month: August 2022

Special places, Special people

St Aidan window on Holy Island Church (St Mary the Virgin) detail.

In many journeys of faith there are special places that have spoken to us vividly about God.
The Celtic Christians called these the ‘thin places’ where the membrane which separates our world
from the world of heaven is so thin that it is easy for heaven’s spirit to burst through,
catching us up in a breathtaking experience of God’s nearness.
For me one very special ‘thin’ place will always be the Holy Island of Lindisfarne,
off the Northumbrian coast  between Bamburgh and Berwick-upon-Tweed.

It was to this island that St. Aidan came in 635AD.

He nearly didn’t come at all!
When King Oswald won back his Kingdom from the pagan king of Mercia,

he immediately sent to Iona for a monk to teach his people Christianity.
Oswald had spent many years in exile on Iona and there embraced the Christian faith.

His desire was that his people would also find a love for Christ.

The Abbot of Iona sent a monk who soon fell foul of the local people whom he branded as barbarians
and un-teachable. Returning to Iona he told his brethren what he thought and a gentle monk admonished him.
“I think, brother, that you gave them the meat of the gospel when what they needed first was milk.”

 Wise words but as so often happens, those who criticise (however gently) must be prepared to serve!  
Aidan was sent to Northumbria! There he set up his base in the place which, twice a day became an island—Lindisfarne.

Here he built a monastery and founded a school in which he taught 12 boys amongst whom
was the future St Chad, and his brother, St. Cedd as well as their two other brothers.

From this island a great mission began which was to take the Christian Gospel throughout the North and the Midlands and to Essex.

Because, initially, Aidan couldn’t speak the language, King Oswald went with him on his missionary journeys
to act as interpreter. One of the earliest examples of the co-operation between Church and State.

Lindisfarne remained a Christian centre until Viking raids led to the withdrawal of the monks.
Today it is once again a centre both of pilgrimage and prayer.

The local Church set up a Christian house for pilgrims known as Marygate House and it was here, in 1974 that I first came across Aidan and the spirit of the Celtic saints.
I have returned many times since and more than once I have experienced the sense of God’s nearness and presence. It truly is a ‘thin’ place.

Some, reading this will know exactly what I mean and will have their own ‘thin’ or special places (associated often with special holy Christians).
They are places where faith comes alive in a unique and special way. Such experiences carry us through the more mundane parts of our Christian journey.

What marks such places is that they are, in the words of the poet T.S.Eliot, places ‘where prayer has been valid’ – where prayer has consecrated them to God.

It strikes me that we should not have to travel far to find such places.

It is often the sincere prayer of ordinary Christians which makes a place holy.

One of my personal criteria when I visit, or worship in, a church is whether I can find God easily there.

A place where God can be found is a holy place, a thin place. It certainly needn’t be a church nor a place of special pilgrimage.

One of the holy and thin places I discovered is a slight bend in the rough hewn road which leads down from the Parish Church on Holy Island
to the shore which is opposite the crossing to Cuddy’s isles.

One day, when the island was clothed in a mist, I walked down this road and quite suddenly and totally unexpected, I found I had a companion.
I knew that it was St. Aidan whose simple presence touched me.

I knew at that moment I was on holy ground. I was at the thin place which is extraordinarily the meeting point between earth and heaven.
I can’t (and don’t want to) explain it in any other way.

Yet, whilst people like St. Aidan seem to be extra-holy, he would probably argue that he did nothing that all Christians can do,
which is to allow God to love them until they are on fire with God’s love.
That can be true for all of us and where it is then we become the ‘thin’ place where others can find God.

Photo: Gill Henwood


You came on the flow tide
blown in, full of hope and zeal.
You carried the milk of the Gospel
but in your satchel, the firm, solid Good News waited to be heard.

The waves revealed the pilgrim way to Lindisfarne,
for its first journeying companion of Christ.

Those waves, a sign of what your Lord achieved through you:
first, lapping the hearts of those aspiring to know God,
then rushing in, hurrying to swamp the land with love:
a sea boiling with joy and hope and message.

Milk, then meat.
Quiet ripples, then mighty waters of God’s love and grace.

You were sent, Apostle to the North.
You came: a gentle breeze inspiring others,
awakening in them the wind of the Spirit.
Because of you, they stormed the Gospel message,
opening others to grace and truth,

to joy and love.

Mr G. | St Aidan’s Day, 2020

Trumpet of nature sounding in darkness

Photo: Mr G

During my latest visit to Falaise in Normandy (Where William the Conqueror came from), I went in search of a beautiful flower which grows near the centre of the town. It is called, I believe, a Bignone in French. We know it as Campsis.
It is 3 years since I last saw it so it was more in hope than expectation that I searched for it. I needn’t have worried. It was surrounding a small walled garden as usual and it was in full bloom, the deep orange/red petals dominated an otherwise dull street.

I’ve been thinking about it since I returned and why  it seemed so attractive to me.

Of course, the splash of bright colour is an instant draw but when the orange/red is added to the trumpet like-flower shape, it brings an additional attraction. It feels as if the flowers are making a big statement, an announcement of some significance.

Yet again, the world has had a bad week, not least because the muted celebration of Ukraine’s independence from the Soviet Union has brought more grief, more despicable action by Russia, and most of all more death to innocent people. There are so many other places of need in our world which claim our attention, prayers  and concern.
At home domestic issues to do with the affordability of the basic things in life, are also worrying us. Even the weather is worrying us!
So a lot of darkness is swirling around right now and it would be easy to just despair.

Whilst the darkness closes in, the little trumpeting flower of Falaise is telling us another story.

In the midst of our difficult days we can look for things that allow us to hope. So many people have become kinder to others as a result of the Lockdowns. Neighbourliness, just saying ‘hello’, has brought a new care and life to many communities. We must hold onto this and develop it.

There is such an abundance of goodness in our world and love really does abound. It’s hard to see that sometimes, like when we hear of little Olivia in Liverpool. Yet the little flower of Falaise bursts forth too and we shouldn’t ignore it.

One of the BBC Radio 3 presenters spoke the other morning of our ‘lovely, beautiful planet.’ She’s right. It is. We need to hold on to that.
And there is so much more. This week we have seen some amazing photos of Jupiter, sent back to us by the new James Webb telescope. We cannot really conceive what that means about the Universe we inhabit but it does sort of put us in our place!

Yet it brightens and gladdens some of our hearts because though dwarfed by the discoveries, some of our community – especially astronomers and other scientists and specialists – have made it possible for us to be put in our place.
Not to make us feel small but the opposite which is to feel part of the vastness of all that is.

It’s exhilarating and uplifting but no more than the trumpet flower of Falaise.
There is a light shining in its message which opens hearts to see God’s creation both in a street in Normandy and in a vision of something far, far away in the vastness of space.
To me, I see both explode with God.

But you too! And me too! As long as that is happening then all is indeed not lost. Indeed quite a bit more is found.We can find a marvellous experience of our Mother Earth and so of each other.

I love this prayer so I want to share it with you again.

[Mr G]

we thank you for this earth, our home; for the wide sky and the blessed sun,
for the ocean and seas, streams, rivers  and the towering hills and the whispering wind;
for the clouds and the pinprick light of stars, for the trees and green grass;
for plants and animals, fish and all that swim in the sea; for deserts and mountains,

We thank you for our senses by which we hear the songs of birds, and the conversations of animals and see the splendour of fields, of nature,  and taste autumn’s fruit, and rejoice in the feel of snow,
and smell the breath of spring flowers and delight in the warmth of the sun.

Grant us a heart opened wide to all this beauty;
and save us from being so blind that we pass unseeing when
even the common thorn bush is aflame with your glory.


The apple of an eye

apples at Charleston. photographed by Mr G.

The apple of an Eye

At a Church Conference, food was provided so people attending could enjoy a meal together. There was plenty of food, and at one end of the table, near the coffee, there was a bowl of chocolates .  At the opposite end, there was a bowl of apples. In front of the bowl of chocolates there was a sign.
“Take care!  Only two chocolates each. Remember, God is watching!”
In front of the apples, someone put up another notice:
Have as many apples as you like, God is busy watching the chocolates!”

The other day, I visited Charleston, the South Downs home of Venessa Bell and the Bloomsbury set. It’s fascinating in so many ways and what it stands for is quite challenging.
In a corner of the garden, the apple trees were beginning to be laden with apples, deep and red.

One of the marks of originality about the Bloomsbury group, for whom Charleston was  significant, is that it was a place for experimenting with relationships. Perhaps this experimentation was sometimes shocking, and at other times, it was held together in brokenness. It was however, an attempt push the boundaries. It was about discovering love, loyalty, friendship and, for some, community.

Relationships are rarely easy and the balance of giving and receiving needs working at.
There is, however, for all of us, a relationship which works because, oddly, it is never equal.
I am talking about  our relationship with God. It is a relationship of deep care and watching over us. It is pure love. As the Psalmist in Psalm 17: 8.  puts it :
Guard me as the apple of the eye.

King David, who is assumed to be the author of the psalm  is claiming the protection and care of God for Him. He can do this because he knows God’s constant love for him.
The apple of the eye, has differing interpretations but we have come to see it as a term of true endearment.  We often use it towards people who are very, very special to us. We might say of them, You/they  are the apple of my eye.
Well we are very special to God, each of us, so David’s request is not unreasonable and is certainly faithful. He knows God will not forsake him, even if David turns away from God.
And, we too, are the apple of God’s eye. God isn’t watching the chocolates at all.
He’s watching over us.
Though that’s  no excuse to eat all the Chocolates!

Into your hands, O Lord, I commend my spirit.
Alleluia, alleluia.
Keep me as the apple of your eye.
Hide me under the shadow of your wings.

(from Compline, the Night Office of the Church)

[Mr G]

A case of Rain

Lightning over France

When I was in infant school I starred in a small thespian production. My role was that of ‘Clerk of the Weather’ over which Ihad total control and I wore a top hat to prove it!. I was able to command thunderbolts, raindrops, wind, sunshine and so much more.

Last week in France, the dry spell, as in England, was interrupted by thunderstorms. Flooding followed before hot spells returned.

Inspired by my memories of that wonderful few moments of power, I wrote this little poem..

The Clerk of the weather has heard the peoples’ cry!
from his well stocked store house he scrabbles around
throwing thunderbolts over his shoulder
followed by a splendid light show of forked beauty
illuminating the indigo sky, crackling like witches!
His generosity knows no bounds as he adds thunderbolts and whirling winds.
Deluge after deluge of pooling rain deliciously kisses the ground.
The orchestra of thunderous drums beats across the sky
accompanied by a light show of immense power.

The Clerk laughs gleefully,
loving this reckless cacophany reaching down to crash upon the earth,
soaking into parched and thirsty ground.
But as the water floods across the baked soil the people cry;
Enough!, Too much!
Never satisfied.

The Clerk of the Weather draws breath and blows a wind so violent,
it drowns their protesting voices and buffets them into submission.
The Clerk thus reminds them just who is in charge.

Thunderstorm over Falaise. 17th August 2022

[Mr G]