Monthly Archives: February 2011

Remember me when You come into Your Kingdom

I was still thinking of the reading the day before when I went to a memorial service.

The reading was about the good thief. “Remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

The words of yesterday’s and today’s readings seemed to turn over in my mind and complement each other.

They do not sow or reap or gather…

This reading from Matthew 6:29-34 about the need not to worry is at once poetic and impossible to abide by.

Look at the birds in the sky. They do not sow or reap or gather.

The truth is we will never stop worrying.

But if by some great effort we will stop for a moment and focus on an ultimate reality, things will always turn out right in the end anyway.

Off Hats!

I always love the reading from Mark: 10:13-16; ‘Let the little children come to me.’

Over many years I am slowly ploughing through Patrick O’Brien’s twenty Aubrey & Maturin books. The characters are often becalmed, tacking slowly towards port. The wealth of eighteenth-century detail is so tight packed that sometimes I only read only one page before going to sleep.

In The Reverse of the Medal, there is a most moving passage when Aubrey is put on trial, shaved, and put in the pillory.

The man was slowly fumbling with the bolt, hinge and staple [of the pillory] and as Jack stood there with his hands in the lower half rounds, his sight cleared. He saw that the broad street was filled with silent men… all perfectly recognisable as seamen… He heard the clack of the bolt and then, in the dead silence, a strong voice cry ‘off hats!’ With one movement, hundreds of broad brimmed hats flew off and the cheering began.

I could hardly stop a tear rolling down my cheek.

Let No Man Put Asunder

I didn’t have enough energy to drive in the country or go to mass during the week, but today I did.

Today’s reading is all about marriage and divorce. The reading from Mark 10:1-12 is clear. Do we follow it?

And he answered and said unto them, What did Moses command you?
And they said, Moses suffered to write a bill of divorcement, and to put her away.
And Jesus answered and said unto them, For the hardness of your heart he wrote you this precept.
But from the beginning of the creation God made them male and female.
For this cause shall a man leave his father and mother, and cleave to his wife;
And they twain shall be one flesh: so then they are no more twain, but one flesh.
What therefore God hath joined together, let not man put asunder.


After five days of play, more off than on, I succumbed in the game of Risk to my son. Legions of his troops were amassing at the borders of my crumbling empire. My army was left stranded in one last country – Indonesia – to face the inevitable. A few moves beforehand, I had controlled half the world.

Meanwhile in the real world Colonel Gaddafi is holed up in his barracks in Tripoli – having lost half his country.

When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.

(Ecclesiastians 5:1-8)

February Day

It was the worst kind of February day. A constant stream of drizzle and cold wind.

I took shelter at the start of the walk in Tealby church. There are collected the wonderful memorials to the Tennyson d’Eyncourt family. Charles Tennyson, I read, was an MP for 35 years. No doubt hugely wealthy, he extended Bayons Manor into a huge Gothic pile. It was blown up in 1964 after being requisitioned and no doubt ruined during the Second World War.

Charles Tennyson adopted the d’Eyncourt name. This was seen at the time as something of an affectation. I wonder if Thomas Hardy took his inspiration for this of Tess’ father adopting the name d’Urbervilles.

Anyway, the family restored the church and the school, which still survives. What a tragedy that Bayons Manor went. I could not resist walking home that way, along way about through Kirmond le Mire and it took me the best part of three hours.

At the Cathedral

I took the children to the cinema at Lincoln and, waiting for it to start, decided to go for Evensong at the Cathedral.

I was disappointed at first to find only evening prayer. But the language was so simple, so profound. There were some words from one of the hymns that we sung which I tried to keep in my memory:

Help me lead my life
that I may no more dread
My grave than my bed.

It’s a nice thought, but difficult to accept. I must admit, I enjoy going to bed and spend a lot of time there.

Grey and Drizzling

It was grey and drizzling.

I got set off from the Caistor High Road. As I walked away from it, I could hear the mournful droning of great trucks hurtling inro the gloom.

I descended a valley, but it was featureless and depressing.

I had walked to turn South and home, but the constant bangs of shot forced me further north than I wanted.

Tired, I now walked south from Rothwell on the road, cars flashing past at speed. But before Thoresway, I turned off the road. There, in front of me, was a magnificently beautiful valley, steep, with sheep dotted about under the sky of light greys and whites. Suddenly, the whole walk seemed worthwhile. I passed down the path to Stainton le Vale in the twilight and saw the tiny Norman church nestling amongst the trees.

After two and a half hours, I returned gratefully to hot soup and Patrick O’Brien.

Bearing Grudges

The readings today are all particularly difficult.

…Nor must you bear a grudge against the children of your people.

(Leviticus 19:1-2, 17-18)

I seem to do that all the time.

And if any man will sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also.’ (Matt 5:38-48)

I am about as far away from that as anybody.

During this week, the sun did not appear at all except on Thursday. It was going to be a hard week.

To cap it all, I woke up in the middle of the night with an absolutely certain feeling that there is no God and that the assertion there was amounted to pleasant, moralising, claptrap. The feeling passed, but it had been there.

In Monday’s reading, the disciples ask Jesus why they could not cast out somebody’s demons. Jesus replies:

This kind can come forth by nothing, but by prayer and fasting.

(Mark 9:14-29)

All I could do to confront this feeling was to pray and fall asleep.

Shouting Matchs

A week of thoughts about marriage ended with my wife shouting at me because once again I had left the lid not crewed on properly on the honey jar, which she had then dropped on the stone floor.

What irritating habits we have in marriage. Some people cannot screw the top on to tooth paste tubes. I have a maddening laziness about doing up the tops of jars I raid from the fridge.

Today’s reading from Mark 9:2:13 is about the Transfiguration. It has never really gripped me and I hurtle past it immersed in John Paul II’s Mysteries of Light in the Rosary. However, through Lectio Divina, it starts to grow on me.

What does the text mean in itself?


In the same gallery of the V&A is a tiny scrap of fabric from the Byzantine era.

It is a tapestry of an Ankh – a cross shape topped with an arch – a symbol abundant in Egyptian art. It was adopted by the Christian copts as early as the Fourth Century.

Symbols transcend language and today’s reading from Genesis 11:1-9 is about Babel and the understanding of language.

Today was the marriage of a friend and once again I heard that text from St. Paul and the Corinthians:

Love is patient,
love is kind and is not jealous;
love does not brag and is not arrogant,
does not act unbecomingly;
it does not seek its own.

Easby Cross

We had put out a statement about marriage and civil partnerships and are awaiting a flurry of emails. I don’t often speak up, but felt compelled to do so on this occasion.

But for me, the highlight of the day was Benediction in the Little Oratory – my son’s school.

After, I made a quick visit to the V&A. Where better to idle by twenty minutes?

There, I found the Easby Cross.

It dates from around 800AD. The monumental freestanding cross was unique to the British Isles and an extraordinary feat of engineering for that time. This specimen in the V&A is one of the finest surviving. Here I saw patterns from the British isles and pictures of the Apostles, carved with the majesty of European artistry.

In the Gallary of the V&A, I was suddenly back in Celtic mists on a highland moor setting up a symbol of faith against the Pagan darkness of Tribal Northern Europe.


Today, I am still thinking about water.

There was a long reading from Genesis about Noah’s watery experiences (Genesis 8-6-13, 20 – 22), and talks of a dove being released and returning to the Ark with ‘a new Olive branch at its beak.’

It set me thinking of our own flying about on the sea of life. I pondered once again.

‘In death you can only know God.’

After death, you know only God

We went to my friend Martin’s funeral.

During the short, lovely service his chaplain talked of his life and struggles.

A reading was given from St. Paul to the Corinthians, Chapter 13.

Love is patient,
love is kind and is not jealous;
love does not brag and is not arrogant,
does not act unbecomingly;
it does not seek its own,
is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered,
does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth;
bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails.

In a nice gesture, his family told us to take home one of his gifted naïve paintings, namely of Tintin on a Donkey in an Oriental Court, and we did.

I walked slowly back to Hammersmith Station from Mortlake along the towpath where I had so often walked with my dog, Freddie, when I lived there as a boy. Looking at the soft, grey Thames water in the twilight, I saw the rowers from Latymer boathouse glide by, the ripples from their oars fading as ther expanded out. I thout of Martin’s soul fading from earth, too.

Where is he now?


The government is proposing to abolish the distinction between Civil Partnerships and Marriage. Being a spiritual, rather than a political diary, this blog is not the place to go into all the arguments about that. However, I have been thinking a lot about marriage this week. In my view it is the most humanising and fruitful of all our imperfect human structures of relationship. Enough said.

The thought from the night before returned:

In death you can only know God.

So, you can know nothing else, because after death there is only God, or nothing – a void, as after consciousness of every and anything. I found this phrase enourmously satisfying, because it cannot be denied by believer or atheist.

It is why we need not fear death. It is utter annihilation or utter bliss in the presence of God. There is only life – nothing in between.

Life, then, is endlessly grey and doubting. Death either black or dazzlingly radiant.

Broken Plates

There was some row at home, which started because I clumsily broke a plate.

Resentment set in and I only made up after a few decades of the rosary on my way to the Abbey.

Perhaps this was destined to be the week of thinking about marriage. Indeed, today’s gospel from Matthew 5:17-37 comes down firmly in favour of marriage and against divorce.

Later, half asleep, a thought came to me.

‘After death you can only know God’

Between waking and sleeping it came and went, lost and found – as is the way of dreams.

But the next morning, it was still in my mind.

Dreaming Again

Gabriel was dreaming again. Mind was abandoned by body, who had passed away. Mind was aware then that he was not alone. All about him, on the stone bench were countless other minds. And mind asked: ‘Shall I become again the soul of another body?’

No. His path now is straight to God who, like mind, is pure consciousness.

He is there, and mind is within and without him.


I have been struggling all week with Rene Descartes’ problems of dislocation between mind and body (lazily, because I didn’t read literature on the subject).

It is very interesting, but I wouldn’t go as far as the Descartes follower Nicholas Mace Branche, who argued that it is God who made interaction between mental and physical happen.

Nor do I accept Gilbert Ryle’s 1999 ‘The Concept of the Ghost,’ which, as far as I understand, claims that Discantes is fundamentally mistaken.

To Ryle, it is absurd that the mind is like a ghost in the machine – that something immaterial can pull the levers of the material.

Perhaps my response is unduly simplistic – but I think both are right.

The mind has physical properties (chemical and electrical impulses that raise my arm to drink my cup of tea), but the projection of myself, Cogito, ergo sum (I think therefore I am), is a different, unmechanical process.

Scholastica and Benedict

In the Divine Office, there is a lovely story about St. Scholastica, the sister of St. Benedict.

He used to visit her every year. At the end of his last visit, when he got up to go, she begged him to stay. When Benedict refused, she prayed so hard that a deluge of rain arrived and he had to stay. They talked all night of spiritual things.

Three days later she was dead and he sensed from afar that her soul had left her body like a dove taking flight.

The power of her prayer had given them back those precious extra hours together.

Today’s reading (Luke 10:38-42), shows a parallel to the story.

As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!”

“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

An Austrian coin commemorating Sts. Benedict & Scholastica

The Big Society

I went to a seminar organised by the Archbishop of Westminster on the Big Society.

Having not spent years in a seminary learning philosophy and theology, much of the discussion went over my head. Neo-Aristotelian thought is not my strong point, but I do believe in a free society.

Under the spreading branches of the vast, regulatory state that we live in, everything else starts to wither.

Even in the last thirty years, the march of the audit state has continued apace.

Professionals can do nothing without being checked and double checked.

So I do believe in letting head teachers run their schools, their admissions, staff recuruitment and curriculum as they wish.

I also believe that the all-doing regulatory state saps moisture from self help organisations and religious groups.

The soul and the spirit of the people is dried up, too.

In the garden of our Catholic Church was a tree which are children used to enjoy climbing on.

It has been chopped down.

‘Why?’ I asked.

Because it was sucking moisture from the ground that was needed by the allotment users.

The tree was beautiful and useful in itself, but in order for the small organisms state’s garden to flourish, the tomatoes and the garden beans. The tree of the state must be pruned, but sadly, pruning is often not enough.

Lectio Divina

I came across an interesting explanation of Lectio Divina; the practice of religious reading.

In reading the Gospel, we should first work out what the text is trying to say in itself, second what it is saying to us and third what we are trying to say in reply.

Today’s reading is from Mark 7 14-23.

…When he had gone back into the house, away from the crowd, his disciples questioned him about the parable, he said to them “do you not understand either?” Can you not see that whatever goes into a person from the outside outside cannot make them unclean?

I often think I can see what a text is trying to say in itself. Perhaps even what it says to me. What I find difficult is what I say in reply.

Do I just agree with the statement: “It is what comes out of a man that makes him unclean?”

Mind, Body, Machine

I have long been fascinated by the relationship between mind and body; that it is the consciousness of self and body. It seems that neither in Science nor in Philosophy is there any satisfactory explanation of how a physical process in the brain can create any self consciousness.

Nobody has ever been able to teach a machine to think, although at one time, this was thought to be just round the corner.

In the year I was born – 1950 – the computer mathematician Alan Turing wrote:

I believe that at the end of the twentieth Century, the use of words and general educated opinions will have altered so much that we will be able to speak of machines thinking without expecting to be contradicted.

In fact, no one has even begun to make a machine think.

Is this because thought is fundamentally non mechanical?

If thinking is unrelated to the mechanics of the body, will it not survive the death of the body? Perhaps thought is, in fact, our soul.

Pray Unceasingly

There have been three themes running through my mind in this fifth week of ordinary time.

The first in the reality of ourselves as individuals.

The second is prayer and its purpose.

The third is what can be gained from Lectio Devina.

We started our week with our priest here in Lincolnshire telling us that we were people of prayer. That the Muslims may pray five times a day but we have to pray all day. That we should pray when we see an ambulance rushing past, or any event.

I find this almost impossible. Once I leave a church, I forget about it. I wonder what the trick is.

Tying a knot in one’s handkerchief, perhaps!

Mind and Body

Gabriel had a dream. His mind somehow became separated from his body. He was in a maze, but it was a maze without limit or time. The body wandered off.

Because it no longer had a mind, it was happy. It rushed two and fro, sometimes just the other side of the hedge from mind, sometimes miles away. The mind had no body and could not move for countless ages it sat on the stone bench at the centre of the maze. Because it had no body, it never grew old. It was never hungry of thirsty, nor cold.

But in its body, it had no pleasure. Eventually, Body returned. By now, those legs which had walked so briskly were bent and frail. Its once handsome face old and ugly. And body said to mind ‘come with me again, I have seen all things, been to all continents and have felt every pleasures, whereas you lie alone, unmoving, on your stone bench.’

Because mind could not talk or move, it could only pray. Mind’s whole was just prayer with and about God, who, like mind, was formless. And mind answered with no voice.

‘Leave me, I have no past or future or present; no movement; only stillness. Dead to the world, I am content.’


I was reading this passage which a friend saw. I can’t remember the exact words but it read something like:

The way to happiness is to do the Lords will.

I said to my friend, “All very well, but how do you know the Lord’s will?”

His faith is a lot greater than mine and to him the answer is simple: It is contained in John 13; Acknowledge that Jesus came into the world to save the world and then to follow him is to find happiness.

I wish I had such certainty.

Later today I was talking to a person about the nature of happiness. He came from Africa where many have nothing.

“Some people are happy with nothing,” he said, “some unhappy. Some people are happy with everything, some unhappy.”

Happiness has nothing to do with what we have but what we are.

But at the end of the day we can only take refuge in all of those lessons we learned in today’s Gospel.

Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, trust also in Me. In my Father’s house there are many mansions; otherwise I should have told you. I am going now to prepare a place for you.