Upside Down Kingdom

The Rev. Dr. Rebecca B. Prichard 16 April 2019

I live in Southern California, in Orange County, close enough to Disneyland to hear the fireworks each night at 9:30 pm. We call it the Magic Kingdom, the happiest place on earth.

Whenever I've traveled "down under" to Australia or New Zealand, I've been aware of the reversal, the disorientation. We are the same in so many ways. And things are not always as expected. Driving, light switches, door knobs, all seem counter-intuitive. Travel north and the weather warms; go south it gets cooler. In New Zealand you can see the Milky Way and the Southern Cross, but not Polaris and the Ursa Major and Minor.

Holy Week began on Sunday. It seems impossible to me to think of Easter as coming in the Autumn. In the North, Easter is spring time, new life, bunnies, eggs, and chicks. That northern influence seems the default, perhaps unfortunately. Those living in the global south must always feel down under; those of us in the global north can't imagine not beng on top. Travel helps us see our own normal in a new way, to rethink our perspective, to realize we are not the center of the universe.

North, Suth, East, or West, Holy Week is a remembering of Jesus' upside down kingdom. Hailed as a king, he rode into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, a humble ruler, mighty in mercy. Even then, folk wanted a new emperor, a political upheaval, power, justice. But Jesus said, "my kingdom is not of this world." The kingdom of God is like a mustard seed, a grain of wheat, a bit of yeast. The reign of Christ is about suffering love, about the small but forceful signs of new life in every season, about the hope of shalom, a future of right relations.

The passion narratives ask us to view the world from God's perspective, with the loving eyes of Christ, from the Spirit's vantage point. Ours is not a mighty warrior God who rules from above. Jesus came to remind us that our God is merciful, slow to anger, abounding in loving kindness. The suffering love of God we observe during Holy Week teaches us again and again that compassion for the weak and the vulnerable are signs of God's reign. Not the kingdom of this world, of my own nation, to be sure.

Just so, we remember Bonhoeffer's words from that prison cell, "only a suffering God can help us...and that is the way, the only way that God is with us and for us."

My prayer for this Holy Week, is that I, we, might walk through each day with humility, with a deep sense of God's love for us and for all creation, and with renewed compassion for those who are truly "on the bottom" wherever they may be.

© Rebecca Button Prichard


Th Anointing at Bethany

The Rev. Malcolm Guite 15 April 2019

Come close with Mary, Martha , Lazarus

So close the candles stir with their soft breath

And kindle heart and soul to flame within us

Lit by these mysteries of life and death.

For beauty now begins the final movement

In quietness and intimate encounter

The alabaster jar of precious ointment

Is broken open for the world’s true lover,

The whole room richly fills to feast the senses

With all the yearning such a fragrance brings,

The heart is mourning but the spirit dances,

Here at the very centre of all things,

Here at the meeting place of love and loss

We all foresee, and see beyond the cross.

©Malcolm Guite, from Sounding the Seasons, CanterburyPress 2012


The Muse

The Rev. John Fairbrother 14 February 2019

Between intuition and perceived

insights rise, animating

unseen space where meaning’s seed

germinates the word waiting,

for light of reason, emotion, need

to warm the Muse, momentarily freed.

Courage and faith, water and earth,

reveal unseen spaces nurturing life,

strengthening hearts, lifting worth

of words wielding perception’s knife,

prising doors of an uneasy birth:

Originality welcomes the Muse rebirth.

©John Fairbrother



Diamond Princess

Tess Ashton 13 February 2019


get stardust in my eyes

during worship

I’m cruising

on a winsome sea

no land or others

just a breezy forever

the wind’s got

the boat’s white sail

full throttle

Jesus is near

With words of cool spirit fire


‘Look only to me

not left or right

keep your eyes on me



We’re heading to a sunset


cosmic light

ten thousand streams of happiness

not far from the swing

of the foam


one dawn or two later

songs by the ‘electric light orchestra’

tune in

I rise and play

‘strange magic’

‘telephone line’

and ‘twilight’

on you-tube

several times


the words

of the songs


to a space

between earth and heaven

like the place between the

boat and home


in spring

my sister phones

‘come on a cruise to Japan

my shout

we’ll board the diamond princess

at Taipei‘


soon our soft-as-cloud beds

swing light as coracles

swept up in the swish

of the waves


the dance of the steward

seems almost anointed

beds smoothed

twice a day

clothes lightly folded

on pillows

his touch

like a thousand silent breezes

surprisingly ok


I’m thinking about love of course

and how it makes you feel

when nothing is required

but to receive

and live a little


we check our tiaras

at our choice of cruise eatery

consider delicious thoughts

of crepes and creamery

a menu without prices

a magical ingredient


book a massage

or a rest

on a hot stone bed

take a tour round a port

climb watch towers

and look out


river sampans drifting far below

say Japan Japan


Japan in November

shows off its


and children

in blossom-soaked kimonos

it’s Shichi Go San

loving parents

are praying for long life

and happiness

we take photos


in dappled

shrine courtyards

priests rustle silently in sunshine

and shadow


one evening

rugged-up on deck

juggling pizza and icy wine

the kaleidoscope that shoots

cosmic light

is back

we’re at Osaka

and hard portside

its famous ferris wheel

twice ship height

is going off



glory plays and winks

while we drink

and eat

and chat


catch the sound of one wheel clapping

on cue


strikes up

on the deck’s big screen

‘Hello, can you hear me

have you been alright?’

coming down

the telephone line


‘Are you still the same?

don't you realize the things we did

we did were all for real


not a dream?

I just can't believe

they've all faded out’


God has my full attention

as Robin

books us

tomorrow’s afternoon

of leisure

I think of times past

God and I working together

recall a thousand happy glances


at ‘the sanctuary’

a private attendant

brings us soft wool blankets

to soothe our loads of woe – ha

our noses sniff

a salty sky

a place of sighs let out


three courses

of afternoon tea


of the heavenly sort

can’t buy in ordinary shops

I think

as I try one out


then a trolley

wheeling sandwiches

and angel cakes galore

each one pretty

never tasted before


as we cruise

to our final port

a thousand waves bow sorrowfully

I reach a chapter in my book

my heart jumps

He is speaking

in tsunami sentences

‘I want to answer

your prayers

and I will

but first soak you

in my love’


my riven heart

hears something along this line

‘I have ships

sailing in living water

powered for high seas

you are both queens

with domains of love

like these’


weeks later

the sky is

dusted in white

chrysanthemum pompoms

ten thousand graces sallying

white sails billowing


I listen again and write

‘love and healing

for the nations

sound the trumpets

blow the horns

prepare the way of the Lord’.


©Tess Ashton


The Guide

The Rev. John Fairbrother 5 January 2019

Of all prophets and seers

tradition presents

just three, opening

the clasp of heaven’s veil,

revealing the question

of wonder’s quest.

Cold shimmering light,

night’s pointed sign,

attentive wisdom caught.

This silent message

evoking sage response:

A celestial companion,

moving travellers on.

Wisdom of years the guide

where youth

would have safely trod:

Beyond comfort awoken

to grime and fear of night,

becoming a caravan’s

compulsive course.

A stall beneath a public hall:

Journey’s end –

could this be –

the beginning quest?

Magi, tradition tells,

valued wisdom:

light’s transcendent call.

©John Fairbrother


On the 12 days of Christmas

The Revd. Canon Rachel Mann; Jerry Marshall; The Revd. Anne Bennett; Pat Ashworth; The Revd. Doug Gay; Ted Bryant. 4 January 2019

Two turtle doves

Rachel Mann

IN HER poem for the feast of the Presentation, Christina Rossetti writes: “O Firstfruits of our grain, Infant and Lamb appointed to be slain, A Virgin and two doves were all Thy train, With one old man for state, When Thou didst enter first Thy Father’s gate.’”

While the Presentation or Candlemas may seem a little distant from the “Twelve Days of Christmas”, it has often been treated as the final liturgical moment in the season of Christmas. Many people keep their nativity sets up until that date. In addition, Shakespeare’s Twelfth Night was first performed on Candlemas in 1602.

Rossetti’s poem also reminds us of the rich symbolism of doves. She implies that the two doves — offered as redemptive sacrifice in the biblical text — are part of Christ’s simple “train”, or honour-guard, as he is carried into the Temple for the first time.

The Bible, of course, contains rich dove-based symbolism. Noah sends a dove out to test whether the flood has receded, and it brings back a freshly plucked olive leaf, a sign of hope and life. Perhaps, most definitively, in St Luke’s and St Matthew’s Gospels the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove at the moment of Christ’s baptism.

Doves (and olive branches) have become associated with peace and reconciliation. The depth of connection between doves and peace is reflected in American political idiom: those in favour of aggressive foreign policies are called “hawks”, while those who take a conciliatory stance are called “doves”. For Christians, the connective tissue between ancient and modern dove symbolism lies in the Bible: doves take us back to God and to his son, the Prince of Peace.

As a song, “The Twelve Days of Christmas” provides a fun singalong for all ages. In the year of the centenary of the Armistice, however, there is potentially great pathos in the gift of “two turtle doves”: doves were offered at the dedication of Christ; doves signal peace; and doves show forth the Holy Spirit. In a world that still hungers for peace, and it is yet to find it, may we know the blessing of doves this Christmastide.

Canon Rachel Mann is Rector of St Nicholas’s, Burnage, and the author of Fierce Imaginings: The Great War, ritual memory and God (DLT).

Four calling birds

Jerry Marshall

“TRANSCEND reflects the Palestinian dream of a prosperous life with open borders,” the team leader for an Israeli client, eTeacher, Abdallah Khalifah, says. “We’re working with clients from all over the globe, and across borders. I believe that creating jobs for youth in a very troubled place of the world is worth working for.”

Transcend is my Bethlehem baby, born in 2012. It’s a call-centre business, set up with my friend Nassim Nour, and uses the language skills in Bethlehem to bring jobs, skills, and exports unaffected by movement restrictions. Today, we have 120 staff providing contact-centre services and software development for businesses in Palestine, Israel, and beyond.

Besides creating jobs designed to survive even in a curfew, we try to model integrity and gender equality. Our first CEO, Abeer Hazboun, became the first Palestinian women to win a place on the prestigious IMD MBA programme in Lausanne, Switzerland.

Encouraging and respecting our staff is not only morally right, but also makes business sense. “I feel like management trusts my decisions and supports me in my daily work,” says Rozet Najajrah, who was regularly “Agent of the Month”, and is now team leader for a wellness programme.

Behind Transcend is a desire to bring hope. Yaman Qaraqe, one of our first team leaders, says: “This transcends political barriers and limitations. I really love that. I’m the eldest daughter in the family, and I’m my family’s hope. . . I love it, because it makes me feel renewed every day because I learn about other cultures, and it helps my English come to life.”

Abdallah, Abeer, Yaman, and Rozet are just four “calling birds” whose communication skills enable us to transcend the separation wall. Transcend is risky, because not everyone likes what we are doing; but it is one small source of hope in a troubled region. The Jesus plan was high-risk, but is the primary source of hope for us all in a turbulent world.

Jerry Marshall is the co-founder and chair of Transcend Support Ltd.

Five gold rings

Anne Bennett

SLEEVELESS dresses are unwise in December. The bridesmaids are shivering, and even in cassock and surplice I am chilled. Only the bride is impervious to the cold, fuelled by an inner furnace of anxiety, adrenaline, and hope. I arrange the bridesmaids in order of height, whisper some reassurance to the bride, and nod to the verger. She signals the organist, and the bridal party makes its stately way down the aisle.

All weddings are special, but Christmas weddings have a distinctive beauty. We have brought in evergreen branches, and the scent of pine and incense is sharp in the air. The candles, barely visible in summer, gleam in winter gloom. The florist has found mistletoe to hang from the pulpit — pagan, possibly, but the church will happily adopt it, just as we once adopted this midwinter festival and made it our own: a celebration of light and love coming to redeem a benighted world.

We sing a carol. There is nervous laughter as I preach about the joys and tribulations of marriage. And now the couple are facing each other, and we begin the vows. Silence falls, absolute silence. Even the smallest children are still, caught by the power of the moment, as two people repeat after me the ancient words. To have and to hold. For better, for worse. Till death us do part. They exchange golden rings, and make more promises. With my body I honour you. All that I am I give to you.

And now they are married, and no one shall put them asunder, and we all cheer, and the organist belts out the “Hallelujah Chorus” to carry them down the nave.

Love came down at Christmas, and on this wedding day we see it come down still. In this church, on this day, blessings abound.

The Revd Anne Bennett is Team Vicar in the Ravensbourne Team Ministry, Southwark diocese.

Eleven pipers piping

Doug Gay

THE ninth day of Christmas 2018 will fall on Wednesday 2 January 2019. This enjoys the happy distinction of being a Bank Holiday in Scotland, though not in England; an anomaly sometimes linked to the Scots tendency to celebrate Hogmanay (New Year’s Eve) in a particularly committed fashion, during which, as the Scots saying that echoes the King James Bible confesses, “strong drink might be taken.”

A second Bank Holiday allows revellers to switch to Irn Bru (Scotland’s other national drink) and recover themselves the better to cope with those ten heartless souls who will be drumming them back to work on 3 January.

The pipers in this glorious English carol (there are sometimes 11) may not have originally been bagpipers, but, given the carol’s disputed origins and meanings, and generally anarchic character, I am happy to claim them for Scotland and clothe them in tartan.

Sometimes despised and rejected by outsiders, the traditions of playing and composing for the Highland pipes are extraordinarily rich and subtle, encompassing both the “little/light music” (in Gaelic ceòl beag) of marches, strathspeys, reels, and jigs; and the “big music” (ceòl mór) of Pibroch/Piobaireachd: a slower, extended art music in which a solo piper works elaborate variations around a melodic theme.

Reflecting on a move into the last days of the Christmas season and the rather more pagan and secular disruption of the 12 by Hogmanay, I cannot resist invoking Jesus’s words in Matthew 11.17, chiding the cynicism of his critics: he compares his generation to children in the street, crying out indignantly “We piped for you and you did not dance, we sang a dirge and you did not mourn.”

The wisdom he invokes knows that there is a time to mourn and a time to dance. A good piper — or even nine, or 11 — will be able to accompany both, and a wise Christian will hope to discern when to do which.

The Revd Dr Doug Gay is a Lecturer in practical theology at the University of Glasgow and has been a Visiting Lecturer at The University of Otago, Aotearoa, New Zealand.

Twelve drummers drumming

Terl Bryant

FOR some, the idea of one drummer drumming is quite enough. But 12?

Group drumming is just about as old as it comes, and drummers have gathered, making rhythms for dancing and marching, since the dawn of time. The sound of drums is powerful: it can prompt a child to jump for joy, and an old person to sway and clap, despite the pain.

I left school at 16 to start a career as a drummer. And, in 1995, I had a dream that changed my life. In it, I stood with a group of drummers, drumming in the presence of God. We were pounding out a beat that somehow reflected the power and majesty of God.

It so inspired me that it changed the course of my life. I started gathering Christian drummers to play together and live out what I had seen in the dream: drummers beating out rhythms as prayer, praise, and encouragement for the glory of Christ. I called the gathering “Psalm Drummers”, and, over the years, these Christian drummers went on to drum on numerous occasions, in many contexts, leading the church in worship.

I was recently in Pakistan, and had the privilege of worshipping alongside Christians whose faith is often challenged in the same way that first-century believers were. During my visit, I was able to play with other drummers and lead a congregation of several hundred believers in a rhythmic version of the Lord’s Prayer. We played a powerful beat as the crowd declared, “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be thy name.” It was electric, as we all came together with one voice in praise.

The Bible tells us that God is love. This Christmas, may God, our “true love”, send to us the joyful sound of 12 drummers drumming: a heavenly heartbeat of faith, hope, and love.

Terl Bryant is a drummer and percussionist, and founder of Psalm Drummers.

The full article was published in The Church Times, 21 December 2018.


A Divine Beauty

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 3 January 2019

Pohutukawa’s crimson


in the twelfth month.

No more pain of being in the bud.

Beauty blossoms the landscape

of the bare heart

warming it like the breath of creatures

healing like nectar.

Veined leaves

rustle in the evening

with a felt underbelly of moisture


Dark red heart wood

roots resting in infinity

interweave wisdom and story

of our eternal Mother.

Seeds white as Ngauruhoe snow

carried through the air

with spirit of salt spray and wind

share the ancient commandment of life.

Leaves fall

in the wintry light

limbs becoming bare,


Circles of time sanctified



fragile hope.

Nothing more holy

in the ninth month.

©Hilary Oxford Smith


The Year as a House

Jan Richardson 2 January 2019

Think of the year

as a house:

door flung wide

in welcome,

threshold swept

and waiting,

a graced spaciousness

opening and offering itself

to you.

Let it be blessed

in every room.

Let it be hallowed

in every corner.

Let every nook

be a refuge

and every object

set to holy use.

Let it be here

that safety will rest.

Let it be here

that health will make its home.

Let it be here

that peace will show its face.

Let it be here

that love will find its way.


let the weary come;

let the aching come;

let the lost come;

let the sorrowing come.


let them find their rest,

and let them find their soothing,

and let them find their place,

and let them find their delight.

And may it be

in this house of a year

that the seasons will spin in beauty;

and may it be

in these turning days

that time will spiral with joy.

And may it be

that its rooms will fill

with ordinary grace

and light spill from every window

to welcome the stranger home.

©Jan Richardson



Christmas Been

Ana Lisa de Jong 30 December 2018

Christmas is for a moment

the veil lifted, 

the light of Christ appearing

through the mist.


The bright glow

of a candle briefly lit,

that for a time

illuminates the room.


As a lover’s knock upon the door

causes the heart to lift,

so Christmas is the long awaited visit

to which we open our arms.


Christmas is the birth

of the promised child,

whose innocent dependence

draws from us our love.


So that Christmas is

the veil lifted,

the light of Christ appearing

in a crib.

But we must be careful

to not too soon forget,

the one to whose feet we bring

our treasures.

The bright glow

of a candle briefly lit,

might start and stutter,

until it goes out with the wind.

Or the lover’s embrace which warms,


to leave us waiting

and desirous again.

But Christmas that for a moment

lifts the veil,

shows us what lies always

behind the scenes of things.

Christ, in love

found a way to remain,

and has given us back our treasures,

surrendered at his feet.

So that the treasure that is Christ,

can be threaded through our days,

strung from one Christmas to the next,

as glowing lights across the heavens.


©Ana Lisa de Jong

Living Tree Poetry




The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson 29 December 2018

when all is said and done

that might and power

can say and do, they’ll be

compelled to forfeit all;

for ultimately the power of love

will outwith outmanoeuvre

and outclass the power

of power-for-its-own-sake

and keep it hostage to oblivion.

©James M. McPherson



The Shadow of the Holy Innocents

Professor Gavin G. D'Costa 28 December 2018

The Shadow of the Holy Innocents is a reminder to me that Christians should never be triumphalist as the magnificent truth of the gospel is always framed in thin, beautiful, delicate ice. Claims to truth have always been used to kill others and Christianity, uniquely, at its centre speaks of one who is killed. Suffering, death and tragedy mark life too deeply to be triumphalist, but at the same time, the resurrection cannot be hidden from view. But the resurrection is only authentic when the trace of blood is not denied, the suffering not glossed over, and the wound always has a scar, even when fully healed.

The Shadow of the Holy Innocents


Did Gabriel realise that he initiated a blood bath?

Had this sublime angel missed Jeremiah’s prophecy,

that Rachel’s weeping in Ramah would turn into

a wailing that would never stop, not even to welcome

angels in that dung-rich Bethlehem stable?


She was highly favoured. But what of those mothers

whose sons were forced from their arms,

torn from their feeding breasts,

heads smashed on paving stones brought from Jerusalem?

Had they given a stifled fiat, assenting as handmaidens?


Perhaps, when Mary was disturbed by Gabriel’s words,

she saw what havoc she unwittingly allowed:

giving birth to a childless son who would unleash

such pain upon her, for she must witness

what the other mothers saw: blood on wood.


She paused, asked the question, distracting herself

from the terrifyingly obvious: her life would never be

the same, her body not her own. She would walk

in the shadow of the presence, dimly clear,

and the wailing would not cease, growing louder and near.


While nothing is impossible to God, stopping the tears

will be. These women will weep until the end of time,

spitting phlegm into the darkness of divinity that offers no solace

but remains hanging there with us. A handmaiden’s lot?


© Gavin G. D’Costa

Reprinted with the kind permission of Dr. Gavin G. D’Costa, Professor of Catholic Theology at The University of Bristol, UK.

This poem was first published in Making Nothing Happen: Five Poets Explore Faith and Spirituality, Gavin D’Costa, Eleanor Nesbitt, Mark Pryce, Ruth Shelton, Nicola Slee. Routledge (Routledge, 2014).




John the Beloved

The Rev. Dr. John Philip Newell 27 December 2018

It was on Iona years ago that I first became aware of the need to reclaim some of the features of ancient Christianity in the Celtic world as lost treasure for today. Part of that treasure is the much-cherished image of John the evangelist, also known as John the Beloved, leaning against Jesus at the Last Supper. Celtic tradition holds that by doing this he heard the heartbeat of God. He became a symbol of the practice of listening—listening deep within ourselves, within one another, and within the body of the earth for the beat of the Sacred Presence.

Do we know that within each one of us is the unspeakably beautiful beat of the Sacred? Do we know that we can honor that Sacredness in one another and in everything that has being? And do we know that this combination—growing in awareness that we are bearers of Presence, along with a faithful commitment to honor that Presence in one another and in the earth—holds the key to transformation in our world?

© John Philip Newell



On the Feast of Stephen

Malcolm Guite 26 December 2018

There is something telling about the fact that the very day after Christmas the Church celebrates the Feast of Stephen, the first Martyr. Martyr means witness, and Stephen witnessed that the Babe born at Bethlehem was worth dying for, and more: he witnessed the resurrection of Jesus and in that resurrection the promise of resurrection to humanity, for whom Christ died. The blood of the Martyrs is the seed of the Church, and the seed Stephen sowed bore almost immediate fruit.  I believe it was the witness of Stephen’s martyrdom that opened the way for Christ into the life of St. Paul. Even as he held the coats and was consenting unto Stephen’s death he was witnessing in Stephen’s face the risen life and love of Christ, and Paul’s road to Damascus led past the very place where Stephen died.

Witness for Jesus, man of fruitful blood,

Your martyrdom begins and stands for all.

They saw the stones, you saw the face of God,

And sowed a seed that blossomed in St. Paul.

When Saul departed breathing threats and slaughter

He had to pass through that Damascus gate

Where he had held the coats and heard the laughter

As Christ, alive in you, forgave his hate,

And showed him the same light you saw from heaven

And taught him, through his blindness, how to see;

Christ did not ask ‘Why were you stoning Stephen?’

But ‘Saul, why are you persecuting me?’

Each martyr after you adds to his story,

As clouds of witness shine through clouds of glory.

©Malcolm Guite

The Rev. Dr. Malcolm Guite is Chaplain of Girton College, Cambridge, UK



Saint Francis

Jan Richardson 4 October 2018

Happy Feast of St. Francis! The hospitality of Franciscans has been a pivotal gift in my life, and I owe them much for helping to preserve my vocation and to sustain me when I made a flying leap into ministry beyond the local church. In particular, it was my Franciscan friend Brother David who helped to inspire that leap and gave me a place to land. I had met him when I was serving as a pastor. Shortly afterward, he established a Center for Art and Contemplation at the retreat center where he worked and where, thanks to the good graces of the Franciscans and not a few other folks, I would become artist-in-residence for some years.

David and his brothers at San Pedro Center gave flesh to the wonders and challenges of Franciscan life and to the spirit of St. Francis. Born in Italy in the 12th century, Francis gave up the riches of his family in order to embrace a life of radical devotion to God and to God’s creatures. He took as spouse the one whom he called Lady Poverty, and a community began to gather around him; they became known as the friars minor (“lesser brothers”). Their rhythm of life included preaching missions (Francis traveled widely, journeying even to Egypt), periods of fasting and prayer, and service to those who lived on and beyond the margins of the society, notably those living with leprosy. It was during a period of fasting and prayer prior to the Feast of Michaelmas that Francis, secluded on a mountain with Brother Leo, received the stigmata—the wounds of Christ.

We know St. Francis in large part for The Canticle of the Creatures, which he began during a time of intense illness. Of his desire to write the canticle, he said to his brothers, “I wish to compose a new hymn about the Lord’s creatures, of which we make daily use, without which we cannot live, and with which the human race greatly offends its Creator.” His praises include, famously, “Sir Brother Sun” and “Sister Moon and the stars” as well as “Brother Wind,” “Sister Water,” and “Brother Fire.” He counted mortality among God’s familiar and familial creatures; on his deathbed, Francis added verses that included the line, “Praised be You, my Lord, through our Sister Bodily Death, from whom no one living can escape.”

Francis left behind a handful of other writings that testify to his deep and simple love of God. With World Communion Sunday coming up this Sunday, it seems fitting to include this portion from A Letter to the Entire Order, which Francis wrote in 1225-1226:

Let everyone be struck with fear,

let the whole world tremble,

and let the heavens exult

when Christ, the Son of the living God,

is present on the altar in the hands of a priest!

O wonderful loftiness and stupendous dignity!

O sublime humility!

O humble sublimity!

The Lord of the universe,

God and the Son of God,

so humbles Himself

that for our salvation

He hides Himself

under an ordinary piece of bread!

Brothers, look at the humility of God,

and pour out your hearts before Him!

Humble yourselves

that you may be exalted by Him!

Hold back nothing of yourselves for yourselves,

that He Who gives Himself totally to you

may receive you totally!

And in the Earlier Rule that Francis wrote for his community, he pleaded,


let us desire nothing else,

let us want nothing else,

let nothing else please us and cause us delight

except our Creator, Redeemer and Savior,

the only true God,

Who is the fullness of good….


let nothing hinder us,

nothing separate us,

nothing come between us.

On this day of celebration, and all the days to come, may it be so. Happy Feast!

©Jan Richardson


In Life's Last Moments, Open A Window

Dr. Rachel Clarke 16 September 2018

A furrowed brow and flailing arms were all we had to go on. The grimacing, the way the patient flung his head from side to side — all of it signified an unvoiced anguish. We tried talking, listening, morphine. His agitation only grew. All cancers have the power to ravage a body, but each assails in distinctive ways. One of the particular cruelties of a cancer of the tongue is its capacity to deprive a person of speech.

Some of us thought he must be suffering from terminal agitation, a state of heightened anxiety that sometimes develops as the end of life draws near. But the junior doctor on the team, Nicholas, was convinced that we could unlock the source of our patient’s distress and volunteered to stay behind in the room. Nicholas reappeared about an hour later. “You can understand his speech,” he announced. “You just have to really listen.”

When I re-entered the room, the reclining chair that the patient — a tall, angular man in his 80s — had been thrashing around in had been turned to face out onto the garden and the double doors were open wide. Now he sat calmly, transfixed by the trees and sky. All he had wanted was that view.

For a decade, I have worked as a doctor in Britain’s National Health Service. We are an overstretched, underfunded health service in which too few doctors and nurses labour with too few resources, struggling to deliver good care. Burnout among staff is endemic, so much so that it threatens to stifle the kindness and compassion that should be the bedrock of medicine. But then there are the moments when helping someone is easy: Just nature is enough.

Before I specialized in palliative care, I thought the sheer vitality of nature might be an affront to patients so close to the end of life — a kind of impudent abundance. And yet, in the hospice where I work, I am often struck by the intense solace some patients find in the natural world. I met Diane Finch, a patient, in May, on the day her oncologist broke the devastating news that further palliative chemotherapy was no longer an option. She was 51. From that point on, her terminal breast cancer would run its natural course, medicine powerless to arrest it.

“My first thought, my urge, was to get up and find an open space,” she told me on that first meeting. “I needed to breathe fresh air, to hear natural noises away from the hospital and its treatment rooms.”

At first she fought to preserve herself digitally, documenting every thought and feeling on her computer before they, and she, were lost forever. But one day, as she was typing frantically, she heard a bird singing through her open window.

“When you come to the end of your life, you get the sense that you don’t want to lose yourself, you want to be able to pass something on,” she told me later. “When I had whole brain radiotherapy, I felt as though something had dropped out, as if everything I said needed to be saved. It was all running away from me.

“Somehow, when I listened to the song of a blackbird in the garden, I found it incredibly calming. It seemed to allay that fear that everything was going to disappear, to be lost forever, because I thought, ‘Well, there will be other blackbirds. Their songs will be pretty similar and it will all be fine.’ And in the same way, there were other people before me with my diagnosis. Other people will have died in the same way I will die. And it’s natural. It’s a natural progression. Cancer is part of nature too, and that is something I have to accept, and learn to live and die with.”

Ms. Finch recorded a song based on the peace she felt listening to the bird song, and it was enough to bring her some relief from what — up to that point — had been almost feverish efforts at self-preservation.

Another patient, whom I admitted in July with about a week to live, was mostly concerned that I keep the windows open, so that he could “keep on feeling the breeze on my face and listening to that blackbird outside.” I rushed to make sure of it.

Shortly before his death from pancreatic cancer at 59, in the 1990s, the British playwright Dennis Potter described the exaltation of looking out at a blossom that had become the “whitest, frothiest, blossomest blossom that there ever could be” from his window.

“Things are both more trivial than they ever were, and more important than they ever were, and the difference between the trivial and the important doesn’t seem to matter. But the nowness of everything is absolutely wondrous,” he told an interviewer.

People often imagine hospices to be dark and dismal places where there is nothing left to experience but dying. But what dominates my work is not proximity to death but the best bits of living. Nowness is everywhere. Nature provides it.

©Rachel Clarke



Holy Spirit

The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson 13 August 2018

Sermon preached on the 8th Sunday after Pentecost [B]

15 July 2018

Readings: Ephesians 1.1-14; Mark 6.14-29

Two stories running through my head all week. The gospel, preparing for today; and the recent saga of the soccer team trapped with their coach in Chiang Rai caves.

These stories couldn’t be more different. Yet we need them both, because they open out into the realities of human life – its debasement and despair, its joy and triumph – because they balance each other. Tip too far towards the first, and you’re into despair; too far towards triumph, and you are into the rose-coloured world where dreams come true for those who hope and work and pray hard enough.

The gospel is brutal, describing Herod’s cynical and spur-of-the-moment murder of John the Baptist, who had rightly rebuked Herod about marrying his own (Herod’s) sister-in-law. Not that Herod cared about the Jewish Law; but he was “pleased” (nudge, nudge, wink, wink) at his daughter’s dancing, and makes her a rash promise – only to be quickly checkmated by her mother.

Remember, the John beheaded is the John who was miraculously conceived by the elderly priest Zechariah and his barren wife Elizabeth; the John who had a powerful preaching baptising and revival ministry in the wilderness, and who had baptised Jesus himself. Surely God has let the side down, here, and owes John something better than a demeaning execution at the hands of a despot in his cups? But Mark is brutally honest … because sometimes that is exactly how life can be, for faithful and unfaithful alike. No point relying on Paul’s words in Romans 8.28 (“all things work together for good for those who love God”); no get out of gaol card for John; nor later for Paul. All things do work together for good, for those who love God; except it’s God’s definition of “good”, not ours. [1]

Fast forward to Chiang Rai in Thailand, which dramatically hit world news Saturday 23 June when a soccer team of twelve boys aged between 11 and 16 along with their 25-year-old coach were reported missing in an extensive cave system. The mammoth search and rescue operation required ingenuity, precision, courage, stamina; and heaps of equipment. It took nine days to find the boys and their coach, another 8 days to get them all out, the only fatality, a volunteer Thai Navy Seal who died in the rescue.

Coach and team were guided out, one by one, each by two experienced cave-divers, one ahead and one close behind. The smallest aperture they all went through (in the water and darkness) was only 38 cm high. It gives me claustrophobia to imagine it.

Quite apart from the impressive skill courage and stamina of all involved, quite apart from the significant Australian involvement, and quite apart from its inherent drama, why does this story attract and hold our attention? Because it touches our humanity, our compassion, and our deepest fears, including our mortality.

The gospel story assaults our sense of justice. More subversively, it challenges our conception of God. Isn’t God “just”? Isn’t God “powerful”? Why didn’t God protect his faithful servant John the Baptist, now in the despot Herod’s hands because of his faithfulness to God’s call?


These are all human questions, urgent human questions, which confront us daily. Questions for which we have no satisfying or compelling answers … until we glimpse and grasp what God has done for us in Christ Jesus. Beautifully summarised in the Letter to the Ephesian Christians.

God has “destined us for adoption as his children through Jesus Christ”, richly lavished his grace upon us, and shown us his deeper and eternal purposes in creation, in “the fullness of time, to gather up all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth”. We have obtained an inheritance in Christ and been marked with the seal of the Holy Spirit – as “pledge of our inheritance toward redemption as God's own people, to the praise of his glory”.

Now that’s too much to take in quickly, so that’s your homework for this week, to read the Ephesians reading as often as you can, trying to get your head around it all as best you can.

Just this last week, I was alerted to a poem by G K Chesterton, where Jesus the Eternal Word is the speaker.[2] Some lines:

Last night I held all evil in my hand

Closed: and behold it was a little thing.

At the end, referring to the resurrection as bursting death’s bubble (wherein we are held ever captive to the grave), … [I] woke “laughing with laughter such as shakes the stars”.

Can you put that into your perspective on death and dying? This comes packed inside the pledge of our inheritance – sealed in baptism.


Back to our two contrasting stories. Trying to see through God’s lens, they make some sort of partial sense. John the Baptist’s execution was – in secular terms – similar to what happened to Jesus who was also executed for being faithful; John’s death was a clear signal to Jesus of what was ahead; Matthew records, significantly, that Jesus, hearing the news, “withdrew … to a deserted place by himself” (except the crowd tracked him down).[3]

But what about the cave rescue? The boys and their coach were piloted out by skilled and experienced divers. My picture of my own dying (described in a poem I wrote called The Ridge) was inspired in part by a verse of the 23rd Psalm:

Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil:

for you are with me, your rod and your staff comfort me.

So I imagine Jesus piloting me through to safety, along a track he knows well …

I’d like to close with the prayer, Jesus, Saviour of the World on p 414 of APBA. Let’s pray it together. After which: Don’t forget your homework!

Jesus, Saviour of the world, come to us in your mercy:

we look to you to save and help us.

By your cross and your life laid down, you set your people free:

we look to you to save and help us.

When they were ready to perish, you saved your disciples:

we look to you to come to our help.

In the greatness of your mercy, loose us from our chains:

forgive the sins of all your people.

Make yourself known as our Saviour and mighty deliverer:

save and help us that we may praise you.

Come now and dwell with us, Lord Christ Jesus:

hear our prayer and be with us always.

And when you come in your glory:

make us to be one with you and to share the life of your kingdom.

© the Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson



[1] St Teresa of Avila: “Lord, if this is how you treat your friends, no wonder you have so few of them!”

[2] G K Chesterton 1874-1936, English writer; creator of the detective-priest character Father Brown.

[3] Matthew 14.13.




Hilary Oakley 4 August 2018

I first visited Taizé in 1970. I was 16, and the Taizé community was just about to enter its heyday. The community had been founded during the Second World War, when a young Swiss, Roger Schutz, left the safety of his neutral homeland to live alongside the people of neighbouring France and share something of their suffering.

Taizé was near to the border of occupied and free France, and soon he was busy helping those pursued by the occupying German army to escape capture, and flee to Switzerland. Schutz was joined by a small group of friends, and so the tiny community began its common life.

By 1970, his story was being retold all over Europe, and increasing numbers of West European youngsters were coming to see for themselves this place of reconciliation, and share in its life. The numbers continued to grow. By the time of my second visit, in 1975, young people were coming in their tens of thousands; indeed, the numbers were so large that we sometimes spent the whole day — reading, talking, singing, discussing — in the meal queue.

Taizé had the optimism of the 1960s, and at times felt a little like a religious hippy commune. By day, we sat under the trees in discussion groups; each evening, we sang round a number of camp fires.

As a shy and rather anxious teenager, I found it confusing, and a little hard to engage. I was in a discussion group with eight other people; between us, we represented five denominations and four languages — an entirely new experience. But I was deeply touched by the worship, in the large concrete Church of Reconciliation, constructed in 1962.

It was not so much the spirituality as the participation of people of different traditions — they were saying the Lord’s Prayer next to me in French, Spanish, German, or Dutch — and discovering that I, too, could use their words to praise God in the multilingual chants of the Taizé liturgy. My eyes were opened to traditions, people, and languages beyond my own, and I began to understand the importance of ecumenism, as well as my responsibilities as a European citizen.

My last visit was in 1978, with fellow students from the Ecumenical Institute of the World Council of Churches at Bossey, near Geneva.

But this year, in the second week of Easter, I visited Taizé again — with Gerhard Tiel, a pastor in the Evangelical Church in the Rhineland, in Germany, who had also accompanied me on my last visit in 1978. The concrete church was still the same, but larger: it now had three waves of wooden extension at the west end. We still participated in discussion groups; mine included three French people, two Germans, and a lady from Hong Kong.

Taizé counted us as adults, not young people, and we had a special place to meet and eat, with just a little more comfort. We didn’t talk about denominations or our distinctive traditions — perhaps because the support of Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant Churches, is now accepted, understood, and embedded. At any rate, it didn’t seem to matter: we talked from our shared Christian and “adult” experience.

Beyond the 60 or so adults, there were about 2000 young people — many of them German — whose energy and exuberance brought Taizé alive, as it had done 40 years before. The numbers were smaller than I remembered, and there were fewer from the UK, but the languages were more extensive, and now included Polish, Bulgarian, Swahili, and Chinese, reflecting a wider Europe, greater mobility, and our engagement with a bigger world.

It was challenging in a number of sometimes contradictory ways. The perspective was wider, the different traditions less important, the variety greater, the numbers smaller.

But it is time to come down from the mountain, and I have returned home to Brexit, tensions with Russia, cybercrime, the NHS funding crisis, and more knife attacks on the streets of London . . . and, in the Church, declining numbers, a shrinking church voice in our national life, church leaders who are tired and stressed, and finances on a shoestring.

I wonder how far, as a Christian community, we can continue to afford the luxury of division, divergence, or mutual suspicion, as we struggle to maintain separate buildings and church infrastructures in parallel. Taizé has nudged me to find a renewed enthusiasm for ecumenism; an energy to try again to address and overcome those challenges that so constrained the previous generation of ecumenists, and lost us the past 40 years. As Brother Roger so simply put it, “Make the unity of the body of Christ your passionate concern.”

©Hilary Oakley

This article first appeared in The Church Times, 27 July 2018.


The loose end tree

Tess Ashton 4 August 2018

Over the river

the ‘red’ horse

is munching under the fleur de lis tree

its scarlet coat deepening ever slightly

into the most daring of pinks

Makes this creature the prettiest

thing anyone could hope to

see on a hill by a river

and the people going by on the trains might look up and see

it and love it and exclaim in their hearts

look there’s a horse with a beautiful red cover

it looks fit for a queen.

A hawthorn says son Ed

is a magical tree

and a dark brown horse draped in scarlet

its elegance swirling

capturing the branches

of the brittle hawthorn

and velvet of creature

take me back to real time with a spiritual director

and the loose end tree.

She helped me draw my

loose ends as a tree

saw what was right in front

of me

first the question:

where are you at?

a crossroads I think

in work and life

ok right, draw that, came back.

Saw a roundabout

wide roads spark off

north south east and west

but was drawn to the centre

a tree appeared

drew my loose ends

as branches

spiralling off a solid trunk

no leaves much yet.

So where are you in the tree?

high up busy

doing what, she said?

don’t know, I murmured

but as I watched

old leaves lit up

like heavenly wonders

I’d brushed them

with a greening wand

and I was a fairy princess.

Hallelujah, two months later

I’m part of an incredible moment

in a suburb with its name

on a tall tree-like sculpture.

I’d had to find a new place

for some free literacy classes

found a

church without walls

welcoming the homeless

and anyone smudged

with poor health, drugs, or prison

people whose sheen

might welcome wonder dust.

So I’m up and running

still feeling my way

throwing in love

aim to brighten their senses

stoke up each one’s callings

holy spirit long swirling

the air well prepared

for any fresh movement

Here the saints love God

give space to the Spirit

here greening is wanted

high in loose end branches.


©Tess Ashton



The Misfit Messiah and the Awkwardness of Grace

The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson 30 June 2018


St John, Apostle and Evangelist, 6 May 2018

Festal Evensong

John’s Gospel is a stand-out work of poetic imagination. Not the fanciful imagination of Alice in Wonderland, but the incisive insightful imagination which penetrates more deeply into truth and reality. Galileo and Isaac Newton used such imagination, to transform the way we understand our world.[1]

John the Evangelist puts his poetic imagination to work in the service of Christian faith – exploring the depths, connections, correspondences and implications of the Incarnation through his account of Jesus’ life death and resurrection. John probes the profound logic of what God was doing in Jesus of Nazareth, to help us glimpse the deeps underlying Jesus’ identity, character and action. “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God; he was in the beginning with God.” For John, no alternative explanation is remotely plausible … Unless this is how you see Jesus of Nazareth, you remain in the very darkness the Light of the World came to dispel. John’s poetic insight has the ring of bedrock truth …

Paul wrote that Jesus was “declared to be Son of God with power … by resurrection from the dead, [who,] though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited”.[2]

John has worked this through coherently and in depth, showing it to be absolutely congruent with the life of Jesus of Nazareth. [3]

John’s Gospel could appropriately be subtitled The Misfit Messiah and the Awkwardness of Grace. Page 1: the Incarnate Word “came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him” – “Misfit Messiah”. The awkwardness of grace refers to our wanting grace on our terms, not God’s; it represents a judgment on our wilful obtuseness in matters spiritual.

I begin with Nicodemus, who famously keeps saying “I don’t get it”. Why such almost-comic miscommunication? Such is the awkwardness of grace, that (like the misfit Messiah who is the incarnation of grace) it can neither be contained inside, nor understood by, our everyday categories. The best we can do is poetic, the figurative language of poetry, namely the metaphor of being “born again”. This passage is more about the core language and nature of faith than Nicodemus’ apparent spiritual obtuseness.

Next: Jesus before Pilate. Ironically, almost paralleling Nicodemus, here the conceptual world of ‘Empire’ is on trial over matters of kingship and truth – with its own “I don’t get it”. Remember: Paul wrote to the Christian enclave in the proudly loyalist Roman colony of Philippi, declaring “our citizenship is in heaven” (and outguns Roman citizenship every time); that was subversive![4] So …

Pilate asks Jesus, “What is truth?” “What is kingship?” If you have to ask, matey, you don’t know; even when it’s there in the exhausted bedraggled prisoner standing before you, ready for death; who is nevertheless incandescent with love and hope for you – Pilate – the human being inside the governor’s political authority. John, by portraying Jesus’ example of simple loving silence in the face of Pilate’s incomprehension, subverts the grandiose claims of power and Empire, to strengthen his readers.

John was writing near the end of the first Christian Century, when Christians had already been subjected to various local harassments – e.g. the silversmiths’ riot in Ephesus[5] – and persecutions, including Nero’s persecution in Rome. With trenchant irony, John subversively exposes the spiritual bankruptcy of those who can only conceive of power as economic or coercive. “What is truth?” “What is kingship?” Their persecutors have no idea; Christ’s disciples know deeply.

Third: Maundy Thursday, Jesus washing the disciples’ feet, and Peter strenuously demurs.

The Misfit Messiah who, as Paul wrote, “did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave”, now takes the slave’s demeaning role and washes his disciples’ feet. Peter objects to Jesus’ demeaning himself; Jesus, ironically, is misunderstood even by his closest associates. Jesus’ response seems to parallel the reversal in Mark’s gospel: “Whoever wants to be first must be last of all and the servant of all”.[6] John goes one step further, and shows how the awkwardness of grace inverts our priorities and subverts our assumptions. It’s not about status or benefit, but service. John’s Misfit Messiah shows us the truths we cannot bear to see; in our lives, in our social interactions, no stone is left unturned.

My last significant passage: the Beloved Disciple at the Last Supper. Enigmatically, the Beloved Disciple is complicit by default of action, doing nothing to prevent Judas going out into the darkness (note!) to betray Jesus. The Johannine Epistles suggest John may be seeing similar ongoing desertions and betrayals in his own community … Yet are we not all, in our own ways, complicit in manifold betrayals of Jesus and his mission, by our own silence and/or inaction?

John’s poetic imagination invites another dimension. For all the complicity, the Beloved Disciple is reclining next to Jesus, closer even than Peter. Here we need the Greek text rather than the English translation – because the NRSV translators have fudged it.

The anonymous Beloved Disciple was “reclining next to Jesus”. John’s original Greek consciously parallels the Beloved Disciple’s position relative to Jesus, with Jesus’ position relative to the Father before the Incarnation (chapter 1), by using virtually the same expression (“in the bosom”) for both: “No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart [footnote: Greek “bosom”] who has made him known.”[7]

For all our sins, cowardice, complicity, and general unsuitability, I think John here suggests the power of Eucharist to position us, by unfathomable grace, against Jesus’ chest and close to his heart.

That epitomises John’s challenge to us: no matter how clumsy or inept we continually prove to be, nevertheless to embody the love and grace of the Misfit Messiah to an uncomprehending world.

© the Revd Canon Dr Jim McPherson

with special thanks to my friend and colleague the Revd John de Lange for astute comments on an earlier draft.


[1] Galileo saw the Sun “rise” and “set”, as we do; yet his observations and analysis drove him to conclude only one explanation answered the evidence: viz that Earth orbits the Sun, not vice versa. Newton’s Law of Universal Gravitation was allegedly inspired by his observing an apple fall to the ground from the bough.

[2] Romans 1.4; Philippians 2.5-11.

[3] Matthew and Mark only have Jesus once in Jerusalem; Luke has Jesus in Jerusalem as an infant (in the Temple) and as a twelve-year-old (also in the Temple) who later returns to Jerusalem as a prophet, because Jerusalem is the place for prophets to die. Noting the Woman at Jacob’s Well (chapter 4), and Jesus’ alleged attendance at Jewish Festivals (Tabernacles, for example), I suspect John was making the point that the Incarnate Son of God was intimately involved in all the core Jewish Festivals and committed personally to honour all of Israel’s sacred history. Although written at a time of conflict between Jews and Christians, and often treating “the Jews” with trenchant negativity, John’s Gospel nevertheless generally respects the historic Jewish tradition and piety.

[4] Philippians 3.20; cf the value of Paul’s Roman citizenship in Acts 22.25-29.

5] Acts 19.23ff.

[6] Mark 9.35.

[7] John 1.18 (NRSV). The Greek of John 13.23 differs in preposition/case but not vocabulary:

1.18 άις τον κολπον

13.23 άν τω κολπω

The NRSV has been seduced by the different Greek expression in 13.25, άπι το στηθος του Ιησου.

During the “Debate the Preacher” which customarily follows, one of the participants drew my attention to Horatius Bonar’s hymn “I heard the voice of Jesus say,/‘Come unto me and rest …” (Together in Song #585) with its tender invitation to the weary to find their resting place: “lay down, O weary one, lay down/your head upon my breast”. Its other two verses also use Johannine imagery. However, I think it would ruin the thrust of this fine hymn by attempting to acknowledge the inherent ambiguity in John’s use of the “breast” (κολπος) imagery. The problem lies not in finding sanctuary in Jesus, but in our conduct even in that intimate location. Ouch.

St. John, St. John's Cathedral, sermon



The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 21 June 2018

It is a bright, blue, winter morning in the Southern Hemisphere and the winter solstice stretches our imagination.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice heralds the longest day of light. Midsummers of my youth were filled with heady playtimes, swimming with dolphins and dancing with seals, searching for crabs and other sea creatures in rock pools…our footsteps and shadows sending them into hiding. We gathered pink pearly shells and driftwood from the strandline of the beach and bedtime was hours away.

At night it was light and from the bed in my grandparent's house, I could look through the open curtains to the ocean and watch the midnight sun. Golden calendula marigolds grew in abundance in the garden, petals adding colour to home-made butter.

Midsummer is also known as St. John's Day in the Christian Church – the day when John the Baptist was born. Feasting on wild honey and locusts, he spoke of the coming of the Messiah.

As the days shorten in Aotearoa New Zealand, it is still lighter at the winter solstice than I remember in my homeland. Daylight there was pale and fleeting with remnants of warmth. The sun set early in the afternoon. 

The Scottish poet and writer, Kathleen Jamie writes about light and darkness. She believes that darkness has been too much maligned, not least in Christian theology, '”because of the metaphorical dark…we are constantly concerned to banish the natural dark...”

So with rucksack on back, she sailed from Aberdeen in Scotland, to the whale-shaped Orkney Islands in search of “real, natural, starry dark”. The chambered burial mound of Maes Howe, built around 2700BC, drew her into its mystery.

Around the time of the winter solstice, the midwinter sun rises from the Hoy Hills. As it sets, its rays strike the nearby Neolithic Barnhouse Stone, perfectly aligned to the entrance of Maes Howe and the tomb's dark passageway becomes illuminated with light.

Clouds clouded her mystical experience though. She found the tomb filled with artificial light as surveyors mapped the walls with lasers so that they could investigate worrying cracks in the stone. On her return to the mainland, she could not even find the natural dark out at sea because of the lights from small coastal settlements and dazzlingly lit oil rigs.

'”For five thousand years we have used darkness as the metaphor of our mortality...we have not banished death, but we have banished the dark. We have light, we have oilfields and electricity and lasers. And by the light we have made, we can see that there are, metaphorically speaking, cracks. We are doing damage. The surveyors poring over the tomb are working in an anxious age. We look about the world, by the light we have made, and realise it's all vulnerable, and all worth saving, and no one can do it but us”

Often we want to look away from the brokenness in the world because we are afraid that we might be overwhelmed by the dark. Yet the life of the Divine is within the dark. The secret and hopeful work of winter begins in the cold earth.

In Aotearoa New Zealand, snow has fallen in the high country and the new moon follows the rising of Matariki, the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters, a star constellation in the Southern sky. It is the time for our Māori brothers and sisters and those who respect and participate in their culture and traditions, to celebrate the Māori New Year.

This ancient and spiritual festival plays out across our land with the revival of celebratory events of culture, language, spirit and people. Thankfulness is expressed for the gifts of Mother Earth and for the land on which we live and which sustains us. Ancestors are remembered with loving respect. Lengthening days of light, growth, change and new thresholds are hoped for.

When Kathleen Jamie returned home from her journey of seeking the dark, she wrote,

“...we were going out for dinner. Our friends' cottage was inviting in candlelight, and the curtains were open to show black night pressed against the windows. In the warm light, we…drank a toast, because tonight was midwinter's night, the night of the complicit kiss, and tomorrow the light would begin its return.”

In the places of winter's passage, may the long dark nights shelter us.

In the places of summer's passage, may the long days of light refresh us.

©Hilary Oxford Smith


Kathleen Jamie, Findings, (Sort Of Books 2005)



A Sonnet for Trinity Sunday

The Rev. Dr. Malcolm Guite 27 May 2018

In the Beginning, not in time or space,

But in the quick before both space and time,

In Life, in Love, in co-inherent Grace,

In three in one and one in three, in rhyme,

In music, in the whole creation story,

In His own image, His imagination,

The Triune Poet makes us for His glory,

And makes us each the other’s inspiration.

He calls us out of darkness, chaos, chance,

To improvise a music of our own,

To sing the chord that calls us to the dance,

Three notes resounding from a single tone,

To sing the End in whom we all begin;

Our God beyond, beside us and within.

©Malcolm Guite

Image Icon of The Trinity, Rublev

This sonnet was first published in Sounding the Seasons: Poetry for the Christian Year, Malcolm Guite


Treatment Room Irony

The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson 11 May 2018

Dreams do come true if you only wish hard enough. (Peter Pan)


The picture-perfect vista on the wall

was captioned in the style of Peter Pan –

that limits only cow the cowardly

while those who challenge and defy, will win.


Beneath the vista in the treatment room,

the therapist who knows the harsh terrain

of injury and coaches those compelled

to trek its weary paths, applies her skills

to mitigate; at best perhaps restore

the stricken limb to function as before.


Since pixie dust and robust self-belief

can never bring reality to heel,

her practice shows the caption is a sham:

the cosmos will not budge for Peter Pan.


© the Revd Jim McPherson


Poem for Passchendaele

Alexia Russell 24 April 2018

It was a trip that New Zealand poet, Kevin Ireland had been putting off, because he knew it was going to be emotional. But his connection with the Katherine Mansfield Society saw him attend the 100th anniversary commemoration of the death of 2nd Lieutenant Leslie Heron Beauchamp - Mansfield's dearly loved brother. Their father had pulled strings to get him to the Western Front; his commission put him in the line of fire and he died on October 6, 1915...

Beauchamp is buried at the Ploegsteert Wood Military Cemetery, but while there, Ireland visited other grave sites and battlefields, including Passchendaele.

"It's an overwhelming experience," he says. "I had nightmares about the graves. It's something so affecting - it's a fairly common experience for New Zealanders to feel shocked and haunted by it. I found it terribly upsetting. Afterwards of course I was very grateful I went. I was confronting something that I had put off and put off.

"The losses were just extraordinary. Death visited so many houses. Gallipoli was a long, drawn-out campaign but at Passchendaele they went through the mincer in a morning. For those who survived it scarred them and most of them didn't talk about it except on ANZAC Day. Many old soldiers were gassed or blinded, there were many amputees. They couldn't talk to their families about it, they didn't have the vocals. They couldn't make people understand what it was like over there - they were enraged."

Ireland says it's only recently we've been able as a nation to talk about it - something we now feel should never have happened.

"When I was a boy (Ireland is in his 80s) we used to beat the drums and wave the flags but it was something that was separate from us; there was no understanding. You can't get a sense of pride out of being told to feel proud. You get pride from the side issues - human endurance, fortitude, improvisation and mate-ship. All those sorts of things that happen in war." Now those stories are being told in a different way, new generations have a different understanding of what went on.

In Passchendaele, "the whole place is full of people who have disappeared with no known grave. You actually feel - it's extraordinary, and I'm not a supernatural type - but I felt the proximity of people in the air. It's a place you go to shudder," he says.

"I don't believe when you look around you're seeing ghosts but I do believe in the presence of the past. I was overcome with it. I was so totally moved I felt exhausted."

Ireland says New Zealand visitors can expect to come across unexpected scenes, such as the bronze statue of a Kiwi soldier with his lemon squeezer in Messines. "Suddenly you are rooted to the spot," he says. "It just rocks you when you round the corner ... it's a spooky feeling."

He recalls wandering through gentle woods, and strolling across rolling paddocks - "It's a pleasant land, there's nothing fierce about the landscape. It looks impossible to have had battles there where tens of thousands...lost their lives. It's beyond imagination."

On his return from that trip, Ireland tried to write but he was too close to the experience. With prompting from Passchendaele Society members Greg Hall and Dermot Ross he got around to looking at his notes and putting it down formally in time for centenary commemorations.

"It's in stanza form, properly measured," he says. "There's kind of a military approach to the words - I assembled it, lined them up, paraded them, made them neat and soldierly.

"I'm very pleased with it. I hope it puts down something of a New Zealander's feeling, reflecting the devastations of looking at the battlefield."

A fine morning at Passchendaele

On a fine morning, looking out

from a bright new observation post

over the slow and gentle ocean swell

of the Belgian countryside,

you’ll see them stepping out before you,

not real people or ghosts, or even shadows,

but a kind of flickering at the furthest edge

of sight, a disturbance in the mind,

and suddenly the past becomes the present

and you shiver and ask yourself:

how can this be happening,

how can they be dying here all morning

faster than two a minute? You start to count

and you find that when you add the wounded

they are tumbling over, like a storm

of autumn leaves, almost as you blink.

We gaze across a tilled field to the easy roll

of what could almost be a ridge

and possibly something of a modest spur,

then on to a village and not much else

but a scattering of misty barns and trees.

The soil is firm and looks rusty with age

though the air is warm and still and dusty,

and nearby you can buy a meal or a beer.

There is nothing readily you’d call a hill.

It seems a landscape for a stroll,

far too tidy for a battlefield. Yet if, indeed,

you choose to wander down a bit

you’ll cross the gruesome place where so many

young men simply disappeared and you’ll

need to hold your nerve when thinking trenches,

mud and cold and ponds of muck and ooze.

Here you’re forced to face the fact that there

never is a perfect war, yet some seem worse

than others, and the worst don’t get talked about

at home. The whole thing was a shambles,

a disaster, a catastrophe – and our only consolation

lies in little miracles: my best friend’s father

somehow scrambled to the German wire

then back again and never got a scratch.

©Alexia Russell




Ana Lisa de Jong 1 April 2018


Sunday morning has arrived

although its been with us 2000 years.


Sunday morning’s empty tomb

is as open as our hearts


rent wide by the quake of pain

which comes to everyone


But which roll the stones

we erect to protect us from suffering.


Sunday morning’s promise of life

we sometimes mistake for a future day


But it is with us right now

as close as the presence of the resurrected Christ.


Friday’s shroud of sorrow is not completely gone

while we wait for Sunday’s fulfilment.


But its lightened somehow

by the knowledge


that we already know the outcome,

that’s in part, already here.


Yes, Sunday morning does not

relieve us from our cross


but its empty tomb points to the

one whose cross became the means


of his resurrection,

and ours.


Sunday morning has arrived,

although its been here 2000 years.


And because of its eternal newness

we can always celebrate afresh.


No Friday will ever be bereft

of hope or the promise of new life

that his transfigured state

reveals to us as ours.


©Ana Lisa de Jong


Holy Saturday

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 31 March 2018

We find ourselves with Mary, the mother of Jesus and the others who loved him, in a place of many overwhelmings this day.

The death of love, the brokenness of life, fear of the unknown, the fading of beauty, paradise lost, the going down into hell.

So many words to describe that word, hell. Underworld, Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, Abraham’s bosom. A place where we come face to face with our deepest dark, our fragility, our captivity to diminishment. A place of abandonment, no fragment of light.

Was Jesus’ death a dread defeat, a victory for demonic forces, a chilling vindication of those who destroy Christ, then or now? Not delivering on his promise to provide a new ordering of life, restoration, forgiveness?

On this day between crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus harrowed out of hell all the dead held captive there since the creation of the world. He took them by the hand and led them to Life.

‘When the gatekeepers of hell saw him, they fled; the bronze gates were broken open, and the iron chains were undone.’[i]

On this Holy Saturday, may we remember the ones

…who know their need, for theirs is the grace of heaven.

…who weep, for their tears will be wiped away.

…who are humble, for they are close to the sacred earth.

…who hunger for earth’s oneness, for they will be satisfied.

…who are forgiving, for they are free.

…who are clear in heart, for they see the Living Presence.

…who are the peacemakers, for they are born of God.[ii]

And so we wait for the Third Day

in stillness

with a fragment of light

trusting and hoping…

©Hilary Oxford Smith


[i] Cyril of Alexandria, Ancient Commentary on Scripture 11.107

[ii] The Casa del Sol Blessings of Jesus, based on St. Matthew 5: 3 – 9 from the American Spirituality Center of Casa del Sol at Ghost Ranch.



Famous Last Words - Beatitudes for very particular people

The Rev. Maren Tirabassi 30 March 2018

“I thirst.”

Blessed are active and recovering alcoholics --

and all who come out of surgery

longing for that swab, those ice chips,

for they will find living water.

“Truly, I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

Blessed are those who are incarcerated --

sleeping it off only one night

or looking at mandatory life or death row,

those in brigs and immigration detention centers,

county jails, maximum security, house arrest,

witness protection, or parole,

for they are promised Paradise.

“Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani” “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Blessed are the forsaken ones --

the depressed and despairing,

the suicides

and those who love them –

for their cries are heard.

“Woman, here is your son.” “Here is your mother.”

Blessed is anyone who accepts another’s child

by adoption or fostering,

through mentoring or teaching or coaching.

Bless the aunts and uncles,

the neighbors and case workers,

the friend of the family,

or friend in spite of the family.

Blessed is anyone who cares for another’s parent,

because the ex isn’t doing it

or nobody comes to visit this elder,

or the old coot, crabby naomi, whiner

has pushed everyone away.

Blessed are these for they do God a favor.

"Abba, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing."

Blessed are all of us who make mistakes,

who choose the wrong side,

of something large or insignificant,

who think the crown-of-ethnic joke is funny,

who hear the rooster crow -- coward,

who roll the soldier’s dice

and it comes up PTSD,

who wash our hands of something

we could have changed,

who are caught in a crowd

and hear ourselves yell some hate or hurt,

for we are forgiven anyway.

“Abba, into your hands I commit my spirit.”

Blessed are those in hospice today,

and all who care for them –

family and friends,

volunteers and home health aides,

nurse practitioners and drivers,

doctors and chaplains,

for their spirits are in God’s hands.

“It is finished”

Blessed are those who have died this year,

for them it has begun.

©Maren Tirabassi


A Shadowed Path

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 27 March 2018

Dawn on the Otago Peninsula. We awoke to the clarion call of a cockerel, heralding the blessing of a golden Autumn day. Jonathan Livingston Seagull shared wisdom in the sky. White feathered kotuku-ngutupapa or Royal Spoonbills, swept the low tide line of the harbour for breakfast. In the court of heaven on earth, four Royal Albatross or toroa, glided through the air, with what Herman Melville in Moby Dick, described as vast archangel wings.

William Wales, a tutor to the English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the astronomer on HMS Resolution, voyaged with Captain James Cook to the land of ice, the southernmost continent we now call, Antarctica. Inspired by hearing stories of the sea and a fabled land, Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, an epic tale about an albatross and the sailor who kills it with a crossbow.

The poem is replete with imagery, allegory, superstition, and allusion. The punishment for what the sailor has done is to wear the dead bird around his neck and the rest of his life becomes one of penance as he wanders the earth, telling his salutary tale. He learns wisdom along the way, that God's creation is a beautiful gift, to be cherished.

On Palm Sunday, we attended Choral Eucharist in St. Paul's Cathedral, Dunedin and sang, Ride on! Ride on in majesty! Sacrificial theology excepting, one line stood out for me,

     Ride on! Ride on in majesty!

     The wingèd squadrons of the sky look down with sad and wondering eyes to see the approaching sacrifice.

I imagined that an albatross with vast archangel wings might be amongst the sorrowing company of heaven.

In the mystery of this week we call Holy, with its darkening shadows of pain and fear, abandonment, uncertainty, betrayal, and death, might we somehow contemplate in the stories, something of the novelist, Jeanette Winterson's words, the nearness of the wound to the gift?[i]

- Mary gently caressing the feet of Jesus with her long hair and extravagantly scented perfume, preparing him for what lies ahead.

- Jesus, with intimacy, humility, and oneness, washing the dust from the feet of his disciples.

- The mystery of the memory and substance of Jesus’ presence, as he and his friends share food and wine.

- John, the disciple, whom Jesus especially loved, placing his head on Jesus’ breast in closeness, affection and love, hearing the heartbeat of God.

- Veronica, tenderly wiping the blood and sweat from Jesus' face with her veil, his likeness forever imprinted on her heart.

- Simon of Cyrene, forced to carry the cross through the narrow streets of Jerusalem when Jesus could no longer bear the weight of it. His life changed forever.

- Jesus' mother Mary, the other faithful women, and John, accompanying Jesus every step of the way, hearing his loving words of familial care and loyalty.

- In his dying moments, self-giving love and grace shared with a thief, crucified beside him.

Then the night of deepest loneliness. A total absence of his spirit and his life.

At dawn, wounds become places where the light enters us. Grace takes us to the cherishing of life and the nurturing of love. The images and the echo of words we thought we had lost or left behind create a sanctuary of memory in our hearts.

His eyes sparkle again. He tells stories by the sea. He blesses us with Love.

©Hilary Oxford Smith


[i] Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal?, Jeannette Winterson, 230pp, Grove Press.


The Sum of All Five Senses: A Meditation for Monday of Holy Week

The Very Rev. Dr. John Chalmers 26 March 2018

Try experiencing this Holy Week with all five of your senses...

See it.

the palm branches waving

the moneychangers wheeling and dealing

the upper room,

the mockery of a trial

the stations of the cross and Calvary itself

Smell it.

the burning flesh of the sacrifices offered in the Temple

the animals being traded in the forecourt

the spiced breath of the traders

the body odour of the travellers

the scent of Gethsemane

the air as the sky darkens around three crosses on a hillside

Touch it.

being jostled in a crowd

counting silver coins to pay a traitor

carrying a wooden gibbet on a weary shoulder

Hear it.

the adulation of Palm Sunday

the traders bartering for the best deal

the crashing of tables and of money spilling down the steps

the hostile cries of Crucify Him

Taste it.

lamb and bitter herbs for a Passover

bread and wine for a memorial

vinegar offered to a dying man

It is the sum of all five senses which confirms in our sixth sense that we are loved by God made known in Christ.


©The Very Rev Dr John Chalmers is a former Principal Clerk and Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland

This meditation was also published in the April 2018 edition of Life and Work, the magazine of the Church of Scotland.


After a Wedding Feast

Dr. Julie Thorpe 24 March 2018

They have no wine

When the guests have departed,

the miracle has passed

and God has gone from his mother,

she scoops up the leftovers

to nurse in her lap,

knees spread apart, knows

again the humiliation, tastes

the last drops of wine

meant for a celebration

she helped enact.


with her need she watches

her secret load carried

like a golden seed

from her body

to lay in the fields

painted in purple.

©Julie Thorpe


The Wild Goose

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smth 17 March 2018


The lazy, hazy days of a very hot summer are giving way to fresher air, a softer light, dewy grass. The crickets are still singing their sweet, sunshiny song in the cool Autumn evenings. And it is time for travelling. The Bar-tailed Godwits, summer visitors to New Zealand, are winging their way to an Alaskan summer and Shining Cuckoos follow the light to the Solomon Islands.

It is still Lent. More days of self-denial. Or, perhaps days of resolving to love intentionally, extravagantly, unconditionally amidst the brokenness of the world. I have held close to my heart in this Lenten season, the words of Mary Oliver’s poem, Wild Geese,

You do not have to be good.

You do not have to walk on your knees

for a hundred miles through the desert repenting.

You only have to let the soft animal of your body

love what it loves.

Tell me about despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.

Meanwhile the world goes on.

Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain

are moving across the landscapes,

over the prairies and the deep trees,

the mountains and the rivers.

Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,

are heading home again.

Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,

the world offers itself to your imagination,

calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting

over and over announcing your place

in the family of things.[i]

Mary wrote this poem in the years following the terrorist atrocity in New York on September 11th, 2001, which were devastating and fearful, sorrowful and despairing. Her words acknowledge an enduring pain yet she imagines a mystical beauty and peace that still exists and gives expression. She reminds us that as we share our stories, we gift one another love.

I have a silver brooch of a wild goose that was given to me by my father. The early Celtic Christians adopted the Ah Geadh-Glas[ii], the wild goose, as their symbol for the Holy Spirit – wild with love, flying free and high, steadfast and strong, loyal and nurturing, protective and encouraging.

They were a people who chose to live their faith in their own way, close to the myth-haunted lands of the rugged western places of Ireland and Britain and far from the wealthy and decadent power centres of religion and politics.

When I wear my little brooch, I am enfolded by a liberating love that is utterly timeless, yet sheltering and safe, courageous and rhythmic. It is a love that calls me to return to the home that is in my heart.

Saint Patrick, who lived in the 5th century and was a pivotal figure in early Irish history and spirituality, is remembered in a global celebration of Irish culture this weekend. The Irish have observed the 17th March as a religious holiday for over 1,000 years. Families used to go to church in the morning and celebrate in the afternoon. Lenten prohibition against the consumption of meat was waived and people would dance, drink and, feast on a traditional meal of Irish bacon and cabbage.

We do not know much about Patrick, except that he left behind a unique piece of writing, his Confession and, Letter to Coroticus[iii], offering us a glimpse into the life and faith of this quiet and simple man, who became a great bishop.

Kidnapped from his birth place (some say Scotland, others, England), by Irish pirates, at 16 years old, Patrick was sold into slavery in Ireland. Over six years, he found an inner liberation when he discovered God as his Anam-cara – which is Gaelic for soul friend. The depth and shelter of this Anam-cara belonging sustained him and enabled him to endure the harrowing experience of exile and isolation, keeping the beauty of God alive in his heart, and transfiguring his outer bleakness. [iv]

Eventually, Patrick escaped the tyranny of slavery and later, returning to Ireland, he shared his Christian faith with the people. His presence, John O’Donohue writes, was full of uaisleacht, the Irish word for nobility, honour, dignity, poise.

Patrick exercised uaisleacht in relation to the people he shepherded. He served, defended, and cared for them, yet he refused any gifts or attempts to claim him. He also exercised uaisleacht in relation to his destiny. He constructed no kingdom of the ego. He opened himself to the ultimate calling and challenge of Otherness in its social, territorial, and spiritual forms.[v]

Patrick’s theology, like that of many Celtic Christians, before and since, declared that people could come to know the Divine through creation. He integrated pre-Christian Celtic beliefs with an emerging Christian faith. Not for him the exploitative whitewash of some missionaries.

In a rather long protective prayer, attributed to him, known as the Lorica, the Saint Patrick’s Breastplate or the Deer’s Cry, Patrick writes,

I arise today

Through the strength of heaven,

Light of sun,

Radiance of moon,

Splendour of fire,

Speed of lightening,

Swiftness of wind,

Depth of sea,

Stability of earth,

Firmness of rock.

Christ be with me, Christ within me,

Christ behind me, Christ before me,

Christ beside me, Christ to win me,

Christ to comfort and restore me.

Christ beneath me, Christ above me,

Christ in quiet, Christ in danger,

Christ in hearts of all that love me,

Christ in mouth of friend and stranger.

As people around the world come together to listen to music, dance, drink Guinness or Irish whiskey or wine, wear a whole lot of green, shamrocks for luck and take part in parades, might we be glimpsing the imaginative stirrings, in some, of a Celtic soul, a Celtic consciousness…a contemporary spirituality that more and more seeks to free itself from the shackles of organised religion? Might there be a yearning for new ways to belong and live in the world and discover wisdom, beauty and love, and a sense of the sacred and of thankfulness restored?


©Hilary Oxford Smith

Ireproduced with permission)


[i] Dream Work, Mary Oliver.

[ii] The Scottish Gaelic name for the wild goose

[iii] tr. John Skinner, (1998) The Confession of Saint Patrick

[iv] See tr. John Skinner, (1998) The Confession of Saint Patrick, Foreword by John O’Donohue

[v] Ibid.




The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson 10 March 2018


every living cell in and of its self

frets and chafes for Life, connecting to

and nurturing other life, just as

sometime in the time outside all time

God had begun beginning by beginning,

forsaking the lonely splendour of aseity

for a creation born of Love, with Life

its Maker’s signature: bold, vibrant,

bursting out, urgent for God’s sometime

eighth day of the seven follow-through


© the Revd Jim McPherson



The Temple in His Bones

Jan Richardson 3 March 2018

Reading from the Gospels

Lent 3, Year B: John 2: 13 – 22

On my first afternoon in Rome a few years ago, I climbed on the back of my friend Eric’s motorcycle and set off with him to begin my acquaintance with the Eternal City. A few minutes down the road, he told me to close my eyes. When we came to a stop and I opened them, my field of vision was filled with one of the most impressive sights in a city of impressive sights: the Pantheon. Built in the second century AD, the Pantheon replaced the original Pantheon that Marcus Agrippa constructed fewer than three decades before the birth of Christ. A temple dedicated to “all the gods” (hence its name), the Pantheon became a church in the seventh century when Pope Boniface IV consecrated it as the Church of Santa Maria ad Martyres. It’s said that at the moment of the consecration, all the spirits inhabiting the former temple escaped through the oculus—the hole in the Pantheon’s remarkable dome that leaves it perpetually open to the heavens.

As churches go, it’s hard to top the Pantheon for its physical beauty and power. It was perhaps risky to see it on my first day, so high did it set the bar for the rest of my trip. Yet Rome, of course, brims with delights for the eyes, and the next two weeks offered plenty of stunning visual fare. Amid the calculated grandeur, I found that it was the details that charmed me: the intricate pattern of a Cosmatesque marble floor, the shimmer of light on a centuries-old mosaic, the inscribed marble fragments that had been unearthed and plastered to the walls. It was staggering to contemplate the countless hours and years that went into the construction of these spaces, or to fathom the vast wells of talent and skill that generations of architects, artisans, and laborers lavished upon them.

The Roman churches that most linger in my memory are those that possessed a clear congruence between the physical environment and its purpose—those places of worship that were not primarily tourist destinations but true sanctuaries. I felt this congruence keenly, for instance, in the Church of Santa Maria in Trastevere. The space intrigued me from my first moments in it, on the first evening of my trip. I would return several times, learning along the way that one of the many ways the church serves the surrounding Trastevere neighborhood is as a place of prayer for the Community of Sant’Egidio, a lay movement of people who work for reconciliation, peace, solidarity with the poor, and hospitality to pilgrims.

On the day that Jesus sweeps into the temple, it’s this kind of congruence that is pressing on his mind. We don’t know precisely what has him so riled up; after all, particularly with Passover drawing near, there are transactions that need to take place in the temple. As Jesus enters, he sees those who are attending to the business involved in the necessary ritual sacrifices, but he seems to feel it has become simply that: a business. Commercial transaction has overtaken divine interaction. Time for a clearing out, a return to congruence between form and function, to the integrity of the purpose for which the temple was created: to serve as a place of meeting between God and God’s people.

To those who challenge his turning over of the temple, Jesus makes a remarkable claim: that he himself is the temple. “Destroy this temple,” he says to them, “and in three days I will raise it up.” His claim stuns his listeners, who know that the sacred space in which they are standing—the Second Temple, which was in the midst of a massive renovation and expansion started by Herod the Great—has been under construction for forty-six years. John clues us in on the secret that the disciples will later recall: “He was speaking of the temple of his body.”

This scene underscores a particular concern that John carries throughout his gospel: to present Jesus as one who takes into himself, into his own body and being, the purpose of the temple. Richard B. Hays writes that in making the link between Jesus’ body and the temple, this passage provides “a key for much that follows” in John’s gospel. “Jesus now takes over the Temple’s function,” Hays observes, “as a place of mediation between God and human beings.” Hays goes on to point out how Jesus’ sometimes enigmatic sayings about himself in John’s gospel—for instance, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me, and let the one who believes in me drink” and “I am the light of the world”—are references to religious festivals whose symbolism Jesus takes into himself.

Perhaps, then, it all comes down to architecture. The decades of work that have gone into the physical place of worship, the skill of the artisans, the labors of the workers; the role of the temple as a locus of sacrifice, of celebration, of identity as a community; the power and beauty of the holy place: Jesus says, I am this. Jesus carries the temple in his bones. Within the space of his own body that will die, that will rise, that he will offer to us, a living liturgy unfolds.

We will yet see the ways that Jesus uses his body to evoke and provoke, how he will offer his body with all its significations and possibilities as a habitation, a place of meeting, a site of worship. Calling his disciples, at the Last Supper, to abide in him; opening his body on the cross; re-forming his flesh in the resurrection; offering his wounds to Thomas like a portal, a passageway: Jesus presents a body that is radically physical yet also wildly multivalent in its meanings.

The wonder and the mystery of this gospel lection, and of Jesus’ life, lie not only in how he gives his body as a sacred space but also in how he calls us to be his body in this world. Christ’s deep desire, so evident on that day in the temple, is that we pursue the congruence he embodied in himself: that as his body, as his living temple in the world, we take on the forms that will most clearly welcome and mediate his presence. In our bodies, in our lives, in our communities; by our hospitality, by our witness, by our life of prayer: Christ calls us to be a place of meeting between God and God’s people, a living sanctuary for the healing of the world.

The season of Lent beckons us to consider, are there things we need to clear out in order to have the congruence to which Christ invites us? Who helps you recognize what you need to let go of in order to be more present to the God who seeks a sanctuary in you? How is it with your body—your own flesh in which Christ dwells, and the community with which you seek to be the body of Christ in the world? What kind of community do you long for—do you have that? What would it take to find or create it?

In these Lenten days, may we be a place of hospitality to all that is holy. Blessings.

©Jan Richardson

[Richard B. Hays quote from his chapter “The canonical matrix of the gospels” in The Cambridge Companion to the Gospels, ed. Stephen C. Barton.]


Prayers for Cyclone Gita in Aotearoa / New Zealand and the Pacific Islands

The Rev. Maren Tirabassi 23 February 2018

For those on water,

for those who must travel,

for those going in labor with a child

passing from this world,

caring for the ill or the fearful,

for those with memories of winds past,

for those who must go to jobs,

for those who respond to emergencies

because it is their profession,

and for those who simply

watch out for neighbors –

We pray safety,

wisdom in venturing forth,

evacuation packs ready,

peace in crisis, peace in home

©Maren Tirabassi


When time has gone

The Rev. Erice Fairbrother 6 January 2018

When time has gone

And christians find an honest voice

To sing an honest song

travellers will come again

Guided not by far off signs

but by heart-strong beats

and feet firm-treading ways

more simply laid

then wise travellers

will not leave by night

but find beyond their starry pantheons

true rest, a place to stay

tables spread with every kind of nourishment

of stories shared like wine and bread

blessings of peace given and received

in life’s sweet kiss

of open hospitality

© Erice Fairbrother


Let the wonder

Of Epiphany be;

Less of God

Less of me

And more of thee


©Erice Fairbrother



For the Children of War

Ana Lisa de Jong 28 December 2017

God we cry for the children.

For the children who have known nothing else

but war and strife, and chaos.

And loss upon loss upon loss.


Who have run out of tears, and options.

Who trapped sit silenced in shock.

Eyes speaking of a hope

draining out with the blood of the lost.


Has God forgotten the children,

has he left and turned out the light?

Can we believe to find him in the darkness,

can the children see him at all?


And the mother who lost her off-spring,

can he reach her in her heart?

Can he give her a future and a hope

or has the loss cost her too much?


All I know is, God loves the children.

Bring them to me he said.

And he hears the hopeless cries

of the broken, the disbelieving, and bereft.


And although a mother weeps for her children,

and may not be comforted,

a young boy still reaches out to her

while the sibling in his arms lies dead.


No the light has not gone out in Aleppo.

It still shines through the human spirit.

It still burns, albeit weakly,

in the eyes of those who are left.


And in the hands of those who comfort,

who tend and help and treat,

against all odds the injuries,

that never seem to cease.

And although we find it hard to believe,

God is still present there.

And we bring to him the children

while our hearts break in prayer.


We bring them to a Saviour,

who knows that they are there.

©Ana Lisa de Jong


Moments: Grace Upon Grace

The Rev. Dr. Rebecca Button Prichard 24 December 2019


And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us…full of grace and truth [John 1:14]

I’ve never given birth. I’ve never even been present at a birth. But I hear labor and delivery are painful. And tense. And messy. As a pastor, I always had the easy part: visiting the mom and the baby the day after labor and delivery. And usually, when both are healthy and happy, I would walk into a fairly calm and peaceful scene. The newborn is often in a tiny warm crib, or maybe mom is holding her. Usually the baby is sleeping peacefully and the mom is exhausted and relieved and grateful.

New moms usually give me some report of labor and delivery. Sometimes I get more details than I need to know. But what I have learned is that new birth is both scary and exciting, painful and joyful, birth is messy and sweet at the same time. It is emotional. A miracle. Hard work.

And I’m pretty sure the birth of Jesus was like that, only more so. Mary and Joseph were far from home--a long journey, riding on a donkey in the middle of the night, no room at the inn. Mary gave birth to Jesus under especially messy conditions. No doctor. No midwife even. Certainly no clean sheets or hot water. Luke’s account of the birth doesn’t go into details. But anyone who’s given birth and even those of us who haven’t, can only imagine that it was hard and frightening, and joyful and emotional, and messy and at some point, sweet.

This story of new birth is at the center of Christian faith, because God comes to us as a tiny child, a newborn babe, the embodiment of grace.

On Christmas Eve we hear the story of the birth, of the angels and the shepherds, and the glorias. But on Christmas morning, we get to visit the holy family on the morning after, when the baby is sleeping and the mother is exhausted and the father is emotional and everyone is grateful. But they’re still in that cowshed, that stable, and it’s nothing like a room in a clean, well-staffed, modern-day hospital.

The hymns of Christmas, including the poetic hymn that opens John’s gospel, are about glory and royalty, but still, if we look more closely, the hymns of Christmas are also about the common experience of birth, of new birth. The new song we would sing on Christmas morning is more a lullaby than a national anthem, it is a quiet, thankful song that longs for peace and rest and comfort, it is a song that sings of grace.

This is the Word that is made flesh: Grace. God’s Word is given to us as a gift. A gift to be unwrapped and treasured, a gift to be shared, given away. The light that helps us see in the darkness. By grace, God’s life is reproduced in us, repeated, grace upon grace. This is new birth. This is embodied grace. Living the Christ-life, light in the darkness, sweetness in the midst of messiness. The only possible response to this indescribable Gift is gratitude. Gracias. Grazie. Merci. Mercy.

From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace.

©Rebecca Button Prichard



Little Star

Dr. Julie Thorpe 24 December 2017

What is your name,

Your deep name that called to mine

Glowing vermilion? Tiny

Ten toes, cleft fingers

Flung in startle reflex.

But when I pick you up

You stink! Reeking

Of faeces, a honeypot

For flies to carry your spores

Airborne from the volva, then

Burst open as a hollow shoot

In the ground. The cycle begins

each Advent, growing

Star-shaped, blood and guts

Of the earth’s startled cry

To be picked up in its smell

Of fear.

            I name you

Little Star

And lay you in the bed

Of Mary’s garden

Beside a pink geranium

For safekeeping

While I wait

To hear my name.

©Julie Thorpe



Litany with Twelve candles

The Rev. Erice Fairbrother 23 December 2017


We stand in solidarity with all who wait for justice

All:  We wait in solidarity with all who wait for their human rights to be recognised

We remember in solidarity all who suffer from discrimination

All:  We kneel in solidarity with all who pray for their inclusion in Christ to made a reality

Four candles are lit

We weep in solidarity with all who weep out of frustration

All: We lift up our hands in solidarity with all who raise banners and march for freedom

We keep silence in solidarity with all who have been silenced

All: We listen in solidarity with all who are hearing even the stones shout out

Four candles are lit

We live while others debate

All: We love while others debate the right to love

We stand in the presence of the sacred even as the right to sacramental life is debated

All: We are here and remember the many others who cannot be here

Four candles are lit

To cry in frustration

All: To kneel and beseech

To shout like stones

All: To keep sacred silence

A time of silence is held

We gather and hold fast to what is good

All: To love as we have first been loved by the beloved other

The love of the sacred other

All: Source of our truth and freedom

It is in this love we wait, and pray

All: Christ, love-maker

Hear our prayer

© ecfairbrother




The Rev. Joy MacCormick 21 December 2017

She came as if reluctantly

a question burning in her eyes,

and told a tale - such a tale

as both filled and pierced my heart.

Could I believe her?

Could I believe

that of all women she was chosen

to bear the Lord’s Messiah?

Dare I trust her protestation

that no man had fathered

the child she carries?

Darkness, disillusionment, despair,

vision of our future crumbled into dust!

I needed time to think, to pray,

to let the numbness pass;

process the implications.

She said she understood;

would wait for my response –

however long it took,

whatever it might be.

And then that dream!

So vivid, urgent, powerful,

there was no room for doubt.

Like her I heard the voice of God.

Like her I knew the awesome truth

that both of us were chosen.

… Joseph, being a righteous man and unwilling to expose her to public disgrace, planned to dismiss her quietly. But just when he had resolved to do this an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream …

(Matthew 1:19-20 ff)

How have you recognised God’s guidance in times of turmoil and distress? Do you believe God speaks today through dreams? Why or why not?

What if Joseph had ignored his dream?

(c) Joy MacCormick


Collect for the God of Presents

The Rev. Maren Tirabassi 19 December 2017

God, who asks

‘do you want it gift-wrapped?’

and means a choice of sunset

or a purple nightime sky with stars,

thank you for all the presents,

the sweet ordinary things –

elbows, chocolate,

toothbrushes and running shoes,

people who come in the night

in the ambulance to help,

beagles in bed, old cranky prophets

who won’t let us forget justice.

Thank you as well

for helping us find hope

even in the things you did not give –

road rage, Parkinson’s disease,

the deporting of our neighbors,

death by suicide

of someone we love.

Tie us with the curling ribbon

tendril of your love,

when something in life tries to make scrooges of us

and we can’t hold ourselves

together alone..Amen.

©Maren Tirabassi



Pat Marsh 18 December 2017

a divorce

a stoning

a broken betrothal



family life fractured



broken hearts and troubled minds

all these and more

the possible implications

in the wake of Mary’s ‘yes’

is this what

favour with God

looks like

could we too

say the Mighty One has done great things

would we

be able to magnify the Lord

how will we respond

when our calling comes,

in the face

of myriad implications




quietly consented

to birth the One

who would later say

take up your cross

and follow me

can we respond with such incredible grace

©Pat Marsh


We See The Light

The Rev. Dr. Peter Millar 17 December 2017

In violent times,

beautiful words,

centuries old,

resonant with truth:

‘Because of your light, Lord,

we see the light.’*

That light, even now,


our terror-stricken age

with the possiblity of change:

offering our over-burdened hearts

a resting place

that a deeper compassion

may be our companion –

an energy of love

to struggle for justice,

to be a wounded healer,

to share what we have,

to carry hope in our hearts,

to laugh and to love,

perhaps, all in one day!

©Peter Millar (previously published in Candles and Conifers, Wild Goose Publications)


Headlong to Christmas

Pat Marsh 17 December 2017

the rush

has begun

and we know

it can only get worse

as we race



what passes

for the celebrations of your birth

holy child

give us

islands of stillness

in the frenzy of preparation

give us snatches

of peace

amid the tensions

of others’ expectations

and in the excesses

of the shopping mall

remind us

of the simple poverty

of the stable

Holy Child

as we rush towards Christmas

give us your stillness

your peace

your simplicity

give us especially

the gift of yourself

©Pat Marsh



Tis the season

Tess Ashton 15 December 2017

bird on a wire

let me hear your song

bird on a wire

you can do no wrong

for your singing is

as love to me

your tender trill

thrills my ear and soul


bird on a wire

tell me where your voice

comes from

your plumes so soft

that write upon my heart

and i shall leap upon

the horse dressed in red

up on the goldy-green hill

beyond the people

waiting for the train

so still

and i will try to catch your maker

before the sun comes up

while he is cool and resting


bird on a wire should i find him

i will ask why do the birds

sing so prettily to us

and why do they

talk of love

tell me lover

i shall say

what it is love bears

to play for us that love-torn



i’ll tell him i have heard your trill

that the flowers have appeared

in our land

that the winter has gone

and the rains are over

already i know the answer

this is the season

of the turtledove

we are to arise

and come away

©Tess Ashton



God of Small Things

Ana Lisa de Jong 14 December 2017

My God is the God of small things.


Newborn babies.

Nutshells that contain multiple truths

in humble small containers.

My God is the God of small beginnings.

Like breathing

or opening eyelids.

If we but move today

we can accomplish what he asks.

God, my God of swaddled babes

that fumble for the breast

He teaches us the worth of

lying still in trust.

My God is the God of humble things.


Beds of straw.

Lives that don’t amount to much

if judged upon their origins.

My God is the God of silent things.


Passages in the dark.

Quiet incubators, within which cells divide

and muscles stretch towards the light.

God, my God of birth pangs

and pain that finds release

He teaches us that the dark

often precedes new life.

My God is the god of honed things

Parred down.


A carpenter sanding back the wood

to reveal the grain beneath.

My God is the God of beloved things.



Rescued for nothing they have done,

but because of a plan of redemption.

God, my God of Christmas coming

somehow the wonder of Advent

is knowing we need do nothing

but let new life be birthed in us.

©Ana Lisa de Jong

Living Tree Poetry



The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 12 December 2017

Scarlet, indigo and azure

kðhatu veined with gold

and lapis lazuli

fireflies of silver.

Textured tapestry

ocean breeze

soft petals

caressing skin

nestled in warm grass

blush of pomegranates.

Breath of ancient trees

rush of many wings

symphony of cicadas

in the afternoon.

Honey from manuka flowers

devotion of bees

sweet wine


in the drowsy air.

Salt on lips




Flamenco dance of cinnabar moths

sacred fleeting butterflies.

Sitting by the fire

memory re-members

summers past

expectant with possibility

assisting God in a miracle.

©Hilary Oxford Smith

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible Summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back. - Albert Camus


Called from our Desert Places

The Rev. David Poultney 10 December 2017

(Advent 2b: Isaiah 40:1-11, Mark 1:1-8)

I am sure that each of us has at some point tossed a stone into a lake and seen ripple after ripple come from the epicentre, the place where the stone hits the water. One little thing seems to have an impact out of all relation to its actual size. The German philosopher Johann Fichte, and I swear this is as high brow as I’m going to get, wrote this about the impact of a seemingly insignificant act:

you could not remove a single grain of sand from its place without thereby changing something in all parts throughout the immeasurable whole.

Though he could not know it, he was one of the intellectual founders of what we now know as the butterfly effect; a belief that apparently small insignificant things – like the flapping of a butterfly’s wings – can have a major impact on the world.

We live in a cycle of cause and effect, we begin things that we cannot know where they will l lead to, we act in certain ways because events far away and possibly long ago have determined that this is how we will act.

One hundred years ago British and ANZAC forces captured Palestine. The British seeking to gain the loyalty or at least the acquiescence of the population made different promises to the Arab and Jewish communities. The former were promised national self determination, the latter – in the Balfour Declaration – were promised a ”national home.” Of course, the British took over the running of Palestine so there was no self determination for the Arabs and in time the Jewish community in Palestine became a Jewish State; the same UN vote which permitted a State of Israel also authorised a Palestinian state but the Arab states determined this could not come to be until Israel was destroyed.

Even following a partial Arab recognition of Israel, the conditions for a Palestinian state have been elusive. Words the British used to placate two different populations never went away, words said to buy cooperation and keep the peace have fed conflict and war.

While Britain became the protecting power in Palestine, New Zealand took over responsibility for what had been German Samoa. Another little flutter of butterfly wings which has been felt over time, changing history for both the people of Samoa and the people of New Zealand. Our stories have become intertwined in ways that could never have been imagined way back then.

Strange isn’t it? That the farthest ripple of a war which began with an assassination in the Balkans was a change in who governed some far away islands deep in the South Pacific; a real butterfly effect. But World War One changed so much and not with the delicate flutter of wings. In the words of W.B. Yeats whose The Second Coming we heard last week, all was changed and changed utterly.

Small, seemingly insignificant things ripple still. Nowhere more so than in our impact on the environment. Think of how many plastic bags you have used in the last year, where do they end up, or the plastic microbeads in shampoos, conditioners, shower gel; where do they go? Ultimately it seems much of it goes down to the sea where it does great harm. The world itself is in pain and in need, and so too are we. We are not – like Yeats – emerging into a world that has changed and changed utterly – but for much of humanity, life is more fragile, stability more precarious, peace more elusive than here.

The world itself needs newness, so do people everywhere; it has always been this way.

The truth of it is that it was ever thus. Since the beginning of time, it seems that thoughtful people have taken a good long look at the world around them and, with a shudder, have decided they don’t like what they see. It was certainly true of Jesus’ time and place.

The time and place Jesus was born into and which was seen as the context of his ministry was marked by occupation, oppression, injustice and brute force. It was a broken place, like every place there has ever been maybe! And in Advent we are invited to reflect on and name that brokenness which stands in need of redemption.

The German theologian and martyr – Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote

the celebration of Advent is only possible to those who are troubled in soul, who know themselves to be poor and imperfect, who look forward to something greater to come. For these, it is enough to wait in humble fear until the Holy One comes down to us. God in the child, in the manger.

Both our readings today are food to the soul that waits. The promise of a new day dawning.

If you look at classical art based on the Advent stories, say of Gabriel’s annunciation to Mary, it is often set in a world which seems faded, broken down, littered with the ruins of the past. There is something of Bonhoeffer’s point in this. Advent speaks to our turmoil, our failure and brokenness and offers hope where hope seems to have fled.

A colleague when I worked in Mental Healthcare once said of the world that if you’re not depressed, you’re not paying attention. His point was that being depressed is an entirely rational response to how the world is and we kind of get his point.

Advent isn’t about saying the world is just fine, or that we live in the best of all possible worlds; what it’s saying is that another world is possible, that there is a better way despite the darkness, the sorrow and brokenness which mar and wound the world.

Our reading from Isaiah speaks to this. It comes at the beginning of what biblical commentators call Deutero Isaiah, the second part of the book. The first part – what went before – was dominated by loss, exile, the threat of the disappearance of the Covenant people from history. This second part is concerned with the end of exile and the possibility of a new beginning.

Our reading began with these words, Comfort, o comfort my people. Well known words. If I were a half decent tenor I might attempt a spot of Handel at this stage! But I’ll spare you that, I can carry a tune but not far.

What follows speaks of the possibility of newness. The part of the text most familiar to us Christians, especially at Advent, is:

In the wilderness prepare the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Words echoed in the beginning of Mark’s Gospel, words which Christians immediately associate with John the Baptist, whose story we read as being an anticipation of and preparation for the story of Jesus.

John is presented to us as calling for repentance and the forgiveness of sins, rather forbidding language, language we do not use much in this church. Repentance can have a bad name, it can carry overtones of preoccupation with sin and those who preach it can appear to be manipulative.

But what it means, simply and undramatically is to change, to change your bearings, to go in a new direction. Repentance was an act of hope in the possibility of the new and an acknowledgement that for the new to come to be, then people had to live differently.

Though he is an odd character, angular and uncomfortable, living there on the edge of the desert in animal skins, surviving on honey and locusts, John is a charismatic personality, he draws a crowd. People are drawn to him and to his offer of newness and they present themselves for ritual purification, total immersion in moving, flowing water; the Jewish ritual origin of our baptism. It wasn’t magic, it didn’t change the world, but it was a cleansing, a statement of intent to live differently.

This is all very interesting – I hope – but what can it say to us, these stories from far away and long ago? That they speak in our wilderness now, in our experiences of exile, of alienation, or sense of a fractured and wounded world, of our need for newness.

We too are called, invited to turn in a new direction and to live differently, to live in the direction of wholeness, to live in the direction of justice, to live in the direction of mercy, to live in the direction of the world’s healing.

In these remaining Advent days, as the days lengthen may we know that other brightness, the light of holy possibility, the light of newness, may it shine brightly and lead us once more to our every Bethlehem.

©The Ref. David Poultney


David is Prestyer of St. John’s in the City Methodist Church, Nelson, New Zealand


Blessing for Waiting

Jan Richardson 8 December 2017

Who wait

for the night

to end

bless them.

Who wait

for the night

to begin

bless them.

Who wait

in the hospital room

who wait

in the cell

who wait

in prayer

bless them.

Who wait

for news

who wait

for the phone call

who wait

for a word

who wait

for a job

a house

a child

bless them.

Who wait

for one who

will come home

who wait

for one who

will not come home

bless them.

Who wait with fear

who wait with joy

who wait with peace

who wait with rage

who wait for the end

who wait for the beginning

who wait alone

who wait together

bless them.

Who wait

without knowing

what they wait for

or why

bless them.

Who wait

when they

should not wait

who wait

when they should be

in motion

who wait

when they need

to rise

who wait

when they need

to set out

bless them.

Who wait

for the end

of waiting

who wait

for the fullness

of time

who wait

emptied and

open and


who wait

for you,

o bless.

©Jan Richardson


Blessing for Waiting is published in Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons by Jan Richardson


December 6 St. Nicholas Day

The Rev. Maren Tirabassi 6 December 2017

For the generosity of children

I give thanks;

for the way children believe

miracles can visit them,

I give thanks.

Even for how they are glued

to commercials,

write letters to Santa,

are unashamed of being excited,

I give thanks.

Today I promise to strip off

my John-the-Baptist

camel-hair dour,

and oil the reindeer harness,

exchange my locavore locust-lunch

for a one-legged gingerbread,

and find an empty stocking

in the life of someone I know –

young or old –

to fill with the generosity

that a child teaches me. Amen.

©Maren Tirabassi


I Walk Dangerous Paths

Liz Knowles 3 December 2017

I walk dangerous paths

the line

between right and wrong

I am not always right

(I am not always wrong)

no parallel lines



converge in places

where boundaries are not defined


I dream

of arrival.

©Liz Knowles

This poem first published in Candles and Conifers, ed. Ruth Burgess, Wild Goose Publications


Quantum Theology

The Rev. Joy MacCormick 18 October 2017

I am no physicist!

The more I try to understand

the more confused, bewildered, I become.

Yet what mind can scarce begin to comprehend

is recognised as truth

some part of me has always known.

Once, science sprouted from theology;

now physics seeks to dialogue with faith –

reveals the power of consciousness, of prayer,

to be the same creative energy

that drives the cosmos.

Humans call it “holy”.

For is not “God” a naming

of that unbounded power –

transcendent source of everything that is;

binding together and sustaining,

through its energy,

every subatomic particle?

How easy to forget

that words are not, themselves, reality;

are merely symbols representing thought,

enabling sharing, and promoting exploration.

“God” or “Alaha”* “Energy” or “Matrix”

All point to Unity – for those with eyes to see.

* “In Aramaic, the name Alaha refers to the Divine.  It means

variously: Sacred Unity, Oneness, the All, the Ultimate

Power/Potential, the One with no opposite” (Neil Douglas-Klotz, “The Hidden Gospel”)

“What is truth?” asked Pilate of Jesus.   (John 18:38)

It is difficult, and often frightening, to let go of what has been received as truth.  Living at a time when accepted scientific truth is being overturned by the discoveries of quantum physicists means facing the need to do just this - to be open to the possibility that the laws of physics as we have known them are no longer binding; that everything in the world, and indeed the cosmos, is connected to everything else; that there may be many more than four dimensions and even parallel realities; that humans have the power, through conscious awareness, to create all the changes they choose; that this is accomplished through feelings and beliefs rather than thoughts and words.   (Jesus declared “Whatever you ask for in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.”  Mark 11:24)

New understandings of how the cosmos operates mean new understandings about God.  It has been said that institutions are guardians of received truth and resistant to new understandings.  (Galileo was persecuted by the Inquisition for declaring that the earth was not the centre of the universe but moved round the sun, and not until 1991 did the Church acknowledge that he was correct!)  To what extent is resistance still a feature of the Church?

You will know the truth and the truth will make you free” (John 8:32) promised the one who also said “See, I am making all things new.”  (Rev. 21:5)  In Romans 12:2 we read “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds . . . .”


How resistant am I to new understandings –

                                           particularly those relating to God?

FROM  what might I need to be made free?

FOR  what might I need to be made free?

Do I want/am I willing to be made free?

Ask God to help you discern the answers to the above questions.

© Joy MacCormick




February Tales

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 25 September 2017

An uncertain summer. ‘If people don’t like the weather, just let them wait a few minutes’, said Mark Twain. South Island dancing fantails feast on the wing. Cicadas chatter in the forest. Bees buzz about the dahlias.

Candles made from the sweetness of their honeycombs are blessed on 2 February, the great Feast of Candlemas. Much of Christendom will remember the infant Jesus being carried into the Temple at Jerusalem by Mary and Joseph and being presented to Simeon, the elderly priest and the widow prophetess, Anna.

Simeon takes the child into his arms and with Anna, realizes, in that very moment, that this is the Messiah, the Light of the World.

It is a story of fragile hope then and now, for we live in unpredictable times. It was ever thus. Simeon and Anna, with all the wisdom of their years, knew that.

In our day, women and men are protesting more and more. Governments and the status quo are being overturned. The utterances of politicians, big business and bankers are being seriously questioned. Leaders are being brought to account. Religious doctrine is no longer exercising the same power and control over many people. Collusion with and a tolerance for the disrespect and degradation of Mother earth by multi-nationals and other individuals, is now the subject of a collective and deeper scrutiny.

Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr, (1808 – 1890), the French writer and novelist, was famous for saying,

‘plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose’, meaning in English ‘the more things change, the more they stay the same’.

When he was Editor of Le Figaro, Karr began a monthly satirical journal called Les Guêpes, (The Wasps) writing words that fearlessly stung corrupt and dishonest politicians. If he had lived now and in almost any other country, he would probably be writing much the same.

Karr retired to Nice where he wrote the book I am currently reading, A Tour Round My Garden, a collection of letters written to his friend who was in the habit of extolling the virtues and wonders of travelling around the world. Karr, though, found beauty and solace in his garden, believing that there were more beautiful things to experience there than his friend could ever experience travelling overseas.

Flowers made love, he wrote, birds sang of their love of life, beetles and butterflies became transformed through patience and struggle. His garden and everything in it was a constant miracle, a source of wonder, a return to Eden.

‘Is there a blade of grass which is not greater than all the mythologies of all times and all nations?’, he asked.

Alphonse had discerned the vulnerability and fragility, the strength and the grace of the Incarnation.

‘Some people grumble that roses have thorns; I am grateful that thorns have roses’.

When I lived in Nice, friends and I would sometimes eat at Les Viviers on the street immortalizing Karr’s name. Opened in the early 20th century, generations before us had sat at the same tables, lit by candlelight, sharing food and a little too much wine perhaps.

They heard of wars and rumours of wars, denounced presidents and politicians, shrugged shoulders (as only the French can do) at religious pomposity; lovers gazed into eachother’s bright, so beautiful; old women and men ate in comfortable silence; children waited expectantly for bowls of ice-cream.

Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose.

Karr’s book was translated into English by the Rev. John George Wood, a graduate of Merton College, Oxford and ordained a priest in 1854. He was chaplain to St. Bartholomew’s Hospital and to the splendidly-named Boatmen’s Floating Chapel at Oxford. Now it is a Thai restaurant called Bangkok House.

On 1 February, the ancient Gaelic festival of Imbolc, marked the halfway point between the winter solstice and the spring equinox in the Northern Hemisphere.

Meanwhile in Aoteraoa New Zealand, at Canaan Downs, which derives its name from that biblical land of milk and honey, the harvest festival of Lughnasadgh, which occurs halfway between the summer solstice and the autumn equinox, is underway amongst ancient beech trees, offering an earth friendly festival of music, art, dance, creativity and sustainability.

Saint Brigid’s Feast Day was also celebrated yesterday. Brigid, an Irish nun, who shares her name with a Celtic goddess, is Patroness of Ireland. Born in 450AD, she is accredited, amongst other virtues, with creating, from rushes and straw, a unique cross that has since borne her name.

The story goes that Brigid was asked to visit an old pagan chieftain who was dying, in the hope that she might be able to calm his restless spirit. As she sat beside his bed, she picked up some of the rushes from the floor of the room and started weaving them together, forming a cross. She shared the meaning of the cross with him and her words brought peace to his soul. Captivated by her presence and her story, he asked to be baptised before his death.

Brigid’s name lives on, not least in this land of the long white cloud - at schools in Dunedin and Wellington and at churches in Loburn, Pahiatua, Feilding and Waiteti.

Snowdrops, so pure, so perfect, are emerging from the hard soil of many cold places on earth. They are also called Candlemas bells. We hear their song. We light a candle.

©Hilary Oxford Smith


Dark and Light: A Solstice Story

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 25 September 2017

It is a bright, blue, winter morning in the Southern Hemisphere and the winter solstice stretches our imagination.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice heralds the longest day of light. Midsummers of my youth were filled with heady playtimes, swimming with dolphins and dancing with seals, searching for crabs and other sea creatures in rock pools…our footsteps and shadows sending them into hiding. We gathered pink pearly shells and driftwood from the strandline of the beach and bedtime was hours away.

At night it was light and from the bed in my grandparent's house, I could look through the open curtains to the ocean and watch the midnight sun. Golden calendula marigolds grew in abundance in the garden, the petals adding colour to home-made butter.

Midsummer is known as St. John's Day in the Christian Church. It is said that John the Baptist was born on the 24th June. Feasting on wild honey and locusts, he spoke of the coming of the Messiah. Not for him the celebration of his death day or martyrdom. Rather, a feast of the nativity, like Christmas, at Midsummer.

As the days have shortened in New Zealand, it has still been lighter at the winter solstice than I remember in my homeland. Daylight there was pale and fleeting with remnants of warmth. The sun set early in the afternoon and birds flew towards the shelter of trees to roost through the longest night.

The Scottish poet and writer, Kathleen Jamie writes about Light and Darkness. She believes that Darkness has been too much maligned, not least in Christian theology, 'because of the metaphorical dark…we are constantly concerned to banish the natural dark...'

So with rucksack on back, she sailed from Aberdeen to the whale-shaped Orkney Islands in search of 'real, natural, starry dark'. The chambered burial mound of Maes Howe, built around 2700BC, drew her into its mystery.

Around the time of the winter solstice, the midwinter sun rises from the Hoy Hills. As it sets, its rays strike the nearby Neolithic Barnhouse Stone, perfectly aligned to the entrance of Maes Howe and the tomb's dark passageway becomes illuminated with light.

Clouds clouded her mystical experience though. She also found the tomb filled with artificial light as surveyors mapped the walls with lasers so that they could investigate worrying cracks in the stone. On her return to the mainland, she could not even find the natural dark out at sea because of the lights from small coastal settlements and dazzlingly lit oil rigs.

'For five thousand years we have used darkness as the metaphor of our mortality...we have not banished death, but we have banished the dark. We have light, we have oilfields and electricity and lasers. And by the light we have made, we can see that there are, metaphorically speaking, cracks. We are doing damage. The surveyors poring over the tomb are working in an anxious age. We look about the world, by the light we have made, and realise it's all vulnerable, and all worth saving, and no one can do it but us.'

Often we want to look away from the brokenness around us in the world because we are afraid that we might be overwhelmed by the dark. Yet the life of the Divine is within the dark. The secret and hopeful work of winter has already begun deep in the cold earth.

In New Zealand, snow has fallen in the high country and when the new moon follows the rising of Matariki, the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters star constellation in the Southern sky, it will be time for our Māori brothers and sisters and those who respect and participate in their culture and traditions, to celebrate the Māori New Year.

This ancient and spiritual festival plays out across our land with the revival of celebratory events of culture, language, spirit and people. Thankfulness is expressed for the gifts of mother earth and for the land on which we live and which sustains us. Ancestors are remembered with loving respect. Lengthening days of light, growth, change and new thresholds to cross are hoped for.

When Kathleen Jamie returned home from her journey of seeking the dark, she wrote,

'...we were going out for dinner. Our friends' cottage was inviting in candlelight, and the curtains were open to show black night pressed against the windows. In the warm light, we…drank a toast, because tonight was midwinter's night, the night of the complicit kiss, and tomorrow the light would begin its return.'

In the places of winter's passage, may the long dark nights shelter us.

In the places of summer's passage, may the long days of light refresh us.

©Hilary Oxford Smith


Kathleen Jamie, Findings, (Sort Of Books 2005)


This Will Pass

Ana Lisa de Jong 18 September 2017


This too will pass.


This will pass like the sun rising.

This will pass like a breath of wind

across the face of a leaf.


Like the butterfly,

who just this morning came,

in a flash of bright colour, and then went.


It will pass.


Those things you worry at now,

with the tip of your tongue.

Lift up, and weigh, and heavily put down.


They will pass.


The things sore yet,

and burdensome upon your heart.

They will catch the wind, and graciously depart.


They will pass.


And behind, in their wake,

might come more things.

But you know this, just as you know yourself adequate.


For all things pass.


The butterfly reminds of you this,

as does the falling leaf.

And the rising sun, warm now,


upon your upturned cheek.

©Ana Lisa de Jong



Along the Verge

The Rev. John Fairbrother 30 August 2017

No surrender, holding the line of retreat and advance,

countless blades wave in sullied draft declaring

nature’s vulnerable defiance, bending

(springing as a warrior might respond)

to force of threat overwhelming life.

These simple leaves - complexity’s prophets, or surplus

fodder - defend space between fence and seal,

overlooked, dismissed in hurried expediency

to an economy’s greater cause.




Autumn leaf

The Rev. John Fairbrother 30 August 2017

Falling: Round small, golden light

Nudged from place, purpose done;

riding air in descent like flight

decay for energy to become

radical elements of earth and air,

among circumstance and chance,

to meld again without intent or care

nature’s way for life to enhance

fertility’s cyclic dance with death

yet, emotion softens indifferent birth

diverting fears with romantic breath

making beauty of decaying worth.

Matter portrays an endless dance,

energy held in intimate embrace,

no more stable than sideways glance

as change commands survival’s race

between birth and death, indifference

remains constant in leaf and stone;

matter and energy provide no fence

for life that knows it is alone.




The Rev. John Fairbrother 30 August 2017

Peripheral glimpse catching a view.

A river, reflective, ambling with the road,

sweeping across farmland, beneath trees

shading banks where life might flourish

and detritus begins a journey to the sea.

In a flash, shutter-like, the mind receives

an image that remains, knowing beauty,

barely held beyond the instant of sight:

Seen at speed, seen by chance, valued

like hope, lingering in the troubled domain.

Safety commands attention for the road,

time for work the object to be overcome.

Vista pass like graffiti on a subway wall,

apart from purpose, leaving romance,

if alive, languishing in a wake.

A scene, insisting, caught in a beat,

Becoming refined in feelings cast

like shade across another landscape revealing

a fractured traverse where heart and mind

struggle beneath distraction and dis-ease.

(c) JFF


Home (for CU)

Stuart Holmes Coleman 18 August 2017

In all his years of wondering

across oceans to far away islands

searching for a place to call home

the man never imagined finding

such calm in a woman’s eyes.

They glimmered like bright stars

guiding sailors through the darkness

and when she looked into his own

the man merged with the woman

like a lost soul finding its mate

a sea of love enveloping them both

and he knew at last he was home.

©Stuart Coleman


The Year That Answered

Stuart Holmes Coleman 18 August 2017

There is a kind of wind that blows

during certain days of the year

and it’s almost as if it knows

how to stir up our deepest fears.

On one of those winter nights

I called my mom and said, I feel

as if I might not ever find

a partner or a love that’s real.

She said, Don’t worry, take your time.

For there are years that ask questions

and there are years that give answers.

Her words lingered in my mind

and then settled over my soul

like a warm blanket that winter

when even the sun felt cold.

There is a kind of light that shines

during certain days of the year

and it seems to calm our minds

and settle our deepest fears.

On one of those summer days

I went to an ancient city

and saw a couple whose forms lay

enshrined in ash eternally.

By the time I returned home

something opened up inside me

and I felt alive not alone.

Then one day at a little café

I felt a tap on my shoulder

And when I turned around I knew

The year had finally answered

And I at last had found you.

©Stuart Coleman


Cain and Abel - Through Another Lens

The Rev. Joy MacCormick 6 August 2017

Recent rereading of Riane Eisler’s book The Chalice and the Blade (Harper San Francisco 1987) on the origin and development of early European human culture and society, sparked again memories of my discomfort with the story of Cain and Abel (Genesis 4:2-16) - less for the issue of fratricide than for the image of God as apparently capricious and unfair, rejecting the offering of grain in favour of blood sacrifice. In this book I found another way of understanding what might be at the core of this tale.

In her book Riane comments that in virtually every present-day culture there exists a myth of a golden age in which everyone and everything flourished, art and culture were highly developed and people lived in peace before being destroyed by some cataclysmic disaster. She suggests that this might actually be folk memory of Palaeolithic and Neolithic societies “where the first great breakthroughs in material and social technology were made” and a common feature was the worship of the Goddess - provider of life and all that sustained it.

Archaeological evidence from many sites suggests that in these early societies social organisation was basically co-operative rather than hierarchical, the fruits of the earth were seen as belonging to all members of the group and there were no ranked distinctions of class or sex. Everybody contributed to the welfare of the group and to the worship of the Goddess in increasingly elaborate rituals including offerings of grain and fruit. Societies were based on equality and partnership.

A golden age indeed in spite of inevitable tensions and hardships!

By about 5000 BCE there is evidence of natural catastrophes and ‘a long line of invasions from the Asiatic and European north by nomadic peoples. Ruled by powerful priests and warriors, they brought with them their male gods of war and mountains.’ (p44) This caused large scale disruption and dislocation as strength and hierarchy replaced partnership and equality. Sweeping away the worship of the Goddess with its grain and fruit offerings, they imposed worship of their warrior God to whom only blood sacrifice was acceptable. Among other nomadic invaders were the Hebrews who invaded Canaan and also brought with them a fierce and angry god of war and mountains (Yahweh) and imposed their ways on the peoples of the lands they conquered.

I now wonder whether the biblical account of Cain and Abel might also be folk memory of a time when the old ways were wiped out by invaders, bringing in and imposing their own culture and religion; when those who clung to the old values and old ways were driven out to become ‘wanderers on the earth’.

What do you think?

© Joy MacCormick


The Scribbler's Song (for CU)

Stuart Holmes Coleman 18 July 2017

If only I were an artist

I would paint portraits of you

lying on your side in bed

your hand holding your head

a smile lighting up the world

like the sunrise that morning

when I first thought, I love you.

If only I were a musician

I would compose songs for you

holding tightly to my guitar

the way I once held you

embracing all that you are

my fingers caressing chords

of love as I sang from afar.

But I am just a scribbler

sketching these lines for you

fledgling words waiting to fly

like hawks soaring across the sky

or starlings singing on phone lines

the notes of a fleeting song

as my thoughts fly home to you.

©Stuart Coleman


Spring clean

Peter Clague 18 July 2017

let me sweep your church

I’d leave the door ajar

to split the glimpses of grace,

remind them who you are.

those who peek within

drawn to your loyal side

& you would see without

the futility of pride.

I’d stir up with my broom

the dust of fusty pews

service to a servant

a friend they stand to lose.

I’d clean the stained glass too

for a little light to shed

in a gloomy, stale state

the vision’s limited.

let me sweep your church

I’d fling the door back wide

so you might hear your calling

to stay, or step outside.

©Peter Clague


The Auburn-Haired Virgin

The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson 18 July 2017


mortally imperilling herself

for love of God, her courage

far surpassing our conceiving;


the Sinai flame transfiguring

her hair identifies the newest

and most singular of human cells


© the Revd Jim McPherson


The Skylark Ascending

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 25 June 2017


The embers of a late Autumn. Morning mists, fruitfulness, golden light, wind in my hair. Diamond-shaped Feijoa fruit carpet the ground. Colours of toffee apples, cinnamon and buttercups make each leaf a work of art.

We live in the mountains and in just one day, Autumn has given way to Winter. Snow covers the peaks and the landscape is thinning out. More and more revealed.

It is time for comfort, for good food and warmth, for home and to sit by the hearth. A welcoming place. The fire, made with the wrinkled bodies of logs, crackles with orange and crirmson sparks and stories are patterned with flames of light.

‘Then (the fire)…settles to quietude, or maybe gratitude, as it feeds as we all do, as we must, upon the invisible gift: our purest, sweet necessity: the air.’[i]

For my Highland ancestors, the ceremony of smooring the fire was a nightly quietude. The embers were evenly spread on the hearth, formed into a circle and then the circle was divided into three and a peat laid between each section.

The first peat was laid down in the name of the God of Creation, the second in the name of the God of Peace, the third in the name of the God of Grace. The circle was then covered over with ashes to subdue but not to extinguish the Three of Light throughout the darkness of the night. And these words were whispered over it,

‘The sacred Three

to save,

to shield,

to surround

the hearth,

the house,

the household,

this eve,

this night,

and every night,


I have always loved this Celtic spirituality and as we gently subdue, before midnight, the embers of the fire in our little home, we are thankful to be warmed by the trees and to hear the voices of people long ago.

Earlier this month, Vaughan Park celebrated the tenth anniversary of the building of its Chapel, named in honour of Ngāpuhi Chief, Ruatara. The Chapel faces north towards Tai Tokerau, the tūrangawaewae of Ruatara.

On Christmas Day, 1814, at the invitation of Ruatara, English clergyman, the Rev. Samuel Marsden landed at Rangihoua in the Bay of Islands. With the help of Ruatara, he was able to establish a Christian mission in the area. Marsden wrote,

‘…I saw the English flag flying, which was a pleasing sight in New Zealand. I considered it as the signal for the dawn of civilization, liberty, and religion in that dark and benighted land. I never viewed the British colours with more gratification, and flattered myself they would never be removed till the natives of that island enjoyed all the happiness of British subjects.’[iii]

This land, though, was already spiritually beautiful and sacred. The indigenous people of the land were artists, teachers, singers, poets, gardeners, sculptors, sages, cherishing ancient belief systems and a creation spirituality. Ruatara and his people had much to share and to teach Marsden and his like, then and now.

I travelled to Rangihoua in late March with two friends of Vaughan Park – Becky, a visiting Professor of Theology from Los Angeles and Jacynthia, an Anglican priest. Jacynthia shared stories about her people, also Ngāpuhi, enlightening our thinking and deepening our understanding.

We listened to music, looked up at the Milky Way and found the Southern Cross in the evening sky. We felt the warmth of a fading sun, followed the shifting light and smelled the fragrance of fields in this thin place, where the veil between heaven and earth is as fine as gossamer.

I have recently discovered a little Retreat House, called Oasis, another thin place in the midst of an overcrowded Auckland. Andrew and Margaret Dunn, with the help of their family, carved into the steep hillside of a native forest on their property, a labyrinth in the shape of an unfolding tree fern, called the Koru.

The Koru is a sacred symbol for Māori, expressing creation – birth, life, death, renewal, eternity. It has a circular shape, each delicate frond unfurling towards the light.

As I walked this labyrinth, I began to realise how weary I was. It had been a busy week with lots to do and much to think about. Slowly my spirit lifted and it was as if I could hear the music of the kōauau accompanied by the song of kereru, korimako and tui. Little piwakawaka swooped here and there.

I sat on a seat at the centre of the Koru and looked at the tall trees above me, their branches opening out to the lights of the sky. Beneath my feet, fungi coloured the forest floor.

And I was that little girl again, walking excitedly into the magic wood with my father, mother and brother. We loved to go there because it was mysterious and full of wonder. We heard the growing and speaking of the trees. We sensed the creatures watching us. The presences and spirits of the wood accompanied us. We filled our small pockets with fir cones that had fallen to the ground.

An unexpected moment of remembering about the loss and the love at the heart of our family’s story. We four, together again.

It is Ascension Day, 40 days after Easter. The May blossom will be out north of the Equator, while here, fading roses still bloom. Christ has been busy with post-resurrection appearances - meeting the Mary’s, and the disciples, including Thomas, of course. He has walked to Emmaus, cooked breakfast at the beach and now, on the Mount of Olives, is taking his leave to be with his Father in heaven. Christ - gone from our earthly sight yet his spirit of light and love found everywhere.

I have been reminded of a piece of music composed by Ralph Vaughan Williams called ‘The Lark Ascending’. He wrote a draft of it on the eve of the First World War and completed it after peace had been declared. He had been inspired by George Meredith’s poem of the same name.

‘…He rises and begins to round,

He drops the silver chain of sound,

Of many links without a break,

In chirrup, whistle, slur and shake.

…For singing till his heaven fills,

‘Tis love of earth that he instils,

And ever winging up and up

Our valley is his gold cup,

And he the wine which overflows

To lift us with him as he goes…’[iv]

It is a dramatic and sweet melody about a little bird who bravely soars from the earth to the heavens, taking with it the sorrow and pain, the desolation and loss and limitations of life and transforming them into something different - forever beautiful, forever singing, forever renewing.

In these uncertain times, it is this courage, this graceful love and this hope that will sustain us.

©Hilary Oxford Smith

Image Tom Lee,

‘The Lark Ascending’, Ralph Vaughan Williams



[i] Mary Oliver, Thirst: Poems.

[ii] Alexander Carmichael, Carmina Gadelica, Volume 1, p. 235

[iii] J. R. Elder, ed., The Letters and Journals of Samuel Marsden1865-1838, pp. 993-94.

[iv] George Meredith, The Lark Ascending.


Living In A History

Fr. Martin Davies 25 June 2017

We shape our buildings, and afterwards our buildings shape us.[i]

     Winston Churchill

...what we build will, over the years, shape how we understand God.[ii]

     Anselme Dimier

In the few months since arriving in Stroud I have increasingly appreciated Saint John’s Church – this building to house the Church. At first sight, my attention is held by three features of the building: the high twin pulpits; the particularly small sanctuary; and the choir seating.

These features cause me to reflect on understandings of the Church and worship at the time of its construction, and where continuities and divergences may be found in both older and also in contemporary understandings and ways.

From my morning and evening prayer seat in the choir looking across to the tall tower for preaching or reading, my eye then travels to the rear of the church. Given the social context of the building of this chapel of the Australian Agricultural Company, I try to envisage what evangelical exhortations and morally improving messages may have been directed from the pulpit to the occupants of the convicts’ gallery. My imagination is fuelled somewhat by the piercing eyes and stern countenance of the chaplain William Macquarie Cowper whose photograph hangs in the foyer of the rectory.

St John’s brings to mind my affection and gratitude for two historical periods, and aspects of church architecture and the liturgy for which it was built. The first is the (largely unremembered) Anglican continuity with Benedictine monasticism. Although monks in their stalls have long been variously replaced by canons and clerks, and by cathedral and parish choirs, the singing and recitation of daily prayer and Sunday worship is carried back and forth from either side of the choir. Then as now, our answerability to each other whilst praying in such a manner remains apparent.

A second facet of my gratitude is being able to pray and shape liturgy in a church which pre-dates the neo-gothic revival in Anglican ecclesiastical architecture. Accompanying this is an absence of unconscious (or perhaps even indiscriminately followed) assumptions and directions in worship largely inherited from the determining architecture of that era. On a practical contemporary liturgical note, I am glad of a single-level sanctuary, rather than the later more usual multiple steps. The pulpits are high, though not the altar! Although I owe much to the neo-gothic influence on my earlier liturgical formation and practice, my more deeply rooted attraction is to the unadorned simplicity modelled by Cistercian monastic liturgy. The relatively undecorated Georgian style of St John’s is happily conducive to the prayer tradition which has most profoundly formed me.

A quotation on the Friends of St John’s Stroud website from architect Clive Lucas describes the church as “perhaps the finest and certainly most intact Anglican [c]hurch in Australia which predates the influence of ecclesiology.” To take gentle issue with this assertion, I would argue that any church of whatever era is an expression (whether by adherence, modification or rejection) of the dominant tradition of the time.

St John’s was built in the year of the beginning of the Oxford Movement and before the subsequent Catholic revival in the Church of England. The ecclesiology of our building thus reflects an earlier piety than that of both the Oxford Movement and also the associated 1845 Cambridge Camden Society, also known as the Ecclesiological Society, whose interpretation of ecclesiology was specifically related to matters of church building. The architecture of St John’s reflects a more evangelical understanding of the Church (ecclesiology) and thus pre-dates the predominant anglo-catholicism of the diocese of which it later became part.

Comments in the visitors’ book often make mention of the historic nature of the church and our other buildings, and also of St John’s being a prayerful and beautiful place. I like to hold this trinity of beauty, history and prayer together. An enduring gift of St John’s lies in enabling visitors and parishioners to allow this meeting of the past to find expression in the present, and to give hope for the future.

Week by week parishioners gather to celebrate the Sunday Eucharist, gathered at the sanctuary built for this purpose in 1833. The steady life-giving heartbeat of the church community is sustained in the daily offering of Morning and Evening Prayer, for the praise of God and to pray for the world and the Church. St John’s Church continues to be a place where the memories of successive generations are treasured, and a place which continues to symbolise the spiritual and community hopes of present and past Stroud people. I am glad to be joining this living history.

©Martin Davies

Image Interior, Saint John the Evangelist, Stroud, NSW, Australia


[i] Winston Churchill, House of Commons, 18 October 1943

[ii] Anselme Dimier, Stones Laid before the Lord (Cistercian Publications, 1999)

This article was also published in St. James’ Parish Connections, June/July 2017


Sunday Morning

Ana Lisa de Jong 18 June 2017

Sunday morning.

Dawns anew

in the blue of my heart.


Too long thinking of things

that don’t matter,

until Sunday comes in its blinding light.


And I wonder where I left them,

the thoughts I couldn’t put down.

©Ana Lisa de Jong



Hurunui Cathedral

Peter Clague 23 October 2016

whitebone trunks stand

undeterred by death

to consecrate the clearing

in which we laden slump


on weighty packs, prostrate

unburdened & enlightening

strong men slowly learn

to carry less in life


this miro vault

an offering of spring grass

pig-hallowed & rabbit-holy

divine, yet no place special


sacred the ground

no matter where you linger,

exigence & a simple upward gaze

are all that's needed to erect a temple


for cathedrals

are but spires risen

serendipitous in any place

you choose to need them

©peter clague



Peter Clague 21 October 2016

three nights in the Hurunui

those were holy days for sure

such are our observances

tracts to a slab door


bowed beneath the straps

on beam in drizzle night

resurrected by dawn’s pane

where tawa fractures light


creek sway is a liturgy

boot chant of our youth

brotherhood of the billy

who seek a tannin truth


this priest who walks before me

bent kneed & lancewood rod

the salt & savour of him

who shares my native god


© peter clague



Letter to the world-weary heart

The Rev. Gayanne Frater 9 October 2016

‘Tis easy,

is it not,

to allow those who walk

halls of power

to assume

‘larger than life’


as if your sphere

of influence,

is too small

to be of any note.

Your voice,

the truths you know,

at the core of your being,

shrink within,

dwindling to  wondering whispers

across your heart’s landscape.

Your knowing,

rises from the belly,

rages even within,

clamouring to be heard,

though seldom spoken aloud.

(except in the privacy of your home, maybe?)

Words of prophetic potentiality

lie muted,

behind closed lips,

against the backdrop

of the louder,


oft repeated,

sound bite news bits,


as truth,


in reality

nothing more

than slanted


woefully inadequate

shards of slivered truth,

distorted to entertain,

not to inform.

‘Tis tempting to accept

the numbing of the brain,

and compassion’s overload

that comes from having

hearts that care,

to accept this




you now occupy,

and become silent


or powerless


to the outrageous

injustices writ large on

global screens.

This, however, is not your calling.

You must stand,


and act

with hope, faith and love

and in integrity,

You must be the people

you proclaim yourselves to be,

no matter how tiny

your sphere of influence

may appear.

Hope rises

with the utterance of

the tiniest of words,

little acts of kindness

and solidarity,

and the first step

and then the next.

You must never forget

that hidden in the oft dismissed

and overlooked ‘tinyness’ of life

lies greatness,

says the mustard seed.

©Gayanne Frater


Two Halves of the Moon

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 25 September 2016


Like a Slope Point tree in Southland, a tree, windblown on the Arctic side, tinged with sea-salty rust, retreats ever inwards in the wild and briary glebe of the clergy house. It is the calm before another winter storm on this side of the world. Little penguin-like auks have been blown off course by the tempest of last week and are now regaining their energy in Noah’s Ark – the local animal rehoming centre. Rivers burst their banks, the turbulent waters ravaged homes, leaving silt and rainbow trout in their wake.

An Epiphany sun shone for an hour or so today. And my eye was drawn to wandering dolphins and orcas in the Firth and a weather-beaten fisherman hauling lobster creels onto his rusty fishing boat. There aren’t many lobsters about at the moment. The gourmands, dining in London restaurants, will have to do with monkfish.

Meanwhile, the people of the besieged Syrian town of Madaya, weep, as food finally reaches them. Starvation is used as a weapon of war in a conflict that grows more desperate with every moment. Prayers beam eastwards.

After Christmas, clergy need to drift away from the collage of parish life. I washed up on the Ardnamurchan Peninsula, a remote and wild place in the Western Highlands of Scotland. The landscape tells a harsh, sometimes violent, often sad story…of volcano fires, blood-soaked battles, the religious fervour of Irish monks, rampaging Viking invaders and Highland Clearances.

Like Alice Through the Looking Glass, it was as if I had entered a wormhole, travelling through a mirrored world of scarred mountain rifts, moine rocks, fossils and rainfall, to the vanished world of Central Otago. 

Tramping in the Sunart rainforest, green with lichens, mosses and liverworts growing from bark and branch, I came across a clearing and a timber house, called Kaikoura  - Māori for ‘meal of crayfish’.

At land’s end, the most westerly point on the peninsula, stood the only Egyptian-style lighthouse in the world, with figurines of pharaohs, gods and sphinxes decorating the lamp base.  In the fading light of a winter’s day, the Atlantic Ocean hurled itself at the beacon, biting pieces off the rocks.

I watched an unfolding ferocity that only the gods could have summoned. It was a night when the light would be needed most and I imagined that it beamed across the waters to Dusky Sound.

Back home in the village, the people celebrated the beginning of a three hundred year anniversary. In a New Year and in a bare hall, sheltered from the January cold, we looked back and, as I prayed for God’s blessing, we looked forward, to the unknown.

The schoolchildren sang songs about silver darlings, the Scottish name for herrings. If Alice had been there, she would have danced a lobster quadrille with seals, turtles and salmon.

Meanwhile, the air is sweet in a nativity summer. Kayakers paddle down the Clutha River and barbecues smoke on the beach. Yachts anchor in Half Moon bay as night falls, while children watch their shadows and play in the light of Curious Cove. 

Two halves of the moon.

©Hilary Oxford Smith


Equinox Tales

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 22 September 2016


The Highland midge is on manoeuvres. A rare Indian summer in Scotland has brought the tiny biters to life again. Like a biblical plague, swarms of them have been landing on unsuspecting and unprotected skin and leaving a memory. The saying goes that if you kill one midge, a thousand will come to its funeral.

They are a distant cousin of the sand fly, described as New Zealand’s darkest secret. A picnic by the lake or the beach can turn into a fiasco. Open the car door and, on the drive home, there will be more passengers than seats.  Best to eat your picnic when it’s blowing a gale, you are wearing white and eating marmite sandwiches.

The village where I live is still welcoming visitors from crowded cities, who amble along the little streets with not a care in the least for a few days. They mess about in boats, sit outside drinking wine and whisky and watch the day drift by. Not for them the city break with its dashing urgency to visit everything before tomorrow or the Mediterranean cruise, sleeping in an inside cabin above the engine room, eating too much and following a frenzied tour guide around Rome.

Rather, it’s a lingering gaze at playful dolphins dancing in the sea and watching ‘bottling’ Atlantic grey seals, resting upright in the water, with their faces looking to the sky. It’s wanting to not miss a second of life in all its languid beauty.   

Yet there is a feeling on the air. It is as if the whole world is in turmoil - war, conflict, starvation, atrocity, displacement, seismic politics, environmental degradation. Who and what will be next? Where will be next?  What will happen next?

These are interim times. So much seems withheld. Where can we put our trust? How can we endure and at the same time, transfigure our perceptions to discern and re-discover the beauty, the joy and the goodness at the heart of creation and born of God?   

‘Another morning and I wake with thirst’, writes the poet Mary Oliver. ‘...for the goodness I do not have. I walk out to the pond and all the way God has given us such beautiful lessons. Oh Lord, I was never a quick scholar but sulked and hunched over my books past the hour and the bell; grant me, in your mercy, a little more time. Love for the earth and love for you are having such a long conversation in my heart. Who knows what will finally happen or where I will be sent, yet already I have given a great many things away, expecting to be told to pack nothing, except the prayers which, with this thirst, I am slowly learning.’[i]

September brings a changing air too, as the sun crosses the celestial equator. For one day, the length of night and day are almost the same. In the northern hemisphere, the autumnal equinox and the vernal equinox in the southern hemisphere, carry with them a sense of great balance.

Might there be an equinox of the heart I wonder? Where the interim is steadied by the continuity of time, where fear and despair are balanced by trust and hope, where light and dark interplay, where justice, freedom, peace are counterpoints of equilibrium to the elements of life that can diminish us and the earth?              

The fields around the village, once golden with corn and barley, have been ploughed, ready for the planting of seed. When trees are bare and colours fade, the secret work of a long winter will begin.

Meanwhile in New Zealand, spring has sprung with strengthening light and emerging colours. The renewal of life, hope and possibility are promised.   

I am writing these words in the cold and draughty study of a Victorian clergy house. The tiniest glimpse of light from the setting western sun has found its way, for the very first time, into this Northern-facing room. In a vase by the window, sunflowers, earthen and golden, turn their faces to the Light. So must we.

©Hilary Oxford Smith 


[i] ‘Thirst’, Mary Oliver, Bloodaxe Books 2007


Come Unto Me

The Rev. Dr. Rebecca Button Prichard 13 August 2016

Which comes first?  Baptism or Communion? Baptism is not a requirement for communion and so I have heard the new PC(USA) Directory for Worship hopes to affirm the free and abundant grace of God we find at the Lord’s table.  No exceptions. I have, for some time, embraced an open table and I believe the Church, not only the Presbyterian Church (USA) is opening to the idea of sacrament as welcome and inclusion.  I confess that I enjoy worshipping at an Episcopal Church where this unconditional welcome is crystal clear.

Earlier this year I was asked to celebrate an “extraordinary” baptism.  Of course, all baptisms are extraordinary, but this would be a baptism that bends the rules, stepping just outside the doors of the church.  Sara Miles, in Take this Bread, had already suggested to me the idea of a font outside the doors of the church.

My nephew and his bride grew up in the church, Presbyterian and Lutheran respectively.  Like most of us, there have been times when they felt excluded and alienated by the church.  They are now young parents, both working hard to balance family, work, and pleasure.  They were married by a beloved pastor in the great outdoors, with the mountains as a backdrop.  When they began to think about baptism for their daughter, Harper Iona, the doors were closed to them unless they became members of the church.  And the font was behind those doors.

They say that young adults don’t think about membership the way we boomers and older folks do.  I thought about all the ways the old-line, mainline churches are trying and failing to welcome younger adults.  I thought about all the baptisms I had celebrated inside the church, where the parents made their promises out loud, but were never seen again on a Sunday in church.  I also thought about the Church of Scotland where I have served, and the way that they have wrestled with this very question, loosening up a bit on the membership requirement.

When asked to baptize Harper, I so very much wanted to say “yes.” My initial response was, I so want to do this, but we would need to figure out a way to make it an “official” baptism.  It would not be a blessing or a dedication.  It would not be a private baptism.  I was willing to bend the rules, but I have become increasingly sacramental over the years.  When I asked the parents why they wanted Harper baptized, they had all the right answers.  She is a child of God.  We want to say that out loud to our family and friends.  And, yes, we will profess our faith out loud.  And, yes, we will promise to raise her in the church.  And, yes, everyone there can gently remind us that we need to find a church.  And we will.  In time.

So I read and reread the Directory for Worship.  And the Bible.  And I talked to a few clergy friends in various traditions.  And I even talked to a couple of polity wonks to try to figure out a way to do this.

And then I attended another baptism inside the church and realized that very few Sunday morning baptisms follow the Directory for Worship to the letter.  They happen before, not after the sermon.  There are no renunciations.  Hardly ever is the Apostles’ Creed recited by one and all.  There may or may not be an elder present.  Questions may or may not be asked of the congregation.  Session may or may not have recorded it in the Register.

Over the years, teaching Reformed Worship, when “extraordinary” cases in point were raised in class, I always told my students to wrestle with three things:  the pastoral, the theological, and the ecclesial.  And of course, the Bible.  The ecclesial requirement of membership in this case seemed a way of pushing this young family further from the church.  I prayed.  I conversed.  I listened.  I read.  I wrote.  And I decided that I could create a sacramental service of worship that honored the Directory for Worship, but more than that, honored the spiritual lives of this family, Reformed theology, and the Word of God.

Gospel words began to ring in my ears:  “Suffer the little children to come unto me and forbid them not, for to such as these belongs the kingdom of heaven.”  “Wherever two or three are gathered in my name, there I am in the midst of them.”  “God is love, and those who love are born of God and know God.” “Here is some water, what is to prevent me from being baptized?”

So I said, “yes.”  And I conducted a service of worship outside the doors of the church, but with a gathered community of family and friends who would sing and pray, who would hear the Word proclaimed, who would respond by professing their faith, and by witnessing the promises of these young parents.  Both great grandmothers are elders, so they stood with me as those gathered promised to support this family. Two close friends were sponsors.  The only missing piece, in this case, was that the baptism would not be recorded in any congregation’s minute book.  I made them a very beautiful certificate and signed it!

It was an extraordinary event for so many reasons.  But in the thinking and the praying and the planning and the celebrating, I was changed.  A sacrament is a visible sign of an invisible grace.  That I have long believed.  But a sacrament ought not be a way of excluding anyone from that invisible grace.  A sacrament ought to be an invitation, a welcome, a reaching out, evangelism. We can no longer wait inside the church, behind closed doors, waiting for young families with children to push their way in.

I am honorably retired, so not as worried as I might have been a few years ago about breaking or bending the rules.  I know that I am way more “by the book” than so many younger, edgier pastors who would say, “What’s the big deal?”  By narrating this event, I am refusing to fly under the radar.  I am professing a scruple.  At least. So defrock me.

We are sacramental.  I am a Minister of Word and Sacrament.  A priest.  We are to tear down the fences and the dividing walls.  The doors of the church ought to be open.  Always.  So, if I believe in an open table, where all are welcome, baptized or not, then I believe in a font that is right there, right near the open doors of the church as a sign of welcome.  As a visible sign of invisible, lavish grace.  And filled to the brim.  Always.

©Rebecca Button Prichard


The little anglican church

Tess Ashton 28 July 2016


In the nave

two chairs with arms

look at each other

on the

trail of window sills

queen anne’s lace


sun and shadow

above the altar

a collage of local

hills and houses

church and local theatre

train at the station

the place I get off

is where love

and grief collide

just a feeling


when the Shepherd

comes looking

for me

when His heart


i’ll run

the road

of paradise

won’t look



©Tess Ashton


Between the Tides

Dr. Julie Thorpe 25 July 2016

I barely got on the plane. My stomach reflux flared up again after a workshop in Manchester. My doctor in Sydney had given me enough tablets to tide me over until I started my sabbatical in New Zealand, a three-month fellowship at a retreat centre on a sheltered strip of beach at Long Bay. But not even strong medication could quell my familiar companion as I took leave of absence from work and any semblance of home.

            My body must have known it was headed in the right direction as soon as we lifted above the clouds. We crossed over Erbil where refugees sought safety in the Kurdish capital thousands of metres below my window seat and continents away from the safe haven awaiting me. I had never felt more grateful to be on a plane. 

            ‘The project you came with may not be the project you leave with,’ warned John Fairbrother, the director, over our first cup of tea in the dining room.

I’d applied to write stories of displacement, the lost threads of girls who’d fled war. Bright roses, cats and birds, someone’s initials, the intricate patterns and colours of homes and families embroidered onto cloth that a museum in Vienna had boxed in darkness for a century. To mark the war’s centenary the museum exhibited the refugees’ handiwork. I gave my first public lecture in Vienna two days before the workshop in Manchester.

Two years later it all seems like another lifetime. John was right. I left my project and profession and discovered my own silent threads in the dark.

Before I arrived at Vaughan Park, I’d struggled to articulate the displacement in my chosen academic life. As though my language of the past had been buried by a wave crashing from a Pacific storm and spreading its white foam carpet over my ground of understanding. As the storm receded and left a beach full of broken shells, I started to learn to live between the tides, carried by the ocean’s breath.

            ‘It’s like being inside Mary’s womb,’ a visiting Episcopalian priest described the retreat centre chapel that overlooked the water.

            We were speaking after mass on the feast of Mary’s assumption six weeks into my sabbatical, but her words had nothing to do with a liturgical event. Suddenly I saw what had been happening to me in the rhythmic swelling and falling, crouching on slippery rocks and climbing steep cliffs, sitting on the heated tiles of the chapel floor with the day disappearing behind green hills. Hearing the older woman’s voice outside the chapel I knew it was time. I wrote my first words of resignation as inexplicable as the assumption.

            Six weeks of pacing cliffs and rocks came to a standstill. Once the inward process of leaving was set in motion I kept close to the centre, only venturing out for an errand or to sit in a café in the rain. At night I took my thermos of tea to the top of the retreat centre to watch the moon from a miniature shell garden in the shape of a koru unfurling.

            Sometimes it takes darkness, poet David Whyte says, to learn / anything or anyone / that does not bring you alive / is too small for you.

            In the presence of the moon I asked what might make me alive, doubted about ever outgrowing the confines of these broken shells, wondered if I’d be able to learn not just when to leave but also when to stay. I’d been moving so long, I didn’t know how to stop. The moon had travelled even longer than me, but she seemed to understand my need for stability. I’d stopped believing in an itinerant God who travelled to earth and died homeless. If she was a mother, she’d know how to make a home.

            The stories that touched me most at Vaughan Park were the mothers of high needs children who came to unburden and find strength to give again. I could see the difference in their faces from Friday evening to Saturday as they opened up at dinner after a day of massages. The quilters were some of my favourite retreat companions with stories as vibrant as their recycled fabric: Japanese kimonos worn by monks stitched into a wedding present for a bed, scraps sewn into a keepsake for a friend or grandchild. The loudest group turned up on their motorbikes for a white ribbon ride around the country. Some had spent time in jail, some had lost children to family violence, but each taught what forgiveness sounds like when they held me in a circle with their voices soaring in a Maori hymn of peace.

            Leaving Vaughan Park was harder than leaving my career. Yet in some ways I never really left. I’m still learning to live between the tides, still listening to the song of broken shells unfolding in a prayer for peace. The conversations I’ve become part of are like so many I joined at Vaughan Park. One of those conversations was the history of an adult faith centre in Sydney, Aquinas Academy.

‘It doesn’t feel finished,’ I told Michael Whelan, the Marist priest who invited me to write the Aquinas Academy story.

The stories are never finished. They are only given back to the ocean like the shells at high tide. Sometimes the stories have been hidden, covered up by an institution in the false name of security. Those stories, too, are carried by the tides. Sometimes the stories, like the monks’ kimonos made into a wedding quilt, are stitched out of silence into blessing. I will keep listening to those prayers.

©Julie Thorpe


The Knee Replacement (Improv. on Phillipians 2)

The Rev. Maren Tirabassi 21 June 2016


It’s been a long time

since this knee could bend

at the name of Jesus, or anything else –

the challenge to clamber

over rocks on a hillside

hiking with teenagers

in spite of their playlists and texts,

the sharp cry of a small child

skinned up from a fall

or wanting to show me an ant,

the longing to gather

a handful of sand at the beach

and let it run through my fingers

remembering someone

whose life slides like grains

into the sweet saltiness of the ocean.

(those may actually be the name of Jesus

just in some other Pentecost.)

And I am anticipating

a certain emptying

to let go my signature impairment --

emptying anaesthesia, for one –

a fold in reality,

protecting me from what

I can never grasp,

and being humbled to

catheters, johnnies, and opioids

in spite of not liking the idea

of any one of them,

being obedient to physical therapy,

not to speak of the

continuous motion machine

which is not …

No! absolutely not a cross.

So what kind of mind

is Paul suggesting

that I am supposed to have?

Perhaps a light one

that slips into anthroplasty

on my way to confessing

the truest Name of all –

and bends for a hill walk,

a child’s call of fear and joy,

and handfuls of love

for people I know or will never meet,

also many other unexpected

holy kneelings.

©Maren Tirabassi



Light of snow falling

Tess Ashton 18 June 2016

for Olivia in Calgary

We tumble out the basement door

eyes dance

warm and low from the downstairs porch

to the distance

the snow’s laid out on the pond

on the banks and on the grasses

on the circle of still houses

and tender birches

the sky is vast and blue

ice drifting through

you draw pink and orange spring flowers

kneeling on the concrete slab

I experiment with charcoal

sit at the cold glass table

efforts with banks and far houses

collapse in the brilliance of the light

on the snowy paper

the wire fence

comes out largest

suffocating the pale grasses

and lonely bird-shelter

in the branches

leave you all for a tall retreat house

in the Mission District

Sisters flow in the Spirit

by the Elbow River

when you and mum visit there’s a miracle

a snowshoe hare, cat and blackbird

sit in a circle

near the Peace sculpture

I’d found a book on my bed

St Francis

waiting to be read

held me tight in the days and nights

‘the things that happen in this old house’

Sister said

yesterday white chrysanthemums

explosions on a local flower trolley

His love like light of snow falling

at church a young woman

has painted the Lord

walking hand in hand with a girl

the path is cool under high trees

leaves on fire

today your crisp white hapkido uniform

has a belt of blazing orange

you a fighter of the light

For He will give His angels charge concerning you, to guard you in all your ways. They will bear you up in their hands, that you do not strike your foot against a stone. (Psalm 91: 11-12)

©Tess Ashton



The Ministry of Poets

The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson 29 May 2016


Glorious music! Glorious stained glass!

Stained glass is an art form that has been around for centuries, for decoration and instruction. It’s a traditional important and powerful visual art form: light, colour, composition.[1]

Stained glass can be abstract as well as pictorial. Good art has the power to offer new insights, new interpretations, and to challenge/confront (think: political cartoons!).

Icons, too, are visual art; conceptually they are different. They also offer new insights to those prepared to enter their icon world, as stained glass does to those who gaze and ponder. Traditionally, one doesn’t “paint” an icon, but “write” it – using specified natural materials, and covering every stage of the process with prayer. Rowan Williams writes,

The point of the icon is to give us a window into an alien frame of reference that is at the same time the structure that will make definitive sense of the world we inhabit.[2]

In a nutshell, Rowan Williams has identified the core of creative religious art of all genres (art, sculpture, music, dance, theatre, liturgy, poetry, prose, right through to systematic theology!). Each genre in its way, through the crafting/performing skill, can open a window into the world beyond world and help us find and/or make sense of our everyday world and our being in it.

As a conscientiously religious poet, I find the writing itself requires serious skill and crafting, must be undertaken conscientiously and prayerfully, and must adhere to the canons and best standards of its discipline and through competent crafting, address those who are open to its impact. At its best, I hope it will engage, hold, and offer new insights to those prepared to enter its world…

By the way, for the purposes of definition, I am taking “religious” as consciously Christian and/or Jewish (because they are together our deep roots); gladly acknowledging also that atheists and sceptics and others may pursue themes in their work, from which faithful Christians can benefit.[3]

Did you notice Rowan Williams’ phrase “an alien frame of reference”? The icon is where the divine impinges on the terrestrial and breaks into it. “Alien” does not mean “hostile”; the window allows a view that makes “definitive sense” of the everyday and our life-experience. This has the same logic as the Incarnation: the Word became flesh and dwelt amongst us.[4] What could not be contained (the infinity of godhead) entered into and embodied grace within the finite constraints of our existence. This requires a wacky wisdom to perceive, way beyond the reach of earthbound “common sense”.

This is exactly what liturgy (at its best) does: opens us up to the broader context of God’s creation and creative purpose (“making definitive sense”), draws us into deeper understanding/appreciation, and engages us in God’s mission. This differs from “sacrament” – which is physical, involving material elements like water, bread, and wine; liturgy is corporeal – the resurrected Body of Christ corporeally localised in us (ekklesia).

Christian religious creative art (including liturgy) relies on the Incarnation in using the concrete physicality of the created order to open us up to God, deepen our intimacy with God, and engage us in God’s ultimate creation/resurrection project.

How do we “learn” and “know”? Broadly, I suggest “common sense” is merely the echo-chamber of the everyday, but it’s a start. Beyond the common-sense wisdom there is a wacky wisdom, best evidenced in clowns and prophets and “slant”. We will address these in tonight’s discussion. Suffice it to say that the deepest clowning persists despite setbacks, and models human dignity in the face of indignity and/or overwhelming power and that prophets (religious or not) are zealous for the truth, as deep as it comes, no matter what it costs. [5]

Pressing on: religious poetry can and should sometimes be the prophetic stone in liturgy’s comfortable slippers. At its prayerful best, liturgy is encounter with God, yet we have a persistent genius for wrecking it spiritually by tying God down. Witness the Athanasian Creed, surely the benchmark for clunky and prosaic imprisonment of God in rational categories and either/or logic.

Good poetry doesn’t close down, it opens out and good religious poetry allows God to be conceptually “untidy” without compromising the encounter or our knowing. Tidiness is our human obsession and speaks to our needs – not God’s. We simply don’t have the cosmic, let alone divine lens, through which to examine or dissect!

Religious poetry at its best addresses/describes God as lover, spouse; sometimes uses the imageries of guilt or humility triggered by encountering God (or God confronting us).[6] Religious poetry voices awe, fear, joy,devotion. It can write in anger and/or abject despair; with the desperation of hope; can even upbraid God for betrayal of trust … (they’re all there in the Psalms). The strongest religious poetry cannot be sanitised, whereas liturgy strives to be wholesome, clean, and supremely confident (except for the confession of sins). Adapting Hamlet’s memorable expression, the poetry of faith should “nothing extenuate, but in this harsh world draw its breath in pain to tell [the] story”.

Change the focus slightly. Liturgy focuses the communal wisdom born of real-world discipleship and draws spiritual strength for the “work-in-progress”. The religious poet says “this is how it is for me now, and this voice too must be acknowledged and recognised.” That’s prophetic (as “the prophetic stone in liturgy’s comfortable slippers”), because prophets are zealous for the truth, and declare it fearlessly.

Which brings me to hymns (religious poetry set to music for congregational use). Do I envy – or denounce – those hymn-writers for whom everything is lovely? Some may help us glimpse a cameo of the best discipleship has to offer, but unless they are written from the gritty reality of struggle, pain, fear, guilt and doubt, I cannot travel their perfumed and petalled verses.[7] I strive for the sort of poetry/hymnody that’s wrestled out of everyday discipleship. My hymn Mary, Daring Mother was written precisely because I have long been fascinated by the realities of her story. I wanted to acknowledge just how difficult perilous and uncharted her path was and honour her appropriately. Most Mary hymns I’ve ever encountered have been utterly sanitised and idealistic. Give me the real!

There is much more that could be said about hymnody. Brian Wren’s Praying Twice devotes a chapter to exploring how hymns “do” theology.[8]

For my part, I am honoured and humbled to have been called to this prophetic ministry. It stretches me, challenges me, humbles me. It has given me new life for my retirement and I value it as a great gift God has given me to help me mature and grow as a disciple and by God’s grace, be of service to others.

©Jim McPherson

May 2016


[1] Sometimes a window can shock, with a new approach. St Paul’s, Maryborough has a set of William Bustard windows in its chancel, with the Virgin Mary unmistakably red-headed! I have no idea why …

[2] Rowan Williams (2000): Lost Icons p2.

[3] For the question of definition (of “religious poetry”), see the careful but brief discussion in Les Murray’s Foreword to his Anthology of Australian Religious Poetry, p xi: “Also, and obviously, the religion of artists is quite often art itself; a poet’s intense spiritual experience is apt to be bound up with writing poems. Art is anciently a part of religious activity, and is surely still at least continuous with it.”

[4] This played a role in the eighth and ninth century iconoclastic controversies in the Byzantine Church: supporters of icons pleaded the Incarnation against the second commandment’s prohibition of making “graven images”.

[5] Paul coined the scandalous expression “the foolishness of God” (1 Corinthians 1.18-25). I submit that only clowns and prophets show a comparable wacky wisdom. By clown I do not mean buffoonery and slapstick, but the “deep” clowning of Charlie Chaplin, Buster Keaton, and Johan Buziau; see my poems Slant and Circus Maximus (to be distributed at tonight’s discussion) for my use of the clown concept. See also Frederick Buechner (1977): Telling the Truth.  The Gospel as Tragedy, Comedy & Fairy Tale Chapter III.

[6] Two of my favourite biblical examples: Isaiah 5.1-7 (poetry); 2 Samuel 12.1-15 (prose).

[7] The hymn “It is well with my soul” is one such exception, for the sake of its back-story: I cannot remember, however, when I last sang it – not since my Baptist days!

[8] Brian Wren (2000): Praying Twice. The Music and Words of Congregational Song. Chapter Ten, pp 349-377, is titled ‘“Echoes of the Gospel”: How Hymns Do Theology.’


To be, or not to be...

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 26 April 2016

The sun is setting on Assynt, in the North West corner of Scotland. Orange light warms a cold April. The mountains, Suilven and Ben More are iced with peaks of snow. Feathered friends make a snuggery, while a glistening otter gallops up the slipway with a wriggling trout in its mouth, its rainbow fate sealed. The white-tailed eagle has hovered over the loch for a day, searching for a salmon that escaped from the farm. Just when she smelt freedom, this god of the air snatched her away. So many worlds spin in pain.

At Cape Wrath, angry in the quietest weather, the Ministry of Defence carry out military exercises and propagate the news that they are also preserving the wildlife, flora and fauna of this special place. Meanwhile submarines creep into sea lochs doing what they do. Is there any place on earth not compromised by humanity?

I walk beside the stone remains of townships long since abandoned, kinship fragmented because of greed. Roofless churches in these parts tell the story of an ecclesiology and its earnest guardians who preached a misplaced morality and threatened doctrinal punishment and excommunication. The clergy banished the original spiritual beliefs of the people and yet somehow, the early Celtic Christian movement which managed to weave holy place names and traditions into the fabric of indigenous belief, survived. Over the centuries, many have heard an ancient song and harmony.

‘April is the cruellest month’, writes the poet, T. S. Eliot. Especially so, as we hallow the memory of  New Zealanders and Australians killed in war. Such remembering is gathered to our hearts, not to glory the indescribable carnage of war nor gloss over the brutalising and crushing of the human spirit. We do not gather the dead and dying, the grief and sadness, the memories, stories, tragedies, the comradeship in life and death, to dis-member them. Rather we re-member them. This is restorative, moving us, not only to give thanks for the gifts of life and freedom which we take for granted, but to bring to birth, in our own hearts and lives, a harvest of goodness, justice and peace. 

Every Sunday morning before going to Church, I listen to Sunday Worship on the radio while eating a breakfast of poached eggs on toast. Today the service was broadcast from Holy Trinity Church, Stratford-upon-Avon, the town where William Shakespeare was born and lived and the church in which he was buried.

He died 400 years ago on the 23rd April 1616 and throughout the world, words, music, art and place honour the legacy of probably one of the greatest writers that ever was. William had a lot to say about war: its  legal, ethical and religious justifications, the ties between church and state in promoting and waging war, the costs to humanity, and the political strategies used to downplay internal problems and unite a nation around a leader whose legitimacy is in question…’ to busy giddy minds/With foreign quarrels’[i]

He also knew the devastation of grief. His only son, Hanmet died at the age of 11. We know little about his faith yet he writes in The Winter’s Tale, ‘then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory’. He also knows the inner voice of doubt, ‘Ay, but to die, and to go we know not where’.[ii] Resurrection, the deepest hope for our common humanity, was often in his mind. Lives could also be changed because of love, loyalty and miracles. [iii]

I made a visit with my late father to Stratford-upon-Avon in my salad days.[iv]  Days when I thought that the ancient houses were higgledy-piggledy and the very fat swans on the river were hungry.  I fed them and they obligingly ate what they were given. Dad took me to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and we drank hot chocolate with lots of cream on top.

I cherish a tiny leather book of quotations from Shakespeare’s plays which he gifted to me on that day. I did not understand the words then. Now I realise that the Bard’s words are embedded in our language…  

The course of true love never did run smooth[v]; For goodness sake[vi]; Neither here nor there[vii]; Eaten out of house and home[viii]; A wild goose chase[ix]; Too much of a good thing[x]; The world’s mine oyster[xi]; Not slept one wink[xii]; Send him packing[xiii]; Own flesh and blood[xiv] ...and so many more.

On this Sunday evening, snow is lightly falling as I look out of the window of the Clergy House. Jonathan Livingston Seagull and his partner roost on our roof after spending the day making a home for their young. They are our guests every year and we welcome their wisdom:

Don’t believe what your eyes are telling you. You have to practice and see the real gull, the good in every one of them, and help them to see it in themselves. That way you’ll see the way to fly and that’s what I mean by love.[xv]

©Hilary Oxford Smith

April 2016

[i] Henry IV

[ii] Measure for Measure

[iii] Sunday Worship BBC Radio 4, Sermon by the Rev. Dr. Paul Edmondson, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust

[iv] Anthony and Cleopatra

[v] A Midsummer Night’s Dream

[vi] Henry VIII

[vii] Othello

[viii] Henry IV

[ix] Romeo and Juliet

[x] As You Like It

[xi] The Merry Wives of Windsor

[xii] Cymbeline

[xiii] Henry IV

[xiv] Hamlet

[xv] Jonathan Livingston Seagull, Richard Bach



The fire of Divine Love

The Rev. Gayanne Frater 25 March 2016


Focussed was I,

on the pain of fiery rage

I lost sight of fire's beauty.

Divine energy

within us all,


quickening us to love.

Inner fire heats,


hallows hope

and compels us to act

in love.

Sparks fly,


across darkened expanse,

echoing ancient truth -

light shines in darkness.

Fire harnessed,

blazes a trail

through darkest night,

in our deepest loneliness.

Fire of life,

divine Love,

in the coldest night - warm us;

at the deepest point of fear,

- grant us courage;

through the darkest night

shine a light of hope and love.

Divine love,

fire of God,

drive out all fear,

that we may truly

be worthy

of our calling

to be human.

©Gayanne Frater

Image: The Carabosse Fire Garden, Auckland Domain 2016, Gayanne Frater  



The I and Thou of Caring

The Rev. Iain Gow 25 March 2016


The Stoics of antiquity (2500 years) ago said: To know calmness in life, disengage yourself! Don’t allow yourself to know the extremes of emotions that beset humankind.

My understanding of Jesus’ life in contrast is ‘be open to the wounds of humanity’, and even more than that ‘be open to being wounded by humanity’s agony for in that you will become more fully human’.

We often accept the ‘other’, our neighbour, only if it does not threaten our own sense of individual happiness. Communion and otherness: a call into deeper intimacy and yet also the impulse to flee from the other. As John Zizioulas the orthodox theologian says in his book, “Communion and Otherness”, in Christ “we are called into a movement towards the unknown and the infinite” of the other, and also ourselves. This call into freedom is not only from what has held us captive, but also into what we both can become.

Is this not a paradox that is too much to understand?  For if this is true, then how do you carry another’s wounds without becoming wounded yourself?  Are our own wounds not enough to deal with, without having to reflect on another? If I offer all of myself to you, then who am I left to be?

This is an important question for us who work in a caring of others, whether that be to our family, our work colleague, or friends or even those we are not sure of, those who may be our enemies?

Well, first, in Christian spirituality, there is an understanding that unless I offer of myself, the “I’ in ‘who I am’, then I will never become truly ‘I’. It is in my meeting with your ‘Thou’, that I come to know the ‘I’ in me. But second and equally, if I give all of my ‘I’ away to ‘Thee’, then I lose my identity, that which is at the centre of ‘I’.

So can we remain truly objective in our care of another?  I think not for we are drawn into their story. We do not remain just a witness to their unfolding story.  Family Therapy, being anchored in the systemic tradition, suggests we will no matter what our inclination is, become part of the therapeutic circle, and cannot fully remain ‘meta’.

So back to this paradox that is too much to understand! How do you love so you bleed, but not become a corpse yourself? How do you love passionately, but be prepared to let go with that same love?

I really don’t know if you seek an absolute. But I offer this; first it must be to do with truly listening. In the meeting between ‘my I’ and ‘your Thou’, can I discover the God who connects us to the ‘unknown known’ in ourselves, my neighbour and in that who we have given the name of God to? In listening to each of these truly well, I may join a dance that allows me to hear the whole of life’s calls, not just one part. It does not have to be ‘me’ or ‘you’, but maybe ‘us’. Second, by forgiveness, of yourself and your neighbour who has hurt you! Forgiving yourself often for recognizing in life there is no perfect blueprint for your life; you are human and you already have enough to bear without carrying guilt that has long been forgiven by God.

“To listen deeply

to another is to care

To choose

to be so empty of self

what true communion may take place.

Who’s empty?

Few only.

To listen profoundly

is to be still inside

that you may hear

the flicker of an eyelid

or a heart

about to open

like a flower

in Silence.

The greatest revelation is stillness.[i]

©Iain Gow

[i] Lao Tzu, quoted in Snapshots on the Journey, Rod MacLeod, 2003


Living the Sustainable Life!

The Rev. Iain Gow 25 February 2016

There remains then a Sabbath rest... let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest, so that no-one will fall.  (Hebrews 4:9)

France and New Zealand have two things in common. When I lived in Paris, a long time ago, suddenly in August everything became very quiet as many left Paris for the holidays. Here in New Zealand the same thing happens, but in January; everyone leaves for their batches (holiday home).

For those of us who live in the Southern hemisphere, it is a reminder that as we re-engage with work again, to see our engagement with the new work year as a marathon, rather than a sprint. What do I mean by that….

I was once a surfer, not a very good one I hasten to add, but I had been told it had a certain allure with the young ladies, and at 14, becoming more alluring to them was very important, especially if you were a scrawny shy looking fellow who needed all the help that was on hand possible!

Anyway surfers understood intrinsically something I now call ‘the wave theory of time management’. We didn’t call it that back then, as there were not many models or theories of management around, but it should be called that today, and I suggest it to every organisation’s personnel department! So what is it all about?

In South Africa, waves came in around sets of six waves. There was then a lull, and then on came the next six waves or so. In those first six waves, you grafted hard; it was intense and full on. But then came the lull and you chilled; looked at the beauty of creation all around you; you caught your breath, chatted to your friends, and let your inner voice catch up with you. Then on came the next set and it was back to grafting hard.

What I have called the ‘Wave Theory of Management’ actually was once called the Sabbath principle. God in the first page of the Bible, theoretically knew all about this principle, for having worked really hard for six days at making Creation, then chilled on the seventh. Ever since then, observance of the Sabbath was an important principle; that is until the last fifty years when our more hectic modern life-styles have made it redundant.

Now I am not a believer that the Sabbath principle means it has to be Sunday, but I do believe it is an important principle to leading a sustainable life. Alongside many work-psychologists today, I suggest that we are subtly becoming less human, that our work productivity is less, and our ability to read complex situations when they arise impaired, all because we don’t make the Sabbath principle part of our life. I know this for myself when I burned out for six months around 13 years ago from working too many long hours.

The Bible is not against hard work. In fact it understands how work offers self-esteem and well-being; but Christian spirituality equally encourages a sustainable led life, time for hard work, time for play, time for our spirit to be nurtured. If your life is cluttered with too much on, then you may get on by for a while, but in the end you will become less human, for yourself and for those you love.

Finally, here is another final reason to make sure the Sabbath principle is in your life. You may get by running fast for some period of time. But every so often, as though out of the blue, came a monster wave when we were surfing. We called it the ‘backie’ and it didn’t fit into any rhythm or pattern. If you hadn’t taken the time to take those moments of rest between sets, then you would never have the energy to get to the monster wave before it overpowered you as you desperately tried to swim through it. Likewise, in our life, the ‘backie’ can suddenly happen with the sudden illness of a family member,

Now that most of us are back from our holidays here in the Southern Hemisphere, be aware that the whole year stretches ahead of you. Discover a right cadence for yourself now before the monster waves of 2016 come towards you. Incorporate the Sabbath principle into your life, in whatever way that might mean for you.

I end with a quote from an old saint who once said, “if you cannot make solitude your friend, then you will never hear the wisdom of God for yourself or others...the voice of God that encourages and guides you, the inner voice that nurtures your soul.”

©Iain Gow


Goodbye Edmonton with God and Eric Clapton

Tess Ashton 18 February 2016



to quiet


before and after

visits to a

bunch of


off the

north saskatchewan


light shining through

The zoo

has a kea

in its bird collection

wings and eyes

dead empty

we’ve seen you dance

pinching cakes

at Arthurs Pass

we tell it





I’m at my

breaking point

my breaking point


to Remedy Café

we loved your



local organics

your caffeine fixes

‘n blitzed up elixirs

chai lattes


for three

days and


fill up my heart

or tear it apart

Goodbye to

our daughter

her Edmonton




‘til eleven

been waiting for

your company

the Metis Indian



to “a fire”

last Thursday

still warming

the air this

Labour Monday

and the squirrels

are quiet

you take my heart

into everything

you do

In the

dark belly of our

basement quarters


through a

sub-zero winter

we’ve prayed

in whispers

summer bush


let it rain

rain rain

the stumble and gurgle

of the gas

air conditioning

a treat

to the beat of

what’s deep

and active

I’m with you my love

From bed

sent our smoke signals

three stories out

found a sky

to rest on

my toothache


knock knock


on heaven’s door

God said

‘I have

Everything sorted’

felt the download

like an upload

God’s great sense

of fun-load

I said

you put my heart

on overload

Am sure He said

I feel wonderful


Drove south

found a field

with prairie fever

small otter-e heads


up all over




getting too dark

to see

From the car

the plains

go nowhere


between grey pylons

under pounce

of crash and boom


lately bush fire yellow

or a red sun

you don’t realise

how much

I love


Feels like

we’re drifters

our voices

lost in prairie

time and distance

further than



I must be strong

and carry



Mr Clapton

we’re singing

Alberta Alberta

in all your



in all your



©Tess Ashton



Camino Moments

The Rev. Iain Gow 25 January 2016

Earlier this month, Bishop David Gillett, Ripeau Taurere, Linda Gow and myself reminisced on the theme of pilgrimage at the first Retreat of 2016 at Vaughan Park.

Both times I have travelled the Camino de Santiago de Compostela, I have become aware of the importance of gratefulness, the need to consciously be thankful for all the good, all the blessings I receive that comes each day my way. The Camino has helped me to know that God can become known in the bad and the good of life that befalls me. But for this, I need to remind myself each new day, to look with new lenses, for God asks me this question when I am faced by a situation: what is your response? Entitlement, impatience, anger, frustration, sadness, envy; or can you find the seed of gratefulness in it somehow?

An example from our first trip: After walking the Camino, Linda and I line up for a long time in Santiago to get our "Stamp of Authenticity" to say we have done it. It is an important symbolic moment in the life of every Pilgrim, because those kilometers add up to very sore feet, moments of considering giving up, uncomfortable sleeping arrangements, and so on. We have walked many kilometers and have the proof of it, every kilometer. But within the last 100kms, Lindy’s feet swelled up, and so we needed to take a taxi for 10 kilometers, as she could not walk!

The lady behind the desk says, “Have you walked the last 100 kilometers? No we say, for 10 kilometers exactly we took a taxi." "Oh" she says, "You have to ‘walk’ the last 100 kilometers. You did not; I am sorry, but because of this, we cannot give you the stamp. But do not worry; we can give you another stamp.”  I look at Lindy and see she is shocked; her eyes begin to water as her feet are now beyond sore. A voice within me speaks up silently, “what a lesser stamp; a second class stamp?”

Vocally now, I explain slowly the logic of our position; “we have walked much more than the last 100 kilometers and we were told you only need to do 100 kilometers!” “Yes”, she says, “that is true, but if you had read the document properly, the last 100 has to be done on foot!” She shows us the form, but our Spanish is not that good!

Now I muster the big guns, “Did you know”, I say in my most compassionate and holy of voices, “that I am a priest and the Bible talks about the spirit and the letter of the Law! Surely, this is about the spirit of the law being applied, as my wife has been hurt?”  She counters, “There are many who walk the Camino and do the 100 kilometers and are not priests;

A deeper voice stirs within me, maybe the voice of God?  It asks of me, “Why am I so quick to want to debate? Do I feel I have been done an injustice? Has a gross injury been done to me?  Does it ‘really matter’?  Why is it so important?”  What willl be your response Iain?

I see with new eyes. Gratefulness for what Lindy and I have achieved.

We look at each other; Lindy and I smile realizing that this is one of the lessons of the Camino, to learn to respond differently to situations. We say to each other, “Buen Camino!” We say to the lady across the counter, “Bless you!”  I go outside smiling, feeling a sense of lightness and freedom. I take a coffee in the Plaza. Life is good. A homeless lady comes up the table and asks me for money!  Oh no….not another spiritual lesson!

On the second time, we walked the Camino, I had to take a taxi for eight kilometers!  Linda walked the whole of the last 100 kilometers! After 700 plus kilometers plus, I walked up to the counter. The lady, a different one this time after five years, smiled at us and stamped Linda’s certificate. She turned to me and said, “And would you like one Sir…?”

©Iain Gow


Christmas Baby

Tess Ashton 26 December 2015

try and describe the softest thing

a tree’s sheen of green

in spring

a cloud drifting - only blue behind –

the breath of a new baby

in a mother’s heart

words very

very hard to find

i think of the poet - Sam -

who might as well have said

babies trees clouds

when he was talking about


said poems aren’t like anything else

‘just as Christ wasn’t like

Moses or John or anyone

a poem is itself

it’s all in there

not anywhere else’

another poet – Gerard -

said the word

that aches most

from the softest things

like babies

trees and clouds

is love

Zoe Bonnie is a poem

sailing in a cloud

has to be top of the tree

for Natalie

and all who love her


on earth


in heaven

©Tess Ashton

written for Natalie and Zoe Bonnie, named after Granma Bonnie



earth's dreamers

Tess Ashton 30 November 2015

sunless forests

cut their losses

that’s them

flouncing in pearl-soft


lonely fields

take a chance

race off to the arms

of clear blue heavens

parched deserts

switch the light

cool and sparkle in

silhouette night


coral losing ground

rides the wave

of rainbow life

sky therapy

appeals to

all earth’s dreamers

I shoot

the breeze

with let go trees

sip rainbow hues

laced with

starry gold

join fields

running blue

gentle beasts

flying through

©Tess Ashton



Thoughts of a harassed mother as Christmas approaches

Margaret Lyall 18 October 2015


Stress and distress, crisis on crisis,

mind, body and spirit cannot take much more.

Utter exhaustion, energy finished,

pain and despair, darkness and silence.

Then, piercing the silence, the cry of an infant,

heralding One who will suffer and die.

Through His living and dying His love will be steadfast

His Spirit set free and gifted to all.

Can this really be true?

Does it fit with experience?

There's reluctance to believe such a staggering claim.

And yet, to be honest, so often it happens

In the depths of the pain, in the pit of despair...

  - through others' hands His hands stretch out to touch

  - through others' eyes His eyes look out in love

  - through others' lips His lips speak words of care…

and faith is rekindled, in response to His words

'What more must I do for you to believe?'

Minds cannot comprehend;

truth is veiled in paradox.

But every time doubt becomes stronger,

a potentially deeper faith

yearns to reach out and embrace it…

like light piercing the darkness.

©Margaret Lyall



The Thinker, my sister and daughter and all things about love in Philadelphia

Tess Ashton 15 October 2015

My loving sister who lives

in Philadelphia

first city of America

            city of a thousand trees and

slim pretty streets

where window boxes

spill with flowers and 4th of July flags

and people gather on pavement chairs

tipped out tight doorways

over high front stairs

terrace-house knees negotiating

close as the tree limbs


speak brotherly love

drink sisterly wines

on hot Friday nights

             My sister I was saying

has the Uber app

on her phone

we used it twice when we visited

right now I’m started…

she Uber’d

to get us round the corner

me, husband Lloyd and grandson Caspar

from Parkway Apartments

art deco with a hint of gothic flair

in Logan Square

to terrace house digs

in sweet Meredith

heart of the arts quarter

where Rocky at the

steps of the Philadelphia

Museum of Art

is hot property

the city’s latest addition

to its statue collection


             as I was saying

enlivened by our

exciting reunion with

our daughter Alex

and granddaughter Olivia

down from Canada

on that first evening at my sister’s

we and Caspar wafted one with the lift

that once carried

education board people

out to the marble edge of Winter St

and elegant



where classical trees

loftily mind

the people below who

stop by

Rodin’s ‘The Thinker’

and those mesmerised

by the art at the Barnes Foundation

who come out bearing

Cezanne apple and pear

candle fruit mementos

that make fools

of customs officers at airports  – ha!

and bring postcards of Matisse

and Picasso riches home

for mantel pieces

              High classical trees that cool

people who visit

the science museum

of Benjamin Franklin

in the summer season

and who loll on the grass

with homeless people

like lionesses

while grand children

play on the swans and

the giant First Nation people

at Logan Circle

              but re my sister and Uber

our light toes had barely

reached the pavement

our hearts one

with the hot American night

when our Uber appeared

a black Chevy sculpture

a mere click of the fingers

from there to here

Denzel Washington quipped hubby later

was the driver

tall as a Pennsylvania night

and lustrous as a god

we were fated to be in possession of

for a moment

gave reason

to later muse

on the panoply of

guiding trees

the dark bronze sculpture

in Rodin’s Gallery garden

we would pass several times

on our walk to Wholefoods

organic supermarket

where they employ disabled people

and yellow shopping bags have LOVE

in big letters

a take on

the famous Love sculpture in the Love Park

on the JFK Boulevard

by the fountain where the kids

all rush and play

in the heat of July holidays

              It was ‘The Thinker’

got me humming

through the week

that came

the plaque explained

on close inspection

is the top small figure

created for

a sculpture

of Dante’s

‘The Gates Of Hell’

then the artist

enlarged his expression

to personify all inspiration

behind creative thought

an answer to my old question

about what’s behind all things poetic

bizarre this driver

for a moment

personified the revelation

that love is in motion

here in Philadelphia

             In the back of his Chevvy

our stuff and my family

tumbled about the leather excitedly

from the front

I marveled the way

of our limo-trained driver

the pay-later scheme

completed the golden mile

next day

we returned from being out

to find Caspar’s

red running shoes

glowing on the doorstep

like Cinder’s slippers

dropped in the getaway

returned by Uber

a surprising

thing for a taxi driver


              But Uber is like no other

fits well in the city of brothers

where Penn the Father

was known to interpret

St Paul’s words of freedom

‘Love is above all;

and when it prevails in us all,

we shall all be lovely,

and in love with God and one with another’

hail to Philadelphia’s far walking father

and my sister, daughter, grand daughter

husband, and grandson

and the Uber driver and trees and art

in Pennsylvania

©Tess Ashton


Side note:

America’s first city named by

its far-seeing owner

William Penn who dreamed it all

devotee of St Paul

America’s first Quaker

set the hopeful standard

for extravagant love

his city plan and libertarian principles


Thomas Jefferson, Ben Franklin

the American constitution

invited British and European persecuted

Hugenots, Mennonites

Amish, Catholics, Lutherans and Jews

in time art lovers with Penn’s Oxford


people with money

got persuaded

made bronze statues of mothers and fathers

heros and heroines

planted them like muses on

the ridiculously clever

town planner’s

broad plazas


Any Where and The Beloved Disciple

The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson 26 September 2015

Any Where

the bonnet of a car in Mount Ginini’s mist, a cathedral or

a homestead, or beside a hospice bed when time and breath

are short; even inside cinder block and razor wire; any where

is where enough for us well-meaning clumsies hungering

after more than scroggin for The Track, who gathering brave

his Triduum to feast upon the fullness of his empty tomb;

and feasting find ourselves – each one – as the Beloved Disciple

gathered and in-folded to the hem of his eighth day


The Beloved Disciple

John’s Gospel is famously unique for its seemingly ‘loose’ treatment of history.[1] I suggest this seemingly cavalier approach to history is to make some strong theological points connected with the driving theological purpose articulated in his opening sentence: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God”.

This has allowed the evangelist to ‘invent’ an enigmatic character: ‘the Beloved Disciple’. From the viewpoint of strict historical analysis, the Beloved Disciple is apparently guilty of criminal negligence: when Jesus tells him unmistakably who the betrayer is (‘the one to whom I give this bread…’ 13:26). The Beloved Disciple does nothing at all to change the course of events.

It is necessary to look through another lens.

There is a venerable Hebrew tradition that goes at least as far back as the Book of Deuteronomy, that all the future generations of Israel were already present as witnesses to the Exodus/Passover and God’s definitive revelation on Mount Sinai, the core events of Israel’s collective memory. Each generation is thereby invited to see, with the eyes of faith, what their predecessors saw – and so enter into it for themselves. While clearly not historically possible, the effect is nevertheless dramatically compelling.

Again and again, the audience of the national assembly is reminded that they have seen…the portentous events that Moses is rehearsing. At one remove, the members of the historical audience of the Book of Deuteronomy  are implicitly invited to imagine what their forebears actually saw, to see it vicariously. The midrashic notion that all future generations of Israel were already present as witnesses at Sinai is adumbrated, perhaps actually generated, by this rhetorical strategy of the evocation of witnessing in Deuteronomy.[2]

This added depth to an article about the Beloved Disciple, published in 1983 by Margaret Pamment.[3] Her article enabled me to view John’s ‘Beloved Disciple’ as a rhetorical creation, part of the Johannine ‘evocation of witnessing’. The Beloved Disciple becomes our entry point, our ancestor in the faith, the one in whom we were actually present and experienced these things.

My poem suggests, first, that every Eucharist is a participation in Jesus’ historic Triduum (a different sort of ‘track’). Further, that my twenty-first century participation in a Eucharist transports me into the historic Last Supper, as the Beloved Disciple in whom I am historically present but unable to change the course of events that night because historically they have already run their course.

My poem suggests, secondly, through the imagery of ‘the eighth day’ that every Eucharist transports me and all faithful participants eschatologically into the Messianic Banquet.[4]

Any where is where enough.

©The Revd. Jim McPherson




[1] Jesus is frequently in Jerusalem, whereas in Matthew and Mark, he arrives there from Galilee for the first time on Palm Sunday, after extensive ministry in the north of Galilee. Luke records one single visit before Palm Sunday, when Jesus was twelve years old.

[2] Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses (2004), pp 869 - 873

[3] Margaret Pamment, The Fourth Gospel’s Beloved Disciple, The Expository Times, September 1983, vol. 94 #12:363-367

[4] The ‘eighth day of the week’ refers to an ancient Christian liturgical practice, inextricably related to Christian identity, which yearned for ‘the eighth day’ which ‘opens toward what cannot be reached simply by more days like those of the seven day weeks we have known…opening toward the day beyond days, toward the last day of God.’ (Gordon W. Lathrop, Holy Things (1993), pp 36 – 43. 


From Glastonbury to Iona

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 18 September 2015

Holidays often begin in weariness. Everyday mundanities soon give way to tantalising glimpses of a different life.    

The ferry left a misty Oban and arrived at the jetty on Iona where the weather turned bright. Wild and remote, the villagers of this tiny island in the Atlantic Ocean know how to walk against the unbridled wind. Yet in what has been a curious summer of weather, the sun shone for longer than a day and my skin glowed. Freckles became uncountable.

I discovered coves and caves for the very first time, dreamt of ancient legends that spoke of truth and possibility, walked across fertile flowered machair and awoke at dawn to the rasping sound of grey and chestnut plumaged corncrakes, secretive visitors from Africa. They opened my eyes to the illusory rising of two suns.

The Bay at the Back of the Ocean, the Hill of the Angels, the Gully of Pat’s Cow, the Port of the Marten-Cat Cliff, the White Strand of the Monks and tide-dancing for tiny polished beads of serpentine at Columba’s Bay, beckoned. Ragged robin, St. John’s Wort, bog myrtle and orchids grew in a landscape of translucence and light.

I stayed at a small island hotel. The bread-maker rose early in the morning to prepare her gift and the smell of earth’s fragrance wafted through the house. Fresh organic bread, rich and moist, full of seeds and nuts, carrying the gentle life and death secrets of grain.

The Abbey remains the summer-hour destination for coach weary day-trippers and those escaping the noise and grime of city streets and isolated urban spaces. They come to a remote place and feel at home. At sundown, the island gives itself back to resident dwellers while kittiwakes and sea eagles, like sentinels, soar around this thin place. 

When St. Columba made his bittersweet landing on Iona’s shore, the story goes that he chose it because he would not be able to see his beloved Ireland. Drawn to a world beyond his knowing, Columba’s home-sickness must have been like the ache of an uprooted plant with only courage and faith to hold it up. He became grounded in new soil.         

And so on to the opalescent mist of Glastonbury, popularly known for its music festival of Vee Dub tents, welly boots, boho, wild flowers in the hair, mainlining acts and mud.

This is Camelot, the Isle of Avalon, a place of disappeared kingdoms, myth, intentional well-being, religious and New Age pilgrimage. Sitting amongst the ruins of Glastonbury Abbey, in the drizzle of a mild September day with the ‘once and future’ King Arthur and his wife, Guinevere, reputedly lying buried nearby and with centuries of fireside storytelling warming my imagination, I felt as though I was searching for the rainbow’s end.

Legend has it that Joseph of Arimathea, the great-uncle of Jesus, who placed his nephew’s body in the tomb after the Crucifixion, later made his way to Glastonbury with eleven companions, bringing with him the Holy Grail, the cup used at the Last Supper. 

Glastonbury was once an island. It can be seen from a great distance because of the Tor, a hill of some 500 feet, crowned by the 14th century Chapel of St. Michael. Joseph is said to have buried the chalice near the Tor and to have founded the first Christian church in Europe at this Place of Dreams. Resting on Wearyall Hill, he stuck his staff into the ground where it miraculously took root. The Glastonbury Thorn blooms each Christmas.

Great saints over the centuries, Dunstan, Columba, David, Bridget, Patrick and others have journeyed to this sacred and mysterious place as have so many of us ordinary mortals before and since, because not only did Joseph of Arimathea walk there but also Jesus himself.    

The mystic, artist and writer, William Blake toyed with that possibility when he penned in his poem, Milton, some verses which became known as the hymn Jerusalem,

And did those feet in ancient time

Walk upon England's mountains green?

And was the holy Lamb of God

On England's pleasant pastures seen?

What happened in this place of unravelled threads?

Richard Bach, author of Jonathan Livingston Seagull wrote, ‘not being known doesn’t stop the truth from being true.’ A rainbow coloured the Avalon sky in the late afternoon. I knew that I might never find its beginning or its end. It matters not.

©Hilary Oxford Smith


The Dancer

Stuart Holmes Coleman 19 August 2015

(For APC)

I never knew my mother

was a dancer and a lover

of ballet until suddenly

last summer when she told me

during a long phone call how she

once danced upon the stage

years ago in another age.

At that moment I realized

just as stars glimmer in the night

and the moon shines like a spotlight

my mother dances in my eyes.

© Stuart Holmes Coleman



Father's Day

Stuart Holmes Coleman 19 August 2015

My mother used to say

she didn't know why she

carried me for nine months

when my father could have

spat me out in one day.

Indeed it is hard to tell

our childhood pictures apart.

But we chose different lives--

he was a drummer boy

leading the marching band

and I was a surfer boy

searching for waves of change.

He became a preacher

a civil rights leader

and a father of four.

I became a teacher

writer and reformer

with no kids of my own.

As different as we are

I know we share the same

fragile heart and brittle bones.


©Stuart H. Coleman


The Flotsam in the Bay

The Rev. Dr. Paul McKeown 18 August 2015

There’s no hurry in a beach walk

it’s an amble, not a stride.

Step out too quickly and you’ll miss

the gifts borne by the tide.

The point is not to get someplace

or clock another mile.

It’s the manner of your travelling

which makes the walk worthwhile.

So let your gaze go wandering

as you stroll along the sand.

And when you find a treasure, pause

and take it in your hand

and wonder at the choice you’ve made.

Why did this speak to you?

This stone, or shell, or piece of glass –

its shimmer, shape or hue?

And why did others pass it by

and leave it in its place?

Because you’re you, and they’re themselves.

Our selfhood is a grace.

And grace it is, when we forget

our names along the way.

To find ourselves again amongst

the flotsam in the bay.

©Paul McKeown


Swing Trilogy

Tess Ashton 27 July 2015


I wake to your jiving


you’re wired

hot as rock guitars

rollicking with the fences

to the top bush line

and hills

you play a mean base

your grasses ripple

lit gold

young flames shooting

electric rain

and above

the clouds raked into

icing swirls

this feast of joy

is working

hills and clouds and trees

like me

are celebrating

Dufy’s holiday dazzle

you’re a

minstrel of joy


when I read that description

I knew

what I knew

was true

your Eiffel towers

your yachts

and hotels

erupting in a mass of

couldn’t care less


have work to do

point to

the dazzle of holidays


entrenched happiness

Van Gogh go go


it’s a Van Gogh go go

breaking the heart

of everything apart

hill and tree and clouds

are rocking

while the wind

of a Dufy summer

keeps everything

breezy and

happily together

©Tess Ashton



Winter solstice song

Tess Ashton 10 July 2015

Anyone want to do something different?

Instead of job hunt

Read a poem?

And reflect on it?

Heads nod

Eyes wide

What’s she on about?

Go to the tried and true

Google sam hunt

Winter solstice song comes up

Print off

Hand out a copy to

Each one willing

To be captive to

A surprise

A word so like sunrise

To begin I attempt

To explain

The nature of words

By asking them

What do they think

Words are?

No one says weapons

That’s a good start

I help by saying

Words are potent

Units of memory


Hold different

Images and meaning

For each of us

For example

If I say the colour red

What do we each see?

Round the room

It’s a flag


A highlighter pen

Just red

The exercise is to

Listen to the reading

A couple of times

And underline the words and

Phrases that

Stand out or speak a little more loudly

Than the others

…‘But it is

the year's shortest day

when anything can happen,

miracles 'not a problem'.

The sun five minutes with us

came and left with a kiss.

We believe in miracles. That, love,

is all we have.’

The work of poetry

Is to find the message of hope in the poem

I say brightly

So everybody

Take the word that’s calling you

Now write about it

What has it got to say

To you today?

It was the words

Winter solstice

That must have caught Sam’s heart

When he sat to write

And the ones that

Caught mine

For the 50th time?

‘miracles 'not a problem'.


©Tess Ashton


Intercession and Blessing

The Rev. Iain Gow 6 July 2015


I intercede for you who needs an encounter,

with Christ.

I intercede for myself; may I know today

Jesus as lover of my soul.

I intercede for my world; may it be

drawn to unity

I intercede for you and me, and all I love.



May you encounter Jesus today in spirit

and in truth:

Where you thirst, may Christ become

a fountain for you

Where you hunger, may Christ feed you

the bread of life.

Where you are alone, may Christ

be your companion on the way

Where you are in conflict, may Christ

heal that division.

Where you are in sin, may Christ love you

into being saved

Where there is darkness, may Christ love you

into light.

May Christ who lives within you, bless you,

and make himself known through you

This day and always…


© (from Be Still, Iain Gow and Nat Tate)


Faith and Doubt

The Rev. Iain Gow 3 July 2015


Lord, when my season is joy, let me celebrate

and be thankful;

When my season is pain, let me discover

you healing me;

When my season is doubt, let me know

the seedling of faith stir again;

When my season is loneliness,

bring a friend to me;

When my season is full of loathing,

take my bitterness away;

When my season is loss, show me you

have not forgotten me.

Help me Lord, to discover you in all seasons

of my life.



Bless you Lord, who is in our summers, falls,

winters, and springs.

And may the blessing of God, Father, Son

and Holy Spirit, be upon us

And all whom we love, now and always.


© (from Be Still, Iain Gow and Nat Tate)



The Rev. Dr. Paul McKeown 1 July 2015

The bus was early

or we were late.

Either way, they fled

with fleeting kisses,

schoolbags pummelling skinny legs

all down the driveway –

scared the driver wouldn’t wait.

Smiling, I watched them,

as the coach door

slid home, hissing,

and pigtailed shadows

waved goodbye through tinted glass.

I answered – hand raised

in the primal semaphore

of parting - and held

the stance a while,

pondering waves.

Remembering John,

who’d talk you into stupor

for an afternoon

but farewell’d in the old style -

a courteous sentry


your departure from

his top step vantage.

He’d send a wordless blessing

from an open palm

to dignify your leaving.

Sundays at granny’s -

full of healing


The comforting sprawl

of table, couch and chatter

asked little of us

and always left us feeling

more loved and loving.

The kids required

a herding, car-wards,

by the end. Windows

gaping, they’d holler out their

‘bye’s right down the brae,

waving madly. Happily tired.

And dear old Mildred.

From Pulpit Hill

she'd watch your ferry

churn into the Sound

of Mull, and wave a tea towel

at the specks we were

as if to say, ‘I see you still’.

©Paul McKeown


Northern Lights in April

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 26 June 2015

Travelling is in the DNA of most New Zealanders. Over a million of them live overseas and thousands holiday around the world each year. Families love nothing better than packing up the tent, caravan or camper van and hitting the road to enjoy some R and R. If you’ve got an iconic V Dub, all the better.

Clive and I are currently working in Scotland and have been missing the camping adventures that we enjoyed in New Zealand. A wee camper van has now been added to our life and after Easter, we set off on a tiki tour…

By the lakeside at Windermere on an April evening, the water mirrors the still sky. Trees are not yet in leaf. Buds await with quivering intensity. A few boats are about. The day has been one of hot sun and a cold wind. Late snow fell on Helvellyn in the early hours. The daffodils, so redolent of this rugged and wild landscape, are in their dying days.

Nesting for endless hours in the reedy bank is a cob Mute swan. His mate has been swanning around all day looking for food. Non-native Canada geese honk here and there. Conservationists say that they are compromising the habitat and need to be ‘managed’. Waterskiers on the lake fall into the same category.

William Wordsworth wandered here, lonely as a cloud o’er vales and hills. Daffodils inspired him to write some words which have earned themselves a place in popular poetic consciousness. He wrote better poetry though. Mystical, spiritual poetry, most of it, glimpsing divine unity in all living things.

When the rain teemed down and made the black slate houses blacker, the far distant mountains sang ‘the still sad music of humanity’ he wrote. When he felt the loss of that visionary light, his ‘Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood’, revealed that the memory of it never left him.

Samuel Taylor Coleridge, a friend of his wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner at the village of Grasmere, a place described by Wordsworth as ‘the fairest place on earth’. Like so many of his contemporaries, Coleridge was addicted to opium, commonly prescribed then for everything from a cough to vague aches and pains. He scribbled Kubla Khan after dreaming of the stately pleasure-domes of a Chinese emperor.

Another Lake poet, Thomas De Quincey wrote an autobiographical account of his addiction, Confessions of an English Opium Eater which became an overnight success. The opium dreams did not last for these poets of the Romantic School though. Such imaginings may have presented them with unique material for their poetry but it gradually took away from them the will and the power to make use of it.

There are two villages called Near and Far Sawrey.  Between the far and the near, is Hill Top, a 17th century farmhouse that brought the kind of childlike imagining I had put away. Beatrix Potter, the writer and illustrator bought the property with the profits from selling her first book, The Tale of Peter Rabbit, written first as a picture and story letter to cheer up a five year old boy who was ill.

Most writers have to learn to deal with rejection at some time or another and she was no exception. After several snubs from publishers, she finally landed a publishing deal for the story of this rebellious rabbit.

Potter’s own remarkable tale was that of a young woman who finally freed herself from demanding and possessive parents and achieved independence and fulfilment by her own efforts. The farm became her sanctuary, a place where she could draw, paint and write about lovable and villainous anthropomorphic animals and the triumph of good. Her stories are not only for little children.

And then on to rural South West Scotland and the ordination of a good friend. Farms and houses are  scattered far and wide in his new parish and I was reminded of the 18th century diaries of Norfolk clergyman, James Woodforde who led an uneventful and unambitious life except that for 45 years, he kept a diary chronicling the minutiae of life in the parish. His was an endearing pastoral ministry by all accounts, that went hand in hand with a liking for roast beef dinners washed down with copious amounts of claret and port and always shared with friends. His legacy is a jewel of a diary that illuminates the darkest of times.  

Wordsworth worshipped at St. Oswald’s Anglican Church in Grasmere. He found it a comfortless place apparently. I can see him sitting on a hard bench, his feet on the earth floor which would have been covered with rushes, with the only heat coming from a tiny grate in the vestry, burning wood and charcoal. In his later years he warmed to the church when he wrote Ecclesiastical Sketches, a history and defence of the Anglican Church. He had grown to like its moderation and tolerance which he regarded as its strength, tempered through centuries of conflict and trial.

In the churchyard at St. Oswald’s, lie his remains and those of his wife Mary, sister Dorothy and his children, Dora, Thomas and Catharine. The poet Harley Coleridge, son of Samuel Taylor is also a neighbour. Alfred Lord Tennyson said that ‘next to Westminster Abbey, this to me is the most sacred spot in England.’ He may well be right.

©Hilary Oxford Smith

April 2015


Northern Lights in June

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 26 June 2015

A New Zealander arrived on our doorstep last week, cold and alone. The early British summer had finally got to him. The Manse, which is the Scots name for a clergy house, was marginally warmer than the temperature outside. 

When we lived in New Zealand, my memories of childhood summers in Britain were building sandcastles on the beach, eating ice-cream with sprinkles, skipping through fields of daisies, being an imaginary fish in the sea. Now I remember what I had chosen to forget. That it all happened in the cool wind and rain with glimpses of sunshine.

Our Kiwi friend, who is discovering his family history, was en route to the Orkney Islands, that archipelago, far north. Weather forecast grim. The Orcadian Sabbath is a day of rest, he said. Nothing to do except go to church. Which he did, at St. Magnus Cathedral. Afterwards he read The Observer newspaper, from cover to cover in the relative warmth of a B and B in Kirkwall.

The Cathedral, one of the finest medieval churches in Europe, is known as ‘The Light of the North’, founded in 1137 by the Viking, Earl Rognvald in honour of his uncle, Magnus. Thereby hangs a saga of political intrigue and dirty deeds. Since those early days, the Roman Catholic, Norwegian, Scottish Episcopal and Presbyterian Churches have all claimed the building as their own. Yet the Cathedral has never been the property of any of them. It belongs to the people, assigned to them by King James III of Scotland in a charter of 1486.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, there have been baptisms, confirmations, a wedding and funerals. We yearn for markers in the transitions of life. This is where the Church comes into her own, offering an embodied love through the rites of passage that give meaning to the passage of time and experience.

Another kind of embodied love is happening at the Findhorn Community which beckoned me earlier this week when the sun came out. In the swinging ‘60’s, Eileen and Peter Caddy and Dorothy Maclean found themselves without work.

With their children, they lived in a caravan on a wild and windswept shore. Feeding six people on unemployment benefit was almost impossible so they began to grow, from poor soil, amazing flowers, herbs, fruit and huge vegetables. Word spread, botanists and horticultural experts visited and the garden at Findhorn became famous.

The longing of these three friends was to 'bring heaven to earth'. Others joined them in that hope and now the Community commits itself to a sustainable, holistic way of life and a spacious spirituality. I whiled away some time in one of its smaller gardens. Bees were about, water tumbled over rounded stones, carrots and capsicums grew in the midst of late bluebells and old roses, lemon balm, sage and lavender. A lady wearing a floppy straw hat sat in a shady corner, back straight, eyes closed, calming her mind.

Two small and beautiful books of poems and prayers arrived in the post a few days ago. Written by  friends in New Zealand, Where Gulls Hold Sway and Be Still were companions on that afternoon of perfect light. The touch of new paper, the smell of ink and glue, the physical turning of the page with thumb and finger, the reading of words that read me…what is this heaven?

Later this month, at Stonehenge, a mysterious formation of stones in perfect alignment with the solar events of the Summer and Winter Solstices, there will be many peoples, who will gather in a spirit of togetherness, to celebrate the Light on the longest day of the year.

In the Southern Hemisphere, on the same date, the Winter Solstice will gift quietude, firelight, restfulness, while seeds germinate in the cold earth. Our ancient ancestors knew the sacredness of such times.

Memory recalls a visit with Clive, to a recumbent stone circle in Scotland with the almost unpronounceable name of Easter Aquhorthies. It happened many moons ago, in the early hours of a Summer Solstice morning when we were first in love. We cooked eggs on a makeshift stove for breakfast and then watched the pink porphyry, red jasper and grey granite stones, placed there over 4,000 years ago, change colour in the enchanted light. It seemed as if the whole world was open before us.

The earth spins around, time passes in minutes and millennia. We come, we leave, we meet again. One story.

©Hilary Oxford Smith


The Pentecostal lady apostle from Brisbane

Tess Ashton 7 June 2015

The pentecostal lady apostle

from Brisbane

heard recently

at a women’s conference

had a dream

Aunty came to visit

after a bit


was leaving for home

back over a perilously rising


You can’t go now aunty

you’ll drown…

but Aunt Hope

was determined

and quickly made off

toward the gushing stream

The apostle tried her best to stop

the worst from happening

but fast as a firebrand

the old lady

threw herself

Into the swirling foam

come back Aunt Hope

come back

come back Hope


come back


cooome baaaack

but now Aunt Hope

was being washed away

like limp tinder

until her plucky foot struck a sandbank

and held her fast

then the apostle

plunged forth

and believing with all her heart

reached out and

grabbed Aunt Hope’s hand

she pulled and pulled

and pulled until

the two lay gasping

on the grass

Oh said Aunt Hope

I’m going to come

and live with you

sleep with you

in your double bed

in your motel home

never leave you

Ok thought the apostle

I’ll cope

It was a dream remember

Pushing her luck Aunt Hope said

but I’ll have to bring

my friend with me

and the apostle thought

that’ll be a squeeze

but ok the friend can have

the little annexe

off the main bedroom

there’s a bed

pretty messy

lots of junk on it

so the friend arrived

and had a look and said

oh no

I’m not sleeping there

I’m sleeping in the double bed

with you and Hope

where you and Hope are

I’ve gotta be

said Aunt Faith

And that’s the story of how

the pentecostal apostle

from Brisbane

got hope back

and once she got hope back then

faith moved back too

soon it was all


moving mountains

from here

to there

faith stuff

true evidence

of hope’s return

©Tess Ashton


new positivity buzz

Tess Ashton 31 May 2015

I got my hair cut

On Saturday

felt I had a winner

as I peered,


in the salon mirror

Strange how this hairdresser

put me

on another level

my husband kept looking at me

appreciatively later

Wow 15 years


said a workmate

on Monday

My spiritual director

found me lighter

on Tuesday

It’s my positivity theology

I explained

I cut off the dead wood:

my hair’s

a symbol of that

I’m experimenting

with happiness


and optimism

am on the lookout

for coins in the mouths

of fishes

like the feel

of the breeze

round my neck as I worship

it’s a wind blowing

and kind of


Now the

angels all praising

and the power

of the Spirit

are free to attend

to all

my good wishes

it’s Pentecost time

I’m playing

with fire

standing right

in the way

of all heaven’s


To start with some

negative ghosts

hanging round

kicked up –

shoved off

once they knew

I meant business

Once I’d staked out my ground

©Tess Ashton


Spero: I Hope

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 26 May 2015

“It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness came over the whole land…for the sun stopped shining.”

The heavy cries of the swooping seagulls fell silent and a chill crept into the air as the Moon came between us and the Sun. The deep shadow, which formed first in the North Atlantic, swept up into the Arctic and at the North Pole became no more. As the recent solar eclipse reached totality and the irridescent crown of the corona surrounded the sun, words from Pádraig Ó Tuama’s poem, In-between the sun and moon came to mind:

“In-between the sun and moon,

I sit and watch

and make some room

for letting light and twilight mingle,

shaping hope…”[1]

I first came across this Irish Bard when a writing scholar at Vaughan Park said to me, ‘oh, you must discover him’. So I did. Actively involved with the Ikon collective in Belfast, The Corrymeela Community and the Irish Peace Centres, Ó Tuama gives an earthly and transcendent voice to life, troubles and hope.

The lamps are going out over Syria, reports Gerald Butt, the Middle East correspondent of the Church Times. According to satellite imagery at night, the destruction of 83% of lights in the country has plunged most of this fertile crescent into darkness.

After four years, the war rages on and highly publicised extreme violence by cross-border terrorist groups and the myriad violations of international law and human rights committed on all sides has spread to other countries and engendered fear and atrocity across swathes of the world. Fighting men and praying men lie side by side…their harmony together is found in rounds of fire and occupation.  For most of us, what is happening is a scenario too stark, too horrible, too brutal to fully contemplate over breakfast or at any other time. 

There are those in the three Abrahamic faiths who preach from lofty heights where the air is cold, that what is happening in Syria is linked to Biblical and Islamic prophecy about the End Times. As they turn a well-thumbed page of The Revelation of St. John the Divine, they confidently propagate their thirst and hunger for Doomsday while ten million innocents have fled their homes, are without shelter, war-ravaged, hungry and thirsty. Many people are not even able to bury their dead.

To mark the fourth year anniversary of the war on 15th March, #With Syria, a campaigning coalition of more than 130 humanitarian and human rights organisations, including Amnesty International, Christian Aid, Oxfam and Save the Children launched a video, ‘Afraid of the dark’[2], calling on world governments to do more to end the suffering of the people.

Thanks be to the people who refuse to let hope die and live Christ’s gift of peace.

“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.”

The bones of a Plantagenet king, on the throne some 500 years ago, were unearthed by chance and, watched by thousands, were re-buried within the small and beautiful Leicester Cathedral a few days ago.  Richard III died in battle at Bosworth Field in 1485 and his body was buried by Franciscan monks in a simple grave. Leicester City Council unknowingly covered his burial place with tarmac and made it into a car park. Cardinal Vincent Nichols, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, acknowledged that Richard was not a man of peace. “The time into which he was born, and the role into which he was born, did not permit that. But now we pray for his eternal peace.” History is sometimes seen through a glass darkly. “What is truth?” asked Pilate. “

There are fragments of who and what we are in all the characters and events of Passiontide and Resurrection:

“ The soon –to-be Easter light…

highlighted the night between

our fallings and our flyings

on this Friday of our good sorrows,

or bad sorrows

our mad, and sad,


glad that there are gladder days beyond these days sorrow.

We toast the night, o felix culpa,

and hide the light of lights

for a while”[3].

In Scotland, where I am currently living and working, the dying days of winter are giving way to Spring. The heavy rains have almost gone, the flowers appear on the earth, the blackbird sings. Autumn in Aotearoa heralds a different season of colour, of ripening and fruitfulness, where new thresholds and possibilities beckon and emerge.

Wherever we live in the world, can we trust the Easter promise of these openings and unfurl ourselves into the grace of new beginnings?

Jasmine is the symbolic flower of Damascus. In April each year, there used to be a Jasmine festival held there. It still blooms amidst the rubble and fragrances the air.

©Hilary Oxford Smith

31 March 2015


[1] Ó Tuama, Pádraig, readings from the book of exile, Canterbury Press, Norwich, 2012, p. 12

[2] Afraid of the Dark,

[3] Ibid., Good Friday, p. 16


Northern Lights in May

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 26 May 2015

A golden and warm sun rose early on the first day of summer, May Day. The distant hum of a lawnmower reminds me of how much the lawn is part of this country's identity. Think cricket and the sound of leather and cork on willow, cucumber sandwiches and Earl Grey, afternoon strolls around the park, strawberries and cream. Antidotes to unpredictable weather.

It is blowing a howling, living gale outside. Our two puppy dogs think that wolves are about. Ferries have given up sailing to the islands, trucks are travelling by the low road and white horses ride the waves. Rudyard Kipling evoked the destructive possibilities of the sea in his poem, White Horses. Migrants from Africa, escaping to Europe and fleeing from fear, poverty, dispossession, know about white horses only too well. And still they ride the waves every day…some never reach the shore.

‘Be tough on immigration’ say those who believe that a mixture of boat tow-backs and harsh detention centres on remote islands is the solution to stop people smugglers and prevent deaths at sea. The delusional seduction of ivory towers.

In 1915, Kipling’s son, John, serving with the Irish Guards, went missing in action at the Battle of Loos. Kipling later served on the Imperial War Graves Commission and chose some words from Ecclesiasticus, which have been inscribed on many war memorials since: 'Their Name Liveth For Evermore'.

The names of those who died because of the badly planned, ill-conceived and disastrous Gallipoli campaign were remembered here on April 25th as they were in the Southern Hemisphere and elsewhere. After nine months of bloody slaughter, Winston Churchill, the ambitious First Lord of the Admiralty resigned. He lived to fight another day of course, spurred on by keeping a whisky going throughout the day.

The 70th anniversary of VE Day was commemorated last week. A fleeting, heady celebration back then, masking the loss and regret, the dispossession and homelessness, the anger and frustration. Churchill and his Conservative Party were heavily defeated in the 1945 General Election. There is a time for everything and everyone. 

Another Conservative Prime Minister, Margaret Thatcher, apparently read all 845 of Kipling’s poems on a short summer holiday in 1976. It must have been raining. The new Members of Parliament, recently elected in the General Election in the UK haven’t had time to read poetry. The posturing and bargaining has started, superseding news from the far South of John Key’s ongoing Ponytail-gate saga.

Prince Harry though has been basking in the limelight of an Aotearoan sun. With Uncle away, the new Royal baby brightened the nation’s mood here. Charlotte Elizabeth Diana weighed in at 8lbs 3oz. Her mother, Catherine emerged from hospital, a few hours after giving birth, looking beautifully blessed. Her father too. They are sheltering trees where their little daughter’s fledgling heart can rest.   

On this Ascension Sunday, I have been asked to christen a baby girl called Emily who was born on the Feast of Stephen. She came into the world, like a Christmas rose, petals unfolding, gentle and fragrant. Her parents’ love and kindness has come into blossom. 

If her destiny is sheltered, I pray that the grace of this privilege may reach and bless other children who will be born and raised in torn and forlorn places.

©Hilary Oxford Smith

May 2015


Three stanzas for Christchurch

Tess Ashton 15 May 2015

Three stanzas for Christchurch 

(taken from two larger poems written towards the end of 2009

and before the earthquakes of 2010 and 2011)

Christchurch Girls’ High School girls by the Avon in 1968

we danced

through hagley park

from tennis court to school

girls falling


like amazonians

to tiny avon’s charms

threw jungle calls round weeping trees

swung ropes that rang the bells

the dream of swan and stream

had us in its spell

our phys-ed teacher lingered

let the ballet play

deep limey banks

stalled the call

to wade the sparkling road

chucked the ball mid-stream instead

skimmed toward glimmers

of light ahead

recollection, refraction

threw it back 40 years on

close by, afternoon-empty

classrooms breathed

greek guardians hovered

between school and pond

layers of living words

whirling adrift of books

girls limbering-up

licks of river green that summer

red and orange flames late autumn


The fire - Christchurch Cathedral

When I saw the strange flares yesterday

in a cheap African wood-cut

black peasants swirling with sky-borne water pots

long-swung arms welcoming the desert

the rhythm of first nation people

already warring in my gut

a message going out in

a drum-beating time smouldering

the ridge-line

of me

I’d been thinking of

Christchurch Cathedral

a catacomb for flights

round mystery’s realms

where knees

tender and grimacing on stable straw    

soften the ancient mats

temper souls

then it seemed the flames licked up         

the starry cathedral sky

scattered sparks of desert sand

merged into an orange molten hand

fingers coloured the gleaming night

Spirit madly at work

painting the whole town red                     

living light thrown in swatches round                    

the grey billowy stone

then the out-breath

of the diamond show   

a freely wandering sky

no slim pointing spire                   

or light-daubed dark stone           

instead scorching searching eyes

reached from the plain of rubble

and gazed upon the wide-arcing blue

those who hadn’t knelt

the prism floors too


The River Avon

a city centre was held captive by a quiet dream

a river that rarely overflowed

so deep its parent banks

burnt a tedious hole in the heart of a peninsula

dreams so stagnant

caught without a tide

yet time on its side to break out on the left and the right

for a fountain to break the well’s deep dark

to shock the stream

move it to the wide windy ocean

the resonant fire banked up in me

could be this fountain ready to burst

to scourge the plains

the rising spread of daffodils

the centuries’ old signal along the banks

fragrant trumpets calling the tune

and after the blaze the azure sky will turn

the green shadows of the stream

into a reflection

of blue  of blue   of blue

in christchurch where the river glows

and sparkles tolling like child bells

between high parent banks

like a well forgotten

then losing its place

its moorings

runs away carving its own sweet path

the worry of a songbird

created in its wake

toward its true home

the boatsheds  the tearooms  the botanic gardens

the coalescent riverside offices and pearlescent stately city homes

green backyards that run to the edge of near drowning

my sister raked safely in to port

the family lawn

witnessed from a low clerestory window

through which children peep

when they sink beneath the tide

to flow within the deep.


©Tess Ashton

Image Window, Annette Woodford

Poetry, Christchurch, Earthquakes, Cathedral

Hill and tree poems

Tess Ashton 5 May 2015



A church and a bell

I’ve seen a tree on a hill

(with a church and a bell)

out my window

for 17 years now

alone without leaves

I now realize

must be dead

from this side of the river

who knows

yet says

‘I stand for all

things set apart

by those with an eye

for things placed

on a hill

or a table

for contemplation’

and I realize

it’s a dead tree talking

warming the living

saying love

is complete

in all things




when i look at the

tree on the hill

with the church and the bell

and the river in front

and the bush

on the edge

of cloud-touched tracks

the slow-moving rhythm

of the sky above

a poem no less

with a train

running through


but what is a poem

but truth coming forth

like Heidegger’s


or a moment

of leaving from

a railway station


the crying most often

i come to the

hill sounds the call

for children

hungry and dying

how best to help

where are

they exactly?

a feeling below

of small hollow boats

on long empty rivers

forgotten then

sailing then lifting

on rainbows

children and babies

no fanfare

or tombstones


Yang Yang and the view from the back

Above the tree on the hill there’s a Catholic

church with woods backed up facing

us  Off the flat ‘burb road from

the cul de sac entry

there’s a school


too I



seen lately

What the kids don’t

know there’s a hill stretching

downwards to a pink-blue river sky in its

mirror  On the back of the hill the sun comes

early shifting things in the dark with

light across pasture  Think often

of ‘yi yi: a one and a two

a movie that speaks

of forgotten

views  A boy

with his camera

clicks heads from the

back  says we all need help

with the tracks we’re immune to

On Sunday went swimming in singing and

sermon and movie and river and light on hill

gliding  caught the rear view from

Colossians too  the wind of

the Spirit showed some-

thing odd though

a cloud of my


jiggled a warning

Shamed  to name sins

that cut into focus   Today

stroked the back of a neck of a loved

one felt the scar where hearing was taken

forever  Clever Yang Yang to spot a least thought about angle 



The days and nights of Manapau St


pink blue

blue orange

orange black

black black

sets the red station light

moon of the train

the bridge and town

alight in the distance

clack clack

as the train goes by

with the river

and clouds

who’d move?

relax relax


you might touch God

it’s paradise


in the cosy ‘burb

most times most times


and the hills over there

and the river

in front

and lights and city

in tiny perspective

this place this place

here clouds

and people

stride together

the old troll bridge

to catch the train

to town to town

past our verandah

meander the station

the edge of the


the way of the journey

so near so near

Meadowbank kids

perch in formation

itching til airborne

bedrooms like hurricanes

ducks going somewhere

lift off lift off

by tides and timetables

hearts spin back

to days and nights

of pink and blue

and orange and black

think back think back


Fool on the hill

outa that scene

for good

rear view


tells a story

giant sun



not disaster

on the hill

home alone

rays bear down



four years


dug out

in twenty


nervy dream

old scene


In the elevator

heading for

the upper


be still


St Francis

next day

wander to

garden centre

a rose

my name

chosen for

spring promotion

heart felt


swirl of love

birthday gift

from heavenly


©Tess Ashton


Midday Interruption

The Rev. Gayanne Frater 18 April 2015


Darkened sky,

torrential rain,

roiling thunder

exploding overhead,

road corner flooding within minutes

- Glen Innes is awash.

At the checkout, a voice is heard,

I hope the rain stops in time

for the cricket tomorrow'

Cricket – really?

so the last thing on my mind!

Instead I stand in awe of the rain,

make a run for it,

Splash through deep puddles,

thoroughly drenched

yet full of delight

by this unexpected

disruption to a summer’s day.

Landscape transformation in one moment.

Let's embrace the turbulence

of change,

when it appears.

It's a sign of life,

sign of hope,

stating we are not in control,

no matter how much

we may think we are,

and its okay.


Homeward bound,

visibility minimal,

oncoming car headlights


guide me home

as traffic crawls

across Kepa Road bridge.


Car unloaded,

grocery bags strewn across the floor,

time to pause.

As the rain tapers off,

and a holy hush descends.

All is held captive in stillness.

Post-storm rain drops

patter on the deck,

like the plucking of a guitar.

Gentle music breaking the silent stillness.

Peace restored. 

It's still okay.

A solitary birdsong

echoes across the valley,

as if to say,

'Hello, is any-one out there?

waits for our response.

©Gayanne Frater


Ground for Justice

The Rev. John Fairbrother 26 March 2015

New Zealand has a history of criminal trials and subsequent resolutions exposing miscarriages of justice. Re-trials, many years after an offence, are becoming almost common place. This may be seen as justice eventually being worked out or, alternatively, a failure of the country’s legal system.  Justice may be an elusive ideal.

Crime reporting fills a considerable amount of media content informing an ongoing public discourse. Within such discussion, balanced information and debate is not always as apparent as the immediate calls for public safety and firm punishment. More nuanced debates about causes, appropriate punishment and long term remedies for individuals and communities are often at risk of being seen as failure to confront society’s need for calm and good order.

News media readily reports dissatisfaction with sentences imposed by law courts and demands for change through parliamentary legislation. While not unreasonable in itself, the intimate, sometimes dramatized, context of such demands can cloud rather than enlighten the pursuit of justice.  Haste to apportion blame and inflict punishment, for example, can endanger the application of law being balanced by established fact and careful reason.

In this country citizens have a right to expect reasonable redress for crime through humane and reasonable punishment. However, what results from punishment being served? Is society better off in the public knowledge that punishment has been served? Is a punished person necessarily a better person? History shows the relationship of crime and punishment has a troubled record.

There is any amount of literature inspired by this record. Similarly, a number of academic disciplines are concerned with causes, motivations and consequences of criminal behaviour. Theology, too, has a stake.

Theologians seek to understand the human condition in terms of ultimate meaning. The saying attributed to Irenaeus, a second century bishop of Lyons, captures it thus: “The glory of God is the human person fully alive.”

Whatever perspective a criminal enquiry may take, victim and perpetrator will always share the fact of being human. Being human entails living in relationship with others. It is the combining of an almost infinite variety of relationships that provide the animation and substance of society. Everyone is linked to everyone else.

Punishment alone will never secure justice. The human condition is always giving rise to need for reconciliation of difference: Between criminals and victims and between enemies. That need may enlighten a profound ideal drawing from the meaning of being human, leading beyond punishment toward justice.

Yet, the impetus for reconciliation draws on the even deeper human capacity for compassion. That is willingness to suffer with another, to recognise and act in creative solidarity, for the sake of the interconnectedness of all life. 

Compassion for others and all living things bears unerring potential to reveal prospects for reconciliation. The life experience of one person is integral to the life experience of all people.

While punishment may be an initial step toward achieving justice, if applied alone it leaves the presence and pain of both punished and victim unreconciled. It remains as an open wound in the community. Justice remains unfulfilled.

Theology, the understanding of the ultimate value of life, emphasises the possibility of compassion animating reconciliation between victim, perpetrator and community. Even where such a possibility may be submerged by reason and emotion demanding punishment, a continuing compassionate response serves to limit the injustice of any individual becoming irredeemably estranged from community, objectified and dehumanised by punishment alone.

Such an ideal for reconciliation, arising from compassion for life itself, is an essential responsibility in securing ground for justice. Being a body defined by theological understanding, the Christian Church has a role to act justly in both public and Church life. It has this role for the sake of enhancing the human condition by building compassionate, reconciled, just communities.

©John Fairbrother 2015


Thoughts on a Clay Pot: written for an agnostic friend

Margaret Lyall 18 February 2015

I saw it on the Salisbury Centre stall.

It was the shape that drew me - simple and symmetrical.

Carefully I picked it up and turned it round

to savour its perfection.

Then came the shock, the disappointment,

there was a blemish in the glazing.

I chose another... and another…

but none of them was perfect.

And in that moment came the realisation

that each one was unique,

fashioned out of formless clay

by the skill of the potter,

kneading, pulling, gently stretching

until finally moulded into a shape

satisfying to its creator.

What price now that self-same mass of clay?

Almost worthless in its natural state

but through the influence of those hands

now able to hold within itself flowers - and water,

giving the flowers strength to open 

and display the fullness of their beauty,

evoking a multitude of emotions in the human heart.

Filled with primroses, a splash of yellow beauty

pointing to the renewal of life and hope

after the darkness and despair of winter.

Or when filled with buttercups and daisies

picked by the sticky fingers of a happy child

and given to her granny whom she loves.


What is the chance

of the atoms of that lump of clay

organising themselves

Into such a spatial arrangement

without the potter?

And which seems more incredible:

that blind chance - or a Master Potter

created the living beauty of the primroses

and the love of the child?

©Margaret Lyall



The Rev. John Fairbrother 26 January 2015

Contemplative experience is profoundly personal. The practice is about entering an inner vulnerability that may, mysteriously, reveal a sense of transcendent wholeness.

It is a becoming, moving into quiet through the immediacy of reflection, beyond meditation, toward a peace freed from pre-occupations of pragmatic understanding. Free from the mind’s distractions that all too easily dominate daily living, the outcome will likely be nothing less than sheer wonder: A sense of becoming wholly present within a Holy Presence.

Wonder evokes emotion. It liberates imagination, inspires and animates the human condition. For all that it might be shared, wonder is profoundly personal. While for example, one might contemplate the cosmos as dark, cold and impossibly vast, another might contemplate it as being divine revelation of eternal dimension and beauty beyond human comprehension. Wonder sustains the tap root of both religious experience and scientific endeavour.

Recent years have seen re-invigorated debate about the relationship and popular contradictions between religion and science. Science demands reviewed empirical evidence to support any proposition. Religion elevates belief systems into faith for living, drawing meaning from, revelation, the human condition, symbol and myth.

Tragically, a divide between the two remains and is too simply promoted. Science is led by a deep-seated wonder creating intuitive knowing, in turn becoming distilled into method and result. Religion, too, is led by deep-seated wonder creating intuitive knowing distilled through faith-based experience into worship, compassion, ethics and service.

The two are not mutually exclusive. Rather, the differing perspectives may be seen as a bifurcation along the route from wonder to action.

Albert Einstein contemplated prospective vastness beyond his knowledge and wondered at the cosmos. After his example, contemporary new atheists refer to wonder of a religious type, although dismissive of the supernatural, termed Einsteinian.

The Christian Bible has numerous stories that have their origin in wonder. For example: Moses being drawn to his encounter with Yahweh at the burning bush; Elijah, hiding, sheltering in his cave and there coming to wonder at the silence that befell him; the shepherds being woken from their slumber, immediately filled with fear, then in wonder visiting the Christ child; disciples Peter, John and James at the transfiguration of Jesus.

Wonder holds humans in thrall. A great risk of this era is to ignore any opportunity to do so or, perhaps, worse, allow the ordering of our lives to become so distracted as to exclude the experience. To do as much creates a barren inner personal landscape, rendering any sense of transcendence to a mere passing experience. Such is the origin of hubris.

Concern for a life-giving spirituality has cause to emphasise the need and blessing of wonder. It simply reveals the beauty of life. To wonder is to stand with all people in recognition and solidarity that life is an unasked for gift: one that may be passed to others and always returned to the earth that nurtures it.

Would politicians and the like, only pause for long enough before meetings to contemplate the meaning and beauty of solitary planet earth as seen from space? Such a simple act would promote the wonder of our fragile existence. That in turn might lead decision-makers to more deeply respect all life as privileged. Imagine an international polity grounded in wonder, committed to undying priority for life-giving relationships among all people, with the earth and all that is in it.

Revealing, teaching, even promoting the practice of Christian contemplation is a way in which wonder may be brought to the centre stage of human consciousness. With the potential to wonder being common to all people, it is an essential for us all to encourage and foster.

Whether one may hold a Faith, be Christian, agnostic, atheist or whatever, wonder unites and engenders creativity in us all. It is worth contemplation.

©John Fairbrother

An edited form of this essay was published December 2014 at


For the Advent Wreath

The Rev. John Fairbrother 1 December 2014

For the Advent Wreath

To be prayed as each candle is lit.

Advent 1

A first candle:

Light, as breath,

bringing life to

islands, sky and sea.

For creations gift,

our prayer and praise.

Advent 2

A second candle:

Starlight’s fall

amid dust of life.

A moment to

enlighten freedom,

justice, love.

Advent 3

A third candle:

Trusted light,

southern guide to

island homes.

Within a sea

named for peace.

Advent 4

A fourth candle:

Warmth of heart,

compassion’s home.

Peace in the city,

town and land.

Calm between us now.

Christmas Day

Candle centred:|

Focus bright.

Light to lift a

heart song lyric

of wordless knowing

embracing friends.               

©John Fairbrother   


Letting Go

The Rev. Gayanne Frater 13 November 2014

Letting go,

hands open,

a gentle push

and a wicker basket

carrying treasured cargo

floats down the Nile.

A mother’s courage writ large.


the young sentinel stands





in the unknowable.

Mother and daughter

let go of

beloved son and brother

for the sake of life,

in the name of hope.

Another woman,

a stranger,

different in faith,



ethnicity and status,

different in every way possible,

shares Love’s heart.

Stoops down to receive the wicker basket,

the man-child within becomes her own.

Mothers and daughters,

letting go of our heart’s treasures –

our children,

our ways of being






trusting that in our letting go,

even as our hearts break,

life will continue,



God, give us strength

and courage

to let go,

to open our hands

for the sake of life,

in the name of hope.

©Gayanne Frater

First published in the Women’s Study Centre Newsletter Vol. 4, no. 9 2014


The 13.30 from Inverness

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 24 October 2014

There is something blissfully solitary about train journeys unless you feel minded to share stories with the traveller seated opposite who is, like you, bored with paperback melodramas, texting the world and fleeting fields.

I am not of that mind on the 13.30 from Inverness. The late afternoon landscape invites imaginings of toiling harvest workers gathering golden bales of hay, of ancient Celts standing in a stone circle as they watch the moon skim low over the hills like a great god visiting the earth, of King William the Lion’s army defending his Red Castle from Viking invaders. Brief encounters.

And then to Dundee, once described as the city of jam, jute and journalism and where the RRS Discovery, the Antarctic exploration vessel of Robert Falcon Scott and Ernest Shackleton was constructed in 1901. This magnificent ship is now anchored in a custom-made dock at Discovery Point on the Firth of Tay. She and her crew spent two years locked in sea ice in McMurdo Sound. Scott and Shackleton relocated the Southern Magnetic Pole and returned with the news that Antarctica was a continent.

Travelling by any method has its austere moments. It was the Italian poet, Cesar Pavese who mused, ‘…travelling is a brutality. It forces you to trust strangers and to lose sight of the familiar comfort of home and friends. You are constantly off balance. Nothing is yours except the essential things – air, sleep, dreams, the sea, the sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.’

Luke was Paul’s travelling companion. Faith and patience must have been two of the many virtues this benign doctor and writer of stories was blessed with. Paul could be complex, volatile and difficult. On his mission he was tough and courageous and faced many challenges. Luke faced them too. As the old missionary neared the end of his life, with all his fellow travellers having deserted him or gone elsewhere, he poignantly wrote to Timothy, ‘only Luke is with me’. 

Another teller of tales, Robert Louis Stevenson believed that ‘we are all travellers in the wilderness of this world, and the best we can find in our travels is an honest friend’. He finally ended his sunset days with Fanny, his wife and soul mate, on the South Sea island of Samoa enjoying wine which he said was like bottled poetry. 

In the age of Ebola, there is a growing panic about leaving home shores for other shores. Even though medical staff and non-governmental humanitarian agencies have been working with the sick and the dying in West Africa for a long time, it has slowly dawned on the rest of the international community that this disease could be visited upon them. So now, politicians are on high alert, lining up to urge a greater response to this modern-day plague. The people are fearful and fear breeds fear.

American Dr. Kent Brantly contracted the Ebola virus while working in Liberia and survived to tell the tale. He will be returning to work there. ‘The Spirit that God has given us does not make us timid’ he said, quoting words from St. Paul. After all that he faced, it is remarkable that Paul was still able to write probably the most memorable description of love that exists. 

Globe-trotting is in the DNA of most New Zealanders. Emigration is the story of this land. People have travelled across many oceans to settle here and never leave, some leave and some return. It was emigrants from all over the world who helped to build the country’s railways through hostile and mountainous terrain, deep ravines, criss-crossed streambeds. What a titanic achievement.

One of the most breathtakingly beautiful railway journeys in the world is the Coastal Pacific from Picton to Christchurch in the South Island. I think that the poet and railway romantic, John Betjeman would have loved it. He ‘…was not one who stood with duffel bag, Penguin biscuit and fish-paste sandwiches on murky days at the ends of platforms taking down the numbers of locomotives…’[i] Betjeman travelled by train for the journey, not to get somewhere. This leisurely meander through an enchanted land of long white clouds is probably just long enough to still the ticking of the clock and time-travel to an older world. Air, sleep, dreams, sea, sky – all things tending towards the eternal or what we imagine of it.

©Hilary Oxford Smith

October 2014


[i] Jonathan Glancey, John Betjeman, On Trains (York: Methuen, 2006) p. vii

Image: The Jacobite train wending its way to Mallaig on the West Highland Line


Beyond the Gloom

The Rev. John Fairbrother 19 September 2014

The idea of the world being embroiled in war on a global scale is far from fanciful. The many conflicts convulsing regions and states may not be connected overtly, however, the disruption and distress they cause around the globe connects all people.

War is no longer the controlled preserve of political elites and national military machines. The practice of war has gone local. While terror and fear have become commoditised, being distributed by local political/religious interests, such horrors, clearly, remain supported by international means to sustain prolonged conflict.

The United Nations, NATO and most nation states appear constrained by the withered frame works of mid-twentieth century strategies and diplomacy. Meanwhile the violent politics of this century re-arrange national boundaries reducing long established political stratagems and military force to confusion, if not impotence.

The 1950s-75 conflict in Vietnam heralded an era of localised conflict dislocating international relationships. The mighty USA went against a guerrilla army and lost. The military means of a foreign power could not win the hearts and minds of a people in their own land.

Clearly little has been learned since. Lessons from attempting the same have and continue to be writ large. For example, in Afghanistan via the unsuccessful efforts of Russia and subsequent USA led ‘coalitions’ there and in Iraq to impose political will. Then there are the current disasters in many parts of the African continent.

The record of post-colonial deconstruction across Asia, Africa and the Middle East has illustrated the ultimate futility of military might and associated political advantage being a conveyor of cultural values and technology. President G. W. Bush’s confidence in ‘shock and awe’ signed off any such notion. Perhaps, then, it is little wonder the political/military might of western powers and partners appear to be floundering for answers to current regional and local conflicts.

Yet, all portents of gloom notwithstanding, the ways of modern democracy rumble on in parliaments, senates, media discourse, public debate and elections. Signs of peoples’ self- determination continue, even if, in many cases, with apparent qualified misgivings.

Fiji has finally held an election. On the day of writing this the Scots were at the polls determining whether or not to remain a part of the United Kingdom. Aotearoa New Zealand is about to vote as done every three years. Elections, in such a troubled world, may be like pearls offering a glimmering reminder of the hope for people’s self-determination. They also may serve to remind those privileged to vote of the classical heritage from which such a hope comes.

Tragically, perhaps, in a global environment where nation states are becoming servants rather than regulators of commercial interests, the attractions and commerce of war outweigh the virtues of political will exercised via contestable ideas, debate and negotiation.  After all, it costs time, effort and practical resources to ensure climates of understanding that provide political contexts of healthy sustenance, where respect for difference is the strength undergirding peace and wellbeing.

War may have always been local. Terror may have always been close to the human condition. What sets this era apart is the reality of global communication and accessible means to aggressively spread political/religious influence. What was once confined now knows little geographical boundary.

We in New Zealand may find a sense of security in our South Pacific location. However, physical distance is no longer any assurance of safety. Clearly all people are connected as no generation before. The contagion of fear, like disease, has acquired a reinvigorated potential to subvert and undermine peaceful co-existence on a global scale.

How might countries such as little New Zealand apply technologies of global communication and the means of influence in order to promote local identity while building international relationships for the sake of peace and wellbeing?

Ensuring the continuity of a society open to scrutiny, critical self-appraisal and equitable distribution of life-giving resources is a goal worth aspiring to in an international scene bedevilled by conflict and fear.

©John Fairbrother


Road Trip Aotearoa

The Rev. Gayanne Frater 16 July 2014

Heart song rises

as landscape shifts and changes

at each turn of the road.

Eyes capture glorious beauty

at rounded curves.

Undulating hills of gradient colour

give way to white faced cliffs.

Tall deep green firs

yield to soft hues,

trees blush in near nudity.

Autumn riches cede to Winter's stark nakedness

as road heads south and eastwards.

Sunlit toi toi

glistening bright white

sway in gentle breeze.

Colour, strong and muted,

ripple across nature's canvas like a river,

A veritable gallery of

Monets to Picassos and back again,

appear as mile after mile traversed.

Creation's cyclic song bears witness

to the Artist's handiwork.

This un-asked for exhibition of fine art

triggers heart-bursts of pure delight,

popping like fireworks against a darkened sky,

creating momentary distraction

from focussed road attention.


land of my heart, my home, my love

your beauty touches the depth of my being

and causes my heart to sing.

Thank you.


©Gayanne Frater

June 2014


A Solstice Story

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 21 June 2014

It is a bright, blue, winter morning in the Southern Hemisphere and the winter solstice stretches our imagination.

In the Northern Hemisphere, the summer solstice heralds the longest day of light. Youthful midsummers were filled with heady playtimes, swimming with dolphins and dancing with seals, searching for crabs and other sea creatures in rock pools…our footsteps and shadows sending them into hiding.

We gathered pink pearly shells and driftwood from the strandline of the beach and bedtime was hours away.

At night it was light and from the bed in my grandparent's house, I could look through the open curtains to the ocean and watch the midnight sun. Golden calendula marigolds grew in abundance in their garden, the petals adding colour to home-made butter.

Midsummer is known as St. John's Day in the Christian Church. It is said that John the Baptist was born on the 24th June.   Feasting on wild honey and locusts, he spoke of the coming of the Messiah. Not for him the celebration of his death day or martyrdom. Rather, a feast of the nativity, like Christmas, at Midsummer.

As the days shorten in New Zealand, it is still lighter at the winter solstice than I remember in my homeland. Daylight there was pale and fleeting with remnants of warmth. The sun set early in the afternoon and birds flew towards the shelter of trees to roost through the longest night. The fire kept us warm around the hearth. We shared stories and my grandfather, John, the fisherman, would snooze. The fire never went out.

I am told that my ancestors carefully 'smoored' the fire in their croft by making a circle with the peats. The first was laid in the name of the God of Life, the second in the name of the God of Peace and the third in the name of the God of Grace. The circle was then covered over with enough ashes to subdue the fire but not extinguish it.

The Scottish poet and writer, Kathleen Jamie writes about Light and Darkness. She believes that Darkness has been too much maligned, not least in Christian theology. 'Because of the metaphorical dark…we are constantly concerned to banish the natural dark...'

So with rucksack on back, she sailed from Aberdeen to the whale-shaped Orkney Islands in search of 'real, natural, starry dark'.   The chambered burial mound of Maes Howe, built around 2700BC, drew her into its mystery.

Around the time of the winter solstice, the midwinter sun rises from the Hoy Hills. As it sets, its rays strike the nearby Neolithic Barnhouse Stone, perfectly aligned to the entrance of Maes Howe and the tomb's dark passageway becomes illuminated with light.

Clouds clouded her mystical experience though. She also found the tomb filled with artificial light as surveyors mapped the walls with lasers so that they could investigate worrying cracks in the stone. On her return to the mainland, she could not even find the natural dark out at sea because of the lights from small coastal settlements and dazzlingly lit oil rigs.

'For five thousand years we have used darkness as the metaphor of our mortality...we have not banished death, but we have banished the dark. We have light, we have oilfields and electricity and lasers. And by the light we have made, we can see that there are, metaphorically speaking, cracks. We are doing damage. The surveyors poring over the tomb are working in an anxious age. We look about the world, by the light we have made, and realise it's all vulnerable, and all worth saving, and no one can do it but us.'

Often we want to look away from the brokenness around us in the world because we are afraid that we might be swallowed up by the dark. Yet the life of the Divine is within the dark. The secret and hopeful work of winter has already begun deep in the cold earth.

In New Zealand, snow has fallen in the high country and it is almost time for our Māori brothers and sisters and those who respect and participate in their culture and traditions, to celebrate the Māori New Year. It will begin on the 28th June, when the new moon follows the rising of Matariki, the Pleiades, or Seven Sisters star constellation in the Southern skies.

This ancient and spiritual festival plays out across our land with the revival of celebratory events of culture, language, spirit and people. Thankfulness is expressed for the gifts of mother earth and for the land on which we live and which sustains us. Our ancestors are remembered with loving respect. Lengthening days of light, heralding growth, change and new thresholds to cross are hoped for. 

When Kathleen Jamie returned home from her journey of seeking the dark, she wrote, 

'...we were going out for dinner. Our friends' cottage was inviting in candlelight, and the curtains were open to show black night pressed against the windows. In the warm light, we…drank a toast, because tonight was midwinter's night, the night of the complicit kiss, and tomorrow the light would begin its return.'

In the places of winter's passage, may the long dark nights shelter us.

In the places of summer's passage, may the long days of light refresh us.

©Hilary Oxford Smith


  Kathleen Jamie, Findings, (Sort Of Books 2005)



Susan Smith 16 June 2014

I have just read a headline in the New Zealand Herald (6 June 2014) in which All Black coach Steve Hansen describes Jerome Kaino as "a caged animal" who will be doing all that he can to prove that he is at home among the big beasts of the international game.

The names given to men's rugby and league teams both fascinate and horrify me – Lions, Bulldogs, Sharks, Cheetahs, Tigers, Kangaroos. If these are not the names of predatory animals then they are names that conjure up violent images, either man or nature-generated, for example, Crusaders, Chiefs, Hurricanes and so on.

I wonder if a harmless nomenclature like the "Blues" explains the relative lack of success enjoyed by Kirwan's men. I have been trying to think of a suitably violent animal to suggest to Sir John but all suitable names seem used up.

The violence that the codes of both games tolerates both on and off the fields is frankly appalling. Spear tackling which I understand is illegal in rugby can lead to permanently disabling injuries. No one seemed too concerned apart from Brian O'Driscoll when All Black Tama Umanga spear-tackled the Irishman in 2005 thereby ensuring he could no longer play in the Lion's tour of the country that year. Umanga branded O'Driscoll as a "sook" in his biography and berated the media for criticising his violent action. The two men were reconciled some four years later.

There has been more than one incident this year of spectator or player attacks on referees. A minority of rugby and league players seem to have few qualms about beating up their partners. And apparently the All Blacks have iconic value for all New Zealanders. The odd visit to Starship Children's Hospital in Auckland does not disguise the fact that players are committed to a violent game. "Physicality" is little more than a coded language that means commentators do not call things by their right name – deliberate violence. In some ways today's spectators have much in common with the spectators at the Coliseum who some two thousand years applauded savage attacks by men and animals on other women and men. I am all in favour of sport and just wish that more and more New Zealanders, particularly young New Zealanders played more sport and played less with Smart Phones and I pads.

In his first letter to the Corinthians Paul writes: "Do you not know that in a race the runners all compete, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win it. Athletes exercise self-control in all things; they do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable one. So I do not run aimlessly, nor do I box as though beating the air; but I punish my body and enslave it, so that after proclaiming to others I myself should not be disqualified" (1 Cor 9:24-27).

Paul borrows language from the sporting world to remind us about what the imitation of Christ requires of us. Sportsmen and sports commentators in New Zealand turn to the animal world to define themselves. Practice, self-discipline and self -control are important for both the disciple and sportsman. In the case of the first, it is about becoming more Christ-like, in the case of the second it is about being more predatory, anxious to get out of the cage and wreak havoc among the big beasts. Is it time to rethink our use of language because as Marshall McLuhan told us some decades ago, the medium is the message?

©Susan Smith

June 2014


To be silent is to be unfaithful

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 12 May 2014

'Man is born free yet everywhere he is in chains. One man thinks himself the master of others, but remains more of a slave than they are.' [ii] So wrote the Enlightenment philosopher, Jean Jacques Rousseau in his book of 1762, The Social Contract.

All of us have been and the generations to come, will be born into an inheritance of one kind of another. Part of that inheritance is that we are heirs of a world scarred by the internationalising and industrialising of the slave-owning and slave-trading nations of the past and that much historic prosperity has been built on this atrocity.

Even if it is argued that we are not born free, are we not born for freedom and have to learn how to be free? Part of that process means facing up to the legacy we inherit without fear, excuse or falsity. It means thinking truthfully about where we have come from, how our cultures and habits were formed, how as people, communities and nations, we collectively got into situations that frustrated our best and good intentions. 

For centuries, if not millennia, slavery was taken for granted by many Christian and non-Christian people. The corporate sin of the Church was also complicit in and profited financially from it. Yet it was also a mass movement of Christians and other faith campaigners, slaves and free women and men, who woke up the conscience of an entire civilisation and brought about the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade over 200 years ago.

World leaders and the media are speaking and writing much about 276 schoolgirls kidnapped over a month ago by Islamist militant group Boko Haram in Nigeria. Boko Haram roughly translated means 'Western education is sin.'   Boko Haram's leader knows deep down that education has the potential to liberate the mind and heart and be an equalising force in society. For him and his followers, there can be none of that. He also announced in a video message last week that, 'there is a market for selling humans.' Fears are, that these young girls will be sold into domestic or sexual slavery. There is international outrage and a social media campaign, 'BringBackOurGirls', is gathering momentum.

Deeply disturbing as this kidnapping is, the truth is that human trafficking - modern-day slavery: bonded labour, marriage/domestic/sexual slavery and slavery by debt or descent, still exists, yet it is not always worthy of the sustained, global attention we are currently witnessing.

Advocacy groups such as Walk Free [iii] and The Global Slavery Index [iv] estimate that today, nearly 30 million children, women and men are sold as commodities, trafficked within their own countries and across international borders. Even though slavery is illegal in most countries of the world, it happens on every continent and especially in places where there are major hubs of demand.

According to the United Nations [v] , it is women who are trafficked most. Many are kidnapped and sold into prostitution, sometimes by their own relatives. Criminal gangs bring them into countries illegally where they are made compliant by violence, intimidation, drugs and abused on an unthinkable magnitude. Children too are trafficked between countries, abused and exploited through bondage for labour, sex, warfare. Trafficking is a multi-billion dollar industry.

Men are also trafficked across the world, usually forced to work in unjust and inhumane conditions. The Global Slavery Index reports that in New Zealand hundreds of men have been and are working in slavery-like conditions on foreign fishing vessels chartered to New Zealand companies, threatened, abused and forced to work 30 hour shifts with meagre pay, without breaks and adequate food. The Second Reading of the Fisheries (For Charter Vessels and other matters) Amendment Bill was heard in the New Zealand Parliament on 15th April 2014 [vi] . It is intended that the passing of the Bill will enshrine in law by 2016, our country's moral and ethical obligations to the safety and employment of those working at sea. With yet more talking to be done, the Maritime Union of New Zealand is concerned that the proposed Bill, which has been discussed and debated for over a year now, may not become law before the national election in September 2014. 

Human trafficking though is largely a hidden crime, with the faces and cries of those who are sold usually unseen and unheard. It flourishes in places where there is poverty, injustice, conflict, vulnerability, gender discrimination and exploitation by those who are more powerful. The degree of criminality involved means that one of the largest difficulties for public sector agencies is bringing traffickers to justice, as a prevention and deterrent. Even once rescued, individuals often want to avoid deportation, family shame, threats to themselves or their families, so they do not always feel able or free enough to tell their stories.

Slavery is not too distant for it to matter to you and to me, yet we can feel powerless about what to do to bring about change. Social media, for all its problems and detractors, has given many people a voice. We are witnessing its power to mobilise a mass movement of protest against such atrocity. It is in the nature of fast-paced media and politics however, that if and when the girls in Nigeria are returned safely home and we hope that they soon will be, human trafficking and the enslavement of people will move down the list of newsworthy items. Social media posts will move on to another issue, another petition.

Nevertheless, we can harness our own anger and sadness at what has happened and use that in a positive way that works towards eradicating poverty and the enslavement of human beings in the production of our food, clothes, the running of our homes, the care of our elderly and disabled and keeping our sex trade in business.

We can be thankful that advocacy groups and other agencies continue to work hard to bring matters to the public eye and that some of our churches continue to find ways to work with such groups to keep the issue at the forefront of their social responsibility and pastoral lobbying governments to sign up to globally binding agreements, monitoring the ways in which traffickers are pursued and prosecuted and victims are supported and regularly engaging with other faith groups and the media to raise awareness.

On March 17th this year, the Global Freedom Network was launched to eradicate forced labour and sexual exploitation by 2020 after an historic agreement was signed at The Vatican. It was the outcome of a conference, which brought together Christian and Muslim people of faith and representatives of agencies working to end slavery. The signatories called for urgent action by all faith communities to 'set free the most oppressed of our brothers and sisters… Only by activating, all over the world, the ideals of faith and of shared human values can we marshal the spiritual power, the joint effort and the liberating vision to eradicate modern slavery and human trafficking from our world and for all time.' [vii]

In her book, Enslaved: The New British Slavery [viii] , Rahila Gupta writes, 'human progress must be measured by the extent to which we have ended slavery. We should be fighting for a future when the world truly belongs to all of us'.

To be silent is to be unfaithful.

©Hilary Oxford Smith

May 2014


[i] I have borrowed this title from the title of a Church and Society Council Report to The General Assembly of The Church of Scotland, May 2007

[ii] Rousseau, Jean Jacques, The Social Contract, 1762, (Pacific Publishing Studio 2010) page 1



[v] See for more information

[vi] See, Second Reading, Fisheries (For Charter Vessels and Other Matters) Amendment Bill 2014, and for more information


[viii] Rahlia Gupta, Enslaved:The New British Slavery, (Granta 2008) page 302



The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 25 April 2014

In 1941, when Japan entered the Second World War, the Marlborough Sounds, which makes up a fifth of New Zealand's coastline, was considered to be vulnerable to possible invasion. In the tiny, scattered settlements along the coast, a Home Guard, made up of women and men protected the sea and land as best they could.

After the war, the Home Guard Games were held each year in the Western Sounds, so that those who had served in home defence and their families could meet, free from the threat of war. Now known as the Te Towaka Sports Day, local people still gather to enjoy time together.

On Easter Monday, we enjoyed one of the most beautiful and awe-inspiring drives in the world to French Pass (Te Aumiti) in the Sounds. The road there, still largely unsealed and treacherous in places, was only completed in 1957. Between the headland of French Pass and D'Urville Island is a turbulent stretch of water. As the tide drops, a massive amount of water, banked up in Tasman Bay, gushes out to Cook Strait. When the tide rises, it rushes back in. With powerful currents, eddies and whirlpools, it is a passage feared and respected by mariners as well as being an area rich with the presence of dolphins, seals, orcas, seabirds and other marine life...a microcosm of the Creator's beauty and life.

On the way to French Pass is the township of Havelock. When I was working as a journalist I came across a small boat moored in the harbour there, called Seagull. I subsequently wrote up her story for the newspaper. Now one hundred and nine years old, this trusty vessel went to Gallipoli on the hospital ship, SS Maheno. Anchored off the island of Lemnos, she operated as the ship's tender. With her brave and steadfast crew, she transported wounded and dying soldiers to the hospital ship. Her war service is recorded in the Royal New Zealand Naval museum. I have no doubt that the echoes of dismemberment, pain, suffering and deliverance still echo around her bulwarks. She has surely earned her quiet retirement. 

ANZAC Day on both sides of the ditch, seems to generate, somewhat ironically, the expression of conflicting viewpoints and ideas about what the day is really about. Isn't it though, a day to tread lightly, to be compassionate and to remember, with sorrowful love and gratitude, the ones who went to war in the paradoxical cause of peace, those who have lived and still live with loss, separation and lasting injury of body, mind and spirit since and all the countless others who have been and will be, on this very day, the civilian and military casualties of war?

This year is the centenary of the beginning of the First World War. It was to be the war to end all wars. Yet in spite of the now widely acknowledged military blunders and the unimaginable loss of life, the history of the world tells us that there will always will be those, who with a deep paucity of spirit, want to dominate others and use whatever means at their disposal to fight for ultimate power and possession. Conversely, there have been and always will be the people who work tirelessly to resist such agendas, the ones who restore and reconcile and make peace.

Amidst the discussions about the significance of ANZAC Day, which should be rightfully explored but not only in the few days in and around the 25th of April, the suffering and loss of so many can never be allowed to be buried in our memory or the national and world memory.

It is decent and honourable to commit ourselves anew to creating a world in which all that is good and precious and shining will grow and flourish.   What is ultimately remembered on ANZAC Day or on any Remembrance Day come to think of it, is, I want to suggest, not actually patriotism, jingoism, the glorification of war, the expression of nationalistic fervour. That is, arguably, a kind of easy reductionism. What is deeply remembered in the individual and national consciousness is the indiscriminate slaughter of humanity, the quiet dignity of the human spirit, the gold that is buried in the ground, the longing for peace, the sanctity of life, the indestructible power of love.

Some of my family and friends served in the civilian and armed forces at home and overseas in two world wars and in other conflicts since. I have come to know as the years have gone by, that in spite of their own misgivings and apprehensions about the architects of war and the reasons for and consequences of war, they and others have much to teach us about courage in the face of fear and death, humility and strength, vulnerability and loyalty, endurance and suffering, peace and love.

As we continue to reflect upon issues of nationhood and identity which appear to be intertwined with the commemoration of ANZAC Day, we might also reflect upon how we can become peacemakers in our own circles of life, for peace begins with you and me. The Church also has to be willing to prayerfully and demonstrably grow into a visible unity and be a sign of hope to our often divided world. It is easy to preach and pray about peace. The tough call is to make peace and live in peace with one another every day. That is altogether a much greater challenge.

©Hilary Oxford Smith

25 April 2014


During the course of the First World War, the New Zealand Expeditionary Force suffered 59,483 casualties of which 18,166 were fatal.  Will Longstaff honoured the New Zealand fallen by painting a scene depicting the spiritual images of soldiers gathering on the beaches of Belgium and listening to the carillon bells in their home country. The painting is permanently housed at Archives New Zealand, Wellington, New Zealand.


Bread and Wine

Margaret Lyall 16 April 2014


An English cathedral on a summer Sunday morning.

Sunlight shafting downwards through the stained glass

onto the choristers, whose ethereal music soars heavenwards

to the high vaulted roof above.


The bishops and clergy are bedecked in their finery,

rich reds, green and gold,

dressed as if to attend

a Celebration.


The service proceeds to its climax,

the congregation moves slowly forward,

slotting into the spaces at the altar rail

to receive the bread and wine,

then tiptoeing back to their places

humbled, yet uplifted.



A Scottish Presbyterian Church on a Sunday morning

at the sacred hour of eleven.

The congregation gathers early.

The atmosphere is grave

as they sit in silent expectation.


The elders enter, dressed in sombre colours,

(save for one, an exiled Anglican

in whose memory the idea of celebration still lingers on,

and whose red pullover glows like a living ember

in a dying fire).


The service is solemn and dignified,

sounding the twin themes of death and resurrection

(though a stranger could be forgiven for thinking

that to many present,

  only the first half of the message has got through).


The miracle is

that God is able to break through

the trappings and the ceremony

and reveal Himself

to those who seek Him.



A Methodist Chapel, small and friendly,

still with a historical hangover

from the temperance movement,

  so serving strictly non-alcoholic wine.

And since that liquid

has no anti-bacterial properties,

the common cup has been reluctantly discarded

in favour of glass thimbles.


The service is simple but expressive,

  each person invited to the table, pew by pew,

coming forward as a symbol of freewill,

kneeling as a sign of unworthiness and reverence

to receive the bread and wine.


And afterwards, still kneeling,

words to strengthen and encourage

spoken by the Minister as he sends his flock

back into the world to share with the world

what they have received.



Four friends meet in a house for a meal,

brought together by a common grief.

One, a non-believer, brings as a gift

a newly baked loaf of bread.

Another brings a bottle of wine.


The meal is eaten, the wine is drunk,

and memories of those not present are tenderly recalled.

There is talking and listening,

sharing and caring.

God is never mentioned,

but He is there.


©Margaret Lyall



The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 10 April 2014

The spider webs glisten in the soft slanting light of a gilded Autumn in Aotearoa. The long white cloud has given way, for the moment, to golden luminosity. The intricate patterns and variations of the singing bellbird/korimako in the tree accompany my writing. In whatever way the song functions for this bird, unique to New Zealand, it is beautiful and compelling for me. I cannot imagine a world without birds. Such thoughts add poignancy to this season, soon to be farewelled.   Storm clouds gather.

It was Captain Cook who, in 1770, named the northernmost point of New Zealand's South Island, Cape Farewell, because it was the last land he sighted after leaving these shores for Australia at the end of his first voyage. The longest natural sandbar in the world, called Farewell Spit, is near the Cape. Whale strandings are common there. No-one really knows why. Volunteers from the aptly named Project Jonah   know all about saying farewell.

Jonah was regarded as a prophet in Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Inspired by his strange story of rescue and deliverance, those who work for Project Jonah care deeply about the welfare of whales and other sea mammals, their suffering and their needs. 'We believe that both animals and people matter,' they say. 'Whilst the animals are central to what we do, it's people that make our work possible'.

In the Northern Hemisphere, there is another Cape Farewell, which juts out into the northern Atlantic Ocean at the southernmost tip of Greenland. It is the windiest region on Earth. Early Icelandic sagas describe the wild capricious winds at Cape Farewell blowing early Viking explorers from Iceland and Greenland off course to reach landfall in Canada and North America.   

Artist, David Buckland began The Cape Farewell project in 2001 as a cultural response to climate change.   Moving beyond purely scientific debate to creative insight and vision, the project brings together artists, scientists, communicators from around the world...'The Arctic is an extraordinary place to be inspired...which urges us to face up to what it is we stand to lose', he says.

The Paschal Mystery will soon occupy the thoughts of the Church and its people. Joyous song will give way to a walk with Jesus along the Via Dolorosa, the Way of the Cross, in Jerusalem. Over the centuries, millions of pilgrims have walked in His footsteps, beginning in the Muslim Quarter of that Abrahamic city along a winding path to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher in the Christian Quarter.

We do not have to go to Jerusalem. People of faith, in the week we call Holy will, in their own places of devotion, accompany Jesus and meditate and pray about the events of His Passion and His dying on Good Friday.

His disciples, family and friends faced the end of the incarnation, the end of Jesus' presence on earth. Yet His farewell words to them tell a different story - of love, comfort, change, hope. The poet-prophet from Nazareth encourages them, as he does us, to imagine the promise of the resurrection, of what is to come.

Although our spiritual awareness may wax and wane, the love of the Divine gifts us all we need to fare well in the journey of life. It is a Love that inspires us to be appreciative and generate abundance, wholeness and the sustaining of life in all of creation.

And the whales and the birds and the wind sing a holy song.

©Hilary Oxford Smith

April 2014


Notes and References:

Korimako is the Maaori name for the Bellbird


Solomon's Eden

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 10 April 2014


Ever-growing concerns about the sexualisation of our young people are voiced in the home, the media, in public and policy reports as well as a plethora of popular books. Children, teenagers, adults are exposed on a daily basis, overtly and subliminally, to a diversity of sexual messages and behaviour on the internet, in printed media, film, television, in the lyrics and performance of popular music, in the fashion industry, in our exhibitionist celebrity culture. 

Last week, new guidelines about the themes and tone of film and video came into force by the British Board of Film Classification. The findings of an extensive public consultation of over 10,000 people, including teenagers, underpinned the need for these guidelines. [i] A major concern expressed by respondents was the early sexualisation of young girls, the sexual and language content of music videos and the ease of accessibility by young people to online pornography. Risks to vulnerable adolescents of self-harm, drug misuse and premature access to sexual content in film were also considered to be a serious issue for a majority of respondents. 

The world-wide web has brought about a radical change in the social and cultural environment for all of us and most especially for our children and young people. It can be, for them, a valuable learning, research, communication and fun tool to access and use through various technologies. Yet it is also the means by which they are vulnerable to the aggressive marketing of powerful companies who exploitatively promote and sell sex in different ways. Children and adolescents can fall prey to paedophiles and other criminals who use the internet to pursue their illegal and abusive behaviour.


Research reveals that the average age of a child's first internet exposure to online adult pornography is 11 years old and that the largest consumers of it are 12-17 year old adolescents. Of that group, 27 per cent of boys are accessing it every week with five per cent viewing it every day. [ii] Sexualisation of young people is a complex topic because many of us perceive sexual connotations in different ways. Polarised opinions dominate the debate. There is, however, a broad consensus amongst practitioners, academics and others, that women are being portrayed more and more as embracing an ever ready sexual availability with sex separated from intimacy and love. Whereas research has indicated that young girls have the ability to criticise and deconstruct sexualised images, this also sits alongside very painful accounts of how bad such images can make them feel and the kinds of pressures they feel subject to. [iii]


If young girls imitate examples of sexual expression from role models such as some minor celebrities, reality show contestants, young pop stars, porn stars and surgically enhanced women, most of whom are paid to increase sales and make money, depict instant pleasure, court controversy and shock, then the chances of girls finding true intimacy, connection, genuine love and passion could be diminished.


Similarly, constructions of masculinity are often linked to sexual prowess and conquest. So-called 'Lads' Mags' boast covers with soft porn images of young women. The rough magic of being a bloke is promoted and free gifts of beer and condoms are offered to increase sales. Boys and young men are being sexualised in ways that could be regarded as neither healthy nor esteem building.


Young people need to be encouraged and enabled to find a sense of personal integrity and a relationship with their bodies that is not based on sexualisation. Surely it is desirable for them to gain a knowledge of the wide range of other possibilities and potentials for living life to the full. Isn't this critical for their well-being and in their relationships with themselves and others? There is a deepening belief around that young people would benefit from becoming more media literate so that they are better equipped to critique sexualised and pornified popular culture. Such literacy would be linked to conversations about consent, coercion, violence and exploitation in sexual relationships. [iv]


I have been reminded of a sermon I preached at St. Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh, later published in Theology in Scotland. [v]   One of the lectionary readings for the day was from The Song of Songs. Revisiting the text over the last few days, I think there are resonances for us in these present times. 

The only surviving example of ancient Hebrew love poetry, the Song of Songs is a tale of extraordinary eroticism, taking human sexuality seriously. Two young people express their love and desire for one another, unashamedly admiring each other's bodies and celebrating their love. It is the only book in the Bible whose principal speaker is an assertive, confident and happy woman in her own skin. She is strong, her partner is sensitive.


Morals, marriage ethics, contractual obligations don't see the light of day. Neither is it an allegory even though there are those who interpret it as such. Over the centuries the Church taught that because of the Adam and Eve story, sex was sinful unless for procreation and women were the lure to that sin, their subjection, the consequence. [vi] The feminine voice was heard quietly, if at all. It is little wonder then that such sensual poetry was and still is, in some quarters, conveniently regarded in allegorical terms.

The blush factor not spared, these young people capture the freshness of new, consensual love, enjoying a bond of mutual sharing and tenderness, expressing a sacred sexuality of joy, intimacy, reciprocal longing, mutual esteem and wholesomeness. Restraints and propriety are present and we are reminded that their sexual expression of love is neither trivial, cheap nor a commodity which can be bought and sold in the marketplace. Their loving grace and gracefulness, beauty and fragility refreshes our awareness.


In all the diversity of our expressions of love and physical love, perhaps we need to be aware of what protects wholeness in our relationships. If this is forgotten all kinds of misuse and abuse can take place. Might we reflect that we may always be on holy ground and that this doesn't invite open license to do anything? Neither though, can such expression in the context of people's lives be confined within narrow prohibition.


Rowan Williams, before he became Archbishop of Canterbury said in a speech about human sexuality,

'…the moral question ought to be one of how much we want our sexual activity to communicate, how much we want it to display a breadth of human possibility and a sense of the body's capacity to heal and to enlarge the life of other people…' [vii] 


What God celebrates in all our expressions of love - physical, sexual, sensual, non-sexual is deep, selfless, uninhibited sharing – mind, body and spirit - in faithful, healthy and enduring relationships that reflect unconditional love and dependable fidelity.

'…vital for human life…love alone can awaken what is divine within…a rhythm of grace and gracefulness…when love awakens in your life, it is like a rebirth, a new beginning.' [viii]

©Hilary Oxford Smith

March 2014




[i] See for details of the new guidelines and the results of the research

[ii] Sex Education Survey, YouGov (2008);   Livingstone, Beber et al (2005) Internet Literacy among children and young people, Go Online Project)

[iii] Gill, Rosalind, Professor of Social and Culture Analysis, Kings College London, National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children (NSPCC), Conference, Premature sexualisation: understanding the risks, 2011

[iv] Coy, Maddy, Dr., Child and Woman Abuse Studies Unit, London Metropolitan University, NSPCC Conference 2011

[v] Smith, Hilary, Revd. Dr., A Beautiful and Enriching Love, Theology in Scotland, 2008

[vi] See Holloway, Richard, Godless Morality, (Canongate 1999) page 58

[vii] Williams, Rowan, The Body's Grace, 10th Michael Harding Memorial Address to The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement 1989, pages 4,5

[viii] O'Donohue, John, Anam Cara, Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World, (Bantam 1999) page 26


Meditation, Reflection, Sexuality, Young People, Song of Songs

Look at me!

The Rev. Gayanne Frater 14 March 2014



A flash of colour seen

Attention captured.

I turned and gazed.

Gurgles of delight bubbling upwards,

held captive

to keep faith with others on holy retreat.

This flower,




than its siblings

shouts her presence to the world.

Look at me!

See me!

Attend to me!

So I stood still

attending to her beauty,

marvelling at her fearless audacity

to be 'more than'.

And felt sheer unadulterated delight,

until it broke through my self-imposed repression

and disturbed the holy silence.


As silence descended,

settling as softly as a blanket on a sleeping child,

questions shimmered across this still heart, 

How come it is so easy to delight in the

stunning distinctiveness, 

outrageous beauty,

exquisite simplicity

of this flower,

but so difficult to rejoice in

our brothers and sisters who are

just as loud,


and demanding

of careful, prayerful attention?

When did demure reticence became so highly valued?


[Photograph & words by Gayanne Frater 24 January 2014

Reflections from a January retreat 2014]







Poetry, Justice, Environment

A Oneness

The Rev. Dr. Paul McKeown 27 February 2014


You said in passing

that you'd washed your mother's hair

that morning.


I cannot now remember

when we spoke, or where:

sotto voce over coffee in the hall

or poised on sofas in your lounge,

your thin voice cracking

with the stress of it all.


And I confess, all else you said

has seeped from mind,

save that one lucent line.


You washed your mother's hair.


I see her now,

inched to the edge of her bed:

duvet down,

pink flanellette sheets

giving up the ghost of her warmth.

Tired nylon nightie

shapeless on her

as you turn and cradle round.


Bent double toward the steaming basin,

she grasps the table

stiff armed,

and bows her head.

Accepts the towel

you bequeath upon her shoulders.

Awaits her baptism

with the blue plastic cup.


Three times, four,

then five you scoop and slop.

Drenching her hair with wet warmth

'til it sits sodden

like soaked cotton.


You stoop and lather next;

fingers coaxing foam from nape to crown.

Working to a oneness.

Still lightly kneading,



through all the scalp.

Long after all that's needful has been done.


Both of you lost,

And found,

In the tender rhythm of touch.


The moment stolen, savoured,

stretched beyond saying:

time finally calls time.


You straighten up,

fetch fresh water,

And dip the cup again.

Rinsing all but memories away.


©Paul McKeown


Poetry, Memory, Caring, Love

Fearless Inclusivity

The Rev. John Fairbrother 21 February 2014

For four or five centuries the intellectual tide in support of the supernatural has been receding.   It is sadly surprising, then, to hear of Christians being reluctant to divulge a lack of belief in anything supernatural. Is it possible to be a follower of Jesus Christ without acknowledgement of a supernatural realm?

An answer would depend on both Biblical interpretation and the intellectual relationships between systematic theology, philosophy and empirical knowledge gained via experience and research.   Knowledge is never static nor is biblical interpretation.

The evolving nature of understanding has given rise to many versions of what it may mean to be a follower of Jesus. By virtue of their existence Church denominations give witness to this, as do categories ranging from so-called Bible based Christian to Christian Atheist.


The test of faith becomes acute when one reaches a point of acceptance, or not, about the endless nature of unconditional intellectual enquiry. For many this has become a question of integrity. Why should some questions remain contained by a confession of faith?


The point is not as simple as saying show me evidence and I will believe. Rather the point of faith co-existing with unconditional enquiry is to live with deepest respect for the human condition.


In Christian terms, such respect holds incarnation as a continuing reality of being wholly present within this life and, subsequently, letting go of any fear of judgement beyond this life. Heaven becomes understood as a state of being and the Way of Jesus becomes the means of entering such a state.


Christian spirituality and theology has long sought to align the religious poetic imagination with explicit intellectual expression. Explaining the imaginative and intuitive has found rich resource with supernatural imagery. Ironic in the use of anthropomorphic language, supernatural imagery has served to transcend present circumstances by being the means to hold an endless source of ideals, aspirations and hope. However, how well is such language continuing to convey significant meaning? 


Can one hold a Christian Faith without a supernatural belief?   To say 'no' confronts a prominent dimension of Christian orthodoxy. To say 'yes' engages growing numbers asking unconditional questions about Biblical interpretation in the light of current scientific, historical and philosophical research.


There is much writing and gathering about such thinking. A range of contemporary examples include, Charles Taylor in his book A Secular Age, Lloyd Geering's writings of Christianity without God, Don Cupitt, The Jesus Seminar, Bishop John Spong are among them. [i]


This can be an uncomfortable topic. However, it is one that has been in an evolving public debate for at least the last five centuries. Room abounds to engage such writers in open debate.


Alternatively, one may ignore the discussion, seek to discredit or use the weight of authoritative office to quieten or even intimidate. Whatever any response may be this discussion is not going away. In the face of discovery in many fields of enquiry, increasing access to education and the advent of social media, the likelihood is it will become more pronounced.


Recourse to the supernatural carries the answers to things that may or cannot be explained. For example: How did life begin? A straight forward answer has long been 'God made heaven and Earth'.


Alternatively, the same answer may also be understood as one born of the poetic imagination, seeking to convey the miraculous gift of life. And it is from seeking to understand this gift that much of the unconditional enquiry now challenging the validity of belief in a supernatural realm arises.


Poetry, music, for example, bring the imaginative mind and rational observer into a concerted expression that, at once, may be a transcendent presence and bearer of light to the practical depths of compassion, hope, love, fear and understanding.


The intellectual craft of Biblical text is filled with expressions of the poetic mind. The same can be said of worship and liturgy. Is it possible to imagine the living of Christian Faith, where there is no exclusivity about supernaturalism but rather a fearless inclusivity of any who would seek Jesus' Way to life in all its fullness?



[i] See for example:

Charles Taylor, A Secular Age, The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2007

Lloyd Geering, Christianity without God, Bridget Williams Books, 2003


John Fairbrother

19 February 2014



Reflection, Meditation, Supernaturaism

Spacious Spirituality

The Rev. John Fairbrother 10 February 2014



You will not have to travel far to appreciate the multi-cultural character of Auckland and much else of New Zealand. The diversity of cultures is obvious at work places, parks, beaches, schools, streets, malls, markets, theatre, wherever people gather and pursue the demands of everyday.


In the life of my generation contemporary Aotearoa New Zealand has relegated a white monocultural society to the historical record. While far from perfect in current form, there can be no return to an era when immigrants were tolerated and indigenous people were seen rather than heard.


New Zealand is now recognised as part of the Asia region. A small, independently minded South Pacific country making its way in a competitive rapidly changing world. Globalisation and cultural diversity has become the modern reality.


In any society, New Zealand being no exception, the need for cultures to understand one another and commit to sharing the benefits of living alongside one another has never been more pressing. Prejudice about differences of race, social status, religion or outright xenophobia will lead only to destruction of mutual wellbeing.


The history of world religions provides many examples of such destruction and the record continues to grow. Tragically, conflicts categorised by religious difference remain flashpoints for violence in many parts of the world.


This reality has increasing significance for the Christian Church internationally and within New Zealand. While it is often argued Christian values inform our law and culture, multi faith dialogue has long been promoted by many Christians.


Over time many other religions have taken firm footing, bringing differing expressions of spirituality. Sadly this can threaten the confidence of some about the perceived place and/or status of the Christian Faith.


Chaplaincies minister at the raw edge of this reality. School, military, police, hospital and other work place chaplaincies are all examples, ministering in places where people present a variety of faith expressions or none. Parish clergy, too, minister in communities with incredible diversity. Ministry is not as straight forward as it once may have been.


The immediate response is the Church ministers to all. Thankfully this remains true. However, there is a point when differences between religions can become a barrier to sharing the experiences of spirituality.


It is not unheard of for Chaplains and others to find themselves needing the generosity of a spacious spirituality which recognises the validity of another belief and faith system without needing to compromise their own. I recall a Biblical scholar describing a “proper confidence”, namely the capacity to defend one's faith with strength of gentle reverence.   I also recall a senior Anglican Priest once said to me, tell me a more convincing story and I will accept it.


A spacious spirituality has room to accommodate dialogue and respect for differences of belief and faith.   Other religions notwithstanding, a simple test is to listen to the almost incredible differences of belief held across the spectrum of faith within the Christian Church. 


The world is changing around the Church. The Anglican Church's tortuous response to sexuality issues is illustrative enough. Yet, after years of struggle, much of the Communion is beginning to express a spirituality once considered virtually an anathema a generation ago. Theology is clearly responding to societal change: it always has done.


The challenge pressing the Church is how to live with other religions in ways that authentically share the human experience of spirituality.   Avoiding or attempting to control such challenge will serve to deepen conflict and hasten the unnecessary decline and marginalisation of the Church. This is a loss not merely for the Church. Rather it is a failure to address the diverse nature of human need with generosity of Spirit that defines the practice of Faith. 


©John Fairbrother


Image by Colin Hopkirk








Reflection, Meditation, Church, Marginalisation, Multiculturalism, Diversity

Breaking bread

The Rev. Gayanne Frater 7 February 2014



Here and now I hold my bread

Alone at table,

I gazed with delight at                    

freshly baked bread.

I savoured its colour,



and breathed in deep.

Simple joy bubbled up from my belly,

a smile broke out on my face,

as I took bread,

felt its warmth in my hands.

Every pore in my body

zinging with pleasure.

I felt alive.

In this moment of time,    

I remembered words from

morning prayer, 

'here and now I hold my bread'. 


An unspoken question

gently threaded its way

to the surface of my mind,

“Will I ever break bread again?”

Bathed in gentle grief, 

This priest without a parish,

remembered breaking bread

at Eucharist.

A past action 

so it seemed.

As I held myself in that moment,

the Living Word

tumbled into the holy silence.

You break bread

every time you hear someone into speech.


Every time you speak from your true heart

words of life and hope to others,

you break bread.

Every time your unfettered laughter

ripples across a room, 

you break bread.

Every time you sing our song of Love

in the company of others,

you break bread.

Woman of mine, you break bread,

as you give life, my life, to others

when fully alive.

Yes, you will 'break bread' again.

You never stopped.


Here and now I hold my bread. 



©Gayanne Frater

January 2014


Poetry, Breaking Bread, Communion

The wake-up call to beat them all

The Rev. John Fairbrother 3 February 2014


A spacecraft millions of kilometres from earth, ten years after launch, being brought out of induced hibernation by mission control. The signals took something like forty five minutes to travel the distance one way. Right on cue, Rosetta came back to life to be readied for a remarkable first in exploration and discovery. The project is an amazing combination of imagination, science, navigation and risk management.


The craft is designed to deliver a lander on comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko (C-G) and accompany the comet as it enters our inner solar system. While a successful mission will reveal much about the life of comets, it may reveal information about creation that pre-dates our solar system. Most intriguing of all, it may assist with questions about comets possibly first delivering the elements essential for life to evolve.


Rosetta is named after the stone that, around 200 years ago, provided the key to decoding Egyptian hieroglyphics. The lander is named Philae after an island in the Nile, where an obelisk was found that helped the decoding of the Stone. Rosetta, the space vehicle, has the goal of reading the origins of the Earth and life itself. Philae will assist, standing on the comet drawing data, all the while speeding toward the sun.


The realm of science fiction continues to make room for such audacious adventures. One might wonder at what is to come. Dreams aside, this joint venture of The European Space Agency and NASA will serve to enlarge our understanding of the earth and interstellar space.


It all begs the question of what such exploration might reveal about the human condition. Will humanity derive direct benefit from this craft's extraordinary trip around the solar system?


The benefits of potential discovery may astound us all. It may reveal information useful for tracking and averting asteroid threats. Alongside the sciences, prospects of pursuing mineral wealthwill have ongoing enticement. Gaining knowledge about traveling in deep space will inform future programs, not least the likelihood of going to Mars. Heck, we might hear we are not alone, then again…   However, what might this adventure tell us of ourselves?


In 1990 Carl Sagan convinced the controllers of Voyager 1 to reverse the direction of its cameras, as it neared the limits of our planetary system, in order to view Earth in the context of space ( The result is the famous blue dot. There among countless stars is a little blue point. It is the Earth, as it were floating, alone, relatively insignificant. It remains an image that is inspiring and for some frightening.


Exploration of space presents humanity with the opportunity to take an objective view of Home. To appreciate the miraculous beauty each of us is privileged to enjoy for a time. With all the empirical knowledge that may come our way the opportunities also present reflective insights. For example: life is transitory and fragile; national borders are invention; humanity cannot do anything else but make a life here, therefore making effort to co-operate one with another is worthwhile; we all are part of a whole sustained by a very thin biosphere, surrounded by the infinite inhospitable vastness of space.


Above all such appreciation, one might wonder at the fact of our being. For many this becomes the ground of religious faith. To see Earth as a miracle of life in a lonely part of the universe is to invite conjecture at our origin. Whether by chance or the gift of Divine providence, the wonder of it has potential to evoke a profound sense of thankfulness for life itself.


Rosetta offers opportunities for us to re-read our own stories and appreciate afresh the fragile diversity of life that enriches us all. A spacecraft heard a wake-up call. One might pray we will hear the same.


©John Fairbrother

23 January 2014


Image: Rosetta calls Home: ESA







Reflection, Meditation, Imagination, Miracle, Beauty

A Salty Reverie

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 1 February 2014



With elderly poise and grace, my four-legged friend slowly makes her way along the pathway to a favourite patch of grass. Minx and I have been together for fifteen years. So many adventures we have enjoyed. Days of climbing mountains, chasing rabbits and catching sticks now belong to her dreams.


It is summertime as we sit at the water's edge. She loves the sights and sounds and smells of her world. Every now and then, we catch a glimpse of each other. Our time together so precious.


It's a warm day. A day to do nothing except think or not think. Little boats with assorted generations of family on board, putt out of the harbour. Children in swimsuits play tag on the beach and tuck into fruit salad and jelly afterwards. Seagulls hover overhead, waiting for a piece of pineapple to come their way. 


Dreams and memories add to this salty reverie. I'm five years old again, on the beach at Blackpool in Lancashire, with my younger brother, Mark. We are wearing our new inflatable swim rings. Mark's ring has a horse's head, mine is a swan. The Irish Sea is always cold. Small guardians of the future do not worry about such things. Mum and Dad gently pull us into less shallow water, not letting go until, screeching with fearful delight, we insist on freedom. Afterwards, we head to the ice-cream parlour for banana splits all round. To children belongs the Kingdom of God.


All this reminiscing comes to an end when two men in gumboots, argue furiously on the quayside over their catch of fish and I hear the gunshots of a pig hunter in the valley. Contemplative spirituality has to engage with the world.


With her twilight perception, Minx has gifted me the wisdom that times of stillness and refreshment are vital to wholeness. Intense movement, busyness, work, justification of self, through the doing of deeds are endemic these days, not least in the Church. Many clergy, from Archbishops down, earnestly go about the business of religion attending endless meetings, compulsory personal development courses, supervision sessions, yearly reviews and formulating still more desperate strategies for mission. Yet what significant time is given to the heart of vocation -   presence - sharing the sights and sounds and smells of other people's worlds and being refreshed in mind, body and spirit?


The clergy of Jane Austen's time were not known to work onerously. As the daughter and sister of clergymen, Jane always included at least one vicar in her novels. Taking tea with parishioners was a most regular occurrence for them, as was reading in the study and if they were single, wooing a fair maiden. Henry Tilney in Northanger Abbey was noticeably absent from his parish for much of the year, retreating to the town of Bath. His lack of commitment would surely be questioned these days, yet he saw the world quite poetically and spiritually, '… I am pleased that you have learnt to love a hyacinth. The mere habit of learning to love is the thing.' For all his flaws, Henry Tilney took time to see the subtlest of things. 


Is it possible to find a still and quiet place in our hearts and lives?


At the heart of Vaughan Park is the Ruatara Chapel. Three times a day, the community gathers there to mark the hours of the day, to pray for justice, peace and the integrity of creation and to value the ordinary as sacred. As most of us are rarely in a place where we stand and in the time that is now, this living of the canonical hours is a vital resource.


The Book of Hours, popular in the medieval period, was originally written by monks who contemplated the nature of God in quietness, sometimes isolation. It contained prayers for specific hours of the day, days of the week, months and seasons, with illustrations to help the reader contemplate and meditate. It was read by all kinds of people from every strata of society, often carried in pocket or bag. The Liturgy of the Hours, The Daily Office, The Divine Services all originate from this early source of wisdom.


Wisdom, I think, is a deeper way of knowing and living in rhythm with our souls, life and the Divine. It is about learning to balance the known with the unknown and linking the whole of life to a deeper Unity. Jesus withdrew to quiet places, in mind, body and spirit. He considered it wise.


The Christian Church reminds us in early February of the story in St. Luke's gospel about the elderly priest and prophetess, Simeon and Anna. They waited many faithful years to bless the Christ Child and sensed the sacredness of the moment when he came before them. With the wisdom of age and the daily prayers of a lifetime, they saw God in Jesus and knew him to be the Light of the World.


At Candlemas and at any other time, come to think of it, we light candles in response to Love, praying and believing that Light will shine where wars rage, hate burns, fresh water is but a dream, land is stolen and pillaged. We also pray that the Light will continue to shine in the lives of people who honour love, justice, truth, peace and hope. The Church, for all its flaws and in its goodness, still seeks the Light.


Minx is resting at my feet as I write these words. Perhaps she is dreaming of a time when she swam in the river or when she licked away the tears from my face on the night Dad died. I gaze out at our garden. The boughs of the gnarled pear tree, planted some eighty years ago, are laden with fruit.


©Hilary Oxford Smith


Image   Children sitting on wall at the seaside, by the artist, Marilyn Spence,





Reflection, Meditation, Summer, Book of Hours, Contemplation

Beyond a Prophetic Science

The Rev. John Fairbrother 31 January 2014


Australia has simmered under a heat wave. California has felt the effects of drought and lack of the regular snow melt. Globally cities suffer dangerous air pollution and large cyclonic events continue to damage coasts and threaten the existence of island communities. Such events have become normal.


The warming of the earth is a fact. Without doubt, we humans have used fossil fuels in a manner and at rates that chart a pathway to our own destruction. While political elites continue to conference, seeking ways to reduce carbon emissions, the politics of market advantage and compromise persistently frustrate effective accord for the good of all life.


The 'developed economies' have derived enormous benefits from industrial, agrarian and scientific advance. 'Developing economies' are well set on similar paths to become competitive in global markets. Those who remain relatively 'undeveloped' are often fought over by nations aligned with either or both of the above for little more than the earth resources within their lands and seas.


It is curious what constitutes an international crisis. In recent memory, the collapse of financial houses on Wall Street qualified, destroying the regime of Saddam Hussein likewise. In earlier times the great depression of 1929 and wars such as World Wars 1 & 2, Korea and Vietnam filled the bill. Self-destruction via human generated climate change does not seem to make the cut, yet.


Perhaps the reasons are twofold. Firstly, the excessive gases and carbon being emitted are invisible to immediate perception. Secondly, politicians are restrained, if not motivated, by the demands of constituencies requiring ever increasing standards of living.


Invisibility is a challenge. The study of climate change has been a prophetic science. It has served to indicate destructive changes that simply had not been apparent. Prophets of disaster are rarely welcome.


Governing decision-makers face enormous complexity. This January the World Economic Forum met in Davos. The participants, comprising political and business leaders, academics and others have been addressing The Reshaping of the World: The Consequences for Society, Politics and Business. A primary concern of the Forum has been the troubling consequences of globalisation along with the urgent need to reduce growing inequality. (


Given the record to date, what change might those who suffer realistically expect? In the short to medium term very little. Living standards around the world continue to be measured by means of wealth accumulation and exchange and management of poverty.


Low wages, competitive employment and education environments leave many distracted hoping and looking for relief from unrelenting daily struggle. Engaging in voluntary activity to alleviate climate change can seem remote, even if such a cause is life-saving.


The politics of slowing climate change will need more than government only led initiatives. The concern will need to take root in the hearts and minds of the majority of people going about their daily rounds. Until there is sufficient demand at the level of local communities, governing politicians will continue policy compromises in response to the lobbies that maintain electoral resources.


The struggle for reduction of greenhouse gases needs to move beyond scientists and organised protest. Necessary change will occur only when public opinion motivates politicians to respond with a sense of mandated purpose. 


Fortunately the internet enables information to confound borders and political control. Movements like ( the commitment of Churches to ethical investment and divestment of fossil fuels are current examples of change taking root.


The prospect of climate change being accepted as a genuine international crisis is a positive one. After all, it will require global co-operation across all levels of societies to achieve the required outcomes for reduction of greenhouse gases for the good of all life.


©John Fairbrother






Meditation, Reflection, Climate Change

Morning, Pluscarden

The Rev. Dr. Paul McKeown 23 January 2014




The day began without me;

dozing ‘til the prayer bell summoned us from sleep.

Dressed hastily against the cold, still unsure

if I would join the monks at Terce; creep

in quietly to the candled transept,

or seek God alone.

Hands thrust in pockets, I chose to keep

an earthy sort of vigil: went to stand


outside and tarry for the dawn.

Found a hard-silvered world beneath a shepherd eye.

Frostbound trees; tarmac stars glittering; the Abbey

cradling worship. Pater noster, thy

kingdom come. We watch and wait for it

in silence broken

only by a distant fox’s cry

and honking geese, drawn south to warmer lands.


Above, sister moon lingers;

loath to leave and miss the birthing of the day.

Together with the dawn, she weaves a mythic light

that falls, Edenic, on the valley;

blood red, as at the world’s beginning.

And I behold it

not like lonely Adam, fresh from clay,

but Eve, who woke

to wondering eyes and outstretched hand.


©Paul McKeown


Image  Morning Moon


Poetry, Living the Hours, Pluscarden Abbey, Prayers

Bedrock of a Democracy

The Rev. John Fairbrother 21 January 2014

Get ready for the triennial dose of popularist politicking, facile rhetoric and expedient policy pronouncements. General election year has come round again.

Among all the posturing and spin, hopefully, genuine policy trends will become apparent. Trends that inform the public of the direction a party and its leader might take if power should be won. Major parties will seek to affirm their faithful constituents, win over the unsure and seek to dismiss or apprehend the policy of their opponents.

New Zealand’s electoral system is a combative process, which rightly demands clarity and resilience. The positive sub text of any campaign, despite the debates and announcements, is the process itself will refine and temper political will and skill.

Best intentions notwithstanding, an election inevitably will reveal a competitive mêlée of political statements, rebuttals and counter statements. The discerning citizen is required to listen carefully, observe, and recall the records of former governments and politicians to ensure the two votes of Mixed Member Proportional representation are applied as creatively as possible.

MMP provided the means to break autocratic government by executive. Cabinet can no longer retreat from public scrutiny as it could prior to the electoral reform. Minor parties sitting at Parliament’s debating crossroad have acquired practical influence to moderate the effects of powerful political lobbies and related policy implementations.

However, there is a challenge to the efficacy of the parliamentary system that is related to electoral reform but lies outside the parliament. Public participation in an election is the key to democratic function. If a majority of people do not turn out to vote how authentic is an election?  This presents the risk of minority government of a different form. A choice not to vote is significant.

New Zealand society has troubling similarities with other western democracies. We, too, have growing extremes of poverty and wealth; a loosely termed middle class straining with the demands of work, living expenditure, market driven peer expectations, and the challenges of personal relationships intensified in increasingly mobile, connected, atomised social environments.

Low voter turnout may be not so much an outcome of ignorance or apathy as much as resignation to the reality of every day being sufficient concern unto itself. Indifference and despair may breed frustration, even anger. It will unlikely provide a reasoned climate conducive to participatory politics.

Governments have a direct responsibility to nurture the health of a democratic system. It is the system that provides our society’s sense of continuity from generation to generation. Politicians come and go. Their roles are of major significance and their policies may become so, however, their personal stakes are entirely transitory.

All politicians have responsibility to promote the worth of democracy. In this regard the democratic system requires care, maintenance, creative criticism and change measured against the safe context it provides for all citizens.

Local Authority elections have long been plagued by low voter turnout. The risk of this same trend being a significant factor for General Elections is a matter of grave concern. The need for a systematic civics course in the schools’ national curriculum has never been stronger. An informed, interested electorate will function well only if the system of education accepts responsibility to educate the young about the privilege and significance of voting.

To participate in the electoral process is to contribute and to contribute is to share in the responsibilities and outcomes of government. Such participation is the bedrock of a democracy.


John Fairbrother

14 January 2014


Meditation, Reflection, Democracy

The risky path of engendering conversations

The Rev. John Fairbrother 14 January 2014


Sunday morning is a day that retains vestiges of being a day set apart. A great day for attending systematic attractions geared to meet the voracious engine of retail need. Yet, do you sense a faintly different ambience to other days of the week?


On Sunday mornings garden centres, malls, cafes and the like are busy. The phenomenon of shopping has become a fixed ritual in New Zealand society. For those who can afford the luxury, Sunday is a great family and friends' day with all this country offers with retail, alongside the traditional enjoyments of arts, sports and scenic locations.


Each Sunday, a living relic of an era now passed continues to exhibit life signs. Around the country there are gatherings of Christians of all sorts of theological persuasion. Such gatherings continue to fall under the public classification of Church.


Within current life-time church attendance was once among the main public activities of the day. That reality authenticated the day's name and style. Sunday was the recognised, established Christian Sabbath, the one day of rest available to the majority of the population in each week.   Clearly neither remains the case.


Goodness knows churches have tried to hold their numbers. The Anglican Church, for example, declared the 1990's to be the decade of evangelism. If numbers were to be the measure, success was distinctly limited. The same Church retains a fivefold mission statement that, fortunately, manages to release an occasional glimmer of light.


Many churches have applied all sorts of programmes to attract and disciple possible returning and new adherents. For example: there has been 40 Days of Purpose, Alpha, Messy Church, and Progressive Church, support for ongoing clergy development and systematic learning opportunities for laity. Meanwhile some have sought to quietly evolve the long familiar practice of customary Church. To date the overall decline is showing no sign of arrest. Sadly, perhaps, talk about the Church now living on 'the margin of society' seems to provide some sort of solace rather than effective animation.


The difficulties have been exacerbated with the onslaught of the New Atheist movement. Despite defences offered by theologians and the like, the atheists' criticisms bring direct challenge to the meaning churches claim to hold and proclaim. This is not a new phenomenon. It has been growing since the enlightenment, gathered speed in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and took flight with rapidly advancing science in the twentieth. Confrontation by the New Atheists is one founded on questions of contemporary evidence and meaning.


Ironically the one Church that has landed itself in deeper strife than most and maintains conservative ground with a near breath taking defiance may be signalling a simple, direct hope for churches. Relic be damned! The election of Pope Francis has brought a fresh voice.


The voice is remarkable not solely for profound theological discourse or defined judgements. Rather it is a voice appearing concerned for conversation among people, rather than categorisation of people. It is a voice that addresses Church as being a simple process concerned for focussed pastors and priests to step outside their establishments to reach needs in local communities. Francis seems concerned for the risky path of engendering conversations that build communities.


Such thinking does not fit well into the applications of structured programmes. Nor does it provide static intellectual targets for empirically minded atheists. To employ a metaphor: it appears to be much more like gardening where one tills the soil, pulls a few weeds, nurtures new shoots with water and useful sustenance hoping enough is done for a reasonable crop. Gardening is a practical act of faith. It is a gift to the earth, to other people, to oneself.


Incidentally gardening has long been a worthy, restful Sunday activity. It is one resonate with deep biblical imagery, similar to gathering with friends for food, conversation and re-creation where appearance matters little and presence means all.


©John Fairbrother

January 2014



Meditation, Reflection, Sunday, Church


Margaret Lyall 25 December 2013



Stress and distress, crisis on crisis,

Mind, body and spirit can take no more.

Utter exhaustion, energy finished,

Pain and despair, darkness and silence.


Then, piercing the silence, the cry of an infant,

Heralding One who will suffer and die.

Through His living and dying His love will be steadfast

His Spirit set free and gifted to all.


Can this really be true?

Does it fit with experience?

There's reluctance to believe such a staggering claim.


And yet, to be honest, so often it happens

In the depths of the pain, in the pit of despair...

   - through others' hands His hands stretch out to touch

   - through others' eyes His eyes look out in love

   - through others' lips His lips speak words of care...

And faith is rekindled, in response to His words

'What more must I do for you to believe?'


Minds cannot comprehend;

Truth is veiled in paradox.

But every time doubt becomes stronger,

A potentially deeper faith

Yearns to reach out and embrace it.


Like light piercing the darkness.






Poetry, Advent, Faith, Truth, Love

Memorials and Myths

The Rev. John Fairbrother 17 December 2013


Preparations for Christmas 2013 have been almost overcome by the events marking and surrounding the death of Nelson Mandela. Various international public media have inundated news cast and commentary with images, memories and discussion.

Nelson Mandela, freedom fighter, prisoner, political inspiration and statesman has left the stage. The inevitable processes of reflection and analysis will now become enveloped in historical and creative narratives of his life. The making of the myths that will carry meaning to future generations has begun.

For Aotearoa New Zealand 2014 will witness both a bicentenary and a centenary, memorials of events that are key to understanding what it means to be a Kiwi. The year will mark 200 years since the advent of institutional Church in these islands and the 100th anniversary of the outbreak of World War 1.

Where the very recent death of Nelson Mandela will remain present in living memory for much of a generation, the arrival of the Rev Samuel Marsden in 1814 and the World War of 1914-18 are beyond recall. Memorials will be held to mark the significance of the time and meanings accumulated. Myths will be embellished.

In this country many will revere Marsden for being the bearer of the Good News. His sermon delivered at Oihi beach has no record beyond the biblical theme he chose for that Christmas day: ‘Behold I bring you glad tidings of great joy”. The arrival of institutional Church is a great occasion for contemporary Church to celebrate.

Was the establishment of the Church his only reason for arrival? His relationship with the young chief Ruatara also appears well founded on the commerce of trade that would bring benefit to both parties. Marsden has grounded good cause for a sound religious memorial. His actions also left wide paths for myths to grow around his intentions, relationships and outcomes.

In 1914 this country, then relatively very new with identities found more in provincial locations than any sense of nationhood, pledged itself to participate in a European war. New Zealand suffered proportionate losses greater than any other.

The pain of families and localities must have been visceral, perhaps unimaginable to our present era. Yet out of such industrialised hell we learn a sense of nationhood emerged. The ritual memorials of the day, the memorials of stone and wood, remain to command our respect and challenge the value placed on such disastrous loss of youth. Heroes they may have been. Young men and women they most certainly were. 

The myths that come from inherited memories are well worth holding with care. Care to serve the realities of lives deserving memorial and care to offer minds yet to come the scope to understand the complex depth of history’s tradition on which we stand.

New Zealanders have memories of Nelson Mandela to share. The meaning of these memories will inform the worth of inevitable myths that will inform any future memorials of his life, struggle and inspiration. Such worth is likely best interpreted via the truths any of us seek to live by.







Meditation, Reflection, Christmas, Memorials

"If you have faith..."

Susan Smith 26 November 2013



Earlier this year I was fortunate enough to spend a week in Greece visiting the places where Paul had journeyed. And then on to Ireland where we stayed at Glendalough, the most important centre of early Irish monasticism. The hermit priest, St Kevin, was one of the key figures responsible for the extraordinary growth of Irish monasticism. Sadly the monastery was partially destroyed by English troops in the late 14th century. We also spent time in France, where our congregation had come to birth in 1861 in Lyon. 


Upon my return to New Zealand I was struck by the number of people who asked me what was the most important moment for me. I could not answer as there were so many wonderful moments. Now I have two tentative responses.


First, I was struck by the extraordinary faith that led people to build monastic cities in Celtic Ireland or great cathedrals and monasteries in France. Fortunately the weather in Ireland was mostly rain-free, so we had ample opportunity to wander around the ancient monastic city of Glendalough now in ruins, and to visit the three or four nearby churches also in ruins. I became very conscious of the faith and generosity that led people without the technology that we take for granted today to express in such a tangible way their belief and faith in God.


Then on to Paris, where we visited Sacred Heart Basilica in Montmartre. Construction began in 1875 and was finished in 1914.  This cathedral, full of African, Asian American, Oceanic and European tourists, witnesses to the revival of Catholicism after the persecution of the revolutionary era, and the excesses of the Second Empire and Paris Commune. Immediately behind the basilica is the older St Peter of Montmartre built in the 9th century on the site of an ancient temple dedicated to Mars. When we visited it was remarkably free of tourists, and its Cistercian-like simplicity was in stark contrast to its grand neighbour. It was possible to feel an extraordinary sense of relationship with those who had gone before me.


From Paris it was but a short train journey to Chartres to visit the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres, now a UNESO world heritage site. The cathedral was completed in 1250, the fifth church to be built on that site. Four previous churches had been constructed there since the 4th century. Its artistic splendour means it is easy to see why it is a UNESCO heritage site. But that same artistic splendour spoke to me of the loving faith that that was present behind the wonderful stained glass windows, and the amazing statues and friezes that adorned both the exterior and interior walls.


And then on to Lyon where we spent some time in the Cathedral of St John the Baptist, completed in 1476, and again constructed on the site of a more ancient church where St Irenaeus had been one of the early bishops. Lyon is also where we find the Church of St Nizier, another extraordinary example of a Gothic cathedral, and constructed on the site of an ancient temple honouring the Roman god, Attis. More recently in the 19th century Suzanne Aubert was baptised in the church of St Nizier.


Because Taizé is close to Lyon we went there for our Sunday liturgy. The monastery of Taizé was built in 1940, not far from the ruins of the famous monastery at Cluny. The summer season which sees enormous numbers of pilgrims at Taizé was over but still there was a large congregation for a prayerful and simple Eucharistic celebration.


Second, the experience of being in these wonderful cathedrals and monasteries thronged with tourists and fellow Christians from all over the world allowed to appreciate more deeply what ‘the communion of saints’ means. Visiting these places reminded me that we are part of something much greater than our own particular parish. We are part of a tradition that stretches back through the centuries, that stretches outwards to all the world’s peoples, and touches us within as we stand in awe at the faith of previous generations.



It never ceases to amaze me that the wonderful awe-inspiring cathedral at Chartres was constructed mostly between 1194 and 1250. Fifty four years!! It took about three years to sort out about one kilometre of State Highway 1 that runs through Warkworth, and this in the age of computers, trucks, bulldozers etc. It is amazing what faith can mean.


Image: Entrance to St. Kevin's Monastic City, Glendalough, Ireland (Susan Smith)


Reflection, Meditation, Travel, St. Paul, Faith, Tradition


The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 20 November 2013


 Ypres, Gallipoli, the Somme, Mons and Verdun. The Western Desert, El Alamein, the Normandy beaches. Coventry, Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Burma Road. The Pacific, Korea, the Falkland Islands, East Timor, the Balkans, Afghanistan, the Gulf, Iraq.

Over these days, quiet remembrance and wreath laying ceremonies at war memorials throughout New Zealand and around the world are taking place.  The eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the date when hostilities ceased on the Western Front in the war to end all wars is also remembered.

The old remember what the young will never see and a noble written remembrance is shared by every age,

‘But the souls of the righteous are in the hands of God and no torment will ever touch them...they shall shine, and run like sparks through the stubble.’

It is time to remember the love that was lost, the wisdom wasted, the courage and fear, the commitment and doubt, the resolve and vulnerability, the minds and bodies pained by memories, the families bereft, those who will die in conflicts around the world today, the makers of peace, the enemies who have become friends. We remember also the One who asks us to remember them.

Such remembrance is gathered to our hearts neither to glorify the indescribable carnage of war, collude with political justifications for warfare, nor gloss over the brutalising and crushing of the human spirit.  We do not gather the dead and dying, the grief and sorrow, the memories, the stories, the tragedies, the comradeship in life and death, to dis-member them.

Rather, we re-member them. This hallowing of memory is restorative. It moves us, not only to give thanks for the gifts of life and freedom which so many of us take for granted. It encourages us to bring to birth in our hearts and lives, goodness, justice and peace out of bloody holocausts. It is to see, growing and flourishing, all that is good and beautiful, precious and shining.

The freely-voiced opinions of those in our churches and in our nations who believe that we should, at this time, be engaging in conversations and debates about the meaning and purpose of Remembrance Sunday, Armistice Day, Veterans Day and Anzac Day are to be respected. Yet doesn’t the gracefulness of God enable a mutual respect and prayerful integrity? Perhaps these important conversations are for another time.

We pray for peace in the life of the world and in our own hearts.

©Hilary Oxford Smith                                                                                    

Image: Poppies, Valery Busyjin


More articles by Hilary Oxford Smith . . .



The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 2 November 2013




The beauty of the peony roses has faithfully returned to our garden. The first flower unfurled its petals on All Saints Day. My late maternal grandmother, Doris, especially loved them. She had a June birthday and in the Northern Hemisphere, peonies were always a special gift to her. We didn’t always enjoy the closest of relationships, yet even though I live at the far edge of the known world, her presence is with me as I gaze at this noblest and loveliest of flowers.

I think of her home by the sea, her smile when the peonies were given to her, her work-worn hands, her youthful exuberance, her Scotch broth bubbling away on the stove on a winter’s day. A widow for over fifty years, she had an enduring love for my grandfather, Andrew.

‘You were born together, and together you shall be for evermore. You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days. Aye, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God’. (Gibran:23)

November is the season to remember.

The year my father, Joe, died, I sat in the tiny church of St. Mary at Dalmahoy, near Edinburgh on All Souls Day. Alone. Yet with many, I was there for a service of remembrance, to give thanks for those we loved and whose stories we still carried in our hearts.

It was deeply touching and privately moving to hear the names of so many people, spoken aloud and loved for eternity.  Death had brought discontinuity, yet somehow we took our place in the company of the communion of the saints, united in heaven and earth, the extraordinary and the ordinary, all blessed.

We remembered the ones who had challenged an unjust peace, a destructive conflict; the ones who had been a goad to apathy, confounded evil and held a belief in the enduring power of God’s love, those who had accepted loss of reputation, injury, even death and embodied, in their vulnerability, the hope to which God had called them.

We remembered the people who had gained no mighty accolades, yet lived, loved and cared, in their own time and place. They guide us to where God’s blessing lies - with the poor, the hungry, the tearful, the bereaved, the gentle, the forgiving, the pure in heart, the faithful, the peacemakers.

Consecrated with standing stones from the 10th and 11th centuries, the walls of St. Mary’s echoed with the prayers of the faithful and the doubting. Afterwards, in the cold dark night, we carried our flickering candle lanterns and walked arm in arm to the small kirk yard where we offered the light we had in this place of presences.

In the Celtic tradition, there is a great sense that those in the eternal world are home. They are with the God from whom they came and they live within the circle of eternity, thought of, as the largest embrace. They are very near to us, mind us and bless us. We cannot see them with the human eye but can feel their presence with us. One of my teachers at University who became an anam cara, a soul friend to me, the Carmelite monk, Fr. Noel Dermot O’Donoghue wrote in his book, The Mountain Behind The Mountain,

‘There is a sense in which...the dead are always present in the elements and in the seasons and changes of nature, being as it were ‘ministering angels’, that is, human beings who are taken into the work of angels in the world ‘beyond’ that is within our everyday world. We meet them, not by ’seeing ghosts’ but by sensing presences that belong with the angels and the timeless presences of heavenly glory and goodness...we, the living, are...their companions on the way, receiving as we give.’ (O’Donoghue:69)   

Who are the ones whose names, faces and stories live in your heart...who have loved you for you, stood alongside you, shaped you, nudged you into exploration and new understanding, challenged you to grow, shown you how to live in love?

As they bless you, may you bless them.


Gibran, K., The Prophet, (Oneworld Publications 1998)

O’Donoghue, N.D, The Mountain Behind The Mountain, (T&T Clark 1993)

 Image Peony Rose, Clive Oxford


©Hilary Oxford Smith

1 November 2013


Tom Vaughan's Legacy

The Rev. Canon Mark Pryce 26 October 2013

Those before me knew

how to stroke the steep sodden hills of Wales

just enough to yield a little milk each day

and sufficient mutton for stewing.


Ruffling Feathers

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 1 October 2013



The sun crossed the celestial Equator on September 22nd and the equinox brought a balance of darkness and light to the Earth. The spring (vernal) equinox promises longer days of light and warmth for the Southern Hemisphere. For the people of the Northern Hemisphere, longer nights and the chill of winter will be theirs.


The descent into darkness has been most recently witnessed in the brutal violence and destruction wreaked by members of the Somali-based al-Quaida-linked terror group, al-Shabaab in the Israeli-owned Westgate mall in Nairobi, Kenya. The group say that the attack was carried out in retaliation for the Kenyan army invading southern Somalia. Kenya is an ethnically and politically polarised country. A third of the population live in overcrowded slums with no running water or electricity and the Somali population living there has been the victim of xenophobic violence.   Meanwhile, the country's President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy, William Ruto, are facing trials at the International Criminal Court for crimes against humanity. After the 2007 election, more than 1100 people died - burned alive, hacked to death, chased from their homes.


In the same week, the devastation and deaths of Christian worshippers at All Saints Church, Peshawar, Pakistan was carried out by two suicide bombers from a Taliban terrorist faction, vowed to kill non-Muslims until the United States cancels its lethal drone strikes on the country. 


Meanwhile, here in New Zealand, many people have distracted themselves with America's Cup, the richest sailing competition in the world. In a race series costing billions of dollars, New Zealand was the unsuccessful challenger. There are those here who want to spend a proportion of tax payer's money on financing a New Zealand bid to contest the next Cup. No matter that a quarter of our children live in poverty, that parents cannot feed their families on pittances of wages, that we have one of the highest rates amongst OECD member countries for all kinds of social problems and that national churches continue to obsess about missional strategies and engage in too much parochial navel gazing.


The first Pope from the Americas, Francis, is living his own equinox. In a recent interview he has said that he wants to find 'a new balance' in the Catholic Church.   Six months in, he is already effecting real change, predictably ruffling feathers.


The writer, Paul Vallely, in his recently published book, Pope Francis: Untying the Knots, describes him as an icon of assertive humility, discarding the monarchical trappings of the papacy and bringing a fundamentally new perspective to religion. Francis intends to put love before dogma, serve the poor before doctrine and eschew the small-minded rules and obsessions of the Church in favour of building an inclusive Church which is a 'home for all'. The Church must grow in its understanding and be mature in its judgement, he says.   This is powerful and radical stuff, not just for the Catholic Church but for all denominational churches and faiths.


The word religion means “to bind back together”. Yet how often has religion been used to tear apart, to divorce heaven from earth, spirit from matter, one people from another? Not just in the past, but now? My colleague, the Canadian theologian, John Philip Newell, argues that,   


“ At the heart of the deep fragmentations, whether as nations and wisdom traditions or as races and societies are various forms of fundamentalism... and not... simply religious fundamentalism... we think that what humanity needs is our religious dogma...our ideal of democracy... the supremacy of our race...what people need in committed relationship is our pattern of sexual orientation. And the list goes on and on.” (Newell:15)


John Philip believes that we live at a costly moment. We have to radically change the way we view ourselves and how we live with the earth and one another if we are to become one. For Christian people, he believes that Jesus is a great gift to us of revelation, but he does not show us an exclusive truth. Rather, he shows us the most inclusive of truths, that we and all things are made of God, not by God.


“ We can share Jesus humbly with the world. We can offer our treasure in love. He discloses to us what is deepest in the life of all things, the sacredness of everything that has being.   He can bring to consciousness the treasure that lies buried in our depths. Our gift as Christians is not opposed to the wisdom of other religious traditions. It is given to serve the wisdom of other traditions. We do not have to compete with one another. We can complete one another ..If we miss this moment, choosing instead to continue our patterns of wronging the earth and one another, there will be a degradation of life on this planet like none we have ever known. What will we choose? Which path will we follow?” (Newell:26)


On Thursday October 4th, Pope Francis will celebrate the feast of his namesake, St. Francis of Assisi, who, in the 12th century, heard the Holy Spirit say to him, 'Francis, go and repair my Church which is falling into ruin'. In his own way and in his passion for peace, quest for simplicity and respect for creation, Francis left a legacy of spirited and loving people who have lived and continue to live and affirm the power of love and faith in action.


Isn't it time though to break up the holy huddles that can exist in our faiths and churches and cast aside the religious internal obsessions which have little or no relevance to the rest of society and the world? Only then do we have the hope of finding a way forward.   It is in sharing the struggles of the world – the beauty and pain, the injustice and struggle, the violence and redeeming love, that our engaged spirituality will challenge all that oppresses and degrades the human soul.


We are not to be distracted.



Vallely, P, Untying the Knots, (Bloomsbury 2013)

Newell, JP, A New Harmony, (Jossey-Bass 2011)

Holy Ground, Liturgies and worship resources for an engaged spirituality, (Wild Goose Publications 2005)


Image, Beth Levine 

©Hilary Oxford Smith

30 September 2013


And Then There Were Two! Another Woman on our Bench of Bishops

The Rev. Erice Fairbrother 26 September 2013


Congratulations and blessings to Helen-Ann Hartley, the new Bishop-elect of Waikato. We rejoice with you! Helen-Ann brings a significant career in theological scholarship and pastoral leadership to her new place in the Church as Bishop and Pastor of her people. However it is not my intention to go over Helen-Ann’s background and experience, as this is well publicised and accessible on Taonga and other media sites. Do read them, if you haven’t already, for it helps to know who the women in leadership in the Church are, so that we can more fully support them in prayer and partnership.


Some of us met Helen-Ann for the first time when she visited St Johns College as a guest of Te Rau Kahikatea. It so happened that her visit coincided with one of our AWSC meetings, and Helen-Ann lead us in bible study during our meeting. It was a wonderful way of getting to know each other, and we were all delighted to hear that she enjoyed our place so much that she came out to be Dean of Tikanga Pakeha. I for one was glad to meet her especially as a few years prior I had visited and stayed at Cuddeston College in Oxford where she was teaching up until moving here.


That said this is an appointment that, structurally, requires us to do some deeper soul searching and analysis. Thus far, none of our women Bishop’s were born, or brought up in New Zealand, Aotearoa, or Polynesia. It raises questions for us as women in theological education and mentoring. For instance, why are our own women consistently overlooked? We make it as far as the slate for election, but among our peers, it goes no further. In earlier years, because there were fewer ordained women, most of us were known, to greater or lesser degree, nationally. It is not the case now. Perhaps we as women in leadership need to think about how we might make more visible, more accessible, women who can be put forward as candidates, with a certain confidence of being taken seriously. That the number of our male colleagues is considerable in our electoral colleges cannot be overlooked.


Theologically there is an imperative for us. Biblically, in the letter to Philemon, Paul writes a very persuasive letter requesting that Philemon put aside previous prejudices and receive Onesimus back, not just as a free man but “as a beloved disciple”. Lydia was recognised by Paul as a leader in her own community, and worked with her as an equal in ministry. Ecclesially I believe we need to work to ensure that our women too, are recognised not just as ordained women, but “as beloved disciples” fully equal to the task of missional leadership. I believe we have work to do. And what might that work look like?


Some ideas; gather a group of women and men to ask some of these questions, and brainstorm about how we might be more ready to recognise women  amongst us and their call. Resource them! Don’t wait until there is another resignation and electoral process. Begin now to think about women; talk to them, talk about them, make them visible in your hui amorangi and dioceses. Invite them to preach at significant moments in your church life. Invite them to come and lead a retreat, a study for your church community, put them forward for places on boards, councils, synods and any other governance roles that are relevant. And as in all things, pray! Let us all become persistent widows, and give God no peace for a bit. Remember Hannah in the Hebrew Scriptures.


Remember also – that the Holy Spirit called Penny who was a courageous spiritual and strong leader, that it was the Holy Spirit who called Victoria when Christchurch was going to need a strong woman. And let us remember Helen-Ann, bringing us an example of rigorous scholarship and prayerfulness. And as we remember, let us rejoice that they are gifts to us. Similarly, may they inspire us to seek out other women with similar courage, prayerfulness and strength that they too may take their place as leaders in the future.


Revd Erice Fairbrother is Tikanga Pakeha Councillor for the Anglican Women’s Studies Centre. She is currently moving to Wellington from Waiapu to devote more time to her writing projects.

Blackbird Singing in the Dead of Night

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 28 August 2013


  It is just before dawn as I begin to write. Outside my bedroom window, a yellow-eyed blackbird sings in the fading of the night. Another blackbird sings on the soundtrack of a song written by Paul McCartney, in response to the struggle of African American people for their civil rights, some 45 years ago, 


“Blackbird singing in the dead of night,

Take these broken wings and learn to fly;

All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to arise.


Blackbird singing in the dead of night,

Take these sunken eyes and learn to see;

  All your life, you were only waiting for this moment to be free…

Black-bird, fly into the light of the dark black night…”


McCartney envisioned the bird as a symbol of hope for black women who were experiencing the evils of racism…the insults, the attacks, the fear, the isolation. “Let me encourage you,” said McCartney, “to keep trying…keep your faith, there is hope.”


Much of the racism of that time has been overcome yet the ignorance and hatred of the diversity of skin colour, ethnicity, creed and culture in the continents of the world and the enormous, painful struggles of people for justice, equality and peace continue.   


The killing of innocents – so many little ones – in the atrocity of a nerve gas attack in Syria last week has far surpassed the worst of our imaginings. We need to know, even though the images grieve us, anger us and make us question. There are some words recounted in St. Matthew's gospel which I find I cannot erase from my mind at the moment. 


Matthew tells us that Herod the king, in his fear of having his brutal power and authority overturned by the simplicity of the power of God in the Christ child, orders that all boys in Bethlehem, under two years old, are to be killed. Matthew, in his story, quotes some words of the prophet of Jeremiah, voiced thousands of years before. 


  'A sound is heard in Ramah, the sound of bitter weeping. Rachel is crying for her children; she refuses to be comforted, for they are dead.”   (St. Matthew 2:18)


Then as now, it is still, overwhelmingly, women and children who bear the scars of conflict and injustice in our world. Like the almost unbearable grief of Rachel, throughout the long centuries and since, so many mothers and fathers have echoed her cries as they weep for the loss of their beautiful children. The wet of their tears mingles with ours, as we pray for the world's inhumanity. In trying to find new ways of revealing where the loving justice of God might be found, history and these present times show us that it will not be found in arsenals of chemical, nuclear or conventional weapons. 


Theologian and poet, Kathy Galloway, is Head of Christian Aid Scotland, an aid agency working to end world poverty and injustice. In her book of poetry, The Dream of Learning Our True Name, she writes,   


“…the coming day delivers grey-edged intimations of a grey mortality, and a shadier morality… Here, in the grey forgotten wasteland that is not accident or fecklessness but just the grey, inevitable result of choices made, and burdens shifted…here he walks…in his heart he carries yellow…awaiting yellow springtime's sun

to kiss it into bloom…

Yellow for courage.

Yellow for beauty.

Yellow for resistance.

Yellow for love.

Yellow to obliterate the grey…

He walks, yellow in the grey.”



Kathy speaks to me of God's gift to us of transformation and the hope of human flourishing, that goes way beyond the weary, self-defeating sabre-rattling, gun-toting, power-politics of conquest, failure and oppression by one group over another, by one nation over another. I want to remember some words of Archbishop Desmond Tutu,


“…goodness is stronger than evil, love is stronger than hate, light is stronger than darkness…life is stronger than death…God has made us for goodness, for love, for compassion, for peace, for laughter, for gentleness, for sharing…”


On Friday 16th of August, in the region of Marlborough where I live, we experienced another magnitude 6.6 earthquake at Lake Grassmere. The fractured earth still moves beneath our feet. The lake's namesake, Grasmere, is a pretty village in the English Lake District. From a tiny shop there, nestled in the corner of St. Oswald's church yard, gingerbread is made using Sarah Nelson's original 1850 recipe. It is a rare ecclesiastical sweetness to be enjoyed. 


Grasmere is also the place where William Wordsworth, the poet, lived with his sister, Dorothy at Dove Cottage. There he wrote a famous poem about daffodils, 


“ For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,

They flash upon that inward eye

Which is the bliss of solitude;

And then my heart with pleasure fills,

And dances with the daffodils.”

Looking out, on the far side of the world, at our cottage garden, I see, in the emerging light, yellow in the grey.


© Hilary Oxford Smith

27 August 2013



References and Notes

Galloway, K., The Dream of Learning Our True Name,( Wild Goose Publications 2004)

Wordsworth, W., Daffodils, 1804

Song: Blackbird,   Lyrics © Sony/ATV Music Publishing LLC



Encounters of embodiment

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 24 July 2013



Earthquakes, aftershocks and tremors change landscapes and lives forever. People living in Wellington, Marlborough and other places in New Zealand await a sense of calm. We are told it will be some time in coming.


So we bear the continual shaking as the movements of the earth alter our perceptions, challenge our physical, mental and emotional strength, intrude on our ways of life.


We also think of and pray for the people in China's western Gansu province, who like us, have felt the ground move under them. As the earth seeks a greater sense of peace and balance, we travel on that painful and uncertain journey with her.


History has shown us that it is often in times of great stress, vulnerability and powerlessness that we are most naturally generous and creative, self-forgetful, capable of doing what sometimes can seem to be very small or ineffectual things, simply because they are worth doing, for the sake of honouring fellow human beings. Whatever our differences, we actively seek the wellness of each other. Our weakness becomes our strength and we find ourselves re-turning more fully to the original goodness of which we are born.      


The dramatic and varied landscape of New Zealand, which we, who live here and others who visit our country, find breathtakingly beautiful and wild, is borne out of great movement. Ancient volcanic eruption and the encounter of tectonic plates, one with the other, have created a panorama of difference, with its own texture and spirit and depth.


On a recent midwinter holiday, my husband, Clive and I became part of such encounter and difference. From the turbulent wind and immense swells of the Cook Strait, to the snow and ice of the Desert Road, to the exultation of climate in the Far North with its great exotic forests, we came to the treasured land of Te Paki and of Te Rerenga Wairua, also known as Cape RÄ“inga…meeting places of earth, water, stone, air and spirit and worth every long rolling mile of curved and twisting roads to reach them. As we walk the earth for a short time of belonging, these windswept and untamed environments bring us deeper, through imagination, into the mystery of why we are here and the memory of time. 


Millions of years ago, the activity of marine volcanoes and sediment formed the island known as Te Paki. Then, as the great movement of sand was pushed inland by powerful westerly winds, the island became joined to the mainland once more. These evolving encounters have revealed commonalities and differences. Baked red clay and ironstone soil, patterned sand dunes rising to one hundred metres in height, wetlands, rare birds, plants and flowers, trees, reptiles and molluscs are only to be found on Te Paki.


Cape RÄ“inga is a place of profound cultural, spiritual and sacred significance for Māori. It speaks to them of a departure and a return. It is to here, that their spirits, after death, come. It is a hallowing place. Clinging to the face of the rock and lashed by salt winds and pounded by waves, is a lone pōhutukawa tree, over 800 years old. Māori believe that their spirits descend to the water on steps formed from its roots and return to their spiritual home of Hawaiki.   


We see whirlpools far out to sea, as if they are dancing in the wake of a waka (canoe). The Cape is where two vast stretches of water come together. On the day, the booming and wildly flamboyant Tasman Sea is to the west and to the east, the vast Pacific Ocean, peaceful and confident. A discordant concerto. They remind me of the music of the French composer, Olivier Messiaen, music I would hear played on the fine, dark red Rieger organ of St. Giles' Cathedral, Edinburgh on many a Sunday past. 


A devout Catholic, Messiaen was interned in a prisoner of war camp in Poland during the Second World War. Conditions were horrendous, yet still he was able to compose music. His imagining of colours encouraged him to write and hear musical chords. Believing that birds were the greatest musicians on earth, Messiaen transcribed their song into musical notation.


His music is replete with new harmonies. He looked to the natural world for inspiration, where nothing is even or regular. “What is true,” he said, “is natural resonance…my music is not 'nice'…it is certain. I am convinced that joy exists, convinced that the invisible exists more than the visible, joy is beyond sorrow, beauty is beyond horror.” 


The earth has been here for millions of years before us and without us. It will be here long after us. It has nourished and sustained us over many generations. Without the landscape, none of us could ever have come here. Our lives and our search for meaning would be inconceivable without it. Within its shapes, lines, colours and sounds, discordancies and harmonies, new and sometimes unexpected encounters happen. 


As some of us struggle with the depths of distress which the earth is feeling and revealing to us at this present time, I think of a blessing that is worth sharing: 


“Let us bless

The imagination of the Earth.

That knew early the patience

To harness the mind of time,

Waited for the seas to warm,

Ready to welcome the emergence

Of things dreaming of voyaging

Among the stillness of land.

And how light knew to nurse

The growth until the face of the earth

Brightens beneath a vision of colour.


When the ages of ice came

And sealed the earth inside

An endless coma of cold,

The heart of the earth held hope,

Storing fragments of memory,

Ready for the return of the sun…



Let us thank the Earth

That offers ground for home…

The wonder of a garden…

That transfigures all

That has fallen

Of outlived growth.


The kindness of the earth,

Opening to receive

Our worn forms

Into the final stillness.


Let us remember within us

The ancient clay,

Holding the memory of seasons,

The passion of the wind,

The fluency of water,

The warmth of fire,

The quiver-touch of the sun

And shadowed sureness of the moon.


That we may awaken,

To live to the full

The dream of the earth

Who chose us to emerge

And incarnate its hidden night

In mind, spirit and light.”


Amen. So be it.


©Hilary Oxford Smith

23 July 2013




Extract from In Praise of Earth, from Benedictus, A Book of Blessings, John O'Donohue (Bantam Press 2007)

Image: Hilary Oxford Smith


The heavens are telling the glory of God

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 22 June 2013



Snowflakes dance in the Southerly gale and the moon and galaxies of shining stars, beyond the clouds, are hidden from our sight. The wind draws the air into the wood fire. It crackles and glows. It is our company, keeping us warm in the winter storm.


The hearth was always a place of relationship in our family home. I remember my grandmother 'smooring' the fire before she went to bed. Ashes were gently laid upon the glowing red coals. Kindled in the cold night, they would, at daybreak, still be alive with warmth. The fire was never allowed to go out. Earth, water, fire, air, space, always present.


Fire of a different kind burns in Syria. Earlier this week, the leaders of the world's richest countries met in the north of Ireland, a place which has known unspeakable violence and now enjoys a fragile peace. Syria was on their agenda, along with tax evasion and transparency, “which will empower people to hold governments and companies to account.”


The Syrian capital, Damascus, one of the oldest and continuously inhabited cities in the world, has descended into the chaos of evil. The storm of oblivion has left it in ruins along with Aleppo and countless other towns and villages. While thousands of innocents continue to die in these killing fields, the US Government has decided to arm Syrian rebels, even though analysts say that these weapons are likely to fall into the hands of extremist groups. The G8 leaders, in their final communiqu é supported a conference to reach a political solution to the conflict and will “contribute generously to the United Nations appeal for humanitarian help.”


Protests continue in the crossroads of the world, Istanbul, and also in Brazil where the gap between rich and poor continues to grow. In a world of staggering inequality, empire building and where religious fundamentalism of all faiths, not just one, fosters prejudice, bigotry, exclusivism and hate, what are we to do?


When the Troubles were at their height in the north of Ireland, I worked on a research secondment with the chaplaincy team at HM Prison Maze, near Belfast. Maze was the place where paramilitary prisoners, republican and loyalist, were incarcerated. I also spent time with the Corrymeela Community at Ballycastle, a place of reconciliation between faith communities.


Amongst the many lessons I learnt from people in these places was that hate, guns, bombs, bloodshed and death do not make for lasting peace. Speaking the truth in love, respecting differently-held beliefs and being open to new possibilities achieved conflict resolution. Something which the remarkable Northern Ireland peace process demonstrated.    


Recent world events have found me reflecting upon our varying degrees of collusion with the systems of domination under which we live. Some may count the Church as one of these. I am reminded of the words of the American theologian, Walter Wink in his book, Engaging The Powers,


  “We cannot affirm governments or institutions or businesses to be good unless at the same time we recognise that they are fallen. We cannot face their malignant intractability and oppressiveness unless we remember that they are simultaneously a part of God's good creation and…can and must be redeemed.” (Wink 1992:10)


The redemption, which Wink describes, will come about when the spirituality of political, economic, religious and cultural institutions, their interests, pathologies and fears are confronted, so that the total entity is transformed. 


In our places of work and encounter, can we embody critical responsibility, search for truth, find ways to relate to the powerful and speak the truth in love? We can look to the poet-carpenter Jesus for inspiration. With the fire of passion and freedom in his heart, the man from Nazareth repudiated the autocratic values of power and wealth and the institutions and systems that authorised and supported these values. He rejected ranking, domination, hierarchies…class inequality, the exploitation of the many by the few. (Ibid.:110-113)


We are to journey towards the light, my friends. In the Southern and Northern Hemispheres, the winter and summer solstices are celebrated on 21 June. The winter solstice in the Southern Hemisphere is the date when the Earth's axis is farthest away from the sun. The next new dawn will herald our slow return to the light. The heavens guide us.


At this time in the lunar calendar, the rising of the twinkling star cluster, Matariki, also known as the Pleiades or the Seven Sisters, heralds the Aotearoa Pacific New Year. Matariki means the 'eyes of God' (Mata Ariki) or 'little eyes' (mata riki).


It is a deeply spiritual time for M ā ori and those who respect and participate in their culture and traditions. Family members and friends who have died are remembered with love and reverence. There is thanksgiving for the land and its many gifts and for the new life that is promised. Younger Maori learn the wisdom of their tradition. Singing, dancing, feasting are enjoyed in this celebration of new beginnings and new thresholds to cross. It is a time when stars are burning bright and the heavens are telling the glory of God. 


© Hilary Oxford Smith

21 June 2013



2013 Lough Erne G8 Leaders' Communiqu é

Wink, Walter, (1992) Engaging the Powers, Discernment and Resistance in a World of Domination, Philadelphia: Fortress Press

Smith, Hilary, (1997) Chaplaincy, Power and Prophecy in the Scottish Prison System: The Changing Role of the Prison Chaplain, The University of Edinburgh, PhD Thesis.




Song of the sea

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 7 June 2013



The pale winter sun is still warming as I walk along Cloudy Bay, south of the Marlborough Sounds. I can hear the ancient conversation between water and stone.


There is stark and tender beauty in the land beside the sea. Sand and shingle are patterned with the footsteps of time, shells, woven with an artistry of design. Silvery spiniflex, mat daisy, lemon lupins and sand tussock carpet the dunes and grow amidst the hardness of stone.


Te Ika-a-M ā ui, is silhouetted against the far horizon, telling the story of the Maori hero, M ā ui and how the North Island got its shape. Along the length of the bay, the Wairau River, with the serenity of turquoise, flows into the ocean. Maori have been living at this oldest site of early Polynesian settlement in New Zealand since the 13th century. The descendants of Kupe still scoop up oysters from the bay.


Since childhood, I have loved the ocean, its wideness, its song. Throughout the long generations, my family of fishermen and seafarers have come to know and respect this gift. The sea, teeming with life, is where the mystical journey takes place, where the frontiers of human fragility and divine blessing, spontaneity and unpredictability are experienced. She cannot be tamed. We can never know her mysterious depths.


At a time in my life when I was deeply sorrowful, it was the ocean and the seashore which became the places and source of my healing. I found solace and my God. At the heart of the ocean is a stillness and also a movement, a fluency. The rhythms of the moon and the tides, year after year, day after day, moment after moment, resemble the ebb and flow of our human breath and the living of our lives. It is to be present in the mystery of eternity.


Over the rising and setting of many moons, the sea has connected unknown lands and people with each other. This year, people have and will come together to celebrate the 1450th anniversary of St. Columba landing on a tiny island on the edge of the known world.  


From a privileged Irish family, Columba, a highly respected scriptural scholar, copier of manuscripts, devoted to the Psalms, knowledgeable about the constellations of the stars and the tides of our blue planet, left Ireland to live a life of asceticism elsewhere. In the spring of 563, he set sail in a curragh, made of wood and animal skin and, with some companions, voyaged to the farthest limits of the sea.


For over one hundred miles they sailed, the wings of sea eagles and kittiwakes sheltering them from the unbridled wind. They carried their 'little book' with them, the Bible, for inspiration and strength along the way. Before they saw land on the distant horizon, they would have smelt its fragrant, herb-rich goodness. On the evening of Pentecost, they landed on the Hebridean Isle of Iona and became reborn in a place that would become known as the cradle of Christianity.  


Summer gave way to autumn and winter. The Atlantic Ocean, with its dangerous currents and wild waves beat upon Iona's shores with unrelenting ferocity. 


“The Atlantic pulse beats twice a day

In cold gray throes…

Lucent as a prism for days, this shore, until

A westerly blows.

Then stones slither and shift, they rattle and cry,

They break and bruise.

Shells are scattered. Caves like organs peal

Threnody, praise…

Silence again. Along the tidemark wavelets

work thin white lace.” (George Mackay Brown)


It was no easy way of life for wandering Irish monks. Abbot Columba slept on bare rock, with a stone for a pillow. They set to work and built a monastery. Ever on the move, always looking ahead, they sailed amongst the islands and walked the land. Communities of prayer, learning and hospitality were established. People came from the 'airts an' pairts', to visit Iona and share in its sanctity and blessing. 


Carved stone crosses, illuminated manuscripts, harp and psalmody, theological encounter and refreshment:   island living in the presence of God. Creative threads that have woven an eternal story of relationship, community, devotion to Christ and the Presence who is Love. 


The life and legacy of Columba, known as 'the dove of the church' is to be remembered on the 9th of June, the date of his death in 597. Pilgrims from every corner of the world arrive at the jetty on Iona each and every day, to break bread together in the company of Christ and return home, inspired to make a positive difference in the world.


You and I, whatever our culture, history, language, colour, creed are island people. We are born of the sea. Throughout the centuries and now, we have journeyed far to come together. What have we gathered along the way?


“…pilgrimage is a circular route,

Following the scuffmarks of history.

Beware the onslaught of nostalgia…

the saintly monk who never broke a fingernail

or into sweat.

Remember, rather, and walk

in the footsteps of countless refugees,

tramping the forests of fear,

camping out in the fields of hopelessness;

the scent, not of crushed myrtle, but panic,

the sound, not of the lark, but of the sniper's bullet,

soaring, seeking warm flesh…


Remember all the invisible ones,

walk in the footsteps of the forgotten ones…

And when your place of departure

becomes also your place of arrival…

What of them do you bring to us?” (Kate McIlhagga)


Image: Water, Waves and Suds, Rick Edmonds,


Te Ika-a-M ā ui:the Maori name for the North Island of New Zealand

For more information on the story of the land of Aotearoa New Zealand, click

'Airts n' pairts' is a Scottish expression for all points of the compass

“Seascape: The Camera At The Shore”, The Collected Poems of George Mackay Brown, ed., Archie Bevan and Brian Murray,(John Murray, Publishers 2006)

“Address to a pilgrim”, Kate McIllhagga, from Around A Thin Place, Jane Bentley and Neil Paynter, (Wild Goose Publications 2011)


© Hilary Oxford Smith

6 June 2013


Unexpected Gift

The Rev. Gayanne Frater 26 May 2013




Deep peace.

so often elusive,

has snuck in unannounced,


embraced like a long lost lover.

You simply notice

one sweet day

you are at peace.

At peace with who you are,

why you are,

what you will be.

Nothing has changed

for at one level,

the turbulence,


not knowing,

still reigns.

But somehow everything has changed.

Some kind of shift has occurred,

deep, deep within.

This surprising,

delighting peace

has slipped in

without fanfare.

It feels like it is settling in

for the duration.

I savour it slowly,

welcoming its existence,

marvelling at its quiet arrival

and whisper a soft 'hello,

it's good to feel you once again'.

G. Frater   20 May 2013


Gayanne Frater is an Anglican priest, counsellor, spiritual companion, educator and supervisor for HopeWork in Orakei. She enjoys writing of all kinds, reflecting deeply and creatively upon life, relationships and creation, dancing wildly, and laughing out loud with friends.


You can also find Gayanne on Heartspace on Facebook. Please like her page.



The canticle of the bees

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 10 May 2013



David Wells is our neighbour and friend. His love for bees began in childhood and now he looks after these wondrous little creatures as an amateur beekeeper.


He is developing a balanced, holistic approach to the care of his bees so that they are happier and healthier in the hive and out of it. He hopes that the flowery golden honey they make will be of a higher quality and in greater abundance. We look forward to a taste of this sweet contentment. 


Bees are believed to pollinate up to a third of the world's food crops and I am reminded of Albert Einstein's words, “if the bee disappeared off the face of the earth, man would only have four years left to live.” One good news story last week was the decision by the European Commission (EU), to ban, for two years, the use of neonicotinoid chemicals in pesticides, which are thought to be a major contributory factor to the devastating number of bees dying around the globe.


Limited research has already shown that these chemicals leave a residue in the pollen and nectar of crops which affects the central nervous system of bees, interfering with their ability to learn and remember. Their use is viewed as a serious threat to the ecosystem and the availability of food in the world.  More than three million people in Europe signed an online petition calling for a ban on neonicotinoids. Coupled with the fact that the work of honeybees contributes over € 22 billion to European agriculture, national Governments, reluctant or otherwise, have been galvanised into action.


The overwhelming scientific, political and public support for a two year ban, not only on the pesticides, but also on the sale and use of seeds treated with them, will give a much-needed window of opportunity for full, objective research to be carried out and substantiate, once and for all, how lethal these chemicals truly are, not only to bees but to birds and other creatures, including us. It comes as no surprise that the big multi-national companies who sell these pesticides, are strongly opposed to the ban and the forthcoming research.  


Since 2009, the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand has been arguing for a similar ban and now advocates that our country follows the EC's lead.   On these islands, there is collateral damage from some conservation policies. Increasingly intensive farming methods and practices, including some from commercial apiculture, are also causing stress, illness and indiscriminate poisoning to the creatures of the earth, sea, sky, the land, the rivers and the sea. Can we hope then, that our voices, if they are consistently loud and protesting enough, will be heard by our elected politicians who work out of the parliament building in Wellington, ironically named The Beehive? 


Honeybees have been around for at least 150 million years. In ancient world mythologies, civilisations and religions, they have inspired great poetry and writing and have, over the long centuries, symbolised sanctity, immortality, resurrection.


In starry domed Orthodox churches throughout the world, the scent of beeswax candles suffuses these places of prayer and worship. The pure, golden wax, extracted from the honeycomb of virgin bees, is traditionally lit to cleanse the air, lighten the people's spirits and symbolise the purity which Christ received from his mother, Mary. For many of the Christian saints, particularly the Celtic ones, bees were thought of as messengers between heaven and earth, gifting to us, in the hive and out of it, one of the finest and noblest examples of community life and activity. 


The queen bee is the mother of the hive and all are deeply loyal to her. Each bee works for the good of the whole, having a specific duty and responsibility, carried out, without envy and rivalry and with care and selflessness. These gentle creatures nurture the beauty and fecundity of the earth with their gift of pollination, giving humanity strength and nature, diversity.


Carrying sweet scented nectar, pollen and propolis, which has been gathered without injuring the freshness of a single flower petal, they return to the hive and co-operate instinctively and equally with others to produce pure wax and sweet honey. They rarely sting – only when stepped upon, roughly handled and mostly when protecting the hive from predators. Such is their sacrifice that, after they have stung, they die.


These tiny humming insects have much to teach us. A testimony to the wisdom of the Creator, they express the harmony, justice, peace and integrity at the heart of creation. I have a beautiful, tiled picture on my study wall, called 'The Canticles of the Creatures'. It was bought on a visit to the Italian village of Assisi where St. Francis, of that name, was born. He embodied a deep spirituality of the earth, his imagination and faith alive with a love for creation.


He praised and gave thanks to God for Brother Sun, Sister Moon, Brothers Wind and Air, Sister Water and Sister Mother Earth “who sustains and governs us and produces various fruits with coloured flower and herbs.” He also said, “if you have men who will exclude any of God's creatures from the shelter of compassion and pity, you will have men who deal likewise with their fellow men.” How open are we to a way of knowing and remembering that only the creatures can offer us?


It is good to give thanks for the ones   - male or female - who have mothered us over the years. Mother Earth is a mystical and beautiful gift from God. We are to reverence her and all her forms of life and live in a way that cares for, sustains and nurtures her, as she cares for, sustains and nurtures us.


“Honour your father and your mother, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you.” (Exodus 20:12) 


Image: 'Bee', Jen Delyth,


© Hilary Oxford Smith

8 May 2013


An advantageous place

The Rev. John Fairbrother 2 May 2013



The mainstream of New Zealand politics has accepted what was once threatening and abnormal as being not only acceptable but necessary.


On the evening of 17 April Parliament passed the Marriage Equality Act. The Bill drew support from a substantial majority of the House. The Church, however, seemed to withdraw into its own cloud of unknowing.


What might the Church do now? Accept the law change and go about mission as usual? Divide itself into those who will marry same sex couples and those who will not? Carry on talking and talking hoping for a miracle of theological insight meeting secular reasoning? Where does this leave the Church in regard to sexuality? Directions taken may be defining.


Clearly, the Christian Church is no longer an effective control mechanism for a broad consensus about social order. If that is so, what does the Anglican Church value and proclaim as life-giving?


It may be time to re-think the meaning and practicalities around biblically inspired ethics. For example: What is love? How might love be understood? Why is love significant, life-giving, for humanity? The answers to such questions may seem obvious. Yet the sentiments and ideologies they conveyed within once dominant theologies have lost power to influence and persuade.


Both sides of the legislative debate trumpeted the virtues of fidelity. Now the beneficial and legal outcomes of fidelity are open to any life partners who are faithful to one another. The freedom allowed by this law change is a profound step in recognising and overcoming the visceral fears of difference that continue to foster relationship violence. All people are worthy of dignity.


This law provides the Anglican Church, at least, with an advantageous place in public discourse. It is no longer burdened with being a moral guardian of difference based on gender. Rather it may hold the inclusivity of the Gospel high. It may now encourage creating space in the public square for discussion, understanding and celebration about the blessings of being fully human.


Perhaps now theological thinkers and teachers, clergy and laity have an opportunity to look beyond transitory public moralities, and seek to articulate the universal benefits of people being free to live the sexuality that reveals their genuine nature. 


To go with an agricultural image: The Church has long patrolled the boundaries of the political farm. Now it may dismantle fences, tend the ground and nurture the plants afresh that, given the conditions, will flourish.



The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 8 April 2013



And the second time the cock crew.” (St. Mark 14:72)


Dawn on the Otago Peninsula and we awake to the clarion call of a cockerel, heralding the blessing of a golden Autumn day. Jonathan Livingston Seagull shares wisdom in the blue sky. White feathered kotuku-ngutupapa or Royal Spoonbills, sweep the low tide line of the harbour for a breakfast of shellfish. In the court of heaven on earth, four Royal Albatross or toroa, glide through the air, with what Herman Melville in Moby Dick, describes as “vast archangel wings”.


It was Lance Richdale, OBE, DSc , who, in the 1930's, protected the Royal albatross from predators and human cruelty, by camping out for 81 days on the tip of the peninsula at Taiaroa Head, so that one lone egg, which he had discovered, could be saved from destruction. His legacy of loving respect for these majestic creatures is the creation of the only mainland breeding colony in the Southern Hemisphere where fledgling birds can grow to maturity in safety.    


William Wales, tutor to the English poet, Samuel Taylor Coleridge and the astronomer on HMS Resolution, voyaged with Captain James Cook to “the land of ice”, the southernmost continent we now call, Antarctica. Inspired by hearing stories of the sea and a fabled land, Coleridge wrote The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, an epic tale about an albatross and the sailor who kills it with a crossbow. The poem is wondrously replete with imagery, allegory, superstition and allusion. The punishment and reminder of the sailor's wicked deed is to wear the dead bird around his neck and the rest of his life becomes one of penance as he wanders the earth, telling his salutary tale. He learns wisdom along the way - that God's creation is a beautiful gift, to be cherished.


“He prayeth best, who loveth best

All things both great and small;

For the dear God who loveth us,

He made and loveth all.”


On Palm Sunday, as we attend a very fine Choral Eucharist in St. Paul's Cathedral, Dunedin and sing the familiar hymn, “Ride on! Ride on in majesty!”, one line stands out for me,


“Ride on! Ride on in majesty! The wingèd squadrons of the sky look down with sad and wondering eyes to see the approaching sacrifice.”


In my imagining, I wonder if an albatross with archangel wings is amongst the company of heaven.


As we drive along the coast on our return to Marlborough, a dusting of snow caps the Kaikoura mountains, foretelling the harshness of the season to come. The evening sky, though, is colour-washed with lavender and the Pacific Ocean is more still than I have ever seen it. It makes me think somehow that in this week we call 'Holy', amidst pain and fear, abandonment, uncertainty, betrayal and death, the   gentleness of Love, born of power, not weakness, is made known.


I am reminded of Mary caressing the feet of Jesus with her long hair and extravagantly scented perfume, each of them preparing themselves for what lies ahead. Jesus washes the dust from the feet of his disciples in another act of intimacy, humility and oneness. Later, wholeness in earth's gifts of food and wine is shared with these frightened followers, as the mystery of the memory and substance of Jesus' presence with them, each time they eat and drink together, is gifted.   At the same table, John, the disciple, whom Jesus especially loves, is thought to have placed his head below Jesus' shoulder in closeness, affection and love. He hears the heartbeat of God.


The beautiful farewell words of Jesus offer reassurance,


“l will not leave you desolate; I will come to you. Yet a little while, and the world will see me no more, but you will see me; because I live, you will live also…the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” (St. John 14: 18-19, 25,26).


Along the Via Dolorosa, it is Veronica, who, bravely and tenderly, wipes the blood and sweat from Jesus' face with her veil - his likeness forever imprinted on her heart. The life of Simon of Cyrene is changed forever, forced as he is, to carry the cross through the narrow streets of Jerusalem because Jesus can no longer bear the weight of it. Jesus' mother Mary, John the Beloved and all the other faithful women, stay with Jesus unto death and hear his loving words of familial care and loyalty. Even nailed to the cross, his self-giving love and grace is shared with one of the thieves crucified alongside him,


  “...Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (St. Luke 23:42-43)


As dawn breaks on Easter Day, the clarion call of the cockerel on the Otago Peninsula will reconnect us to the heart of Being. The wing è d squadrons of the sky will sing songs of renewed hope and peace, justice and joy. The Church will tell a story with the power to transform the world and as we listen to the sound of God's presence within all life, we will rediscover our true nature and a gentleness of heart and soul.           


Ngā   mihi o te Aranga

Easter Blessings


The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Part VII, Samuel Taylor Coleridge,

The Holy Bible, King James and Revised Standard Versions



The Sunrise Rooster No. 2, Delilah Smith,


The Gifting of Gossamer

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 6 March 2013


There was a dandelion clock in our garden on Sunday. Only one. A delicate timepiece.


As a little child, I remember being told, “you can tell the time by the number of puffs you need to blow the seed heads into the air.” Very different from hearing the sound of a ticking clock on the mantelpiece, marking the linearity of seconds, minutes, hours, days, years.


Not under the burden and control of space and time like us, I watched the wild Southerly wind carry the gossamer seeds to different shores where the circle of life could begin again.


I like to think that this is what will happen to our souls when we die. Transfigured, we will live within a circle of eternity. 


I ran through summer fields of golden dandelions when I was young and carefree with only thoughts of lemonade and ice-cream. To some though, these flowers are weeds, to be cut down, rooted out. Tell that to the United Nations Food Programme where dandelion leaves are an official nutritious food for people who hunger to live.


Writers, photographers, artists from all over the world – radical, progressive, middle of the road, anarchic - post their own take on current news, “not always covered well by the corporate-run media” on A quotation from one of the greatest sages and scholars of ancient Judaism, Rabbi Hillel, known for his kindness, gentleness and concern for humanity and thought to be a contemporary of Jesus Christ, heads up The Golden Rule of the website: “That which is hateful to you, do not do to another...the rest (of the Torah) is all commentary, now go study.” Quite. This free press is food for thought.


The new bronze statue, Dance to the Music of Time, sculpted by New Zealander, Terry Stringer ONZM, tells the story of the Nelson region's people and history. He crafted The Risen Christ in Christchurch's Cathedral Square, the Grand Head in Wellington and the Mountain Fountain in the front of Auckland's Holy Trinity Cathedral. This latest creation attracts the art of controversy.


Positioned at the gateway into and out of the city, Dance to the Music of Time, also looks out over the tidal estuary of Nelson Haven and the sheltering long barrier spit, Te Tahuna a Tama. The presence of Tangata whenua in this area spans some 600 years of time. They reverenced and respected the Haven as a rich food basket. Four figures on the sculpture represent the seasons of the year. Summer picks early fruit, Autumn makes wine, Winter's woman carries a kete of fish, Spring is a small child's face.


A sense of timelessness suffuses the story which the sculpture seeks to tell. Its softness and balance produces the most powerful and tender music for the dancing mind and the freeing of the spirit. “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be,” mused the sixth century Chinese philosopher, Lao Tzu. Words of another wise man, John O'Donohue, engage my thoughts:


“We put terrible pressure on our minds when we tighten them or when we harden our views or beliefs...sometimes the best way of caring for your soul is to make flexible again some of the views that harden and crystallize in your mind; for these alienate you from your own depth and beauty.” (O'Donohue 1997 p. 135)


I enthuse about a dancing theology and think fondly of Dr. Marcella Althaus-Reid who mentored me during my PhD studies at New College, The University of Edinburgh and became my friend. She died in 2009, leaving a formidable legacy of very radical, inspirational and controversial theology. A book of essays was later published in her honour called, Dancing Theology in Fetish Boots. I imagine she loves that title.


“The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know whence it comes or whither it goes; so it is with every one who is born of the Spirit”, says Jesus. The power and the fragility of gossamer seed heads. The journey to new life. Of such is now. Of such is eternity.


©Hilary Oxford Smith


O' Donohue, John, Anam Cara, Spiritual Wisdom from the Celtic World, (Great Britain: Bantam Press 1997)

Holy Bible, Revised Standard Version St. John 3:8

Image: Dance to the Music of Time and Terry Stringer, Public Art in Auckland


A fragrant pilgrimage

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 15 February 2013




Dark blue Lathyrus odoratus, arranged in the font, (Sweet Peas to you and me), mingle with the honeyed smell of beeswax, evoking the heavenly scent of yesteryear. The small church overlooking the village of Wakefield, near Nelson is a fragrant sanctuary of memory.


Built in 1846, St. John's Anglican church is the oldest church in continuous use in New Zealand. I hear echoes of prayers uttered on embroidered kneelers of flowers, cats and crosses and hymns sung through all the long generations.


A polished brass plaque is dedicated to one of the founders of the church, Englishman, Edward Baigent, who with his wife, Mary Ann and their children, cast off from home and travelled to this wild and unpredictable land to begin a new life. Settling in Wakefield on the 9th February 1843, Edward, along with others, constructed the church using local timber. It is testimony to their faith in a God who led and shared their way. I am drawn to this place, exactly 170 years later, to the day.


The clear, diamond-shaped leadlight windows, reveal a sanctity at the centre of creation. Tall Wellingtonia and Redwood trees, over a century old, protect this place of prayer. I look up to the chancel ceiling and see pawmarks. When Edward Baigent left sections of the ceiling outside overnight, a cat with muddy paws walked across the boards and made its presence known forever more. 


A tiny ray of light shines on a spider, safely weaving a web. I am reminded of words about Mary and Martha, written by Kathy Galloway in her book, Imagining the Gospels:


'Martha's younger sister, Mary...could sit in the midst of a tornado blowing through the house and never notice...could let milk pans boil over, forget to put coal on the fire...get into a bed that had been untouched since she tumbled out of it...and see a spider's web as the occasion for deep meditation on the nature of life, rather than as an evil which had to be furiously combated with dustpans and brushes.' 


The visitors' book speaks of journeying and love. From the four corners of the world and everywhere in between. Fourth and fifth generation descendents of the Baigent family, Lynne and Patrick Kear from Gloucestershire and Tauranga, have been here earlier in the day. Anthony and Geraldine Pascoe journeyed from South Africa last year…'I am the grandson of Hilda Ladley who had worshipped at the church in 1895 and who travelled to South Africa in 1902 to be a teacher.'


Lent is upon us. Like many churches and sacred places, St. John's proclaims a pilgrim God who journeys with people and is closest to them in the experience of their wandering through the wilderness. The ancient symbol of the Celtic knot, with no apparent beginning or ending, reflects the endurance of our spiritual journey - that sense of the continuum of life with God, the exploration of twisting and turning paths which can sometimes double back on themselves. All held though, within God's providential love and care.


I hear on the radio, during the fourth watch of the night, that Pope Benedict XVI is to resign. News to be met with a certain uncertainty. As expectation fills the air, red-robed cardinals with biretta hats will be winging their way to the Eternal City to uphold the Church. We are to pray for them and their heavenly and earthly task. My father converted to Catholicism later in life and I recall accompanying him to Mass most weeks. My heart has always been warmed and touched by this devotional faith.


It is late winter in Italy. I give thanks to the Franciscan monk from Sicily, Father Cupani, who, in 1695, recorded the native and wild Sweet Pea as a new flower and gave it a Latin name, meaning 'delicate pleasures'. The New Zealand botanist Dr. Keith Hammett, collected seeds from the flowers in Sicily in the 1970's and we now enjoy their beauty and perfume in our gardens.


Their tender petals will open in The Vatican Gardens in April, heralding a new beginning at Easter. Resurrection flowers.


© Hilary Oxford Smith




Galloway, Kathy, Imagining the Gospels (SPCK 1988) p. 62


Image: Cupani Sweet Pea, Human Flower Project


Whisky, haggis, love an' a' that

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 25 January 2013



In the Rai Valley this week, cicadas were in conversation. A sign of late summer. Cherry tomatoes have been planted, with hope, in the Picton garden. “The only ones that will grow now”, according to those with green-fingers.


The boundless energy of summer is giving way to a different season. Peaches are rose tinted and green pears bend the boughs of the old tree.   Harvest and ploughing awaits.


Snow and sledging are the order of this January day on the other side of the world. Maggie in Somerset speaks of snowdrops turning their faces to the slow returning sun. Candles of hope and the ancient prayer of Simeon beckon us to Candlemas.    


Memory takes me to cold winters and long dark evenings in Scotland warmed by the crackle and glow of the coal fire. Uncle James would tell stories of the sea. My father sometimes read aloud the poetry of Robert Burns. It was for the promise of a sixpence that I recited Burns' epic masterpiece, Tam O' Shanter.


January 25th 1759 is the date of his birth. Now and over the next few days, the creativity of this toil-bent Ayrshire farmer and disinclined Excise Officer will be celebrated from Scotland to Stewart Island. His poetry will be read and performed, ballads sung, glasses raised to toast his Immortal Memory. 


Dunedin, that stately 'Edinburgh of the South' has its own association with the Bard. Dr. Thomas Burns, founding father of the Otago settlement and solemn, dignified minister of the First Church of Otago was his nephew. A statue of Burns stands high above the people in The Octagon. Fine though the sculpture is, I wonder what the egalitarian poet would think of being placed six feet above contradiction, like the preachers in the pulpits of his time and all time?


We know only too well that Burns loved wine, women and song and wrote much about all three. He was, though, a deeply religious man and aware of his shortcomings. In his poem, To a Louse, On Seeing One On A Lady's Bonnet At Church, he muses,


“O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us, To see oursels as ithers see us! It wad frae mony a blunder free us, And foolish notion: What airs in dress and gait wad lea'e' us, And ev'n devotion!”


Burns' was critical of 'The Kirk', the Protestant church in Scotland. Writing poetry gave voice to his radical, libertarian and religious beliefs. Not for him the cold Calvinist censoriousness and alienating chastisements of the church and its selfish, elitist striving for personal salvation. He was scathing in his denouncement of what he regarded as the hypocrisy of the religious leaders and their supersitions, in the guise of the teachings of Jesus Christ. Perhaps Burns could hear echoes of the babbling Scribes and Pharisees when the man from Nazareth questioned and exposed their power, authority, hypocrisy and vested interests. The dance, song, poetry, spirit of the Jewish faith had long been extinguished from their hearts and souls.


In Holy Willie's Prayer, Burns satirises the leadership of the Kirk. Considered to be one of the religious 'elect', preordained for heaven, Willie says,


'…I am here a chosen sample,

To show thy grace is great and ample;

I'm here a pillar o' Thy temple,

Strong as a rock,

A guide, a buckler, and example,

To a' Thy flock.”


With a just heart, borne out of familial and national poverty and inequality, Burns also wrote about the pomposity of the ruling classes and the excesses and abuses of wealth and power that he saw around him. He envisioned a world-wide brotherhood and sisterhood that would, in its togetherness, reflect the worth of the individual and the whole, affirm the values of justice, equality, honesty, love. Rampant religious individualism would not bring heaven on earth.


With no awareness of the inclusive language of these modern times and I hope that any sensitivities will excuse him of that, his poem, 'Is There For Honest Poverty', better known as 'A Man's a Man for A' That' speaks a profound message for his time and all time.


“What though on hamely fare we dine,

Wear hoddin' grey, and a' that.

Gie fools their silks, and knaves their wine,

A Man's a Man for a' that.

For a' that, and a'that;

Their tinsel show, and a' that';

The honest man, though e'er sae poor,

Is king o' men for a' that. –


I have always admired the Great West Window dedicated to Robert Burns in St. Giles' Cathedral, the High Kirk of Edinburgh. I hear the words from Isaiah's prophecy, “I will lay thy stones with fair colours, and lay their foundations with sapphires. And I will make thy windows of agates.” As Assistant Minister there, I loved the window when it came to life with light. A central sunburst, opening out “like a red, red rose”, reflects the hope and the light at the heart of the Christian faith…even the worldwide church, in spite of its flaws.


So, living in the egalitarian society that is New Zealand, I happily raise my glass with others, here and all over the world, in toast, to the Immortal Memory of Robert Burns, with the hope that prophetic voices will always be heard.


“Then let us pray that come it may,

(As come it will for a' that,)

That Sense and Worth, o'er a' the earth,

Shall bear the gree, an' a' that.

For a' that, an' a' that,

It's coming yet for a'that,

That Man to Man, the world o'er,

Shall brothers be for a' that.”



“hoddin”: coarse cloth

“Shall bear the gree”: shall come off best


To read and listen to the work of Robert Burns:


Image: Robert Burns by Alexander Naismith from



The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 10 January 2013


Summer tales

of Magi.

Full moon’s whiteness

on an unknown path.

A stardust constellation of Pisces

in the western horizon.

A diffused scent.




purifies ‘always the same’ air.

Pale bellied, frost lichen,

tells a winter tale

of an ancient abbey.

Hewn, pitted stone

holding memory.

Still sheltering the ancestors.

High crosses

sing eternal tones,

encircling the heart.

Soul’s shielding.

Weathered by many moons,

sun’s brightness,

storm’s turbulence

is Jerusalem.

He wept over her,

lamenting paradise lost.

Bab el-Khalil opens.

Hoping in Hebron.



with dreams of Abrahamic peace.

Rumi tells tales of mystical love with God.

Another year.

Different this time.

© Hilary Oxford Smith

1 January 2013

Image: Spirit-of-Jerusalem


A poem for Christmas, innit?

Rachel Mann 25 December 2012



Mappa Mundi

'What rough beast...slouches towards Bethlehem...?'


Elsewhere a king is fed grapes,

fat as globes, wondering how

it would feel to swallow

the world in a single gulp.


An emperor savours the scent

of honeysuckle, studies his elegant

hands, marvels at their power to condemn,

compel, free. Indulges his greatest truth:

I am a god.


Men and women kiss, curse, cry, and spit,

dream of riding eagle's wings.

Somewhere a child lifts his head

watches wild horses run, certain

his legs would carry him

to the birthplace of the moon.


Here a mouth opens,

thirsty to receive.

The girl stares down at it,

as if at a puzzle, shocked if this is the answer,

stares in terror and wonder at what she has done.


Image: Rachel Mann


Rachel Mann is a Church of England priest, philosopher, author, poet and metal-head musician. We're delighted she's allowed us to post her latest poem on Moments. 


Her new book Dazzling Darkness, the story of her journey from Nick, the wild living and self indulgent atheist to who she is now, is causing quite a stir. You can see Sande Ramage's review of that book here.




Magnificat Moments

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 18 December 2012



Choral Evensong at Nelson Cathedral on a warm summer evening. A Festival of Christmas Trees nudges us to think of peace and goodwill; each tree decorated differently by local organisations and community groups.


Creative, inspirational, imaginative gifts of life and light proclaiming the goodness at the heart of creation: the Christ Child, Emmanuel, God with us.


A Memory Tree invites visitors to write a loved one's name on a star and hang the star on the tree. There are many stars and many names. I write, 'Joe'...remembering my father who had a beautiful spirit and a passion for justice. He died five years ago.


Christmas for Dad was always about Mary's song, The Magnificat. The proud and unjust being brought low, the rich sharing their wealth, the overcoming of evil, our lives being opened up like a gift. Looking forward. Refusing to give up hope. The most courageous trust. The deepest love, and compassion, and challenge.


I write 'Maureen' on another a star. My husband's mother died eighteen months ago. I think of her gentleness, her grace, her love of her son. We will miss Joe and Maureen at our table this Christmas. So too, will many others miss the ones they love and whose love is cherished forever.


Light from a setting sun streams through only one stained-glass window in the Cathedral. Bartholomew and Philip, disciples of Jesus, feel the sun on their backs again. It is the same sun, which shone on them as they sat by a lakeside, eating a fish supper with Jesus and sharing stories of their friend in Mesopotamia, Persia, India and Greece. A stream of living memory flows and returns.


Chorister, Helen Baker, sings Isaiah's prophecy from Handel's Messiah,


“How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things.”


Good news, peace and restoration do not come easily.


Returning home, I look at an icon of a black Madonna and Christ-child, sitting on the bedside table, bought in the St. Nicholas' Russian Orthodox Cathedral in Nice, France. Holding her child close to her heart, mother and infant embody a vulnerability, a rebelliousness, a poignancy, a deeply loving tenderness.


A visit to Soweto in South Africa some years ago, led me to an evocative work of art, The Madonna and Child of Soweto. Painted by Larry Scully in 1973, it hangs in the Regina Mundi Catholic Church there. The child holds a cross in his left hand and two fingers of his right hand make the shape of a letter, 'V'.


The South African journalist, Mpho Lukoto described the painting as,


“one of the most poignant reminders of the past…beneath the image of the Black Madonna, Scully painted an eye, with the different images in it giving meaning to the picture. The pupil of the eye represents the township. The two black forks that run across the eye toward the pupil represent the pain inflicted on black people. And in the centre of the eye, representing the church, is a cross with a light that illuminates the pupil.


It struck me that in the midst of all the painful memories, the painting is a symbol of the hope, like the church itself, that was in the heart of the people. I like to believe that it was that hope that makes it possible for us to celebrate 10 years of democracy.” (The Star, March 23, 2004)


Built in 1964, Regina Mundi still echoes with the sounds of the pain and discrimination of apartheid. Murmurings of resistance, justice and words of peace and reconciliation can also be heard. This was truly a church where Christ's gospel was lived, where risks were taken on holy ground.


A marginalised community, anti-apartheid protestors, prophetic clergy gathered over many long years, to pray, sing, read, share, discuss, listen, act. It is a place of memory, transformation, hope and when apartheid was finally overthrown, it was here that The Truth and Reconciliation Commission held some of their hearings. 


Such was the presence of this church in the lives of the people and the nation that Regina Mundi Day was declared on 30th November 1997 by the father of the nation, Nelson Mandela, who said,


“Regina Mundi served the greater Soweto community in times of need. It opened its doors to anti-apartheid activities when all other avenues were closed to the majority of the oppressed...Regina Mundi became a world-wide symbol of the determination of our people to free themselves....a church that refused to allow God's name to be used to justify discrimination and repression.”


Tradition and ritual, a love that never dies, sharing food with friends, creative courage, a mother and her child and a freedom of the spirit. Magnificat moments. Christmas stories.      


“And the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, full of grace and truth.”


© Hilary Oxford Smith

Image: Interfaith Mary


Christmas in Fiji

Sue Halapua 15 December 2012



The light shines in the darkness –and the darkness has never put it out. John 1:5 


The family of Kula, the parrot, has flown around the Fiji coastland and bush for as long as anyone can remember. The ancestors of Mongoose travelled from India with people who came to work on the sugar plantations.


Kula and Mongoose are friends. Some folk are surprised because Kula and Mongoose are very different. But why shouldn't they be friends?   They have grown up together. They talk to one another. They have different gifts and they help one another in the green valley where they both live.


Kula makes Mongoose laugh. Kula is bright and colourful and can fly and tell Mongoose what she sees. Mongoose is alert and quick as he slips quietly through the bush and through the fields. He has an ear to the ground. Mongoose never touches Kula's eggs. He protects them. He warns off any likely predators.


One day in her flights Kula notices some puzzling activities in a nearby town. She returns to tell Mongoose some very strange stories.   In the town there is much more buying and rushing around. The shops are decorated with shiny paper and lights. Some people are drinking from cans and brown bottles. Others are singing loudly in the little wooden church.   In the valley Ana is busy with a sasa cleaning her little home. Old Jone seems be carrying more dalo from the plantation than usual.


What is this all about? The two friends decide to try to find out. They decide to ask the bullock who is thought to be very wise. His broad shoulders have carried more burdens than the heavy plough yoked to his neck in the cane fields. He listens carefully to the friends. “It must be Christmas," he says at last. “But what is Christmas?” the friends reply.   The bullock shakes his heavy head from side to side in the effort of trying to remember. He speaks slowly. “When I was just a calf, it was told me that a loving Child once lay sleeping in the place where bullocks were eating. If you find the Child you will find the meaning of Christmas. Go and look for the Child!”


So the friends set out, the Mongoose travelling close to the ground the Kula flying above. They set out to look for the Child. They go to the place where the bullocks are fed. There is no Child. They search until the sun went down as a ball of fire into the Pacific Ocean and darkness quickly envelops the valley. The friends are tired, hungry and disappointed.


Then they come to a little well-worn path leading to a humble wooden house.   There is a smell of cooking as roti, turned with nimble fingers and the edge of well worn sari, is being cooked on a tiny paraffin stove. An oil lamp has been lit and casts a circle of gentle light on the thick green grass in front of the house.


A boy called Shiu is sitting by himself on the veranda steps.   The friends watch and suddenly into the circle of light steps a girl called Mere whose family had always lived in the valley. She carries a basket of golden pawpaw as a gift.


Soon two children, Shiu and Mere, are sitting on the veranda steps, eating roti made by Shiu's Grandmother. They drink from new coconuts. They are talking and laughing together. Kula and Mongoose wonder at the happy scene. Strangely unafraid, the two creatures draw nearer to the circle of light. Both Kula and Mongoose draw nearer still and are caught in the lamp light.


The two children notice. Shiu and Mere sit very still and smile. The children tear their soft roti and throw pieces to the creatures which come and eat. Then the children hold their breath.   Kula, flitting green and red feathers, begins a spiralling dance of joy and as if awed, in deep respect, Mongoose sits upright on his haunches.


Mongoose and Kula rest so peacefully in the green valley that night. Their search is over. They know they have found the meaning of Christmas in being drawn to that circle of light - in being welcomed by the children into a circle of loving and sharing.


A baby is born in the valley that night. Old Jone, coming late from the plantation, looks up at the starry heavens and gives thanks for all the children and people living in the green valley and beyond. He knows there was a place for everyone.


In the morning, Christmas morning, the frangipani tree with star shaped flowers blooms so brightly. It seems as if heaven's stars are caught in its branches.


On the beach, the great white reef heron stretches her wings.   Like a Seraph she rises in the air and sweeping along the coast, she cries, “Peace! Peace! Peace!” Flying across the waves of the Pacific Ocean, she cries out “Peace” in all the languages known to creatures and to people. 




Shiu (a Fijian of Indian descent) and Mere (an indigenous Fijian) represent the two major ethnic groups in Fiji.   In Fiji there are often great friendships between the races. 


Sue Halapua is an Anglican priest who has lived for many years in Fiji.  Her story is written for Tiahli, all the Children of Fiji and all who work for Peace.


Image: Fiji Dawn by Anthony Halapua



Clara's got talent for waiting

The Rev. John Fairbrother 8 December 2012



Watching the final of TVNZ New Zealand's Got Talent I was surprised to see a fifteen year old girl singing a lament for love. Here was the voice of a heartfelt cry.


Poetic words with beautiful music evoked the existential pain of longing for relationship that would transcend the passing distractions from personal identity and worth.


On national television and before a live audience Clara van Wel stirred the gloss of competitive celebrity, revealing unnervingly simple questions about meaning, belonging, acceptance and love.


At the heart of Clara's song, Where do you find love?, was a sense of search and need to wait. Waiting is very much part of the human condition.


The Christian tradition encourages adherents to search for meaning while waiting on God. This means coming to some terms with the here and now while always actively living within hope of a worthy, fulfilling, future. However, waiting can sorely test faith.


The New Testament letters provide evidence of such a sense of test (1Peter14-15) and that same sense remains alive in the faith of the Church. It is, perhaps, no more profoundly sensed than when waiting with another at their thin margin between life and death. Can any act of waiting carry meaning?


Samuel Beckett challenged the hope of a faith in waiting in the play Waiting for Godot. While two men exhaust the sense of their present reality Godot never appears. Waiting for something that cannot be seen, or may not eventuate, may be a forlorn experience destroying hope, or only softened by amusing temporary distraction.


Waiting without engaging the present will be forlorn. The hope behind waiting needs to be earthed in active experience that contributes to world and neighbours. Clara's song seems to reach for that experience. It is an experience the Church is charged to live and promote, an experience defined by love, self-giving love.


Clara's song sounded a defiant call into the existential reality of needing meaningful relationship in a world that, for many individuals, has become as hyper-connected as it is competitive and isolating. At fifteen Clara reveals a wisdom that confronts waiting without surrender to despair of loneliness, loss of hope or transitory distraction. New Zealand's Got Talent!


Image: Clara's Twitter Account @ClaravanWel



The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson 4 December 2012



The Moon


the Sun;

a chill





light and

holds us


the Sun’s




as proud





For information and pictures of the Sun’s corona:




3 December 2012

© the Revd James M McPherson





This poem was inspired by the total eclipse at Cairns, it began at 5.45am (Queensland time), with the full eclipse coming at 6.38am and lasting for two minutes before returning to partiality for another hour.



New life out of death reveals grim realities

Susan Smith 30 November 2012



On the night of the American elections I was struck by the number of middle-aged and elderly white, middle-class Americans who had gathered to celebrate what they believed would be the imminent victory of Mitt Romney.


Then the TV would quickly transport us to Chicago to where crowds were similarly gathered to hopefully celebrate the re-election of Barack Obama. But this time the crowds were were Afro-American, Hispanic or Asian, or younger white Americans. They represented the America of the future. What does the Republican Party have to do ensure that it has a future? Well fortunately I do not have to answer that question.


But the American presidential elections meant I began thinking again about a workshop on church affiliation in Auckland I attended in September. The majority of participants were white, middle-aged or older and middle-class.


As happens at such workshops, we were presented with statistics galore and learnt among other things that churches which had not seriously engaged with Auckland's ever increasing Asian and Polynesian migrant communities were into decline, often quite serious decline.


The Catholic Church now has a significant Polynesian and Asian membership, which means it looks strong in South Auckland, or in Pakuranga and Howick. But its Pakeha members remind me somewhat of the Republicans–white, middle-aged, and middle-class–gathered to celebrate and then to commiserate the rise and fall of Mitt Romney.


Where mainline churches have not engaged with Asians or Polynesians, and in the case of the latter, this also means with the economically disenfranchised, the future looks somewhat grim. 


I keep asking myself how serious is all this? I am reminded again of the importance of Walbert Bühlmann's 1980 publication, The Coming of the Third Church, in which he argues that the future of Catholicism, and by extension, of what we sometimes refer to as “Western Christianity” lies in Africa, in Asia, in Latin America, in Oceania, and more recently in those southern nations that used to be part of the Soviet Union–Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and so on.


The changing demographic reality of Catholicism is apparent in my own religious congregation. Here in New Zealand the median age for our sisters is almost 75 years while in India Central Province, it is just over 42 years. Does it matter?


Almost two thousand years ago, the church was strong in the Middle East and in Western Turkey. Think about where the gospels were written, think about the recipients of the different New Testament letters, think about the churches being addressed in the Book of Revelation.


Now Christianity is almost non-existent in such places, and it looks as if it is going to continue to decline in Western Europe where it has been so strong for centuries. But it is growing elsewhere particularly in Africa.


At the end of Matthew's gospel the risen Jesus assures his followers that “I am with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt 28:20). Notice he does not promise to be with a specific church in Syria, in France or in New Zealand, but Jesus does promise to be with us to the end of the age.


In John's gospel just prior to the Passion Narrative, Jesus' disciples tell him that some Greeks have come to worship at the Festival. The arrival of Gentiles leads Jesus to proclaim that “unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:24-25).


As mainline churches in our country experience the reality of a loss on institutional strength and influence, members need to remember that this loss of life may well be accompanied by new life elsewhere, life that depends on the Spirit blowing where she wills. 


Image: Capital Times   A mandala representing the circle of life and death laid in the Death and Diversity exhibition at the Museum of City and Sea, Wellington. 


Gardening the loose ends of Advent

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 27 November 2012



Christmas cards across the miles. As I begin to write them, when the house and the town are quiet, I find my thoughts meandering over the years and recalling people who have been and are part of my world...far scattered relations and friends, priest and pastors, new acquaintances, other writers.   I add my good wishes as I remember our stories.   


Early summer gardens in Aotearoa are becoming lush with colour and growth and a dear friend and fellow scribe, Margaret, comes into my mind. Spectacles balanced on the tip of her nose, muddy gumboots, trowel in hand, ready to turn over the vegetable beds of her remarkable garden. 


She and her husband, David, a Presbyterian minister, retired to Kent to be near their family. The local Anglican church is their spiritual home and community. David takes his place in the old wooden pulpit there from time to time. Thinking of them, I long for Margaret to be here to teach and encourage this younger apprentice, who also has a liking for the earth. I add 'love' to their card as I do to others. Christmas is a time to remember good people.


Times of reflection happen in gardens. On a recent trip to Oamaru, I came across a storytelling place. It was gardener James Kidd's imaginative creativity that helped to establish the Oamaru public gardens in 1876. Now, native kowhai, ribbonwood, lancewood, flax, lemonwood, fivefinger, matagouri, hohena, astelia, and even kauri grow there, mingling with settler trees and shrubs. A mixed heritage. 


The intense scent of honeysuckle and roses and a landscape of apricot, lilac, cream and raspberry, pink, ivory white blooms and golden stamens echo the fragrance of another place where once there was peace. Syria. The air in Damascus at an earlier time in history was apparently filled with the scent of attar of roses and aromatic herbs. It is cordite, fires and flesh now. How the people who live out their lives in the midst of such violence and bloodshed must wish and pray to smell the fragrance of peace. 


Back to the gardens at Oamaru. It is in the imagining that we find ourselves a part of the tales of a community, a land, a people. Trees have been planted commemorating significant events in the life of our turbulent colonial history - and more. A victory beech planted on VJ Day, 1945 by the Mayoress, Miss Betty Kirkness commemorates peace. The Kauri, still growing strong in a Southern climate, marks the centenary of the Borough of Oamaru. Schubert's string quartet No. 15 is playing at the band rotunda on a sun-filled Victorian afternoon. The eight-sided Elderslie summer house shelters us from the sun.


A plaque on a seat opposite, is dedicated to Norman Ellis who died in 2005: “A dedicated Waitaki county council worker, formerly of Windsor, from wife Betty and children”. Betty's name is now alongside her husband's, as it should be. She died in 2011: “A woman dedicated to the communities she lived in”.


Most of us probably do not know Betty or Norman. Yet, somehow, this garden tells us that we do. We can know their love of beauty, their sense of longing for peace which this garden gifts to its ambling visitors. We know they had a family who loved them, that they were people who worked and contributed to the well-being of their communities. Their lives and ours are interwoven:  joy and sorrow, light and dark, community and solitude, fragility and strength. There is no easy way to encounter resurrection.


Surprises are part of life. There is a bronze sculpture, 'Wonderland', crafted by the Scottish sculptor, Thomas J. Clapperton (1879-1962) and gifted to the children of Oamaru in 1926 by mayor, Robert Milligan. Clapperton was born in a small Borders town, Galashiels. Many of his sculptures can be admired in villages and towns in the Borders of Scotland and throughout the world. I grew up in Galashiels. I recall a distant relative of his, Susan, who was a family friend of ours and lived to one hundred years old. I can see her now, small, white-haired, rosy cheeked, a King Charles spaniel always at her side. I remember her unexpectedly in this remote country.


There are no fences in the garden. I wonder if we are called to leave the confines of the enclosed space in this life? That we are neither to be bound by who we thought we were nor by the attitudes of others.   The prophetic Jesus preaches a gospel that frees us from the posturing and power-broking of the narrow political concerns of this world, frees us from the need to find security in possessions or addictions or an anxious and fretful selfishness. Sometimes though the doctrines and rules and regulations of our churches imprison us. We have no need to be so confined. Do we?


Nothing in the garden is finished. Pathways and streams diverge and interconnect, no beginnings, no endings. Plants grow, die and come to new life. Much of life is unfinished isn't it? From symphonies to relationships. The gospels are full of loose ends, unfinished business, unanswered questions. Words of absolute certainty, neat and tidy little endings can disempower us to creatively love and live.


I read some time ago about the worldwide Gardens of Forgiveness project, which began in Lebanon. It is a concept expressing the life-affirming qualities of forgiveness and love through cultivating living beauty in the earth. Gardens are being created where people can make a path for themselves, which can lead them towards transformation, reconciliation and unity. Perhaps the future will grow a garden in Syria. 


In the Oamaru garden, as in other places, dedicated green-fingers tend and care for what is there, managing the pests that threaten to destroy, trimming, feeding, pruning, watering, cutting away dead wood.   They offer the fruits of their labours and gifts from God to us. We are thankful.


Back to writing Christmas cards to post overseas. And more remembering.   With Advent hope. 

© Hilary Oxford Smith

26 November 2012


Image: God's Garden of Forgiveness, Andrea Brueck, Oil on Canvas


Threatened but still in favour of women bishops

The Rev. John Fairbrother 25 November 2012



To my surprise a deep sense of threat was felt. Six votes in General Synod, where the Houses of Bishops and Clergy had voted strong majorities, the House of Laity said NO by six. Women in the Church of England are to remain below a purple ceiling, for three more years at least.


I was ordained at the end of 1984. On reflection this seems to have been at the end of the male dominated Anglican Church in this country. For my ordained life the experience has been marked by a deepening feminisation of the Church. For a bloke this has not been without discomfort, even a sense of threat.


The experience might be understood as undergoing a dilution of confidence about personal place in regard to ecclesiastical structure. There was no revolution, merely a dawning sense of inevitable change and adaptation to new circumstances, new forms of ministerial and professional relationships. The sense of dilution of 'blokey-like' confidence has been about the need to accept that gender has nothing to do with personal worth.


The dilution has been a gift. Less male confidence has become augmented with profound understanding of complementarity. Living toward personal wholeness cannot progress in isolation of gender.   This can be discomfiting for a male, educated and oriented toward physical prowess and control. While such challenge and change is not restricted to the Church, the Church provides a concentrated appreciation of such experience.


To hear the outcome of the Church of England's General Synod vote against women bishops gave rise to a sense of threat in this male cleric because my ministry has become liberated, enlivened by the destruction of male oriented gender qualification. Within me the response to the news raised frustration that my experience of ministry is seen by some, in position of authority, as being counter to revealed truths.


When factory looms replaced cottage industry those now known as Luddites set out to smash the machines. The inevitability of the industrial development could not be stopped. The opposing votes at the General Synod raise an echo reminiscent of the actions of those Luddites.   In the present case, intransigent theological and political position has been wielded against the self-evident reason of tested theological insight and ecclesiastical development. The advent of women bishops in England may have been stopped for now.


In the language of the Book of Common Prayer the vote has done no more than 'prevent' the change. That is 'go before' the event occurring. The ordination of women bishops in the Church of England is inevitable. Any threat felt by the likes of me to the outcome of this tragic vote might well be directed as energy, to strengthen the ministries women and men quite clearly share as companions in the Way of Jesus.


Image: Rueters via Straits Times



The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson 20 November 2012



two wonders of

acuity, a third

surpassing both:

in an instant judge

the diver’s acrobatic

plunge; or catch

the colours in

the darting flight and

know the bird; or

catch the Paraclete



19 November 2012

© the Revd James McPherson

Maryborough Q



Keeping faith

The Rev. John Fairbrother 8 November 2012



The public reviews of the CTV building collapse in the Christchurch earthquakes and the Pike River mine disaster have revealed the profound practical significance of faith existing or failing in relationships and individual actions.


Both disasters have raised questions over engineering, design and rescue management. Both situations reveal a sorry record of law and regulation that was in place to apparently ensure safety and manage difficulties.


Yet the requirements failed to overcome external financial pressures and ensure a readiness to act in ways that might have brought the best from such compliance expectations.


Governments are looked to for law and regulation enabling a society to function with a reasonable degree of certainty and safety. From criminal law to road code to the daily challenges of managing Occupational Safety and Health compliance, there is enough law and regulation to bury the average citizen in a field of paper and computer data.


While rules attempt to provide certainties, acts of good faith animate their purposes. Faith is the placing of trust in another, a belief or doctrine. Without faith, relationships or development of ideas or exploration of landscape or testing of theories would not occur.


Faith stands at the root of all a person does.  Any action is expression of faith and faith is something the Church has always held central to its belief.


If, indeed, recent disasters are founded in a lack of faith between people to fulfil that which law and regulation may have intended, what might the Church have to offer in approaching the concerns? Simply, the Church organises itself around and proclaims a central tenet of faith. The faith has a lively character expressed in three distinct, interrelated dimensions.


The first dimension acknowledges an ultimate, spirit-related, point of reference. Naming God prevents the tendency for individual and community hubris having the last say in any perception or action. This might be seen as a vertical faith, directed and given to the worth of pursuing ideals of love, forgiveness, justice, compassion and peace.


The second dimension is that same 'vertical' faith becoming, as it were, horizontal. A practical expression of trust placed and reciprocated between individuals, communities and institutions. This is apparent, for example when someone recognises and cares for others, fulfils legal obligation or when a contract or treaty is adhered to for the benefit of all parties.


The third dimension is when a society structures and enacts shared belief in values evidenced in public policies enabling laws, services and the like to function for the well-being ofall within it.


The Church draws on a tradition, if, sadly, not consistent practice, of being the herald, bearer and promoter of such faith. It is the role of Church in the public domain to animate and articulate an approachable, critical faith in order to identify the values of love, forgiveness, justice, compassion and peace being worth acting on.


Without a ground of faith between people, within institutions and among communities, it will be near impossible for any law or regulation to gain a meaningful hold. Rules may govern transactions and ensure criteria for compliance, however, practical mutual faith between people about the context and quality of those same rules will determine their worth and the well-being of the society the rules are set for.


The Church is a long standing voluntary organisation that continues to find its reason for being in the faith that reminds of mortality, values relationships and supports the mutuality of life-giving values. The call has always been to keep the faith. 


Image: spiritedcrone



The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson 6 November 2012



The profound logic of God's symphony

requires a new theme come to voice


so Mary

totally unsuspecting

is ambushed by an archangel

of polished speech and manner


Gabriel's message

a chord



God and creation stilled

in one eternal breathless moment

when all could founder



until Mary's 'Yes'




when God breathes

the first enigmatic notes

of a supernal melisma

on the creative word


Eden hopes for fruit again

and beauty


and squadrons of ever-hopeful angels

venture forth

soliciting grace notes




© the Revd James McPherson





On the matter of hermeneutics

The Rev. Erice Fairbrother 4 November 2012


In this evening after eating out

You serve us nightcaps as we talk

Noting our lazy hermeneutics, how we cross

Long sentences like little rivers winding between

Precipices and over rocky underbellies

Shifting light stones and leaving the heavy

To curve our sheer flow into rapids.


Tomorrow you will lead your congregation

Our stories will fill your gospel

Our rivers will run clear,

You will lead them to precipices

They will curve with you into rapids

They will find they are walking on water

In the morning you will show them what they always knew.




(g) Erice C Fairbrother

August 2009


  Note: The (g) is created by the author as an alternative to the copyright notation (c) to indicate that the content of this (or any other work so designated) is a gift to be used without permission but with acknowledgement of the writer.



Small feathered miracles

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 2 November 2012



A hot sun and a cold wind and 'the uncertain glory of a spring day', wrote William Shakespeare. The grass has sprung, gardens are being hoed and sowed, capsicums planted.


Azaleas fragrance the air, petalled peonies turn their faces up to the sun – never were there so many. Apple and cherry blossom have drifted away, leaving the promise of fruit. Bees are buzzing about. An orchestrated woodland of birds perform a symphony.


It is time to sit on an old park bench and eat ice cream or gaze at boats sailing by, or meander by a creek and hear clear fresh water which has been smoothly rounding the stones over many moons. Think of the first time you heard the rain fall and the green smell of grass afterwards. Or when water lapped around your legs as you paddled in the sea as a child or when sand slipped through your fingers as you built an imaginary castle.


It is in these moments that we are being recalled to our earliest memories of the earth. We are experiencing the sacred goodness and grace at the heart of creation, in communion with God who is at the very heart of life.


Spring is a season of hope and possibility yet Christchurch, like so many places in the world, struck by the groaning of the earth, still copes with uncertainty and loss. Yet God is not in the earthquake, the tsunami or the storm. Hope springs. We keep the good people of Christchurch, Japan, the United States and other places, in our thoughts and prayers.


The Nelson Cathedral bells rang out a few weeks ago as the bar-tailed godwits began to arrive from Alaska to a very different cathedral of creation at Motueka Sandspit. On a visit there, I found myself in the company of small feathered miracles and was reminded of words in the book of Job, chapter 12:


But ask the animals, and they will teach you; the birds of the air, and they will tell you; or the plants of the earth, and they will teach you; and the fish of the sea will declare to you. Who among all these does not know that the hand of the Lord has done this?   In his hand is the life of every living thing and the breath of all mankind.


An auspicious name – godwit, with hundreds of years of speculation about their name.   Another mystery.   Flying nonstop from Alaska to our shores, their epic journey is made possible by many giftings:   at hletic prowess and endurance, the aerodynamic contouring of bodies in flight to glide through the air with little resistance, hollow bones which reduce their weight, feathers to keep them warm at high altitudes; fat is easily made while feeding and used for energy; they know to seek favourable wind currents and have the ability, from birth, to navigate by the sun and the stars; they sleep by allowing one side of their brains to shut down at a time; their rhythmic life is sustained by the air they breathe, circling around their little lungs while oxygen is extracted to make the air always fresh. 


God saw that it was good…God saw that it was good…God saw all that had been created and it was very good.


This year, like last, bells did not peal out from Christchurch Cathedral to welcome the godwits to the Avon/Heathcote estuary. Yet St. Paul's Anglican Church, Papanui carried on this tradition of hope in springtime.   In Dunedin too, the church bells of St. Paul's Cathedral and The First Church of Otago sounded as the first albatross gracefully winged its way to the expectant city.   


All of these musings have reminded me of the angelic voice of Hayley Westenra, as she sings the Benedictus. It has been a prayer, uttered in churches throughout the world, over long centuries: 'Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord. Hosanna in excelsis.'


Religion and politics make one

Susan Smith 22 October 2012



In John 17:11 the Johannine Jesus prays that his eleven disciples “may be one as we are one”. 


Even though Jesus was with the eleven only, this reading has been used by ecumenists, Christian social activists and those who recognised the importance of constructive inter-faith dialogue to advance greater understanding and shared outreach among believers. That's good as Heb 4:12 assures us that “the word of God is living and active”.


However, the contemporary reader need not be bound by the insights that historical-critical methodologies offer but can complement them by literary-critical and rhetorical-critical interpretations of a particular text.


I was reminded of the Johannine text a few days after viewing snippets of the Jo Biden and Paul Ryan vice-presidential debate, and then reading subsequent poll ratings. The Economist indicates that it was a draw.


What I find particularly fascinating about these two men is that both are Catholics, apparently still committed Catholics, but committed to quite different positions.


Republican candidate Paul Ryan voted against President Obama's Health Care Reform Act, he supports Private School vouchers, and he voted for the former President Bush's tax cuts for the wealthy.


On the other hand, different advocacy groups such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the National Education Association appreciate the pro-teacher voting record of Jo Biden, the Democratic Party Vice-President. 


Biden opposes drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge and supports governmental funding to find new energy sources. He believes action must be taken on global warming, and wants his country to be part of the United Nations climate negotiations.


Such significant ideological positions are paralleled in our own government as several government ministers including senior ministers Bill English and Gerry Brownlee are Catholic, and we are aware of their positions on the different economic and social issues that confront us. Their Labour Party counterparts hold quite different positions.


Wikipedia reports that English is “an active Roman Catholic, but considers his religious beliefs personal and separate from politics”. Perhaps Paul Ryan has a similar position. On the other hand, Biden appears to have embraced the Catholic teaching that “work for social justice is a constituent element of preaching the Gospel”.


What is more obvious today is that theological differences seem more significant than denominational differences. Those who believe that our churches are mandated to be concerned about social injustices or about an option for the poor find it difficult to identify with those who argue that religious belief is a personal matter only and separate from politics.


Such contrasting positions exist, often in uneasy tension, in our numerically large, heterogeneous Christian churches.


If we are to be one as Jesus and the Father are one then it seems to me that that is our primary responsibility–to arrive at a common understanding in respect of the major social issues we face today in Aotearoa New Zealand.


Perhaps our starting point in our shared reflection could be the words of Jesus in Matthew 25:40, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me”!   Matthew's Jesus brings together the social and the personal in a wonderful way.


Image: Religion Nerd


Spirits' Rise

The Rev. John Fairbrother 12 October 2012

Spirits’ Rise

Awe-struck wonder, restless life

weigh lightly on

gentle hearts, open minds,

freeing spirits to rise.


Wisdom quiet as snow

settling, moistening, softening,

renewing hardened ground,

freeing stilled life to rise.


Pukeko run, kotare seek, willows bend,

flax and toetoe, greening

nurture from gravity’s veins,

freeing creation to rise.


Essential Spirit weightless breath

heralding sense divine,

hold on life, release of mind

inviting spirits’ rise.             



Pukeko is a swamp hen;   Kotare is a Kingfisher bird; Toetoe is sedge grass, pampas grass.


The Order Of Things

The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson 12 October 2012


 Jack, eighteen

died on his motorbike


the Ugly Sister

expert in camouflage

and ambuscade


after the funeral

Lenny in the corner

absent in his grief

chain-smoking with his beer

Joyce and the girls

on the veranda

with Chateau Cardboard

watching the earth-shadow

deepen into the velvet outback night

and timeless stars


it breaks the order of things

for parent to bury child


the order:

grandmother die

mother die

daughter die





another fifteen years:

Lenny’s “accident”


when Joyce rallied

she summoned the girls to plan

how to hold the hectares together

and divide them after she died


death sweeps the old away

to make room for the new


running the property single-handed

in the Big Dry

for pity taking the rifle


to the gaunt and hopeless stock


it’s the order of things

droughts come and go

if you break first

you lose





she was ready, her bags packed

long before

protesting fiercely

ambulanced into the town’s “hospital”


where the girls gathered powerless

at the palliative bedside


only my enemies should suffer like this


praying for her release

as if to break the Big Dry


but the Ugly Sister

owes no favours

and kept her








© 2010

the Revd James M McPherson


Maryborough Qld


St Francis famously (and rightly) refered to Death as "Sister Death". Experience shows she can be an ugly sister sometimes, or welcome, or beautiful, which I have explored in several poems. This one dates from 2010.



Holy Island

The Rev. John Fairbrother 10 October 2012


Somewhere between feelings and intellect prayers may be born.

Holy Island is a meditative reflection offered for personal and community use.




Photo: Wikipedia    

Holy Island

Our Father in heaven

The divine image beckons

Hallowed be your name

This place is sacred ground

Your kingdom come

Generous lives reveal love’s name

Your will be done

Through meeting minds, steady hearts

On earth as in heaven

Spirit and body becoming one

Give us today our daily bread

Love blesses life, knowing earth provides

Forgive us our sins

Restoring our being

As we forgive those who sin against us

For justice, forgiveness, to prevail

Save us from the time of trial

Preventing chaos that would lead to hell

And deliver us from evil

Defeating pain’s despair

For the kingdom, the power and glory are yours

Hope now with reason to serve, all due is given

Now and for ever   

Eternity here, always before



Holy Island was written as a response to days spent at Lindisfarne in 2007.



© John Fairbrother

10 October 2012




Shelling Prawns

The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson 4 October 2012


The random scoop of raw prawns

from the seafood counter all fearfully

and wonderfully made; wrenching

off their heads a posthumous violation

as nothing to the trawler’s random

scoop and hoist into the murderous air.

The solemn truth that life survives

by killing demands I honour those

slain for my plate with heedful eating.

And will you not, O God ‑ for solemn

justice –when all things to their

consummation come, specially honour

those wild-caught or farmed then

wrenched away for others’ food?




My random scoop of raw prawns included some beautifully marked in a delicate coral pink, which triggered my initial reflection ‑ which subsequently began to question the justice implications of using Psalm 104.29-30 as a Grace:

All things look to you: to give them their food in due season.

When you give it to them, they gather it: when you open your hand

they are satisfied with good things.                      Psalm 104.29-30



St Francis’ Day 2012.


© the Revd James M McPherson

Maryborough Qld




The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson 30 September 2012


     They fret and chafe and set us all on edge

as their religious festivals approach.

But this week, men, the gods have smiled on us ‑

a stroke of genius, the Governor’s plan

to set an execution just before.

The northern rebel caught last night ‑ a gift

to show how weak their worn-out “Lord of Hosts”

who has no answer to our power of Death,

our army or our Empire’s mighty gods.

So clear the site, men, send the stragglers home.

I’ll certify to Pilate all is done.

Pax Romana sit semper eis.



This exercise in irony explores the historical realities of that “Good” Friday, stripped of the wisdom of Christian hindsight. The Latin Pax Romana sit semper eis is deliberately modelled on the Latin liturgical greeting (Pax Domini sit semper vobiscum ‑ meaning “The peace of the Lord be always with you”). The phrase Pax Romana describes the two centuries of relative peace (from Augustus, 27 BCE, to the death of Marcus Aurelius 180 CE) which was sustained by Rome’s military might in its occupied territories such as Israel/Palestine.


10 September 2012


© Revd James M McPherson

Maryborough Qld


Seam Opal

The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson 13 September 2012

                                SEAM OPAL

                                 Entering alone the silent

otherness of the tunnelled

world; with close intent


exploring folds and lines

of promise by practised eye

perceived; picking away with


guile honed by experience ‑

then to surface brandishing

my completed Sudoku



4 June 2012


© the Revd James M McPherson

Maryborough Q



Spacious Living

The Rev. John Fairbrother 13 September 2012

 A response to the Moments article (9 Sept. 2012) Getting to grips with space by The Rev Sande Ramage


Spacious Living.

 Why do we tolerate, create, celebrate,

engineer such noise

materialise emotion’s freight?


Why did Victorians in their towns

create green commons

parks, recalling downs?


Why does hush of temple or

cathedral evoke tremor,

and soulful awe?


Why might prayer-like ‘inner space’

be disturbed through

given, fragile grace?


Words birth life

meaning’s sound.

Thoughts release freed

living space.

Light relieves shadow’s

darkening ground.         



At Bethany

The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson 13 September 2012

                                John 12.1-8

                               Jealous of her authority

bruised by her loss

the Ugly Sister sat




through Martha’s

busying and bustling

and Lazarus’s


grave jokes

about keeping

dead quiet




Mary’s entombment

perfume filled the air

and Judas spoke,




the Ugly Sister rejoiced:

The hour is coming soon

when I will nail him.







This continues the “Ugly Sister” theme (as introduced in “The Order of Things”).





31 March 2010


© the Revd James M McPherson


Maryborough Qld



Bishop Richard on gay marriage & same-sex relationships

Richard Randerson 11 September 2012


Same-sex relationships and gay marriage have been very much in the news, dividing the Anglican Communion painfully and harmfully for over a decade. The situation has now intensified with the debate about gay marriage in Parliament, as well as in Christian communities. This morning I want to share with you why I feel a gay marriage can be consistent with Christian principles, and how I have come to this point of view over a period of many years.


At the same time I want to emphasise that this is my personal view, and that I have every respect for those who hold a different view, or are in the process of thinking through their own views. There are diverse views, conscientiously held, within the Body of Christ. We need to listen carefully to the views of others. I believe God is leading us all in a new journey of discovery, and strident claims of 'right' and 'wrong' are not appropriate to the debate.


Such claims are also very damaging to gay and lesbian people who have suffered centuries of rejection, with painful consequences. It was only in 1986 that homosexual relationships between men were decriminalized in this country, and not until 1993 that the passing of the Human Rights Act made discrimination against homosexuals illegal.


Some churches have condemned homosexuality as sinful, with messages such as “hate the sin but love the sinner”. Some such churches have offered programmes for gay people to “cure” them of their “sin”. Just this week there has been the case of an Australian doctor, a member of the Exclusive Brethren Church, who has been struck off as a GP for prescribing a chemical castration drug to suppress a man's homosexuality. Other churches have kept silence lest they upset parishioners. Often I have found that the parents of gay and lesbian offspring have suffered by association in the face of church silence or condemnation.


Thinking about marriage and sexual relationships, I vividly recall a general studies session with the senior class at Canberra (Anglican) Girls Grammar School. About 120 young women gathered in the school's auditorium for an “Ask the Bishop” session. Written questions were submitted in advance, and 75% were about sex. Now there's something rather bizarre about an ageing male cleric giving advice on sex to a large crowd of young women, many of whom had probably already experienced a sexual relationship. It's not much use saying: “Now girls, you know the rules: no sex before marriage”.


I said instead that there is a broad spectrum of types of sexual relationships, everything from promiscuous and abusive relationships at one end of the spectrum to a sexual relationship at the other end that arose from a deep love and ongoing commitment to another person. And that what mattered was not so much where we might currently be on the spectrum, but what we aspired to, viz. a committed relationship grounded in love.


Now if you add that marriage is about providing a stable environment in which children might be nurtured, then you have the two key principles of marriage set out in the NZ Prayer Book: first, that marriage is a gift of God so that “husband and wife should be united in heart, body and soul…and in their union fulfil their love for one another”. And second, “marriage is given to provide the stability necessary for family life, so that children might be cared for lovingly and grow to full maturity.”


The definition says clearly “husband and wife”. But we should note that the Anglican definition of marriage has changed over the years. In the 1662 Prayer Book, for example, there were very different reasons stated for marriage. The first reason was for the procreation of children. The second was as a “remedy against sin, and to avoid fornication”. And third, it was “for the mutual society, help and comfort that one ought to have for the other, both in prosperity and adversity”. Additionally, the woman promised that she would not only obey her husband, but also serve him. So the relationship was not one of equality, and the union of husband and wife came in as the last of the three purposes, whereas today we regard it as the foundation of everything else.


If the Church's understanding of marriage has changed along the way, can we now modify it again to be inclusive of gay and lesbian couples? Can same-sex couples be “united in heart, body and soul…and in their union fulfil their love for each other”? Can same-sex couples “provide the stability necessary for family life, so that children might be cared for lovingly and grow to full maturity”? The answer to both questions is Yes, based on the evidence of the number of same-sex couples in long-term committed relationships, and on the basis of research that shows children may be cared for equally well in same-sex families as in hetero-sexual ones.


It has taken me some years to come to this position, and I have done so on the basis of my personal friendship with gay couples in committed relationships. As the Rev'd Glynn Cardy stated in the Auckland Synod on Friday: “In our time and place, given what we know about homosexuality not being an aberration, given that many gay and lesbian people are and have long been faithful members of our church, given that many gay and lesbian couples have shown in their lives the fruits of grace, aroha, and service, and given that some gay and lesbian couples are now asking for marriage, let us re-consider what we – in the light of God's Spirit – think is the essence of this marriage rite”.


A very important part of the debate centres around what the Bible says. Many opponents of same-sex relationships believe they are clearly prohibited by scripture. There are several problems with this view:

There are only a handful of biblical texts quoted with regard to same-sex relationships, and in some it is not at all clear such relationships are the subject of the texts quoted.

While same-sex relationships appear to be condemned in passages such as Romans 1.26,27, the context is one of debauched behaviours that belong to people who “refuse to keep in mind the true knowledge about God” (v.28)… “who have no conscience, and show no kindness or pity for others” (v.31). Faithlessness and debauchery are not the marks of many gay and lesbian couples.

Nowhere in scripture is the concept of loving, committed same-sex relationships envisaged. One cannot find a biblical text on this subject any more than one can find something about nuclear bombs or genetic modification. Reference must be made to more underlying biblical principles.

Even if a text could be found, scripture always needs to be interpreted in the light of current knowledge. Thus St Paul's very clear statements that men have authority over women are a reflection of the patriarchal culture of the day. It is a concept seen as inappropriate in today's context where the biblical principle about equality in Christ is seen as the deeper and over-riding truth. Although sadly the Archbishop of Sydney still believes wives should promise to submit to their husbands in their marriage vows.

Part of our current knowledge about sexual orientation is that homosexuality is not a sin or aberration, but is as natural for many in our society as hetero-sexuality is for others.

If we look to scripture for deeper principles that might underlie all relationships, they are ones of love for God and love for neighbour, and the belief that in love for God and others we might come to maturity in Christ, and have a care for the well-being of others. Within these general parameters there is the special relationship that can exist between a man and a woman, a relationship that can be paralled in a same-sex context.


Archbishop Rowan Williams established at Oxford University in the 1980s an institute for the study of Christianity and sexuality. His research led him to conclude that biblical teaching on sexual relationships puts as much emphasis on bonding, with its essential ingredients of love and fidelity, as it does on human reproduction. There are many gay and lesbian people in the Church around the world, including clergy and doubtless some bishops. They are people of integrity in living and conviction in believing. Archbishop Williams' emphasis on bonding as a central criterion supports the view that faithful and committed same-sex relationships are also acceptable in the eyes of God. The ethical criterion is to do with the quality of the relationship, not the orientation of the partners.


A final question: why have same-sex marriage? Aren't civil unions effectively the same? To quote Glynn Cardy again:  “For Anglicans marriage is a holy sacrament. Marriage has the potential to acknowledge and strengthen stable, committed relationships. Good marriages benefit the community and for many express values of long-term loving mutuality and faithfulness. I hope that we will have the grace to recognize that some couples of the same gender also exhibit these qualities and want to partake of this sacrament.  To continue to deny them is to weaken the integrity of the sacrament itself”.


The world is in constant change, and we change with it. Change is seldom easy; it is often marked by controversy and pain. But if we allow our thinking to be guided by the grace of God, and with love and respect for one another, then I believe God will lead us to an understanding that may well lie beyond where any of us have yet got to, one that will be life-giving and inclusive of all


Bishop Richard Randerson is currently Priest in Charge at St Peter's Church, Willis St, Wellington

This sermon was preached there on 9 September 2012.

We're delighted to have him contributing to Moments again.


Invisibility: it's not rocket science

Susan Smith 3 September 2012



Last week my copy of The Inclusive Bible: The First Egalitarian Translation arrived. Prepared by English speaking priests and published in its entirety in 2007.

The Inclusive Bible is a welcome addition to those biblical translations that seek to move beyond the older exclusive language translations, which many of us first knew.


It arrived the week I was preparing a homily for Sunday 26 August when the gospel was the wonderful conclusion to John's sixth chapter. The second reading was Ephesians 5:21-32, one of the household codes.  My head said: “Don't take risks, do the reading from John” while my heart, knowing that most of the congregation would be older women, said: “Do Ephesians”.


The majority of contemporary Pauline scholars would argue that Ephesians was written by a disciple towards the end of the first century. As we know Paul was executed around 63, so this letter was written at least twenty years later. Paul himself in the letters we know he wrote actually has a quite different understanding of the role of women in the early Christian communities as we can see:


Ø   Phil 4:1 I urge you Eudoia and Synteche [two women] to be of the same mind in the Lord. I ask you also my loyal companion help these women for they have struggled beside in the work of the gospel together with Clement and the rest of my co-workers


Ø   1 Cor 1:11 it has been reported to me by Chloe's people that there are quarrels among you, my brothers and sisters


Ø   Rom 16:1 I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchrenae so that you may welcome her... 16:3 Greet Pricsa and Aquila who work with me in Jesus Christ... 16:6 Greet Mary who has worked very hard among you... 16:7 Greet Andronicus and Junia.


There is on-going scholarly discussion about Junia. The New Jerusalem Bible (Catholic) and Revised Standard Version (Protestant) refer to Andronicus' partner as Junias, definitely a masculine name, while the KJV, The New American Bible (Catholic) and the New Revised Standard Version (Ecumenical) speak of Junia, a woman's name. Indeed in some ancient manuscripts the preferred name is Julia. Luther in his 1552 translation changed Junia to den Juniam definitely masculine, a practice that was continued by other continental scholars and then used in the 1881 Revised Standard Version edition. Men were in and women were out.


As I spoke of this in my homily and as we looked at Paul's positive references to women, something wonderful happened. We are a small community and so people are given the opportunity to share a little toward the end.


One woman was visibly upset as she recalled her experiences in church. Four other women told us that as part of their preparation for our Sunday liturgy, they reflect on the readings the night before and they either felt upset or angry as they read Ephesians and learnt that they should be “subject to” their husbands as the husband is the “head of the wife” (Eph 5:22).


They asked: “Why do we not hear more about the women who worked with Paul as deacons, co-workers, or apostles? Why do we hear about women having to be subject to their husbands?”   I don't think we need to be rocket scientists to know the answer.


Pens of freedom

Frank Sheehan 30 August 2012



Canon Frank Sheehan is School Chaplain and Director of the Centre for Ethics at Christ Church Grammar School, Perth.  We warmly welcome him to Moments as he shares his very thoughtful reflections on Spare Change, an award-winning poem by ex-student Andrew Thackrah. This reflection first appeared on the Christ Church Grammar School website.


In August each year, the English Department of Christ Church Grammar School, Perth invites students to submit entries for the P.D. Naish Poetry Prize. The prize was  first awarded in 1999 having been endowed by an anonymous donor, who credits Mr Peter Naish, an English teacher at Christ Church from 1959 to 1963, with nurturing what was to become a life long passion for poetry.


I kept a copy of the first winning entry, which was by Andrew Thackrah, a student who distinguished himself in a variety of ways at Christ Church and who achieved academic excellence at the University of Western Australia and then at the Australian National University. I recall that it came as no surprise to his teachers that Andrew was capable of writing the following poem:


Spare Change


When we come to the end of the week

and find that our soul amounts to nothing

but the spare change in our pockets,

let us run. Let us run, dodging and

weaving through the streets,

tearing and blazing through the schools

and the offices and the lonely

bus shelters

And let the wind, stirred from our passing,

bang open the door of the empty church.


We will come to the crest of  a hill,

and steal a glimpse of the sea.

We will throw out the sand beneath our feet,

and place ourselves upon it.

And you and I will pull from our bags

flowing pens of freedom,

to release upon the horizon.

Our scrawling will blend with the cloud

and only the passing fishermen will read:

'How art the mighty fallen',

when only the fallen have a heart.


Yet it will pass.

Our words must flow,

and let them.

Let the clouds bring in the storm from the


to heal a week's anxiety.

And let us stand together,

hands entwined,

as the rain washes all away,

leaving nothing but the soul.


This is a poem about the great yearning and the depths within a boy becoming a man.  I imagine that it will evoke all sorts of thoughts and feelings for its readers. I could not help but be struck by the image of nothingness, which seemed to go alongside a sense of the soul. After everything is given and it seems that nothing more remains, some powerful force is glimpsed.


Within the rich tradition of Christian theology the notion of kenosis suggests the same thing. Kenosis, from the Greek word for emptiness, leads to an acknowledgement of the Other, taking us into self-forgetfulness,  past a preoccupation with the ego's incessant and corrosive needs. It is associated with a humility  that accompanies a reassuring knowledge of something beyond our own resources. The New Testament does not use the actual word kenosis but the verb form kenoo occurs five times in Romans, 1 Corinthians and Colossians. Of these five times it is Philippians 2:7, in which Jesus is said to have "emptied himself".


Andrew Thackrah was not writing the sort of theology we see in these New Testament sources. But he was writing about matters of interiority. Tim Winton once said that we in Australia seemed to have lost the language of the soul. It was most rewarding to read Andrew's work on this very subject.


In Spare Change, Andrew turned his attention to the sheer emotional release and the freedom that comes upon those who abandon themselves to the wonderfully mysterious process of writing.


The anonymous donor who made possible the P.D. Naish Poetry Prize was grateful for the way in which a teacher allowed poetry to open up whole new worlds of meaning. But it often operates in the other direction.


After years of being in schools, I have a strong sense that sensitive and thoughtful young people offer insights and understanding about the  complexities of life when, in the words of Andrew Thackrah, they pull from their bags, "pens of freedom" so that the words will flow. 




Common garden blood

Susan Smith 16 August 2012



Two weeks NZ BLOOD contacted me about their impending visit to Whangarei and asking me to once again come and donate blood. I have been donating blood now for many years, sometimes more regularly than others, depending on where I am living or where I have been travelling.


I always find something deeply re-assuring about living in New Zealand when I give blood. Like other people I have read horror stories about poor people being railroaded into donating organs for organ replacement surgery for wealthy people. I know too in many countries that people are paid for their blood. That is certainly not the case here although I understand that people in provincial towns are more generous when it comes to giving blood than their big city sisters and brothers.


Here in Whangarei donors seem to be many. It is both amazing and gratifying when I go into Forum North to see how many people are there–old and young, Maori and Pakeha, black-suited professional types, tradesmen who looks as though they have just rushed in from a building site, mothers–people from all walks of life are there. Furthermore everyone is friendly and happy to pass the time of the day with others. Once the actual giving process is over, older women are there to ensure we have plenty to eat and drink before heading off.   It is a wonderful experience of being part of a caring community. 


I always find something deeply religious about donating blood. I remember being amazed when one of the medical staff said that the blood that I gave, just under half a litre, would be used in about two weeks. This is perhaps because it is the common garden variety, not any special kind of “blue blood”!!


As I sit or lie there while my blood flows and look at others doing the same thing I am reminded of the words of Jesus in Mark's gospel: “This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many”. I am surrounded by people who unconsciously or consciously are being faithful to Jesus' command: “Do this in memory of me”. These are people who care about others and are willing to sacrifice something of themselves for others.


In his 1974 work, Hymn to the Universe, French Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin wrote of our need “to make the whole world Eucharist”. I think that blood donors are those who intuitively are Eucharistic people, not in a church building, but in their everyday lives by pouring out their blood for others.


“This is my blood of the covenant which is poured out for many” (Mark 14:24)



Knowledge without wisdom

Cherry Hamilton 10 August 2012



“Knowledge without wisdom is a load of books on the back of an ass.” 


The Japanese certainly have a way with words.  But surely that ass is still better off with the books than without them?


In England, learning is so highly prized that nearly half of all school leavers are starting university this term, despite average predicted debts of £26,100.


And the bible supports the need for learning.  King David didn't mince his words when he declared, “fools hate knowledge”.


Knowledge = wisdom?


But does knowledge automatically infer wisdom?


Research by 'Talent Q' shows that university graduates are actually worse than non-graduates in the workplace at handling criticism, communicating and staying calm.


While the US 'Center for Science in the Public Interest' found that nearly twice as many full time university students were heavy drinkers, compared with their non-student contemporaries.


Danger, danger


So knowledge without wisdom can be pointless.  But worse than that, it can be dangerous.


Take Stalin.  He began to study at a theological seminary, where he started reading Marxist literature, and was expelled for 'revolutionary activities'.  Stalin developed strong ideals, and based on these he killed thousands and exiled millions to slave labour camps – the infamous gulags. 


Countless others through the years, including those claiming to act on behalf of God or other high principles, have carried out terrible crimes.  Tragically for many, any knowledge they had was not accompanied by wisdom or love.


Theoretical physicist Victor Frederick Weisskopf agreed, “Compassion without knowledge is ineffective; knowledge without compassion is inhuman.”


Jesus himself warned us to be careful of this folly, “Be shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.”


Fruit salad


So what's the difference between knowledge and wisdom?  The dictionary defines wisdom as, “Knowledge of what is true or right coupled with just judgment as to action.” 


Or as rugby star Brian O'Driscoll once said, “Knowledge is knowing a tomato is a fruit; Wisdom is not putting it in a fruit salad.”


King Solomon famously requested and was given the gift of wisdom.  However, he didn't just want it to appear clever. 


In his proverbs Solomon describes some of wisdom's uses, including to discern good advice; live skilfully; be righteous, just and egalitarian; to teach; to guide and to understand the words of the wise.  Good qualities for a king, but useful for everyone.


Wise words


So it is for Christians.   It is imperative not only to acquire knowledge, but also that we seek wisdom, in order that we are not ineffective or worse.  Thankfully we have the guide for doing so.


Know God.  “In whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”


Respect God.  “The fear (as in high respect) of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.”


Ask God.  “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.”


True wisdom is not rooted in great learning or in human intelligence, but in the understanding of our place before God.  “For wisdom is more precious than rubies, and nothing you desire can compare with her.”



The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson 7 August 2012


                       Easter Day 2012

                               stretched out

full length

upon the pavers

breathing her

relaxed kelpie

breathing, content

to live with

the doggy mysteries

of door and window;

dreaming perhaps

of the world

beyond the gate

she’s visited

often enough

to yearn for more

but lies so far

beyond her doggy

reach – unless

the Daddy

lift the latch




6 August 2012


© the Revd James M McPherson

Maryborough, Q


God and the Higgs Boson particle

Richard Randerson 18 July 2012



By now you will all have heard the story about the Higgs boson particle (HBP) that walked into a church one day, only to be told by the priest that HBPs were not permitted in church. “How then,” said the HBP, “ can you have mass?”


The discovery of the HBP in the Large Hadron Collider at the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) in Switzerland is indeed a major scientific discovery. The Collider is a circular tunnel, 27kms in circumference, at a depth underground from 50-175m. Particles travel around it in opposite directions at the speed of light, colliding with each other and fragmenting into sub-atomic particles, one of which is now believed to be the HBP.


The HBP is named for Professor Peter Higgs, a British physicist, now 83, who theorised 48 years ago in 1964 the existence of a particle to which other particles adhered to form mass objects such as stars, planets and even life itself. Prof. Joe Incandela from the university of California has said: “ We're reaching into the fabric of the universe in a way we've never done before”.


Claims such as the latter have led to the Higgs boson being dubbed “the god particle”, without which life as we know it could not exist. While there may be some who would regard the HBP as evidence for the existence of God, I would not put myself in that category, for two reasons:


First, in a recent TV programme Stephen Hawking describes the process of the Big Bang in which the universe began when a single piece of matter spontaneously exploded forming the universe in the amazing manner we are just beginning to understand. A traditional religious view is that God must have pre-existed in order to cause the Big Bang.


But Hawking points out that that theory depends on two premises: (i) that of cause and effect that says everything must have a cause, so something must have caused the Big Bang; and (ii) the concept of linear time, that says there must have been something before the Big Bang.


The fault in both arguments, says Hawking, is that both concepts belong to the universe as we know it after the Big Bang. The concept of a creator deity that pre-existed and caused the Big Bang is not a logical conclusion insofar as it is   based on cause/effect and linear time premises that only exist after the Big Bang. “I have no need of that theory”, says Hawking, referring to God. And I agree.


The second reason why I don't believe the Higgs boson can be adduced as evidence of the existence of God is because I have come to an experience of God that does not require a belief that the God I know must have been involved in the physical creation of the universe. I believe that the eternal truths about God belong within the world as we know it, however created, and not outside it.


We need to start with our own experience of God. Ask yourself how do you experience God, and how would you describe it? My own faith and experience of God arises from a sense of being part of something bigger than myself, an otherness that transcends human experience but yet holds all humanity and all creation in an inseparable unity. Here is mystery, something in the face of which we stand in awe, and an antidote to any tendency to self-centred arrogance. Psalm 8 captures it in the words 'O Lord, our governor, how wonderful is your name in all the earth;…. who are we that you are mindful of us?'


Then I have a sense that life and creation is a gift, unmerited goodness and grace, and that all life is to be treasured and sustained. I feel a sense of connectedness to God and all life: all of creation is part of God's one family, and hence even in the darkest of times we are never alone. Nor can we ever abandon our calling to care passionately for every other member of God's family, which includes caring for the earth itself.


But yet we have to find a way of talking about this central mystery of life, and the image of God as a supernatural being is the traditional expression the Church has chosen. In making that choice we resort to anthropomorphic images, in other words we describe God in human form, albeit super-human form.


A good analogy arises from the words of the Greek philosopher, Xenophanes, who wrote around 500BC that “if the horses wanted a god, they would choose a horse.” Of course, a horse-god could not be any old nag that whinnied and wheezed, grew old and died. It would have to be a super-horse endowed with the finest qualities of eternal youth and energy, wisdom and power.


Xenophanes is satirising our human tendency to create God in our own image. Having created an image of a supernatural being we then add all the finest qualities we can think of, and these include 'pre-existent'. Once we have moved to 'pre-existent' we are now bound to find a place for God in the physical startup of the universe, and carve out a theory of how God relates to the Higgs boson and the Big Bang.


It is in my view an unnecessary exercise. I defer to Galileo, Stephen Hawking and Peter Higgs, Ernest Rutherford, Paul Callaghan and Albert Einstein, and the whole array of great scientists who have taught us so much about the world in which we live, and whose inventiveness delivers so much to us of the things that make for health and life and goodness in this world.


Of course, we need to tread carefully where images of God are concerned. No image can be right or wrong. We must each find an image of God that works for us and best expresses our experience of God. For myself, faith is about the experience of love in our lives, of grace and gift, of justice and truth, and of discernment to ensure that the great scientific discoveries that surround us are used to bring life and not death. The universe is an awesome place, but it can also be cold and distant if not warmed by the compassion and the love we experience as part of God - a divine reality who, while mystery, is yet the eternal source of a love that heals and warms and draws us to a lifestyle centred in Jesus Christ.


So let's not fight with science about how the world was made: issues of physics, mass, Higgs boson particles, space and energy, belong in the realm of science. Religion is a complementary truth, one that marvels in the physical universe but seeks to discern the eternal wisdom and trust that is essential to the well-being of the human race, and the preservation of all creation for the good of ourselves and those who come after us.


Bishop Richard Randerson is currently Priest in Charge at St Peter's Church, Willis St, Wellington

This sermon was preached there on 15 July 2012.

We're delighted to have him contributing to Moments.


Mr Wistful

The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson 11 July 2012

             Mr Wistful

Mr Wistful? No

not one of our



comes in often

enough though

sits there, shy


easy not to notice

between the lines


deep in thought

always looking

a bit moonstruck


as if he'd rather

be somewhere



© the Revd James M McPherson


Maryborough Q


Written at Vaughan Park 19 September 2008


Wistfulness is a melancholy born of displacement: either nostalgia, or loss of previous joy (the present has displaced the past); or melancholy born of hopefulness (the future will displace the past). In my VP Scholar's Lecture in 2008 (titled “A Wistfulness in Worship”), I explored a Eucharistic wistfulness. This poem was written at Vaughan Park at that time – a tentative resumption of my poetry-writing after a lapse of many years.



Church free liturgy

Susan Smith 4 July 2012



June and July see people in Whangarei heading off to plant native trees, flaxes, grasses and shrubs on DOC or Regional Council land in an effort to provide better habitation for endangered fauna and flora. I usually make my way to Matakohe Island, a small island sanctuary in the harbour near Onerahi. Matakohe Island provides a predator-free sanctuary for young kiwi, native lizards, and other native birds.


On our first Sunday which was quite cold and showery, there were ten of us planting native flax in a swampy area which would then become a more suitable home to matata or fern birds. They like swampy vegetation. As you can see the matata looks a little like a sparrow and is about that same size although its tail is much longer.


The following Sunday was clear though very cold and there were more than forty of us-–oldies, children and their parents and some younger people including one young fellow who was doing community service. He had been caught with his dog on a DOC track! We left Onerahi in the boat at 9.00 a.m. and returned to the mainland around 1.30 so it is quite a long morning. It is a great community occasion, a type of liturgy.


Before leaving we have to examine our bags and shoes to make sure we are not taking anything dangerous to the island. Argentinian ants are a particular threat, and they are there in Onerahi. We then have to listen carefully to the ranger so we know what to do. We start working–thankfully spades and gloves are provided by Golden Bay Cement.  We then share or break bread together at lunch time. There is something liturgical about the whole morning for me.


Our Eucharistic liturgies invite us first of to reflect on the week that has been. Are we carrying anything into our Sunday liturgy that would be better left behind? That moment of reflection allows us to listen more attentively to the Word of God so that we understand what is being asked of us. We break bread together and talk with people some of whom we have not met before. Community is created. And we work together for a greater good. This all reminds me that God's first revelation is through the world created in love for us all.


What are you worth?

Cherry Hamilton 4 July 2012



Slim pickings


Mexican telecoms tycoon, the ironically named Carlos Slim, is one of the richest men in the world, described as having a net worth of around $74 billion.


I'm sure Carlos has done some hard work in his life, but is he really 'worth' that much money? Is the homeless man outside the off-license worth nothing?


It got me thinking about our intrinsic value as human beings.  Do we have any and, if so, where can it be found?


Our physical body


So I completed an online test, giving details about my hair length, physique and how many glasses of wine I drank per a week. Apparently, dead, I am worth $5825.   Must cut back on that wine.


Other values for humans range from a measly $1 for the sum of our chemical elements to an impressive $45 million for useful parts from live donors.  (The latter being illegal, probably impossible and unlikely to result in sufficient health to enjoy the accumulated riches.)


Whatever we might believe about the value of human life, most of us know that, as Aristotle said, “The whole is more than the sum of its parts”.


Our capabilities


Meanwhile, Plato famously claimed, “Only in the contemplation of beauty is human life worth living.”


Maybe it's our intelligence and experience that makes us more valuable than horses, cats, mice, ants and bacteria.  But, what if a chimp is more intelligent than a baby or someone with a disability? 


Perhaps dolphins while away long hours contemplating the beauty of the oceans.


Our good deeds


Certainly, dedicating one's life to feeding famine victims or discovering the cure for cancer could be seen as a valuable thing. 


Yet the harsh truth is that, if human beings don't have value outside of our altruism, then our good works may do nothing but increase the problem of over-population. 


Our popularity


When a friend or family member dies, even a much-loved dog, we know they had value; they were valuable to us. 


But we, givers of worth, also live and die. 


Yet, I think we're getting closer.  If our value doesn't come from ourselves then it must come from that placed on us.


Our God


Without God, our options for measuring human worth are pitiful. 


In God we are valuable, not because of our wealth, attributes, capabilities, altruism or the capricious affections of other humans, but because our creator has placed a value on us.  He chose to make each of us in his image, challenging us to love each other as he loved us.


And that's a tall order.  Jesus forgave his enemies, made friends with outcasts and valued us enough to pay the ultimate price of death, giving us the opportunity to come back to him.


It is humbling and strange, disconcerting yet reassuring, to think that I am worth as much as Mother Theresa, yet no more than Robert Mugabe.  If I am to try to love others like Jesus loved me then I need to start by seeing each fellow human according to his or her true worth – priceless.


Sacred Kingfisher

The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson 3 July 2012

Sacred Kingfisher


to kill

silent, still

intent upon

the watercourse


to see

to swoop

to seize

and bring

the prey

up to eat:



The Sacred Kingfisher (Todiramphus sanctus, fam Halcyonidae) is found in Australia and New Zealand and other areas of the southwest Pacific. I had never seen one until staying at Vaughan Park, when I occasionally saw one on a power line over the creek near the old homestead. Returning to Maryborough where I had moved as Rector in 2008, I have been delighted to see them occasionally in the surrounding bushland and wetland.

Because of its quiet and solitary nature (although I once saw three or four of them skylarking in a tree), I feel quite an affinity to this particular kingfisher and am always delighted to see one. Hence this poem.

Alan Fear ( has a delightful photograph of a Sacred Kingfisher on an electric wire – appropriate, since one of my parishioners calls them “electric wire birds” because that’s the only place she ever sees them.

© the Revd James M McPherson

Maryborough Q


Queen Charlotte Sound: On Retreat. A Trilogy.

The Rev. John Fairbrother 3 July 2012

At Punga Cove

Bees in beech,

blackened trunks

diffuse gentle light,

raking steep sides

of mountains resting

in dark water,


narrow reaches.


Bay to bay opening to sea and

linking land.


The quiet of sounds

calling nature's name,

evoking silence to meet

my mind


my heart to hear

the calm of life,


narrow reaches.


Bay to bay opening to sea and

linking land.



A Lament for hope

The hills fall into sounds,

my heart sinks

with sorrow;

Leaves descending

in water's dark depth.


Anxiety depletes

withering hope.

                Silent sound

absent God;

earnestly, longingly, certainly



For fish

fallen leaves

becoming   food;

sorrow feeding

unspoken depth.


The Trees

These priests stand together,

each in need of the other;

rooted in earth

to freely move

in air


Grace the means of life

rises within to inform

heaven and earth

of their need.


These priests

rooted in earth

to freely move

in air


© John Fairbrother.

Vaughan Park, June 2012.


These poems are a reflection on memory of a five day retreat taken in the mid 1990's, while serving at that time in Wellington City as a Vicar along with various other diocesan roles.


John, an Anglican priest, has been director of Vaughan Park since 2003.



Wondering at the heavens

Susan Smith 27 June 2012



Some years ago I read an article–I cannot remember where–that implied a contemporary Christian engagement with environmental concerns and the subsequent development of eco-theologies was little more than what the author called 'neo-paganism', something to be avoided.


Thomas Aquinas had taught that 'grace builds on nature', but sadly many Christians were, and are, more happy with theologies that tolerated or even encouraged a division between the sacred and profane.


At this time of the year, many Maori and Pakeha are celebrating Matariki, sometimes referred to as the Maori New Year. Matariki, the Māori name for the small cluster of stars known as the Pleiades in the Taurus constellation, is also associated with the winter solstice, and appears when the sun, drifting north on the shortest day in winter, reaches the north-eastern end of the horizon. The sun then turns around and begins its journey south.


So what does this have to do with dualistic theologies in the Christian tradition and with the feast of John the Baptist, that enigmatic character who appears in the first chapters of our four canonical gospels, proclaiming that Jesus, 'the light of all peoples' (Jn 1:4) has come among us?


John 3:22-30 tells of the Baptist responding to those who asked who he was. He explains: 'I am not the Messiah, but am sent before him' and then he concludes: 'He [Jesus] must increase, while I must decrease'.


The birthday of Jesus is celebrated on 25 December, the time of the winter solstice in the northern hemisphere after which the days grow longer. I am certain that the author of the fourth gospel wants us to think of Jesus as the one who proclaims: 'I am the light of world' (Jn 8:12). Then the birthday of John is celebrated on 24 June, which in the northern hemisphere is the time of the summer solstice after which the days get shorter, hence the Baptist's words: 'I must decrease'. His work is finished. He has proclaimed the truth of the one to come.


This suggests that the author knew how important it was to link the birthdays of Jesus and John to the winter and summer solstices. He was well aware of the sacramental significance of these two events for peoples whose links to the world around them were strong and vital.


So why is this important for us today in Aotearoa? First, the gospel text subverts the theologies of those who in different ways still favour dualistic theologies; second, it provides an important entry-point for a deeper consideration of the relationship between Christian and Maori religious beliefs; and third, it should encourage us to work at finding solutions to light pollution that prevents us from wondering at the heavens. After all, the heavens reveal the wonder of God.


Je ne regret rien: Live without regrets

Cherry Hamilton 8 June 2012


Lindsay Lohan recently had the words 'Live without regrets' tattooed onto her wrist.


She is not alone in this sentiment.  It seems that every time I read an interview of a celebrity with an, er, colourful history, they invariably say that despite their weekly trips to rehab, regular forays into prison and string of messy relationships, they have no regrets whatsoever.


Saying that one has no regrets is akin in popular culture to saying 'I love the person I am and I accept it'.  This taps into the zeitgeist where self-esteem is the ultimate goal, and has become a cool and ubiquitous mantra. 


To me, it sounds like a defiant gesture.  In Lohan's case, it could be that she's using her tattoo to tell the press and the public to put her past behind them and let her get on with her life, which is entirely understandable.  Or she may simply be happy with how things have worked out.


History repeating

Unlike Lindsay Lohan, however, I do have regrets.


I regret that in my university days I spent more time at the Rampant Lion than the library.  I regret that I wasted countless years and tears on dead-end relationships. 


But when I say I regret these things, it's not that I dwell on them; neither do I let them get me down.  I accept them and am in the process of making peace with them.  No, to say I regret them is to say that if I could go back in time, I would act differently.    


American philosopher George Santayana famously said that, “Those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”


Regrets should not mean a negative attitude towards the past, but rather a more mature attitude towards the future.  Experience can teach us much, but only if we are willing to learn from it.


Life in a bubble

But what if we have learned so much from our mistakes that we truly have no regrets about them?


This question pre-supposes that we live in a bubble, discrete from the rest of humanity; that our decisions have no impact on anybody else but ourselves. 


Lohan was incarcerated for driving under the influence.  Suppose she had run over and killed someone, would she still have no regrets?  Everything we do has a knock-on effect.


Unless we have lived a perfect life (and who has?), we will have hurt people other than ourselves. And we will also have turned our backs on our God. 


Grow up

It's only by having regrets about our choices that we can turn and be forgiven and make better choices in the future.  But that guilt about messing up need not, indeed should not stay with us, but rather be replaced with gratitude for our forgiveness. 


If we are to move on and grow in maturity, we need to set aside our pride, admit that we have made mistakes and learn from them.  We can't change the past, but for everyone's sake, let's be grown up enough to learn from it.


As published in Christian Today


Cherry Hamilton , is a Christian writer for predominantly Christian readership assimilating the fields of psychology, theology and communications, Manchester England. Cherry held a 2012 Vaughan Park Scholar's and Writer's Residency.


Holy Week - The harrowing

The Rev. Maren Tirabassi 20 April 2019


Joseph saw him first,

the man who was an unexpected baby,

boy in a carpenter’s shop.

John, recently passed,

recognized his cousin, playmate,

friend rising from the Jordan

with a dove in his hair.

Then perhaps Abel,

dead since the beginning of brothers —

time not meaning anything in hell —

also, Cain.

Maybe Miriam, playing

the shade of her tambourine,

paused at the shape

of the Word from the beginning,

Isaiah, saw a suffering servant.

Tamar, Rahab, Ruth,

and Bathsheba

reached out a translucent blessing

from his matrilineage,

and thousands upon thousands

of every era and race,

of every faith and way of loving,

manner of life and death,

turned to him.

Peter mentioned in his letter

that Jesus preached,

but not his sermon title —

maybe a familiar parable

or the beatitudes,

or the prayer he taught his disciples.

The dead are already salt of the earth,

and probably know

intimately all four kinds of soil.

and how they’ve treated

the hungry and the naked,

recognized God’s face

in the least,

built their bigger barns,

or put treasure

in right or wrong places

is past for them, as it is for those

we love who have gone before us.

If Jesus had a message

for this sweet and holy Saturday,

I imagine it was the same short homily

he once used before –

talitha cumi – get up little ones.

God, for the communion of saints,

and not so saintly ones, we give thanks,

for they have known in part,

and now they know face to face,

and none is left behind.


© Maren Tirabassi

Image Abbey Candles, David Coleman



Holy Week Holy Saturday

Peace Starts Here

Ana Lisa de Jong 25 April 2019


Peace must start here.

In the battlefield of our hearts,

where our wills seek their way

and our wants collide with others.

Peace must be brokered

in the dark of our thoughts,

where our wounds lie exposed

to our bitter judgements.

Yes, peace must be sought

in the ashes of our anger,

where we sift through the wreckage

for what can be salvaged.

But as long as we seek reasons

for our anger to be justified,

or even look for evidence

that we can put it aside;

while we seek things redeeming

in our neighbours eyes,

we miss the point of peace,

and we will never find it.

For peace is only brokered

when we give up our positions.

When we recognise that each of us

will never be right.

Though our neighbour

may hurt us, and justice be denied,

our standpoint’s also wrong,

when cemented by our pride.

For peace is gentle,

and its power is in the unexpected

way that it dilutes the enemy’s ability

to wound us.

Christ poured his blood,

out for those who did not deserve it.

And we stand on the ground

where those who’ve died before us,

cry out not for vengeance

but for us to restore

that for which they once fought,

and fell.

And it starts

not on the streets, or the battle-lines

so dearly bought,

but in the resolve of our minds

and our hearts.

©Ana Lisa de Jong

Living Tree Poetry


Easter, Peace

Tales from the South

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 22 May 2019


May. Bluebells, honeysuckles, and lilacs for some, mists, mellow fruitfulness and southerly gales for others. Dove-grey skies bloom with nuggets of pinky blue and gold. Everything is bursting with a last beauty, a grand finale. Each leaf a flower.

Easter is past. A bewildering resurrection is interwoven with grief. Christ companioned the ones who loved him and mourned his loss. He walked alongside them, shared breakfast on the beach, and bore witness that grief does not have the last word. Is not the end of the story.

“Someone I loved once gave me

a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand

that this, too, was a gift.”[i]

The terror and tragedy of the Christchurch mosque shootings by a white supremacist gunman has shaken us to the core of our being. Way beyond our imagining. We are on the map now. We have our slogans too: They Are Us, This Is Not Us, We Are One.

Words like these can bind us together. The Easter Sunday bombings in Sri Lanka by Islamic extremists and the myriads of other violent acts, past, present, and future, perpetrated by whoever, in the name of whatever, are intended to divide us.

Social cohesion, mutual respect, partnership, honest dialogue, and our companioning of one another has to be continually worked on and lived out as we seek the common good. I have been drawn to some words in a book written by a colleague and friend, John Philip Newell.

He was walking along the bank of the Wabash River, near New Harmony in Indiana USA when a wild storm blew in. Huddling under the archway of a sculpture called The Angel of Compassion,

“It was dark, and I could not remember exactly what the sculpture’s words of inscription were, but my memory was, “Every Human Being is the Beloved of the Nameless Eternal One…I began to repeat over and over a simple prayer in my heart. “May I know that I am beloved. May I know that I am beloved. May I know that I am beloved.”

My mind took me to haunted places within myself, where I doubt that I am beloved—places in my body and mind and soul. I remembered times in my life when I had been ugly and false in my actions. I thought of how little I was doing for the transformation of the world, of how little of myself I was giving away for the sake of others.

After a while, the storm abated…I was only fifty yards from the archway when the rains came again. They drove me back to the angel of compassion for a second time. So…I prayed, but this time the words were, “May she know that she is beloved. May she know that she is beloved.”

I named within myself people whom I love. I thought of my sister, who had experienced betrayal and the collapse of her marriage. I longed for her to know that she was beautiful in her mind and body and soul. That she was beloved. I thought of my friend struggling through chemotherapy and seeking the strength to look death in the face. "May he know that he is beloved. May he know that he is beloved."

Again the storm dropped…a third time the rains came and drove me back to the angel…for a third time I prayed…”May we know that we are beloved. May we know that we are beloved”.

My thoughts turned to…places of deep wrong and abuse in our cities and among us as nations, where we forget that the other is beloved. My heart was aware of children who doubt that they are loved because of the neglect they suffer. I thought of creatures and entire species who are struggling because of our failure to love the earth. If together we are to be well, we must know ourselves to be bearers of compassion, inclining to one another and to the earth with presence.”[ii]

Eastertide called us and the two terriers to seek sanctuary in The Catlins, an almost forgotten place and space where birds have story and metaphor woven in their feathers and sea lions, like driftwood, rest on the white sand. It is a landscape of foaming seas, rocky coastlines, and waterfalls, Jurassic and podocarp forests and beneath the sea, forests of bladder kelp grow up to 15 metres tall.

Macrocarpa trees planted at Slope Point by Jeremiah O’Brien of County Limerick intertwine and curl into one another after well over a century of withstanding the fierce winds from Antarctica. Afflicted and storm-tossed, their roots rest in infinity. I imagine that they have long thoughts, just as they have longer lives than ours. They are wiser than we are, and I wonder if anything could be more holy, more exemplary than their beauty, their endurance, and their strength.

“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal…also, on either side of the river, the tree of life…the leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.”[iii]

Robert Macfarlane, the nature writer, believes that,

“…we tend to think of landscapes as affecting us most strongly when we are in them or on them, when they offer us the primary sensations of touch and sight. But there are also the landscapes we bear with us in absentia, those places that live on in memory long after they have withdrawn in actuality, and such places…retreated to most often when we are most remote from them…are among the most important landscapes we possess.” [iv]

A tiny fishing village on the far North East coast of Scotland is a place that I bear with me, in absentia. My ancestors settled there after they were forcibly cleared from the Highlands and Western Islands of Scotland in the late 18th century.

After years of absence, I returned there. The physical landscape was as I had always remembered it – wild, cold, and beautiful. All the members of my family who lived there have long since died. I visited the old family homestead. A door which had a fishing boat in sail painted on the glass was still there. Everything else had changed.

My inner landscape, though, of presence and story, of imagination and memory was untouched.  

We all have many losses in life to navigate our way through. They can be deeply painful, fracturing, isolating, bewildering experiences. We need companioning along the way…

“May you know that absence is full of tender presence

and that nothing is ever lost or forgotten.

May the absences in your life be full of eternal echo

May you sense around you the secret Elsewhere which holds

the presences that have left your life.

May you be generous in your embrace of loss…

May your compassion reach out to the ones we never hear

from and may you have the courage to speak out for the

excluded ones.

May you become the gracious and passionate subject of your own life.

May you not disrespect your mystery through brittle words or false belonging.

May you be embraced by God in whom dawn and twilight

are one and may your longing inhabit its deepest dreams

within the shelter of the Great Belonging.” [v]

©Hilary Oxford Smith

Image Slope Point Trees, Seabird NZ


[i] Oliver, Mary. Thirst, USA: Beacon Press, 2007

[ii] Newell, John Philip. A New Harmony, USA: Jossey-Bass, 2011

[iii] New English Bible. Revelation, Chapter 22, verses 1 and 2

[iv]Macfarlane, Robert. The Old Ways: A Journey on Foot, London and New York: Penguin Hamish Hamilton and Viking, 2012

[v] O’Donohue, John. Eternal Echoes, Celtic Reflections On Our Yearning To Belong, USA: Harper Perennial, 2000

Easter-tide, Grief

Homo Emptor

The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson 29 May 2019



with sculpted spontaneity, haute couture sincerity,

synthetic joy, and ads that tickle up our hopes and needs,

the Wily Narcissist draws us loyal serfs into his fortresses

of gleam and glam and glitter; yet in these stark

and arid citadels are myriad spontaneous connections:

strangers trusting other strangers with their stories

in pharmacies and hair salons; the ad hoc fellowship

around the public TV monitors, anxious for any news

or commenting while watching sport; elsewhere

on the premises someone makes a triple-zero call

while others rush to comfort and support; all showing

Homo Emptor but a bastard travesty of who we really are


© the Revd Jim McPherson

Image Wikipedia


Ana Lisa de Jong 30 May 2019


Keep going, don’t give up”, I read.


Yet keeping going today

looks something like,

closing and opening my eyes,

and turning over to my other side

in bed.


Progress is sometimes measured

in the smallest increments.


My not giving up today

was perhaps seen

in the leap of my heart

at the tui and fantail on the branches

beyond my window’s ledge.

Sometimes progress is measured by the reach of our vision,

beyond the place we now rest.


Stop, go.

Who is asking that we maintain our pace?

To rest is to regain the strength to rise.

Before we release a breath,

we must breathe in the oxygen we need.


Yes, our hearts,

they beat to the measure of our supplies.


So sometimes not giving up

looks like curling into a cocoon,

and drawing the blankets in tight.

We might need to tend

and mend ourselves,


as the cat that comes in from the night,

licks at its wounds.


The shelter of the cocoon

provides the supports that aid our healing.

Before we ascend,

we must kneel and bend

to get the uplift desired.


No, we don’t give up,

and keep, however slowly, making ground.


But its not clear cut.


Sometimes ascending looks a lot

like slowing down.


©Ana Lisa de Jong

Living Tree Poetry

Ascension Day 2017

Image Ascension, Chris Koelle, by Faith, online magazine of the Presbyterian Church in America

"Begin again. Begin anywhere." – Anam Cara Ministries

Ascension Day Poetry

The Cost of It

The Rev. Maren Tirabassi 9 June 2019


What the festival costs

is more than the price of helium

in a few small red balloons,

and a birthday cake for the church

during coffee hour.


It costs going out to the streets,

speaking words we don’t understand,

listening to languages of

our neighbors,

tomorrow and the next day

and when the streets are hot or icy,

and words are more dangerous

than churchy,


and get us thrown into prison,

not to speak of what happens

when we try to heal our poor neighbors

of the justice wounds

that keep them begging.


Did I mention health care,

for the body and for the mind,

rights of indigenous peoples

throughout the earth,


and care for the earth,

O sweet groaning earth-loving Spirit,


veterans’ justice and immigrants’ justice,

an end to gun tragedy,

addictions, homelessness,

hunger, human trafficking?


What Pentecost costs,

if it is going to mean anything at all —

is a lot of breaking silence,


and so much listening

to the languages of our neighbors,

not just yesterday,

and not just tomorrow or election day,

but when we’re all singing carols,

or wearing ashes


and, of course, always and everyday

spending our love like red.

© Maren Tirabassi,






The Rev. John Fairbrother 12 June 2019


Surging swell unrelenting

Fisher's net cast from storm

Colours fast in ceaseless shaping

Shingle beach salvaged story's form

At Sound edge beyond laird care

Nature chronicled honour bled

Hardened shadows of monks' last fear

Evoking hopes unsaid

Flesh enlivens ancient stone

Cultures merge in worship's thrall

Here monks communed prayed alone

Searching souls repairing fall

Story myth memory enduring

Inspire pilgrims' leave of comfort's norm

Silent Martin time-worn blessing

Martyr's end for years forlorn

Hair's breadth of life and death

Translucent sense awakening mind

From sea to land creation's breath

Unseen release from mortal bind

©John Fairbrother, Where gulls hold sway: the Vaughan Park years, 2003 – 2015: collected poems, 2015.

Image Iona Waves,






St. Columba Poetry

Blessing in a Time of Violence

The Rev. Jan Richardson 9 August 2019


For every place broken by violence and hatred. For every person in pain and grief. For you, from me, in sorrow and hope.

Which is to say

this blessing

is always.

Which is to say

there is no place

this blessing

does not long

to cry out

in lament,

to weep its words

in sorrow,

to scream its lines

in sacred rage.

Which is to say

there is no day

this blessing ceases

to whisper

into the ear

of the dying,

the despairing,

the terrified.

Which is to say

there is no moment

this blessing refuses

to sing itself

into the heart

of the hated

and the hateful,

the victim

and the victimizer,

with every last

ounce of hope

it has.

Which is to say

there is none

that can stop it,

none that can

halt its course,

none that will

still its cadence,

none that will

delay its rising,

none that can keep it

from springing forth

from the mouths of us

who hope,

from the hands of us

who act,

from the hearts of us

who love,

from the feet of us

who will not cease

our stubborn, aching

marching, marching

until this blessing

has spoken

its final word,

until this blessing

has breathed

its benediction

in every place,

in every tongue:




©Jan Richardson

The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief

Image Holy Even in Pain ©Jan Richardson

Prayer, Intercession, Blessing

The Holy Broken

Ana Lisa de Jong 28 August 2019


Forget the mask.

Forget the forehead set.

Forget the stiff upper lip.

Let yourself tremble,

shake like the windblown leaf,

speak your truth.

Though it might be to admit


fear or pain.

Life has its vicissitudes

and we can sometimes start to roll

like a stone gathering speed,

or may feel

the pounding of waves

as driftwood afloat on the sea.

But forget the mask,

and the face set like flint,

the lips that do not move.

Cast off shame.

For the tears that fall

are made to cleanse.

The crutch leant on

to stand,

is to aid rehabilitation.

And the heart that breaks open

reflects the naked eye’s

silent plea,

that there be no incongruence

between action

and speech.

Yes, forget the mask.

And the poker set face,

the mouth sewn tightly shut.

Come out of hiding,

for the world to see

your naked face.

The world needs us each,

the strong and the often weak,

the holy broken

in community.

©Ana Lisa de Jong

Image Valentin Antonucci

'The ultimate truth of who you are is not

I am this or I am that,

but I am.'

Eckhart Tolle


Poetry, Vulnerability, Encouragement

SABBATH: The hidden heartbeat of our lives

A Review by the Rev. Jennie Hogan

The Rev. Jennie Hogan 12 September 2019


A theologian, Nicola Slee offers bold, humble, and poetic perspectives on the sabbath. The subtitle of her book emphasises the difficult work of sloughing away our resistance to rest. The American farmer-poet Wendell Berry’s Sabbath Poems shape Slee’s approach; his emphasis on the covenant with the land and the seasons so tenderly expressed encourages us to slow the pace of our experience of this book, as well as our lives. Choice journal entries that Slee wrote during periods of sabbatical leave add honest and expansive insights. Slee marries the personal with the professional with the confidence of a consummate feminist writer.

There is a strong sense of a profound need for sleep, which may ring true for many readers in an age of endemic sleep deprivation. Yet Slee observes that sabbath is not simply a nowhere land of recovery, but a gentle and compassionate discipline that will always be a struggle to follow, no matter how paradoxical this invitation to “blessed idleness” may appear. Slee digs deep; she explores the fears that entering sacred time might unearth.

Each chapter offers questions and reflections for prayer; blank pages follow for the reader to use. Some questions are frank: “How do you regard and experience the regime of the market and the machine?” Others are asked of herself in her journal entries: “Are you seeking the pearl of great price or have you scattered your pearls before swine?”

Ultimately, we learn...that God’s gift of the sabbath is a movement of grace, not a moment to be snatched. To embrace the sabbath rest is to be embraced by God. Could this be why the call to live a sabbath life feels at once so tantalising and yet so frightening?

The Revd Jennie Hogan is Chaplain of Goodenough College and Associate Priest of St George’s, Bloomsbury, London. This review was first published in The Church

Times, 26th July 2019. Reprinted with permission.

Nicola Slee will be facilitating a day retreat at Vaughan Park Anglican Retreat Centre, Auckland, Aotearoa New Zealand on Thursday 17th October 2019. For more details and to register 

Sabbath: The hidden heartbeat of our lives, Nicola Slee

DLT £9.99 (978-0-232-53399-6)


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Sabbath, book review, Nicola Slee

Evening Prayer

The Rev. Maren Tirabassi 18 September 2019


Judy Brandon remembers her Uncle Melvin who died last week and was a significant influence in her family’s life. Among other things she writes this,

“I loved his invented phrases. He was the carpenter who talked of “building a salad” He taught me self-compassion and grace in saying when he had forgotten some past event (or when it was best forgotten), “I’ve slept since then.”

Thank you, Judy’s uncle Melvin, for teaching us all to sleep on words best unspoken, to forget many things that cannot be changed. Rest in Peace.

God, help me to let go

unkind words said to me

or about me,

unkind (but often very clever) words

I have rehearsed,

the mental recital

of all the times I’ve been left out,

betrayed, taken for granted,

the secret emotional tending

and tendernessing

of quarrels, awkward memories,

hurtful experiences,

plans I have for revenge

or retaliation,

or even just

“setting the record straight.”

Also, let me forget

to be so self-satisfied

when I avoid doing those things.

Help me instead simply to say,

“I’ve slept since then,”

and I will begin tonight. Amen.

©Maren Tirabassi

Image Cosy room where Maren slept the night and wrote this prayer.



What does Newman's canonisation mean to Anglicans and why does it matter?

The Rev. Dr. Benjamin King 15 October 2019


On 13th October 2019, John Henry Newman became the first canonised English saint since 1970, and the first non-martyr for more than 600 years. The Rev. Dr. Benjamin King of The School of Theology at the University of the South, Sewanee, Tennessee, USA.discusses Newman’s importance to Anglicans. 

Newman's canonisation is important to Anglicans because he was a bridge between communions, transferring a Catholic vision to worldwide Anglicanism and then bringing some of his Anglicanism with him when he became a Catholic.

The fruits for Anglicanism of the Oxford Movement, which Newman helped to lead, include the Anglican Communion’s sense of continuity with the early Church, altars where the Eucharist is celebrated every Sunday, and the orders of Anglican nuns and monks. These were mostly missing in the Church of England before Newman and the Oxford Movement began their work.

The fruits for Catholicism of his conversion include magnifying the role laypeople played in the Catholic Church and shifting away from a view of the Church that “emphasizes only the harmony not the tension” (as Cardinal Avery Dulles put it). I would say Newman’s canonisation is a recognition that both of these Anglican characteristics are now valued by Catholics.

The Catholic Archbishop of Westminster Henry Manning wrote in 1866 that Newman was the chief source of “an English Catholicism. It is the old Anglican, patristic, literary, Oxford tone transplanted into the Church.” Manning did not mean this as a compliment!

That the current Catholic Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols, views matters very differently can be seen, in one tiny example, by his inviting me to speak at the Vatican on the day before the canonisation on "Cardinal Newman: a bridge between Anglicanism and Catholicism". Today Newman can bring about a deepening of understanding between Catholics and Anglicans. Not that all Anglicans are devoted to him, for sure: like many of his contemporaries, some today still see Newman as a slippery arguer. But recent Archbishops of Canterbury (Michael Ramsey, Robert Runcie, Rowan Williams) have responded positively to his writings.

After his conversion Newman had some harsh things to say about Anglicanism. But he had written still harsher things about the Catholic Church in 1833 when, despite waxing eloquent about the beauties of St Peter’s Basilica in Rome, he made comments about Catholicism being too negative to be mentioned diplomatically here.

On 13 October in the same St Peter’s Basilica Newman was raised to the altar, not spotless but nevertheless a saint for those who say their prayers in English, Anglicans and Catholics alike.

©The Rev. Dr. Benjamin King

Image: John Henry Newman, Herbert Rose Barraud

(This article was first published on the Anglican Communion News service)

On reading the gospel of John in the autumn

The Rev. Maren Tirabassi 26 October 2019


In the beginning were the leaves,

and the leaves were fragile and beautiful,

and the leaves were on the tree.

The beauty and the fragility was life –

scarlet and golden,

and apples were with the leaves

and harvest and hope.

And there were saints to remember

and all souls – saintly and not so saintly,

and candles in pumpkins

lit for all their spirits.

And there were children begging

from door to door

with sheets on their heads.

Children were not the Word,

but we heard it from their lips.

And we came to Thanksgiving

but we couldn’t understand it –

not gratitude,

not living water, bread of life, vine,

not foot washing, many rooms,

not even needing to let go.

The leaves fell from the tree

and we did not look up

into dark branches silhouetting truth

against November sunset.

But we be-leaved in our stubborn

raking up, lonely way

that something would be born –

not of blood nor of human will,

nor even of Advent season,

but of God.

And the Word became flesh,

full of grace, fragile

and beautiful and hanging on a tree.

©Maren Tirabassi

Image Mari Helin,

Autumn, Thanksgiving, All Saints, All Souls, Advent

Moments: Remembrance

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 10 November 2019


Ypres, Gallipoli, the Somme, Mons and Verdun. The Western Desert, El Alamein, the Normandy beaches. Coventry, Dresden, Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the Burma Road. The Pacific, Korea, the Falkland Islands, East Timor, the Balkans, Afghanistan, the Gulf, Iraq. And so many other places.

Over these days, quiet remembrance and wreath laying ceremonies at war memorials throughout Aotearoa New Zealand and around the world are taking place.  The eleventh day of the eleventh month of 1918, the date when hostilities ceased on the Western Front in the war to end all wars is also remembered.

It is time to remember the love that was lost, the wisdom wasted, the courage and fear, the commitment and doubt, the resolve and vulnerability, the minds and bodies pained by memories, the families bereft, those who will die in conflicts around the world this day, the makers of peace, the enemies who have become friends, the enemies who are still enemies. We also remember the One who asks us to remember them.

Such remembrance is gathered to our hearts neither to glorify the indescribable carnage of war, collude with political justifications for warfare, nor gloss over the brutalising and crushing of the human spirit.  We do not gather the dead and dying, the grief and sorrow, the memories, the stories, the tragedies, the comradeship in life and death, to dis-member them.

Rather, we re-member them. This hallowing of memory is restorative. It moves us, not only to give thanks for the gifts of life and freedom which so many of us take for granted. It encourages us to bring to birth in our hearts and lives, goodness, justice and peace out of bloody holocausts. It is to see, growing and flourishing, all that is good and beautiful, precious and shining.

In this season of remembrance, there are freely-voiced opinions being expressed by those who believe that we should be engaging in conversations and debates about the meaning and purpose of Remembrance Sunday, Armistice Day, Veterans Day, Anzac Day, or about whether we should be wearing red or white poppies or no poppies at all. Yet doesn’t the compassion and gracefulness of God desire mutual respect and loving prayerfulness at this time? Perhaps these important conversations are for another day and another season.

This day and each day, may we pray for peace in the life of the world and in our own hearts.

©Hilary Oxford Smith


Moments: Making the House Ready for The Lord

Mary Oliver 1 December 2019


Dear Lord, I have swept and I have washed but

still nothing is as shining as it should be

for you. Under the sink, for example, is an

uproar of mice it is the season of their

many children. What shall I do? And under the eaves

and through the walls the squirrels

have gnawed their ragged entrances but it is the season

when they need shelter, so what shall I do? And

the raccoon limps into the kitchen and opens the cupboard

while the dog snores, the cat hugs the pillow;

what shall I do? Beautiful is the new snow falling

in the yard and the fox who is staring boldly

up the path, to the door. And still I believe you will

come, Lord: you will, when I speak to the fox,

the sparrow, the lost dog, the shivering sea-goose, know

that really I am speaking to you whenever I say,

as I do all morning and afternoon: Come in, Come in.

©Mary Oliver (Thirst) 2006

Image Flickr


Advent, Poetry

Moments: At the Genesis

Pat Marsh 2 December 2019


at the genesis of our calling

how little we understand

the implications

of our ‘yes’

you will become

pregnant with child

and give birth to a son

whom you are to call


he will be

the long promised Messiah

and you, Mary

are highly favoured

highly honoured

to be chosen by God

how little we understand

that which we assent to

when we commit

to God’s call upon our life

how little we realise

what the implications

might turn out to be

and the truth

that blessings

so often come

wrapped in pain

and journeys

most often unfold

along pathways

not of our choosing

and just because the Creator calls

doesn’t guarantee

he’ll make it easy

and the future

will rarely be

how we had planned for it to be

at the genesis of our calling

how little we understand

the implications

of our ‘yes’

©Pat Marsh

Image Matt Hoffman,

Moments: Every Life Matters

Pádraig O’Tuama 3 December 2019


In the holy family, particularly in this time of refugees and advent, we see how important one small family is, one small child is, one small collection of people.

In light of the complexities of war, the atrocities of ISIS, the fear of the fleeing, the long and complicated history of foreign interests in countries such as Syria, Iraq and Afghanistan, it is hard to know how to act, believe, speak or hope. But the gospel calls us to a humble, but unflinching witness — that every life matters. And bombing, no matter how precise, will inevitably kill children, the poor and the powerless as well as those being targeted.

In the story of a child born in occupied territory to parents who fled, we are reminded that every person matters, every person is a child of God, and every child of God is a reflection of the creativity of God in human form.


All faiths, all witnesses to good will, underline the truth that all — no matter how powerless — matter. This witness does not lead easily to policy proposals or analysis; this witness does not lead us easily towards viable alternatives, but that does not make the witness hollow. This witness is based on fundamental values. And those who lead must find a way to lead us into the best of ourselves, not the worst of ourselves.


Today, I pray for wisdom for politicians worldwide who are trying to make decisions and other leaders who have been seeking to protect and sustain the earth, our host; I pray for those who are fleeing force; and pray for those who are seeking to know how to respond to force for the purposes of the greater good; we keep in mind all of those who celebrate the joy of life and generosity; and we pray, too, for all those bereaved by the death of someone they love.


May we each be sustained by wisdom and vision, love and hope, faith and life.


©Pádraig O’Tuama (poet, theologian and mediator)

Image Alexas_Fotos,

(This article was first published on


Advent, Peace

Moments: Some words to accompany you this Advent

Jan Richardson 5 December 2019



The season of Advent

means there’s something on the horizon

the like of which we have never seen before.

It is not possible to keep it from coming,

because it will.

That’s just how Advent works.

What is possible is to not see it, to miss it,

to turn just as it brushes past you...

So stay. Sit. Linger. Tarry.

Ponder. Wait. Behold. Wonder.

There will be time enough for running.

For rushing. For worrying. For pushing.

For now, stay.


Something is on the horizon.

©Jan L. Richardson

in Night Visions: Searching the Shadows of Advent and Christmas


Moments: An Advent Reflection

Te Hui Amorangi O Te Waipounamu 5 December 2019


We live in a world in which bigger and better define our expectations for much of life.

We have become so focused by super-size, super stars, and high definition that we tend to view life through a lens that so magnifies what we expect out of the world that we tend not to see potential in small things.

But as the prophet Zechariah reminds us (Zech 4:10), we should not "despise the day of small things," because God does some of his best work with small beginnings and impossible situations.

It is truly a humbling experience to read back through the Old Testament and see how frail and imperfect all the "heroes" actually are.

Abraham, the coward who cannot believe the promise.

Jacob, the cheat who struggles with everybody.

Joseph, the immature and arrogant teen.

Moses, the impatient murderer who cannot wait for God.

Gideon, the cowardly Baalworshipper.

Samson, the womanizing drunk.

David, the power abuser.

Solomon, the unwise wise man.

Hezekiah, the reforming king who could not quite go far enough.

And finally, a very young Jewish girl from a small village in a remote corner of a great empire.

God often begins with small things and inadequate people. It certainly seems that God could have chosen "bigger" things and "better" people to do His work in the world.

Yet if God can use them, and reveal Himself through them in such marvellous ways, it means that He might be able to use us, inadequate, and unwise, and too often lacking in faith.

And it means that we need to be careful that we do not in our own self-righteousness put limits on what God can do with the smallest things, the most unlikely of people, in the most hopeless of circumstances.

That is part of the wonder of the Advent Season.

Kia kaha tatou, ahakoa nga piki, heke, o te Ao. Ma Te Atua tatou e manaaki.

Let us pray,

Rejoice in the Lord always, and again I say rejoice. The Lord is at hand. Come quickly, Lord Jesus, and stand among us that we may welcome you today into every part of our lives and serve you joyfully, now and always.  AMEN

 Kia Inoi Tatou

Kia hari tonu i roto i te Ariki: ko taku kapu ano tenei, kia hari. Kua tata te Ariki. Kia hohoro mai, e Ihu e te Ariki, a e tu ki waenga i a matou, kia powhiritia atu koe e matou i tenei ra, ki roto i o matou wahi katoa, a, kia mahi atu matou ki a koe, i runga i te hari koa, inaianei a ake tonu atu.


Image Advent Wreath


Moments: An Advent Prayer

Walter Brueggmann 6 December 2019


In our secret yearnings

we wait for your coming,

and in our grinding despair

we doubt that you will.

And in this privileged place

we are surrounded by witnesses who yearn more than do we

and by those who despair more deeply than do we.

Look upon your church and its pastors

in this season of hope

which runs so quickly to fatigue

and in this season of yearning

which becomes so easily quarrelsome.

Give us the grace and the impatience

to wait for your coming to the bottom of our toes,

to the edges of our fingertips.

We do not want our several worlds to end.

Come in your power

and come in your weakness

in any case

and make all things new.


© Walter Brueggemann

˜ in Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth: Prayers of Walter Brueggemann

Image Advent, Zagreb, Sven Kucinic, Unsplash.

Advent, Prayer

Moments: Bittersweet

Shauna Niequist 7 December 2019


I believe deeply that God does his best work in our lives during times of great heartbreak and loss...much of that rich work is done by the hands of people who love us, who dive into the wreckage with us and show us who God is, over and over and over.

There are years when the Christmas spirit is hard to come by, and it’s in those seasons when I’m so thankful for Advent. Consider it a less flashy but still very beautiful way of being present to this season.

Give up for a while your false and failing attempts at merriment, and thank God for thin places, and for Advent, for a season that understands longing and loneliness and long nights.

Let yourself fall open to Advent, to anticipation, to the belief that what is empty will be filled, what is broken will be repaired, and what is lost can always be found, no matter how many times it’s been lost.

© Shauna Niequist, Bittersweet: Thoughts on Change, Grace, and Learning the Hard Way

Image Bittersweet, Jessica Broberg


Moments: Advent Biscuits

Dr. Julie Thorpe 11 December 2019


My host mother handed on a recipe

so I would learn kitchen-words

by heart.

Verkneten. Knead. Press down. Push out.

Ausschaben. Skin, scrape empty, then

wrap gently in a sheet to rest.


turn, toss, writhe in the marrowy


              Last of all,

aufbewahren. Set aside. Store

in a safe place.

Or was it the white-covered crescents

waxing and waning, like half-moon

slices of rye spread with liverwurst each morning

before we left for school in the dark

and later ate in the courtyard, walking

in circles to stay warm?

Maybe the gift

that winter wasn’t the words

but the circles I’m still learning

to walk and keep in my heart.

©Julie Thorpe

Image Advent Biscuits made by Julie

Julie Thorpe is a former Scholar of Vaughan Park.


Moments: A Prayer for Whakaari/White Island

The Rev. Maren Tirabassi 11 December 2019


God, we are all tourists,

going somewhere new,

hoping to learn

from other people, other landscapes.

And so we pray for those who came

to the Land of the Long White Cloud,

to listen to tangata whenua,

to honor haka, to hike,

to scan sky and land for birds,

and to walk the amazing volcanos,

who died in this eruption.

Tenderly hold those who grieve,

those who worry about loved ones

who are still missing,

and rescue workers, still waiting

for an opportunity to return.

God of the mountains and of the depths,

rest your cloak on your children.


©Maren Tirabassi

Image Rosemary for Remembrance, unsplash.



Natural disaster

Moments: Cloister In The Heart

Professor Nicola Slee 12 December 2019


berry on the green

silver on the sedge

scarlet on the leaf

             cloister in the heart

iron in the sky

freezing in the blood

purple on the sea

            cloister in the heart

winds across the land

rains upon the fields

birds along the sand

          cloister in the heart

death upon the wind

crying in the dark

blood upon the land

          cloister in the heart

ripples on the mere

patterns in the sand

circles in the grain

            cloister in the heart

candles in the hearth

silence in the dark

darkness in the year

            cloister in the heart

tiles upon the roofs

light upon the walls

peace upon the town

           cloister in the heart

© Nicola Slee

Image Cloister carving, Iona Abbey ©Natalya

(Cloister in the Heart appeared in Doing December Differently: An Alternative Christmas Handbook, co-edited by Nicola Slee and Rosie Miles, Wild Goose Publications, 2006).


Moments: Discovering Joy

The Rev. Joy MacCormick 15 December 2019


Joy – according to an old song is ‘Jesus first, Yourself last, and Others in between.’

How I hated that song!

My dictionary defines joy as ‘a condition or deep feeling of pleasure or delight; happiness; gladness’.

Joy – a strange word with which, from time to time, I’ve had a precarious relationship.

Possibly because it’s my given name. There have been times I knew in my deepest being the name didn’t fit who and what I experienced myself to be.

As a teenager, I remember asking my mother, ’Why on earth did you ever call me Joy?’

Her reply, ‘Because you were – once!’ haunted me until my late forties when I was helped to work through the related issues.

At one stage I even considered changing my name by deed poll. The only problem was – I had no idea what to change it to. Fortunately, over more recent years, I’ve been growing into it.

Another factor in my discomfort was that – until my mid-thirties – ‘I’d never really accepted my humanity’. These words were revealed to me during a Eucharist where I prayed for healing after cancer. Those words, unspoken yet so clear, reverberated through my being – bearing undeniable truth.

I always had a strong sense of pre-existence; of having come reluctantly into this life from a place or state of absolute harmony, unity and peace. During that Eucharist, the realization that being human meant not separation from God but sharing in the being of God who also became human – was for me the beginning not only of acceptance but of a sense of joy in the possibility of becoming Joy.

As I understand it now, joy is more than a transitory experience of ‘pleasure; delight; happiness or gladness’ but rather a deep underlying sense of being blessed – one which pervades all of life regardless of circumstances and which nothing and no-one can take away.

Blessed in being part of this amazing cosmos of life-giving energy and transformation at a time when we are privileged to be able to explore, see, and understand it in ways we have never been able to before. Blessed in being one with all that is – seen and unseen – for I share the same cosmic energy vibrating in every sub-atomic particle of my being.

This blessing is heightened in those occasional gifted moments of sheer ecstasy when I experience, once again, the ‘home’ I left behind – that total unity and harmony with everything. One with the birds gliding in the air as well as with the air supporting them; one with the ground or couch beneath me and with the clouds floating above’ one with every colour, every sound (whether melodic or grating) and one with the stillness and the silence beyond them all,

One with every human being, even those I don’t like.

Blessed being able to wonder what the energy that’s now me was before it was me – and what it might become by further transformation when I leave this life. Blessed in the understanding that even the worst of the destruction wrought by humankind releases energy for transformation into something potentially life-giving and beyond our imagination.

My heart, on the surface, may be battered and bruised by the storms of news reports and the events of daily life, but those storms are unable to penetrate to the depths where deep calm prevails and I rejoice to sing and dance with folk like Gerard Manley Hopkins who, in his poem, God’s Grandeur (1877), reflects on the destruction of the environment before declaring:

‘And for all of us,

nature is never spent;

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things’

And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward springs –

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.’

Or with Julian of Norwich (1342 – 1416?) in the certainty that in spite of evidence to the contrary – ultimately:

‘All shall be well; and all shall be well;

and all manner of thing shall be well.’

Is this what is meant by ‘the joy of salvation’?


©Joy MacCormick

Image Joy, Rick Lord

(This article was first published in Refresh, the Journal of Contemplative Spirituality - Winter 2019)

Advent, Joy

The Uninvited Guest

Thomas Merton OCSO 16 December 2019


Into this world, this demented inn,

in which there is absolutely no room for him at all,

Christ comes uninvited.

But because he cannot be at home in it,

because he is out of place in it, and yet he must be in it,

His place is with those others for whom there is no room.

His place is with those who do not belong,

who are rejected by power because they are regarded as weak,

those who are discredited,

who are denied the status of persons, tortured,


With those for whom there is no room,

Christ is present in this world.

©Thomas Merton OCSO

- in Raids on the Unspeakable

Image © Abraham’s Seed, Grace Carol Bomer




Moments: An Advent Summer

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 18 December 2019


Scarlet, indigo and azure

kōhatu veined with gold

lapis lazuli

silver fireflies.

Textured tapestry

ocean breeze

soft petals

caressing skin

nestled in warm grass

blush of pomegranates.

Breath of ancient trees

rush of many wings

symphony of cicadas

in the afternoon.

Manuka flower honey

devotion of bees

sweet wine



scenting the drowsy air.

Salt on lips




Flamenco dance of cinnabar moths

sacred fleeting butterflies.



expectant with possibility

assisting God in a miracle.

©Hilary Oxford Smith

In the depth of winter, I finally learned that within me there lay an invincible Summer. And that makes me happy. For it says that no matter how hard the world pushes against me, within me, there’s something stronger – something better, pushing right back. - Albert Camus




Moments: God Of Small Things

Ana Lisa de Jong 19 December 2019


My God is the God of small things.


Newborn babies.

Nutshells that contain multiple truths

in humble small containers.

My God is the God of small beginnings.

Like breathing

or opening eyelids.

If we but move today

we can accomplish what he asks.

God, my God of swaddled babes

that fumble for the breast

He teaches us the worth of

lying still in trust.

My God is the God of humble things.


Beds of straw.

Lives that don’t amount to much

if judged upon their origins.

My God is the God of silent things.


Passages in the dark.

Quiet incubators, within which cells divide

and muscles stretch towards the light.

God, my God of birth pangs

and pain that finds release

He teaches us that the dark

often precedes new life.

My God is the god of honed things

Parred down.


A carpenter sanding back the wood

to reveal the grain beneath.

My God is the God of beloved things.



Rescued for nothing they have done,

but because of a plan of redemption.

God, my God of Christmas coming

somehow the wonder of Advent

is knowing we need do nothing

but let new life be birthed in us.

©Ana Lisa de Jong

Image Taneli Lahtinen,


Moments: Mary's pregnancy is a sign that detail matters

Dr. Eve Poole 21 December 2019


When does it really feel like Christmas? For me, getting the box of Christmas decorations down from the loft is the definitive December ritual: all those bits and pieces packed away from last year, joyfully rediscovered and pressed into festive service.

But I would guess that, in most households, there is always at least one decoration orphaned at the bottom. An unsuccessful nursery project, a vulgar present, a broken favourite that one cannot quite bear to throw away.

In our house, it is the kind gift of a godmother: a glass bauble keepsake that fbears the legend “Baby’s First Christmas.” I never did put it on the tree, I must confess, because I have twins, and it felt wrong just to honour one of them; and then it wasn’t their first Christmas any more. But still it sits there, in the bottom of the box, carefully bubble-wrapped.

It is a weird experience, being pregnant with twins. For most of the pregnancy, mine were lying in bunk-bed formation, like sleeping pharaohs. In a later scan, they had turned to face each other, and were playing pat-a-cake. When, finally, the contractions started, my clever body morphed into an air-traffic controller and started lining them up like planes in a stack. It is a very humbling experience, learning about the wisdom held deep in your body. More than that, it was my first really visceral experience of co-creation with God.

When I was little, my favourite fairy tale was “Elise and the 11 swans”. In it, her wicked stepmother turns her brothers into swans. To turn them back, Elise has to make 11 nettle shirts, while remaining completely silent. She is tried for witchcraft before she has finished the last one. At the scaffold, her brothers fly down and she throws the shirts over them. They are transformed, but her youngest brother is left with a swan’s wing, where she ran out of nettles. One of my twins has a bit of enamel missing from a tooth, where I ran out of nettles building her.

When we ponder the mystery of Mary’s bearing Jesus, the focus tends to be on the annunciation and the birth rather than on the pregnancy itself. And then we gallop off into the liturgical year, towards Calvary and Easter. But what of that long nine months of nettle-weaving? Jesus was wrought from the very cells of Mary’s body, God incarnate but wholly man, born of woman.

Everyone who has been pregnant or involved in accompanying a pregnancy knows how mesmerising it is monitoring day-to-day progression, now delivered to your inbox by a choice of apps heralding each tiny development. Triumphantly eschewing alcohol or soft cheeses, or whatever is ruled out by the dietary advice of the day, modern-day Marys hunch over their precious cargo, building and weaving, day by day, one precious cell at a time.

In his poem “Descent”, Malcolm Guite writes: “They sought to soar into the skies Those classic gods of high renown For lofty pride aspires to rise But you came down.” It is into these very cells, this painstaking work, that God came down, becoming incarnate in the baby Jesus.

It is this smallness that is catching my attention this year. Those nine months when I was the twin-bearer, I was careful about everything. Slowing down, taking time, giving attention; trying to be as perfect as possible in every detail, even down to that not-quite-finished baby tooth.

As Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, God is knitted in relationship; and God came down at Christmas to show us who we can be, in our very humanity. Living in communities of relationship ourselves, as salt and light, we are all called to take care in weaving the nettles of our lives, to use our labours to free those around us to be who they truly are.

We know that our every thought and choice and action generate consequences for ourselves and for those around us: every accidental oversight, every unintended slight, and every casual discourtesy; but, equally, every smile, every greeting, every kindness.

We also know that there will be many people attending church over Christmas who do not usually come. They might well sit in the wrong pew, forget to collect a hymn book, and walk the wrong way back from the altar, but what they notice about how the church behaves as a community that day will stay with them throughout the year. I am chastened to recall how very careful I was, every step of those nine months, but how cavalier I have since become.

So, this year, I shall retrieve the Baby’s First Christmas bauble, and hang it up, to remind me that every year is the baby Jesus’s first Christmas. Every year, I should recommit myself to living in detail, because God is in the very smallness of everything we do.

©Eve Poole

Image Maria, Mary Southard CSJ

Dr Eve Poole is the author of Buying God: Consumerism and theology (SCM Press) and is the Third Church Estates Commissioner. This article was published in The Church Times, 20 December 2019.


Moments: Solstice

Tess Jolly 22 December 2019


I will not write about Christmas lights garlanding the tree,

how steadily red blends to sapphire  emerald  gold,

how strong the little bulbs must be to throw their dancing hearts

upon the café wall, how children try to catch them.

I will not say there is tinsel draped about the branches

like seaweed over pebbles, nor paint the cloths swaddling our skins

apricot, indigo, violet, teal. I will not speak of glazed

pastries on the counter, how they shine so much

they could be varnished, there for the hell-of-it, for the sheer

beauty of their glistening berries. I’ll turn away from buses heaving

down the rush-hour road, ignore how in all this rain

the headlamps could be tumbling garnets, polished amber,

as if a picture-book box of pirate treasure had spilt its pearls

and precious stones across a tarmacked page.

I will not describe how the sun becomes the sea, I will not delight

in words to name its colours – cerise, crimson, indigo,

scarlet, madder, rose. I will not try to find a way

to show your smile across the table, how it slips like warm charcoal

into the fabric of my heart. I will not suggest I light a candle

as the year prepares to wane, that you hold a second wick to mine

then another and another, that together we whisper a prayer

for each growing flame. I will not talk about the light

that is everywhere, how far you have to travel for the sky

to be completely black (and even then there are stars, there is the moon’s

borrowed brightness). I will not question why fire burns more fiercely 

before sputtering out, or how – when we know we’re dying –

we can be so fully alive. I will not say these things because this

is a poem about darkness. I am writing about the darkness.

©Tess Jolly

Image Solstice, Governor’s Bay Jetty


Advent; Solstice

Moments: Blessing for the new year

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 31 December 2019


Let the year go

into the night

the joy and the pain

the dark and the light

the endings

the beginnings

the thresholds crossed

the glimpses of heaven

the children birthed

the dear ones passed

the welcoming hearth

the closed door

the hope

the fear

the friends gained

the ones lost

the regret

the guilt

the bad days

the good days

Starbursts of light

like flowers in the garden sky.

May you be blessed with


- for past and present

peace of mind

- in uncertainty


- in resistance

great love and strength

- in fear

forgiveness and compassion

- to mind you

childlike trust

- in the benevolence of creation


- to embrace life as it is


- that every soul has its own course to follow


- to hear the inner voice of truth


- to learn to be still

And may there be

peace on earth


one whole day       

©Hilary Oxford Smith


New Year

Moments: The Guide

The Rev. John Fairbrother 5 January 2020


Of all prophets and seers

tradition presents

just three, opening

the clasp of heaven’s veil,

revealing the question

of wonder’s quest.

Cold shimmering light,

night’s pointed sign,

attentive wisdom caught.

This silent message

evoking sage response:

A celestial companion,

moving travellers on.

Wisdom of years the guide

where youth

would have safely trod:

Beyond comfort awoken

to grime and fear of night,

becoming a caravan’s

compulsive course.

A stall beneath a public hall:

Journey’s end –

could this be –

the beginning quest?

Magi, tradition tells,

valued wisdom:

light’s transcendent call.

©John Fairbrother

© Image Three Wise Women Also Came, Jan Richardson, reproduced with permission.

Christmastide, Twelvetide

Moments: Prayer in the midst of the Australian fires

The Rev. Maren Tirabassi 14 January 2020


God, I come to the backyard to pray

holding handfuls of snow

in my bare hands,

as I learn these new words —

ember attacks.

I pray for people

across the world from me,

in New South Wales and Victoria,

where heat, high winds, drought,

and the warming of the earth,

are taking lives and burning homes,

bush, businesses, schools,

places of happiness.

I pray for families split

as they choose

between evacuation and staying

where no fire truck can come

if the wind changes,

and last-minute fleeing in a car

is the most dangerous of all.

I pray for residents and tourists

crowded on northbound boats

that escape to the sea,

and I surely pray

for those who try, against all odds,

to predict the paths,

who fight wildfire outbreaks,

who send in food and clothing,

who staff evacuation centers

and comfort children

that will be living with fear

for a long, long time.

Against the random danger

of ember attacks,

safety has a snowball’s chance,

but I hold this snow, this prayer

naming our cold and holy hope —

because the world cares.


©Maren Tirabassi

Image Matthew Abbott

Prayers; Australian fires;

Moments: GRACE

Ana Lisa de Jong 15 February 2020


Everyone dreams of a love

that comes to find them.

Pursues them down.

Pries the heart, and carefully undoes them.

Everyone is human,

and love a precursor to our sanctifying.

While we dream of gentle saviours,

love is an instrument bent on mining,

and hollowing out the heart to

greater depths, that instead

of sudden comings, our saviour

is a seed sown.

And while we seek a healer

or rider on the horizon,

God plants himself as

a diamond laid down in the rough.

Yes, everyone dreams of a love

that arrives for us,

with intimate knowledge that

we need no pretence or argument.

But in the ways we receive,

and fail to give grace,

love is doing its silent growing

inside of us.

©Ana Lisa de Jong, Living Tree Poetry

Image Grace United Church, California, USA

Moments: A Blessing for the Wilderness

The Rev. Jan Richardson 1 March 2020


Jesus goes into the wilderness. There is something he needs there, a way that yet must be prepared within him.

Here at the outset of Lent, what can you see of the landscape that lies ahead of you? Might there be another place you need to go, physically or in your soul, before you are ready to enter the landscape that calls you?

Is there a space—a season, a terrain, a ritual—of preparation that you need; a place where you can find clarity, and perhaps a ministering angel or two? What might this look like?

Wilderness Blessing

Let us say

this blessing began

whole and complete

upon the page.

And then let us say

that one word loosed itself

and another followed it

in turn.

Let us say

this blessing started

to shed all

it did not need,

that line by line

it returned

to the ground

from which it came.

Let us say

this blessing is not

leaving you,

is not abandoning you

to the wild

that lies ahead,

but that it is loathe

to load you down

on this road where

you will need

to travel light.

Let us say

perhaps this blessing

became the path

beneath your feet,

the desert

that stretched before you,

the clear sight

that finally came.

Let us say

that when this blessing

at last came to its end,

all it left behind

was bread,


a fleeting flash

of wing.

©Jan Richardson

Image Brandon Messner: Mount Lemmon, Arizona USA,


Lent; Blessing

Moments: Transfiguration

The Rev. Dr. Malcolm Guite 8 March 2020


(For use in prayer or liturgy)

For that one moment, ‘in and out of time’,

On that one mountain where all moments meet,

The daily veil that covers the sublime

In darkling glass fell dazzled at his feet.

There were no angels full of eyes and wings

Just living glory full of truth and grace.

The Love that dances at the heart of things

Shone out upon us from a human face

And to that light the light in us leaped up,

We felt it quicken somewhere deep within,

A sudden blaze of long-extinguished hope

Trembled and tingled through the tender skin.

Nor can this blackened sky, this darkened scar

Eclipse that glimpse of how things really are.

©Malcolm Guite

Image Russian-inspired icon of the Transfiguration, artist unknown


Transfiguration; Lent

Moments: The Well

David Whyte 13 March 2020


(for use in prayer or liturgy)

Be thankful now for having arrived,

for the sense of

having drunk

from a well,

for remembering the long drought that preceded your arrival

and the years walking in a desert landscape of surfaces looking for a spring hidden from you for so long that even wanting to find it now had gone from your mind

until you only

remembered the hard pilgrimage that brought you here,

the thirst that caught in your throat; the taste of a world just-missed

and the dry throat that came from a love you remembered but had never fully wanted for yourself, until finally, after years making the long trek to get here it was as if your whole achievement had become nothing but thirst itself.


But the miracle had come simply from allowing yourself to know that you had found it,

that this time

someone walking out into the clear air from far inside you

had decided not to walk past it anymore;

the miracle had come at the roadside in the kneeling to drink

and the prayer you said,

and the tears you shed

and the memory

you held

and the realization

that in this silence

you no longer had to keep your eyes and ears averted from the

place that

could save you,

that you had been given

the strength to let go

of the thirsty dust laden


that brought you here,

walking with her

bent back, her bowed head and her careful explanations.


No, the miracle had already happened

when you stood up,

shook off the dust

and walked along the road from the well,

out of the desert toward the mountain,

as if already home again, as if you

deserved what you loved all along,

as if just remembering the taste of that clear cool spring could lift up your face

and set you free.

©David Whyte




Moments: Mysteries of the Mud

The Rev. Jan Richardson 22 March 2020


Reading from the Gospels, Lent 4, Year A: John 9: 1 – 41

“He put mud on my eyes.

Then I washed, and now I see.”

—John 9.15

He could simply have touched him. Or spoken a single word. Instead, when Jesus encounters a man who has been blind since birth, he spits on the ground, turns the dirt to mud, and spreads the mud on the man’s eyes. Jesus tells him to go and wash in the pool of Siloam.

The man goes. Washes. And sees.

Appearing midway in our Lenten journey, this story reminds us that this season is a time for getting close to the things of the earth. Ash, wilderness, waters of birth, wellspring, mud: the images that have accompanied us these past few weeks impress upon us what an elemental fellow Jesus is. Throughout his ministry we see him touching the world around him, turning to the things of earth to help us see the things of heaven.

This week’s gospel reading underscores it for us: Jesus is no sterile savior. He is not interested in remaining tidy and removed. With a beautiful and earthy economy of gestures, Jesus reveals himself as one who is willing to fully inhabit the messiness of our world and of our lives. He is ready to enter into the muck with us. He engages the muck as a place where holiness happens: where sludge becomes sacramental, and through grimy eyes we begin to behold the face of Love, beholding us right back.

How might the mucky places, the thick places, the earthy places become the very places that Christ uses to help you see more clearly? Are there places or practices that contain something of Siloam for you—spaces where you can wash away what would hinder you from seeing, and allow your vision to become clear? How might you take yourself to your Siloam in this season, this day, this moment?

Blessing of Mud

Lest we think

the blessing

is not

in the dirt.

Lest we think

the blessing

is not

in the earth

beneath our feet.

Lest we think

the blessing

is not

in the dust,

like the dust

that God scooped up

at the beginning

and formed

with God’s

two hands

and breathed into

with God’s own


Lest we think

the blessing

is not

in the spit.

Lest we think

the blessing

is not

in the mud.

Lest we think

the blessing

is not

in the mire,

the grime,

the muck.

Lest we think

God cannot reach

deep into the things

of earth,

cannot bring forth

the blessing

that shimmers

within the sludge,

cannot anoint us

with a tender

and grimy grace.

—Jan Richardson

from Circle of Grace: A Book of Blessings for the Seasons

Image Mysteries of the Mud © Jan Richardson.



Moments: The Great Silence

Ana Lisa de Jong 27 March 2020


In the great silence

the flowers seeded and grew,

the rain fell, the land took a breath,


The sun turned on its wheel

heedless to the forecast doom.

In the great silence

the leaves folded, took their queue

and detached from the branch,

to become the first fruit

of a fallen carpet

destined for mulch.

In the great silence, north and south,

the seasons changed,

exchanged batons.

The earth, on its axis, followed a path

long trodden,

defined by millennia past.

And in the great silence

the people burrowed in,

appeared on occasion for air,

and breathed secure for knowing the earth

carried on its resolve,

resolute in purpose.

And in the great silence

the planet rested,

the people rethought their focus

and slowed,

unfolded from the weight of lament and fear,

and returned as a world newly formed.

And in the great silence,

the people rebuilt their altars,

with the memory of the lost

freshly engraved,

and with the lessons of the earth

and their treasures preserved

the people conceived of a new way.

©Ana Lisa de Jong

Living Tree Poetry

March 2020


Lent, Healing, Contemplation

Moments: Pilate's role...

The Rev. Rose Luxford 5 April 2020


Gospel: Matthew 26: 14 – 27: 66

I don’t know about you, but I think I have washed my hands more in the last few weeks than I ever have before! Especially before the strict lockdown came in and I was out and about in town and with people. The message to do this washing of hands as a way to counter Covid 19 has certainly got through. And there are some funny video clips around where people have re-written parts of well known songs to incorporate this idea of washing. For instance, Neil Diamond’s ‘Sweet Caroline’:

‘Hands – washing hands

Reaching out – Don’t touch me, I won’t touch you’

And also a funny video clip from that great television series MASH. So things to make us smile in amongst all the difficulty of this time.

Washing hands. Well, in our gospel passage today (a long one I know) we come across someone washing their hands. Pilate. Trying to ‘wash his hands’ of his actions.

In my daily bible study notes with this passage, the author writes: ‘Plunge yourself into the story of Jesus’ passion and crucifixion, and find where you are in the story’. Well, I am choosing to concentrate on Pilate, with this ‘washing hands’ connection, and also because I lived with Pilate for several months, back in the early 1980’s!  Let me explain.

My late husband Mark was a great singer and musician. When I first met him he was lead guitarist and singer in a band. After we married and moved to Dunedin he had his voice trained and sang in the competitions, winning the Dunedin Aria competition one year. He was also involved in Repertory and Operatic productions and he played the role of Pontius Pilate in ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’. He practiced at home, for months, and so I ended up knowing his role inside out and backwards. I still know the words of the songs Pilate sang in that show.

And so on this Palm/Passion Sunday, I want us to spend time looking at Pilate’s part in this unfolding drama. This man who washed his hands in the hope that it would absolve him of his actions….He has gone down in history as the judge of Jesus's trial, and in turn he has been judged for that. Many regard him as weak, a coward, a man who crumbled under pressure. Think for a moment of how you regard Pilate.

Now, let’s just look at what has led up to the point of encounter between Pilate and Jesus. If you read the full passage (and I would encourage you to do so) we see that there was a plot against Jesus as many regarded him as a threat to the establishment of the time. Judas agrees to betray Jesus. The disciples eat the Passover meal with Jesus and in that he talks of one who will betray him, one who will deny him. The disciples are aghast at that. This story is very familiar to us. We can feel the tension building. The drama beginning to unfold. Jesus prays in Gethsemane, alone. An incredibly hard time for him. He is arrested. Taken before the Jewish Council. Accused of blasphemy. Peter denies knowing Jesus and is heartbroken when he realizes what he has done. And Judas is heartbroken when he realizes what he has done. The story we know so well is quickly unfolding, and we can’t stop it! And now Jesus is taken to Pontius Pilate, the  Roman governor under the emperor Tiberius.

Matthew’s account of Jesus’ appearance before Pilate and his execution follows Mark closely, but with significant variations.   As in Mark the trial before Pilate begins with the leading question: ‘Are you the king of the Jews?’ It could be easy for us to miss the gravity of this encounter: the major power of Rome, through Pilate its representative, confronts suggestions of an alternative power. Rome is a big deal.  The power imbalance is enormous.

And let’s remember for a while an earlier time when this term ‘King of the Jews’ was used. In the Christmas story the wise men went looking for ‘the child who has been born king of the Jews’. Herod got to hear about that and in his fear of a rival power, ordered the slaughter of all the children in and around Bethlehem who were two years old and under. These were tough times when any sort of perceived rivalry for power would not be tolerated by the Romans.

So, Jesus had caused a stir at his birth, and we see it again in our passage today, as he stands before Pilate. There were no human rights conventions then. An individual coming up against the power of the state was very vulnerable.   Are you the King of the Jews? Ponder that for a moment….

As the words of the song from ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’ go:


Who is this broken man cluttering up my hallway?

Who is this unfortunate?


Someone Christ - King of the Jews


Oh so this is Jesus Christ, I am really quite surprised

You look so small - not a king at all

We all know that you are news - but are you king

King of the Jews?


That's what you say


What do you mean by that? That is not an answer

You're deep in trouble friend –

Someone Christ - King of the Jews

Jesus’ response to the question ‘Are you the King of the Jews’ can be seen as an ironic acceptance of the title. It also echoes his response to the High Priest who earlier asked him if he was the Messiah, the Son of God.  There too he said ‘You have said so’.  His responses, and then his silence, to both the High Priest and Pilate are infuriating and perplexing to them.

Matthew reworks the scene with Barabbas. It becomes Pilate’s initiative (not the crowd’s) to bring Barabbas into the equation. Choose Jesus Barabbas (Aramaic: son of the father) or Jesus (Son of God). The effect is to lay the blame squarely on the crowd. By inserting a report about the wife of Pilate and her dream, Matthew suggests that she, like Joseph and the magi of the birth stories, has a special connection with the divine. It could even indicate that he wants to exonerate Pilate. Washing his hands and declaring Jesus innocent might point in that direction. Matthew certainly points to the bloody consequences for Jerusalem and its inhabitants. The crowd say ‘Let the punishment for his death fall on us and our children!’ It is chilling.

So we get this sense that Matthew plays down Pilate’s responsibility in the drama, by introducing Pilate’s wife and her dream, by Pilate washing his hands, supposedly absolving him of any responsibility for Jesus’ death, by showing the crowd’s part in the story.   But, standing back from the picture, we cannot overlook Pilate’s role. Whatever game he is playing in the narrative, he does not escape responsibility.  The story cannot obscure the historical fact that Jesus was executed by a Roman official, on a Roman cross, as a political criminal. As one author puts it ‘There is no justification, historical or exegetical or theological, for reading the passion narrative as justification for anti-Judaism’.

Pilate knew that Jesus was not a criminal. He knew that the Jewish authorities were jealous of him. He had the crowd baying for blood, crying for Jesus to be crucified. He felt he was between a rock and a hard place so he had Jesus whipped and sent off to be crucified. He attempted to ‘wash his hands’ of it. I wonder how he lived with that decision.

In the show ‘Jesus Christ Superstar’, Pilate sings the following:

I dreamed I met a Galilean;

A most amazing man.

He had that look you very rarely find:

The haunting, hunted kind.

I asked him to say what had happened,

How it all began.

I asked again, he never said a word.

As if he hadn't heard.

And next, the room was full of wild and angry men.

They seemed to hate this man.

They fell on him, and then

Disappeared again.

Then I saw thousands of millions

Crying for this man.

And then I heard them mentioning my name,

And leaving me the blame.

This passion narrative is a hard read. What strength Jesus showed. What depth of faith and determination he had. Even though we know that resurrection lies ahead, in this space there is betrayal, desertion, sadness, heart-brokenness, guilt, regret, desolation, confusion, anger, injustice, mockery, death. All the things that are part of our life’s journey at times.

On this Palm/Passion Sunday of the church year, there is the choice of celebrating the triumphant entry into Jerusalem (Matthew 21: 1-11) where the crowd spread their cloaks and branches on the road and people called out their praises to Jesus. A high point. And there is the choice of concentrating on the passion narrative, which we have done today. I usually do a bit of both as there is the danger that we can celebrate the triumphant entry into Jerusalem one Sunday, and the next Sunday celebrate the Resurrection, without having experienced the hard journey between.  I always urge the congregation to attend either the Tenebrae service or the Good Friday service, in order to hear this story, to know the depths of it, and so better know the joy of the resurrection.

This year we cannot gather for such services, which is really hard. But we can read this passion narrative and reflect on it. And we can see how this narrative can resonate with different happenings in our own lives. Hard and tough times which seem so bleak we cannot imagine a better future. Yet God is not stopped by disaster. God is not stopped by human hatred or the powers that be. Even when evil seems to be winning, God is not absent. God is present in the midst of the disaster, sharing the pain, relieving the suffering, and reassuring us again and again that nothing is stronger than God’s love.  

May we know the reality of that in our own living, and may we continue on this journey with Jesus – the one who brings us life in all of its fullness. Amen.

©Rose Luxford

Image Pilate Washing His Hands, Hendrik ter Brugghen

The Rev. Rose Luxford is Minister of St. Paul’s Presbyterian Church, Oamaru, Aotearoa New Zealand


Palm Sunday; Passion Sunday; Lent

Moments: Mary, of Bethany, at your feet a third time

Andrea Skevington 6 April 2020


And so you come once more to Bethany,

and share a meal with Lazarus,

a resurrection feast,

foreshadowing, foreshining

all those kingdom feasts you told of:

wedding banquets with long tables

set wide with good things,

with room enough for all,

welcome at your table.

Now, in Bethany, the house is ablaze with light,

shutters and doors thrown open,

all wide open with joy unspeakable,

music, laughter, dancing, wild thanksgiving

for one who was dead is alive again,

And all night, while crowds pour in from Jerusalem,

the feast goes on, and on,

as Mary enters now, cheeks glistening with joy,

past her brother at your side, back from the grave.

She kneels at your feet again,

pours out extravagant nard,

scandalous anointing of your warm, living feet,

unbinds her hair and lets it flow like water

over them, wiping them in such reckless

and tender thanksgiving.

Fragrance fills the room, the house, the night,

as more people pour from Jerusalem to you,

to you, who comes to us in our weeping,

who shares our bread with us,

and brings us to such joy as this.

St. John 12: 1 – 11

©Andrea Skevington

Image Mary Anointing Jesus, wikimedia commons

Holy Week

Moments: Would You Mind If I Wash Your Feet?

Macrina Wiederkehr OSB 9 April 2020


If Christ should suddenly stand before me with a towel thrown over his shoulder and a pan of water in his hands, would I have the humility to take off my shoes and really let him wash my feet? Or, like Peter would I say: ”Wash my feet, Lord? Never!”

Christ has stood in front of me on many a day. It hasn’t always been a pan of water that he’s held in front of me, for water is only one symbol of a way to be cleansed and healed. Sometimes he holds a Bible, or sends a letter, or calls me on the telephone. Sometimes she holds a loaf of bread, or a cup of tea, or gives me her shoulder to cry on. Christ comes in so many ways, in so many people, always holding out that basin of water, and asking that same embarrassing question: “Would you mind if I wash your feet?”.

The beautiful thing about that burning, persistent, foot-washing question is that eventually it calls forth the same question from your heart. Then you discover that your basin is full of water and your heart is full of a call: a call to wash feet.

©Macrina Wiederkehr OSB, first published in Seasons Of Your Heart, Harper Collins, 1991.

Image Christ Washing Peter’s Feet, Ford Madox Brown, 1821 – 1893

Macrina Wiederkehr, OSB, is a member of St. Scholastica Monastery, Fort Smith, Arkansas, USA.

Maundy Thursday; Holy Week

Moments: Simon and Veronica

The Rev. Erice Fairbrother SCL 10 April 2020


‘In a dark wood wandering’

Or as it is for me

On a dark road



This cross and me

Others were there


How it would end

Now I’m vulnerable

And God nowhere

to be seen

In dark places

Lost places

Condemned places

Who will walk



Not Simon

Not really!

He did not want to see;

‘Who me?’

But they pushed

Him to it

And I loved him.

Like Veronica

Seeing me,

A human too,

And touched

my face

of such loving

grace is made;

taking the weight

wiping the tears


and risking

all that might be

in a moment

for the least

of you

and the least

of me

© Erice Fairbrother SCL

Image The Way of the Cross, Henri Matisse

Holy Week; Good Friday

Moments: Betwixt

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 11 April 2020


Between Palm Sunday Hosannas and Easter Alleluias, Holy Saturday is a day of many overwhelmings. Mary, the mother of Jesus, John, his beloved friend, Mary Magdalene, the disciples and all the ones who loved Jesus were grieving his death. They did not know what to expect, if anything on the third day.

We too live in a betwixt time of unknowing. Like them, we are grieving. Whatever our circumstances, life as we have known it, emotions as we have known them have become unfamiliar and bewildering. We may feel vulnerable, fragile, uncertain, fearful, fatigued and anxious about today and what the future will bring.

From sundown this evening until sunrise tomorrow, people throughout the world, together in their separateness, will keep vigil during these in-between hours. They will give thanks for Jesus and gather the sorrowing Mary and those who loved him to their hearts. They will wait in the stillness, trusting that the ancient rhythm of the rising light and the Risen Christ will bless them and this hurting yet still beautiful world. Tomorrow, because of cloud or storm, you and I may not see the sun rise yet we too can trust that it will rise as it always has and that we also will be blessed.  

And the day shall come when the wounds of body, mind and spirit will become places where the light enters us, where all that we thought we had lost or left behind has created a palace of memory in our hearts to which we may often return.  

Faith, hope and love will always abide. They will have the last word.

©Hilary Oxford Smith

Image pixabay, free to use

Holy Week; Holy Saturday

Moments: A Prayer in Eastertide

The Corrymeela Community 15 April 2020


Risen and reconciling God,

Your greeting after the grave

acknowledged the trauma and turmoil

of that time and our own.

The message of peace

was what your disciples needed to hear,

and what the world needs now.

When we are reunited

with those from whom we've been separated,

may our greetings, too, be of peace,

and may we see all division in the light

of your reconciliation

and all crises in the context

of your resurrection.


Eastertide; Prayers

Moments: Resurrection Thoughts in Lockdown: John 20: 1 - 18

Dr. Kathleen Rushton RSM 18 April 2020


At Easter we usually gather for family meals. Some of us go away to the bach or holiday house. We gather as parish communities around the new fire of the Easter Vigil and light our candles. We process into the church singing “Thanks be to God” in respond to the celebrant who chants “The Light of Christ.” Many of us attend Easter Sunday Mass. This year our Covid-19 lockdown intensifies the absence of what we usually do.

Instead we are being offered many “virtual” ways of celebrating Easter and connecting us with the richness of the Easter Liturgy as well as inspiring spiritual resources online. Perhaps what Easter 2020 offers us is the experience of absence in a profoundly new way. We can enter into the absence which the mother of Jesus, the women near the cross and the disciples experienced after Jesus spoke his last words. We can ponder our experience of absence from the  places and people we usually expect to be with.

We are sheltered from the profound sense of absence of the early disciples because we know the outcome of the Gospel passion story — that Jesus rose. Mary Magdalene and the disciples were in the dark about what was happening. We can so easily dismiss their situation thinking of them as being people of "little faith”. However, we are also inscribed in this text because Mary Magdalene does not reply: “I do not know where they have laid him" but “we do not know where they laid him” (Jn 20:2).

In this Covid-19 pandemic many of our usual certainties have slipped away — “We do not know”. Our once taken from granted activities like work, school, Mass attendance, entertainment, sport and travel are now uncertain. On the other hand, we've probably come to know and experience the blessing of stopping, creativity, exercise, kindness, compassion, connecting and the self-giving of people in essential services.

To bridge the gap in what “we” do not know, John places the life and death-resurrection of Jesus within the widest possible context of the understanding of biblical and ancient cosmologies (worldview). Jesus is arrested in a garden (Jn 18:1) and is crucified, buried and rises in a garden (Jn 19:41) which evokes Genesis creation stories and God’s ongoing work of creation through which a new world emerges.

The resurrection of Jesus is far beyond our horizon. It is a leap into a new way of being which recalls the great mutations of the evolutionary process of the long history of life in the universe. The resurrection of Jesus is like an explosion of light which ushers into being a new way of transformed life. Through dying and becoming, a new world emerges.

We share in this new emergence through our Baptism which is inextricably linked with the Easter Vigil. It is a death and a resurrection — a transformation into new life. The resurrection we experience in our Baptism is not just what happened in the past. My “I” is transformed into Christ acquiring a new being and breadth of existing.

As we experience Easter in this "out of the ordinary" time we might think about the evolving new consciousness of our Baptism through which we share in the Paschal Mystery and live day by day whakawhanaungatanga/making right relationship happen with God, the Earth and people. 

©Kathleen Rushton RSM

Image stained glass window at St. Peter’s Church, Albany New York

Published in Tui Motu InterIslands Magazine, April 2020


Moments: Holy Communion Liturgy for Good Shepherd Sunday

24 April 2020


This is a service for those who want to share Communion in an online community during a time of quarantine // lockdown // sheltering place. It is a simple service which begins with an announcement on Sunday, April 26 (or during the week prior to May 3) and continues with words of liturgy, to which you can add language, music, gestures and practices. Please, please mess around with my liturgy — the work liturgy means “work of the people.” Shape this to be familiar to the congregation but not a replica of the in-person sacramental practice. Exact replication can make more tender the sense of loss of the gathered community in the beloved sanctuary. Make it a celebration of the possibility of online connection, not an apology for something that is not-as-good as in-person worship.

Announcement … “Save the Date” April 26 (or during the following week)

On Sunday, May 3, often designated Good Shepherd Sunday, we share together Holy Communion in our online Livestream/Zoom/other format worship.

Before the time of the service you will want to prepare a slice or a small loaf of any kind of bread to share and a cup or small cups of juice — perhaps grape or cranberry — or wine, with or without alcohol. Set these elements in the living room or kitchen where you experience worship electronically with our faith community. Perhaps you want to put them on a lovely cloth or fabric that reminds you of a special time or person. Perhaps light a candle or place a flower or the photograph of someone you wish to bring into the circle of faith beside the bread and the cup.

Thank you for your preparation.

Celebration of Holy Communion

(Pause to invite those who have not already prepared elements quickly to do so. Assure them that even an English muffin can become a sacrament, even a cup of water or tea a remembrance of God’s redeeming love. Communion does not need elements. They can “taste and see that God is good,” Psalm 34:8, even if they do not partake.)


For Holy Communion this morning,

we sanctify our time and many tables

for a sacrament never confined

to sanctuaries or precious surfaces —

carved with “Do this in Remembrance of Me,”

but always following

wherever one of God precious children,

like a sheep astray,

is lost or needs a guiding.

Christ is our shepherd.

In the loneliest lockdown,

we do not want for companionship.

In crowded families —

distance-learning and never catching breath,

we find an inner source of still waters.

In the soul-stretching days

of health care and emergency professionals,

decision-makers for others,

and essential workers with daily risk,

we meet a restorer of souls.

In the paths of tight-eousness —

assisted living, correctional facility, shelter,

immigration detention, nursing home,

housing for those who are simply poor —

we find a leader, a staff to lean on,

a rod that points a new way.

Christ leads us not around it,

but through the valley of the shadow —

and turns to us, as Jesus did when he came through

the walls of a locked room

in the afternoon of resurrection,

said, “Peace be with you,”

and then asked if they had anything

to give him to eat.

Give the gentle Shepherd who is the Risen Christ

your bread, your cup and your heart.

Prayer of Consecration

Leader: We have bread and cup and heart. Our church community is dispersed in distance but we are one in Christ. In your many kitchens, and living rooms, rest your hands lightly upon these elements which we set aside today to be a sacrament. Let us ask God’s blessing upon them and upon us and upon those who are in our prayers this morning.


Gentle Host, you prepare a table before us in the threatening presence of virus. You anoint our hearts, bless our bread and our cups overflow. Surely as we shelter in place we find both the goodness of community and mercy to those most vulnerable. Now and all the days of our lives we claim that this house — these many houses where we dwell and also our precious church building, are, indeed, the house of God.

Send your Spirit of life and love, power and blessing upon your children who are staying at home so that this Bread may be broken and gathered in love and this Cup poured out to give hope to all. Risen Christ, live in us, that we may live in you. Breathe in us, that we may breathe in you. Amen.

Words of Remembering

Leader: We remember the sharing of bread in many places — wilderness manna, tents and caves of shepherds, Abigail’s saddle bags, the lunch of a small boy, the fish of the disciples and the loaf of Emmaus. And we remember that Paul the apostle wrote letters to congregations throughout places we now call Greece, Turkey and Macedonia, and they were the first “remote” worship resources, including these Communion words sent to the church at Corinth:

For I received from the Lord what I also handed on to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took a loaf of bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body that is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way he took the cup also, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Sharing of the Elements

Leader: Let us in our many places receive the gift of God, the Bread of Heaven.

Unison: We are one in Christ in the bread we share.

Leader: Let us in our many places receive the gift of God, the Cup of Blessing.

Unison: We are one in Christ in the cup we share.

Prayer of Thanksgiving

Leader: Let us pray in thanksgiving for this meal of grace, rejoicing that, in the holy dispersion of virtual worship, we claim the risen Christ’s love is not limited by buildings made with human hands, nor contained in human ceremonies, and celebrating the God’s shepherding that carries us into the unknown, to listen and follow, to lead and be led, to feed and be fed.

Unison: (May be sung or spoken)

Savior, like a shepherd lead us, much we need your tender care.

In your pleasant pastures feed us for our use your folds prepare.

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, hear your children when we pray.

Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, hear your children when we pray.

Iesu no ke Kahuhipa, Kahuhipa maika`i e

Eia makou ka `ohana, Ke ho`olohe a hahai

E aloha, e aloha, Alaka`i a hanai mai

E aloha, e aloha, Alaka`i a hanai mai. Amen.

One possible translation of the Hawai’ian:

Jesus for the Shepherd, Good Shepherd,

Here we are, the family,

Listen and follow

O Love, lead your children to you.

O Love, feed your children.

(William Bradbury, Laiana translator Lorenzo Lyons)

©Maren Tirabassi

Holy Communion, Eastertide

Moments: Hermits in Community

Sister Thérèse Wilkinson OCD 8 May 2020


“We’re all like you now;” observed my self-isolating mother, “enclosed.” She isn’t the first person to make the connection between my life as an enclosed Carmelite nun and the present lockdown. Some have asked for tips: “How do you do it?” “What advice can you give?” The more I think about it, the less comfortable I feel with the comparison. Carmelite monasteries are generally large buildings with spacious gardens. We have the luxury of space and particularly of personal space. It is a far cry from a family living in quarantine in a high rise flat.

Yet the Carmelite tradition does seem to have something worthwhile to say during this crisis. As Carmelite nuns we observe enclosure, which essentially means we may only leave the grounds of the monastery for medical reasons or other real necessities. We live in a limited space with the same group of people all of the time – a situation many families now find themselves in by necessity. Our contact with family, friends and other visitors is limited and they may only enter a certain part of the monastery reserved for visitors, not the area where we live and work.

Carmelites are often described as ‘hermits in community.’ Our foundress St Teresa of Avila structured our days so that they are balanced between solitude and community, prayer and work, recreation and rest. On paper our timetable can look monotonous, as though every day must be the same. In reality, our daily routine provides a necessary balance, essential for our well-being. It ensures that we eat regularly, get enough rest and don’t become consumed by a work ethic – or even a prayer ethic! For people staying at home these days, such a structure could be vital, especially if this lockdown extends into months.

When founding our way of life, St Teresa wanted to recapture the original spirit of the Carmelite Rule, written by St Albert of Jerusalem for 13th century male hermits but still observed today by Carmelite friars, nuns, sisters and laity. A central point of the Rule states: “Each one of you is to stay in his own cell or nearby, pondering the Lord's law day and night and keeping watch at his prayers unless attending to some other duty.” This focus on the cell, on solitary work and prayer, is particular to Carmelites. It’s a striking departure from general religious observance: the cell - not the chapel - is for a Carmelite the first place of encounter with God. Now that churches are closed, all believers are being invited to deepen their own prayer life; perhaps even to imagine their own living space as a ‘cell’.

For Carmelites, solitude is, paradoxically, an invitation into relationship. St Teresa encouraged her Sisters to make Jesus their companion in solitude: “Since you are alone, strive to find a companion. Well, what better companion than the Master Himself…..Believe me, you should remain with so good a friend for as long as you can. If you grow accustomed to having him present at your side, and He sees that you do so with love and that you go about striving to please Him, you will not be able – as they say – to get away from Him; He will never fail you; He will help you in all your trials; you will find Him everywhere.  Do you think it’s some small matter to have a friend like this at your side?”

Friendship with Christ is at the heart of Carmelite life and also leads us into friendship with one another. Enclosed Carmelite communities are groups of very different women who would never normally choose to live together but who are united by their love for Jesus and their response to His call.

What about the times when solitude is a struggle - when this encounter with Jesus is experienced not as presence but as absence?  In a Carmelite cell, that void cannot be filled with TV, radio or scrolling social media. It’s where we come face to face with ourselves; with our humanity, our fragility, our mortality. In the language of the desert fathers as well as in present usage, it’s where we meet our demons. If we are faithful to the practice, sitting still with the sometimes frightening mystery of our own selves eventually leads us towards recognition of our utter dependence on God and acceptance of our weakness. This, in turn, should increase our compassion for others and it calls us to stronger solidarity with those who suffer. It draws us back to that companionship with Jesus, through the realisation that we are sharing his Cross along with all our suffering brothers and sisters. St Edith Stein, who served as a WWI Red Cross nurse and whose own via crucis led to Auschwitz, wrote to her Carmelite community: “You cannot help here or there like the physician the nurse, the priest.  You can be at all fronts, wherever there is grief, in the power of the cross.  Your compassionate love takes you everywhere, this love from the divine heart.”

We are often asked how we deal with conflict in an enclosed community. In any group of people living together, there are inevitable tensions and annoyances. These can be amplified when there is nowhere else to go. The balance between solitude and community can be important here, just to allow each other space. The cell can be a refuge; it is a sacred space reserved for one person. Only the Prioress may enter another Sister’s cell and does not use this privilege lightly.  We also observe the ancient Christian custom of “Do not allow the sun to go down on your anger” (Ephesians 4:26). During the examen at Compline each night, we resolve and forgive all the tensions which may have built up over the past day.

When I’m alone in my cell I know that each of my Sisters is also alone in hers. This fosters solidarity without a word being spoken. We’ve seen a similar dynamic play out around the world in recent days as neighbours who have never met greet each other through windows and across balconies, acknowledging “We’re all in this together.” The applause for health workers has brought people together in an act of thanksgiving. There’s something eucharistic about it.

Increasingly, people are turning to monasteries as a spiritual anchor in their lives, a place to recharge, to find peace, to feel ‘at home’. Visitors to our monastery have spoken of feeling ‘enfolded’ by their experience of welcome and prayer. One of the most painful aspects of the lockdown is that we can no longer physically share our space and silence with others at a time when it is most needed. Modern technology allows us still to reach out to people and let them know we are praying with and for them.

In the face of this global crisis, what can we offer? Like our sister St Thérèse of Lisieux, we come before the Lord and before our world “with empty hands.” We cannot provide quick-fix ‘coping strategies’ but we have in our tradition wisdom emerging over centuries from a freely chosen way of life, intending to bring those who follow it into a deeper relationship with God and with others.  We aim to be a praying presence, daily entrusting our world into God’s hands. We bear witness to God’s presence in the midst of so much suffering and seeming abandonment. Ultimately the most fitting response from a Carmelite nun in the face of this pandemic is silent presence. This is not a passive attitude but, borrowing a phrase from one of my Sisters, being the ‘shock-absorbers’ for the world.


As our Rule puts it, quoting Isaiah 30:15, “Your strength shall lie in silence and hope.”

© Thérèse Wilkinson OCD

Sister Thérèse Wilkinson is a Carmelite nun at Thicket Priory, near York, UK.   She is 42 years old and has been a cloistered nun for 18 years. You can follow her Priory @;;

Image Monastery of our Lady of Mt. Carmel and St. Joseph’s, Brooklyn, New York.

This article was first published in The Tablet, 3rd April 2020.


Lockdown, Self-isolating, COVID 19

Moments: From Vézelay to Bethany

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 22 May 2020


Lection: St. Luke 24: 44 – 53

I recall waking up in the little 9th century village of Vézelay in France to the sound of bells pealing, swallows flying in and out of windows, people climbing up the steep hill to the glorious Benedictine-Cluniac church which crowned it, dogs barking, and voices happy. Why? What? "L'Ascension," the villagers said. I had quite forgotten that it was Ascension Day. La Basilica de Sainte Marie-Madeleine is a beacon of Christianity. as was her namesake, Mary Magdalene. That day it was full of pilgrims, believers, visitors. And in no time, I was singing with them, in the cool of the sanctuary, while outside the grapes felt the early day's hot sun.

Ascension Day was observed on Thursday, 21st May - the 40th day after Easter and ten days before Pentecost.  Although people in many countries across the world enjoy a public holiday on this day, notable exceptions are the United Kingdom, Australia, Aotearoa New Zealand, the United States and Canada. However, there was a time in England when all the village schoolchildren trooped to church on Ascension Day, sang a few Wesley alleluias and afterwards were released in a rush to play, ride bikes, do anything they liked.

Since Jesus' death, his disciples and companions had been on an emotional rollercoaster. There was the disappearance of his body from the tomb and then his unsettling and incredulous resurrection appearances in Jerusalem and Galilee. They had experienced the sadness of his absence and also the joy of his presence. It must have been a very disconcerting and bewildering time for them.

The death of someone we love is one of life's most difficult experiences. We have to adjust and adapt to a new way of living and being. We become vulnerable to the absence of our loved one because we so deeply desire their presence. Yet somehow, the connections remain. No longer near to us physically, the painful longing of their absence somehow keeps them spiritually near to us, and we still belong with them. As time passes, we gradually learn acquaintance with the invisible form of the person we have lost and the wounds of grief that we have endured, slowly begin to heal. In the rhythm and mystery of eternal love, absence turns into an awareness of presence.

Jesus instinctively understood the nature of loss and the ache of grief. He knew that he had to farewell his disciples and all who loved him. So he nurtured and encouraged them with words of hope which the gospel writer Luke records,

45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, "This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things. 49 I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high.

Before, Jesus had spoken to the disciples about what was to happen, but they had not fully understood. So he chose to take them to Bethany, a place to which he withdrew on more than one occasion and which was also home to his dear friends Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. It was a place where the fullness of Jesus' divinity and his humanity came into sharp focus. In his raising of Lazarus, Jesus displayed his power over death. There was also the gift of a woman's anointing that he graciously received there, a few days before he died. In friendship with his three friends, he revealed himself as someone who took solace and delight in their human company. Bethany stood as a place of divine love, forgiveness and healing, of restoration of life, peace and justice, of hospitality and friendship and miracles. The disciples had been witnesses to these beautiful blessings.

Luke tells us that after blessing them, Jesus took his leave of these companions who had accompanied him on his earthly path. He is carried up to heaven to take his place with his Father. Jesus also took our humanity with him, drawing us into his nature, that we might become a blessing, as the body of Christ in the world; heaven's company on earth, living and working, praying and loving, with grace, in the places where the Spirit of Jesus is – in our hearts, in our homes, our workplaces, our communities, our churches, and in the whole of creation.

I think that Jesus' leaving was part of the blessing. The blessing could not have happened any other way than by his departure, by his letting go of the ones whom he loved and whom he would never stop loving but had to release into their own lives so that they could enter into the blessing and live it out on earth.

You and I know how the continuing story unfolds. The day will come for the disciples, when breath will fill their lungs as it never had before. With their own ears, they will hear new and startling words come to them. They will dream dreams and see the world ablaze with blessing. But they didn't know all of this and I'm sure that in the leaving of their teacher and friend, they probably felt an indescribable intensity of emotion, an awful, inner quiet. No more dropping in for bread and wine at supper, no more walks with Jesus or fish breakfasts on the beach and no more enigmatic conversations.

They could never have imagined what lay ahead. They lived in an interim time, where everything seemed withheld, the way forward still not fully revealed to them. Yet they did what Jesus asked of them. They returned to Jerusalem. In the temple, they worshipped him and blessed God. They stilled themselves. They waited patiently.  So must we.

In the leaving,

in the letting go,

let there be this to hold onto:

the enduring of love,

the persisting of hope,

the remembering of joy,

the offering of gratitude,

the receiving of grace

the blessing of peace,


©Hilary Oxford Smith

Image  La Basilique de Vézelay, UNESCO


Moments: Pentecost - The Cost of It

The Rev. Maren Tirabassi 28 May 2020


What the festival costs

is more than the price of helium

in a few small red balloons,

and a birthday cake for the church

during coffee hour.

It costs going out to the streets,

speaking words we don’t understand,

listening to languages of

our neighbors,

tomorrow and the next day

and when the streets are hot or icy,

and words are more dangerous

than churchy,

and get us thrown into prison,

not to speak of what happens

when we try to heal our poor neighbors

of the justice wounds

that keep them begging.

Did I mention health care,

for the body and for the mind,

rights of indigenous peoples

throughout the earth,

and care for the earth,

O sweet groaning earth-loving Spirit,

veterans’ justice and immigrants’ justice,

an end to gun tragedy,

addictions, homelessness,

hunger, human trafficking?

What Pentecost costs,

if it is going to mean anything at all —

is a lot of breaking silence,

and so much listening

to the languages of our neighbors,

not just yesterday,

and not just tomorrow or election day,

but when we’re all singing carols,

or wearing ashes

and, of course, always and everyday

spending our love like red.

© Maren Tirabassi,

©Image Philippe de Rodrigues,



Moments: In The Space Of One Breath, One Heartbeat

The Rev. Gayanne Frater 7 June 2020


In the dark of many nights hallowed out by the silence in my heart, and in the now shadowed light of the hope of Pentecost where we celebrate the giving of the breath/spirit of God so we may have life - a prayer emerged from the depth of my being. I share it with you in the hope that it may find an echo in your heart, ease spirit-ache and help us breathe a little easier in this time.                                                                             

In the light of Pentecost,

in the shadow of inexplicable horror,

the sanctity of life,

this gift of breath

which belongs to no-one and everyone,

ceased in the space of a single heartbeat

despite a voice that pleaded to be heard.

George Floyd, loved son and father died.

I offer these prayers and reflection,

in the light of truth

in the spark of life,

in the hope of change,

in dark shadow of this grievous injustice.

In silence, let us breathe


               In and out

                          In and out

                                      In and out

and as we do,

let us give thanks for our breath

for spirit,

for life,

for the sound of our heartbeat

for the safety of living in bodies coloured white,

Let us be deeply mindful of all who are not,

for whom living their God-given life is a risky undertaking,

overshadowed by fear.

God of infinite mercy,

We weep when holy text is used to deny others’ breath.

open our eyes, our ears, our hearts

to the truth that for you,

love without justice, is not love at all.

When holy word is conscripted

to deny breath and support the loss of life,

remind us that your holy texts speak more about justice

than they ever do of love.

Love without just-living, is not love.

Give us courageous hearts to love and live justly,

so we might join with you in co-creating a world

where all lives matter,

and the breath of 'one'

is valued as highly as the breath of many.

God whose spirit enlivens and sustains all life

May justice roll down like a river.

God of infinite mercy whose love is embedded in justice,

as embers of anger are fanned into flame

for this sacred Black life deprived of spirit-breath,

we give thanks that anger is an appropriate first response

to such grievous wrongdoing,

but God, let it not be the last response.

May the energy of fiery anger,

burning from within ancient cauldrons

of inter-generational memory,

be harnessed and do no harm,

especially for those most harmed at this time.

Instead may all anger serve as catalysts of empowerment,

sparking a raft of creative ways worldwide for us

to engage in effective subversive non-violent action;

the kind of action that turns the tide,

and ushers in irrevocable change for good,

and enables all whose breath is held in,

for fear of being noticed, be released.

Fire our imaginations,

enliven us to act courageously in solidarity

so we may all live and breathe without fear

from this day onwards.

Help us be the change we want to see.

God whose spirit enlivens and sustains all life

May justice roll down like a river.

God of infinite mercy,

We hold before you:

                all whose breath does not come easily,

               whose breath is too slow, fast, or shallow,

               or is held suspended by fear.

We hold before you:

                all who struggle to breath in and out with ease.

We give thanks for all who work tirelessly

to relieve their distress,

ease their struggle

and soften their pain so life is sustained.

We pray, also for those who are close to death in this hour,

and ask that your compassionate presence will,

in the space of their last in-breath and heartbeat,

carry them with great tenderness

from life through in death to life.

God whose spirit enlivens and sustains all life

May justice roll down like a river.

God of infinite mercy

Infuse us with you spirit,

breathe in us,

through us,

around us

and energize us to do the work you call us today.

May we be bearers of your holy just-love,

holding hope for those who have none

until they do.

We ask this in the name of your Son,

who hung on a cross,

and yielded his last painful breath to death,

knowing that his death would bring breath and life to all.

May it be so.


©The Rev. Gayanne Frater, Hospital Chaplain, Counsellor, Supervisor, Spiritual Companion

4 June 2020

Image Holy Fire, Gayanne Frater



Pentecost, Justice, George Floyd

Moments: Grimy Windows

The Rev. Canon Dr. James M. McPherson 17 June 2020


not guilt; not fear; but instead the gentle wonderment

of sensing in myself that my own very being has a sense

beyond my self; outside; in some vast frame

which gradually drew me toward the grimy windows

in the vast and granite keep of the Asylum for the Sane

where a silent gentle harmony holds me. Still. Unto itself.


inside, the stuff of conjecture, rumour, ridicule, rebuff;

yet so compelling. Its eloquent harmony

of silence brings a sweet order to the swirling

non-sense of the fatuous self-serving racket

here inside, and soothes my being into a peace and joy

the Asylum may sometimes dampen. But not quench.



the winsome charm of Wisdom, Love and Grace

sustain me for my living in this space

and make me yearn to join them face to face


© the Revd Jim McPherson

Image Christopher Sardegna,



Moments: Even the bowerbird (inspired by Psalm 84:3)

Dr. Julie Thorpe 13 July 2020


Julie participated in an online Psalms Project facilitated by Rabbi Or Rose @ IFYC – Interfaith Youth Core.

Cherish her words below, inspired by Psalm 84:3. “Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young--a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God”.


Even the bowerbird

builds a home out of scraps,

canvassing walls with purple

blossom and blue beads,

and carries red clay

that remembers blood lines.

Even white-bellied sea eagles

on sheer edges of space

find freedom to soar

close-spanned to their own.

If, even they,

then find my walls and clay

a freeing air for my blood.

©Julie Thorpe

Image ©Julie Thorpe


Moments: The Kingfisher and the Heron

Rev. Dr. Malcolm Guite 19 July 2020


With the gradual easing of lockdown, I have managed to get away from my usual haunts and spend most of the day in a little boat on the Norfolk Broads. Amid the quiet delights of that watery world, I was rewarded with two beautiful sights: the darting of a kingfisher in the morning, and, in the evening, first, a glimpse of a slow grey heron rising and falling ahead of me, and, as I turned in by some trees to berth the boat, a much closer glimpse of the heron itself: still, stately, perched patiently on a branch, watching the river as it flowed past carrying me and my little boat back to our mooring.

There was a great deal to savour in the contrast between these two extraordinary birds. In the grey and rainy morning, the sudden sweet darting of bright blue, reflected in the river, just under the shelter of low branches was like a flash of hidden colour into a monochrome world — indeed, almost like a vision from another world, as though a sliver of blue sky from Shakespeare’s “eternal summer” had shimmered a moment into our dark time and disappeared again, leaving behind a little thrill of hope. I never see kingfishers when I’m looking for them, they just appear magically and disappear as quickly, an unexpected grace that never fails to make my day.

The quiet evening was as grey as the morning had been, but the rain had given way first to mist, and then a gentle breeze, when my homeward-guiding heron appeared. It is extraordinary that we can use the same word, “bird”, and recognise what is common between two such different and contrastingly beautiful creatures. But the slow, lazy flapping, the long low dipping glides, and then the final stillness of the heron, all suited and expressed my evening and homing mood, just as much as the kingfisher’s blue bolt had electrified and alerted my morning.

I learned from Coleridge not only to love birds in and for themselves, as God’s good creatures whom he also loves as he loves us, but also to recognise that these creatures, breathed into being by God as he forms and sustains all things, are also part of both God’s mind and ours. They are creatures in their own right, but they are also forms of thought, and, like all of nature, they provide us with the images and emblems with which we think, “lovely shapes and sounds intelligible, Of the eternal language” which God utters in and through us, even as he gives us both life.

So, in one sense I recognised something of myself in both the kingfisher and the heron. At first, perhaps prompted by the contrast of morning and evening, I thought of the kingfisher as my younger self: bright, energetic, making swift, sudden, unpredictable darts and flights, and I wondered if the slow patience of the evening heron, perched like a grey hermit in contemplation of the river, might be an emblem of “the gifts reserved for age”.

But I’m not sure that’s quite right. I think there is always, in all of us, something of both the kingfisher and the heron, the morning and the evening. Perhaps our best emblem is the river itself. We float in the little boat of our consciousness on the surface of something deep and mysterious, always arising freshly from its source, and, if we are patient and attentive, both the kingfishers and the herons of the mind will come and bless us.

© Malcolm Guite

Image Kingfisher, Boris Smokrovic,

This article was first published in The Church Times 17 July 2020 and is reproduced with permission.

Summer; Contemplation

Moments: Reflections post lockdown

Pip Nicholls 6 August 2020


Prior to the 25th March 2020, the largest retreat I’d ever been on was possibly about 60 people.  Imagine my surprise when it was 5 million New Zealanders, 25 million Australians and untold millions in the northern hemisphere…

It wasn’t a silent retreat as such however, it was certainly a contemplative one.  As I settled into physical distancing, greater stability in one place, (as an essential worker I was out four afternoons a week) I – and perhaps many of us, began to feel a greater at ‘home-ness’ as the days went on.  Spaciousness came naturally as stillness and solitude (that is with one other and a four legged) pervaded day and night.

A natural routine emerged, not quite monastic but certainly similar.  This was waking about 4am and rising to watch the play of light on Wellington harbour – particularly around the April full moon.  There was a karakia (prayer) with shared breakfast, walks in the hills, writing for the Easter Wisdom School, afternoons sitting with both patients and families at Te Omanga hospice and arriving home to have a tipple with exceedingly beautiful sunsets… Did I mention the ‘compulsory’ 1pm bulletin with Jacinda and Ashley to find out how we as a country were coping with Covid19?  

There was much to pray for and it was a time of play… So many more people were out biking as a family.  It wasn’t just other dog owners who wanted to stop and have a chat, there were street drinks on a Friday as everyone brought a chair out to toast each other, there was standing at letterboxes on ANZAC morning and here in New Zealand feeling part of a ‘team of 5 million’ that ‘knocked the bugger off’ (Australians – this is a reference to what Sir Edmund Hillary said which he reached the top of Mt Everest).

And yes, I had great reluctance for the ‘retreat’ to end and when we moved to level 3, I was keen to move to level 5 and on up the ladder… And yet… for me there is still an experience of level 4 remaining.  That deep stillness, silence and solitude has been a part of my life for many years and I was just so glad that others got to experience some of it too.  And I know that this ‘retreat’ has come at an extremely high price for many countries and many peoples… This is a health crisis and we’re all still suffering from and with it. 

The last act on most retreats is to consider “So what?  Now what”.  Well, we in this home intend to have level 4 weekends once a month (so far so good), to keep up conversations with neighbours – although Robert from five houses away seems to no longer recognise me at the bus stop; to continue to simplify – in lifestyle choices as much as materially; to throw morning newspapers closer to people’s gates when out walking with the dog before daylight; to cough and sneeze into my elbow – and to rest in home-ness throughout the day no matter where I might be or what’s going on in our or your neighbourhood…  

On ‘retreat’ we were encouraged to be kind to ourselves and each other and I’d like to continue with that too.

©Pip Nicholls

Image April Full Moon, Wellington

Pip’s reflection has also been posted on the website of The Contemplative Network @

Covid 19, pandemic, retreat, prayer

Moments: Last Word

The Rev. Dr. Hilary Oxford Smith 13 August 2020


“All things come to an end” wrote Geoffrey Chaucer in his epic poem Troilus and Criseyde. It was centuries later before the word, ‘good’ was added to become the idiom that we all know so well. Whichever one you prefer, the underlying meaning of either is that nothing lasts forever. 

How fragile life is and how vulnerable we are in this global pandemic. Across the world and here in Aotearoa New Zealand so many of us are standing at thresholds that we never anticipated. It doesn’t take long for life to change and we can find ourselves standing on strange and shaky ground.

Everything that once was so steady and reliable has to find a new way of unfolding. We need blessing and protection, faith and trust so that somehow we can bless the times we now live in, hold the grief for what is past and present, hold the fear of present and future, and within the love of the Divine, which lasts forever, grow in trust and peace. 

My ministry of over 7 years at Vaughan Park is coming to an end later this week. I shall always cherish the spiritual presence of this beautiful space and place.

“Gratitude is the memory of the heart”, wrote the French bishop, Jean Baptiste Massieu. My heart’s memories of Vaughan Park include,

- the many wonderful people from Aotearoa New Zealand and overseas who I have encountered. They have have enriched my life and the life of Vaughan Park with their company and their friendship; 

- the creative spirit of the poets and writers who have contributed to the Moments page;

- the sound of the Ruatara Chapel bell, calling the community to a daily rhythm of prayer for the life of the world;

- the retreatants who have experienced healing, companionship, joy and renewal in this sacred space and the retreat facilitators who are channels of God’s grace;

- the care of the staff team who nurture guests with kindness, support and encouragement;

- the shore at Long Bay – with its edges, patterns, revelations, ebb and flow, beauty and story.

“If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is thank you, it will be enough”, says Meister Eckhart. So with a grateful heart, this is my prayer: Thank You.

Ngā manaakitanga.

©Hilary Oxford Smith

Image Heart on Sand,

Moments: The Disappeared

Lincoln Jaques 16 September 2020




Air corrodes the colour from clouds

a beating butterfly spins into

rainwater, falls into the sun

reflected in the



Deep in the earth the bats

are dying, deeper than a tree’s

roots the worms are retreating.

Our own lives intersect into



A denuded saint wept in the sand dunes

I saw the blood flowing from his

temples. I saw the thorn dig into

his side. I saw the rib a cradle of



It rained the morning we

entered Zagreb. The church spires

caught the early sunlight; so many

we used them to count out our lost



The butterfly breathed in an entire

universe, a microcosm lost between

the many times we arrive, balancing

the many times we need to


Moments: What God did for Jesus

Zac Poonen 28 October 2020


What God did for Jesus


When bowed with burdens and with care,

Your soul is in despair;

You don’t have to fear,

God is very near.

He loves you as He loved His Son

And He will help you too;

Just trust His word of promise

And He will see you through.



This is the good news – what God can do;

What He’s done for Jesus He’ll do for you;

With mighty power He’ll strengthen you;

There is no end to what God can do.


Though sin and evil fill this world

And you are overcome;

Yet God’s Word is true

“Sin can’t reign o’er you”.

And when temptations’ pull is strong

God’s Grace will be your stay;

So you can walk like Jesus

In vict’ry every day.


When pain and sickness come to you

And touch your loved ones too,

God knows how you feel

He has power to heal.

Your Father will provide your need

He’s faithful and He’s true;

And as He cared for Jesus

He will care for you.


O what a glorious comfort this

If you have come to know

Jesus as your Lord

And Elder Brother too.

For all God has is now your own

And He won’t let you go;

And now that God is for you

Who can be your foe?

May even the darkness become light to us

Prayer Vol.02, 2020, pg.71

Strahan Coleman 4 June 2021


We are with ourselves here in the dark, Father,

aware of our vulnerabilities,

our needs and our moral limitations.

All we have done today is now left to rest in You,

or grow in You,

depending on Your will.

We have done all we could,

yet perhaps not all we should,

we trust You now as always, God,

with both.

Meet us as we sleep, so our souls –

our hearts – will wake with new

energy for greater love.

You will never leave us,

not in the day,

and not now in the night.

We trust in You with all our

greatest love and hope.