Stitch by Stitch

Gemma Wilkinson reflects on the renewing creativity of God through embroidery. 


My mum taught me to crochet. I could do it before I was an ordinand and I can still do it now too! It is a skill I have honed and developed… I am teaching myself embroidery now because I feel I need to learn something other than theology while I’m training.

There are days where all I want to do is make things. Bread, cake, crocheted toys, or embroidered pictures. I wonder sometimes if this creative desire I have, the desire I must make things is a part of how I am made in his image. Creator God in whom all things had their beginning…

Some days I don’t feel like I contribute anything beautiful to the world, or the community to which I belong. Everyone has non-beautiful days, right? For me when they arrive I survive them by doing my best to make something beautiful anyway… Out of yarn, thread and fabric… To make something that is somehow lovelier than the sum of its parts. So, then I think God is making something beautiful out of me… perhaps in spite of me! Something that is more beautiful than the sum of my parts.

I also find that I cannot think too deeply or worry unduly when my mind is occupied by counting stitches. In those moments I feel myself relax and become less concerned with being perfect and more content with doing my best. It might not be the type of prayer you can read out in chapel… But for me it is the type of prayer where God answers back. In the quiet moments in my head I can hear that the spirit reminds me that I am not alone and bring me back to where I need to be. Stitch by stitch.



God’s Own Country: Learning a Language of Grace

Through the film ‘God’s Own Country’ (available online here), Andrew Bennison reflects on grace, speech and Christian life.


God’s Own Country (2017) is not, despite the title, an overtly religious film. Set on a struggling farm in the Pennines, it is a captivating story of loneliness turned into intimacy, played out against the backdrop of the rugged Yorkshire landscape. Twenty-something Johnny (Josh O’Connor) is the disaffected protagonist, shouldering the burden of running the farm following his father’s stroke, under the tight-lipped scrutiny of his grandmother. It’s an unforgiving way of life. Conversation in the farmhouse is clipped and economical: blunt Yorkshire idioms disclose a stoic resignation to life’s hardships and disappointments. For Johnny, escape takes the form of oblivion: binge-drinking and anonymous sex.

Into this world comes Romanian worker Gheorghe (Alec Secareanu), hired to help Johnny with the lambing season. Soft-eyed and pensive, Gheorghe brings a tenderness to the task which unsettles Johnny, who responds with a mixture of aggression and attraction. Their first sexual encounter is rough, urgent and wordless. But as the tenderness which Gheorghe shows to the animals is patiently held out to Johnny, a relationship develops in which Johnny becomes haltingly yet visibly alive. Like the new-born lambs taking their first fragile breaths, we see Johnny being awakened from the deadening effects of loneliness and monotony, both tentative and giddy in his new surroundings. As his father suffers another stroke and the family’s situation becomes even more precarious, Johnny discovers that he needs Gheorghe – a need that runs much deeper than merely keeping the farm afloat. Johnny’s struggle to voice this need marks the climax of the film, and it is only the risk of losing Gheorghe forever that brings him finally to admit it.

Above all, it strikes me that God’s Own Country is a story about learning to speak. The central irony is that the person who finds a voice is Johnny – the one who, initially, wields his coarse Yorkshire dialect as a weapon, defensively charged with xenophobia and machismo. It is Gheorghe, the outsider and non-native English speaker, who teaches Johnny how to speak. A further irony is that Gheorghe teaches Johnny mainly through silence. Through his searching and steady gaze, he coaxes Johnny to new depths of honesty. With his body, he patiently shows Johnny a new way of communicating, shaping his lust into tenderness, aggression into vulnerability, and fear into trust. The few words he says are simple but penetrating, often capturing a truth that Johnny has yet to articulate: ‘It’s beautiful here, but lonely, no?’  Through Johnny, he teaches the whole family a new language of honesty and truthfulness. In a poignant scene, Johnny washes his father in the bath after his second stroke, applying the sponge with a new-found gentleness and attention. His father touches his hand and says simply but meaningfully: ‘Thank you’.

Christian faith involves, I think, a whole series of new discoveries. Principal among them is the task of learning a new language – a new way of speaking shaped by grace, and shorn of fear and self-assertion. Often this may involve very few words, relying instead on habits of touch, attention and hospitality. In such ways, our ‘speaking’ (in a broad sense) becomes genuinely sacramental: a conduct of grace through which God can teach others the same language. This mutuality is reflected, I think, in St Paul’s words to the Corinthians: ‘We have spoken frankly to you; our heart is wide open to you. In return, open wide your hearts also’. (2 Cor. 6.11-13).

The challenge, of course, is that in this new way of speaking, someone has to speak first. Watching God’s Own Country, I found myself reflecting on my own experience of ‘coming out’ last year. The gift of a new-found honesty about myself was the opportunity it provided for speaking a new language, a language of truthfulness, and giving others the permission to do the same. The difficult thing is that very few people will begin the conversation. You have to risk speaking in a way that others might find strange and threatening. And you have to risk speaking first.

In God’s Own Country, Gheorghe speaks love into the life of Johnny. He speaks attentively, silently perceiving Johnny’s hidden pain. He speaks with courage, patiently enduring the risk of rejection. Above all, he speaks with grace – he makes it possible for Johnny to find his own voice. The film left me wondering how Gheorghe learnt to speak this language of grace, and how, in my own life, I might learn to speak it too.


Eva’s Call

Alice Watson reflects on the origins and creation of the community artwork ‘Eva’s Call,’ which arose from the communal lament of the prejudices faced by women responding to God’s call into ordained vocational ministry. 

The reflection is followed by further photographs of the artwork, and a sample of some of the things said to women clergy and ordinands. 

Image - Rosie Homer - 1.jpg

Awake, awake, put on your strength, O Zion!  Put on your beautiful garments.

Isaiah 52:1

The community piece of art which has come to be known as ‘Eva’s Call’ is a response to the ‘Nevertheless She Persisted’ movement which highlights female resistance and power against a backdrop of societal expectations of how a ‘woman’ or ‘girl’ should act.  The piece celebrates both the persistence of God’s call, and that of those who respond and follow.

It is based upon the lived experiences of ordained and ordinand women drawn from both within the Cuddesdon community and from wider groups of women, accessed through social media.  The response was overwhelming: each word you read has been said to or about women, and is reported without exaggeration or editing.  The central idea was to take these experiences and to transfigure them, through prayer and resistance.  Looking directly at institutional, and institutionalised sin, it responds in grace, seeking to transform structures and not participating within them.

Over three days, the college community was invited to come together to pray, to create, to transform, and to dream of a better world.  Candles were lit, cake was eaten, and people, from all walks of college life came by to share their stories, to think, and to produce the joy and lament that is evident within the work. We wove our stories, our tears and our laughter with those which we were given.

In a year which has both celebrated 100 years of the beginning of equal voting rights for women, 25 years of the ordination of women to the priesthood, and when the abuse, harassment, and subjugation of woman has been so visible, we worked conscious of our position of privilege as those able to live out their faith and their calling affirmed and supported.

On a personal note, this piece represents a decision and a challenge – to live out a vocation in a world which so often seems at odds with both conviction and Gospel.  It represents a desire to create a cultural memory, a knowledge and a strength, to sing our own Magnificat, and to suggest that this sin, whatever face it wears, is not OK.

Alice Watson

 Lent 2018

Image - Alice Watson

Image - Rosie Homer - 11

What course is your husband studying?

Do you know what St Paul says about women preaching?

I can’t debate things with you, you get too upset.



One of those silly feminists.

Keep away from those silly feminists.

Breastfeeding and hormonal.

Is your husband interested in theology?


That’s not the sort of language you expect from a lady vicar.

Should a lady vicar be wearing that?

How attractive should a female priest be?

(serving tea) I always knew you were a deacon at heart.

The problem is, you just seem to dominate the room. You just seem to be the focus of everyone’s attention.

Women only get through BAP to fill quotas.  Similar standard men wouldn’t be accepted.

You’re wearing too much makeup, you look unprofessional.

You’re not wearing enough makeup, you look unprofessional.

You’re only here because you’re a woman under 40.

Let the lady speak.

Will you ever feel equal to men?



A rose between two thorns

You just haven’t found the right man.

Will people take you seriously?

Girlish voice.

Should you be wearing that?

Should you be seen to be going to the pub?

Let me explain…

I bet the children like you.

Oh we’ve got the girls this morning.

We’re just not used to priests in high heels.

I worry about the men with all these women priests.

Not conclusive to mutual flourishing.

Is your husband training for ministry?

What will you do with your children?

Are you presiding today? If so I am leaving.

You’re pregnant? Oh, that’s going to be difficult.

So, your husband will look after the children? We can treat you like a man then.

Needs time to discern if true vocation is to motherhood.

Of course we talked about whether you were going to have children at PCC before you came.

Gosh, three women on a team??? How will that work? Poor xxx, being the only bloke.

I can’t stand up here in front of Almighty God with you.

Who is going to look after your child while you do your training?

Why do we waste old ladies’ heating money training people like you?  You’ll get pregnant and it’ll all be for nothing.

Isn’t your husband ashamed that you didn’t put his vocation first?

Your poor children.  They’ll hate church because you neglect them, and then it’s your fault they’ll go to hell.

You need to give me the dates of your periods so I know when not to take communion.

The vicar’s wife always…

But why won’t you join the clergy wives group?

You naughty girl.

You’re authoritarian.


Women should not be priests.

Well we don’t want two women.

Some women vicars are very good.

I think it’s a case that men are not being faithful to God’s call, so he’s had to call women, even if they aren’t his first choice.

You’ve ruined my worship.

Sometimes ordained women are a bad thing.

But we don’t want a matriarchy.

Using female language for God demeans Him.

Nice jugs.

Well, I’ve never heard any of these things said…

If we call priests Father, what will we call the women?!

How are you going to cope without a husband?

You’re damaging to the gospel.

So is this a surrogate marriage?

But you would have been such a good mum.

Does this mean you can’t have children?

What if you have another baby?

How can you possibly do this when you’re a wife and a mother?

How will that work with the children?

Is your husband a priest too?

You must be so busy with the children.

Are you the vicar of Dibley?

Make sure you don’t get a married woman with children next time we have a curate.

What’s that f**king bitch doing here?

Are you automatically a vicar because your husband is?

Well at least you’re good looking.

Is your husband ordained too?

You scrub up alright.

Your family will hold you back.

Obviously the advert has all the equal ops guff but students need someone to look up to, not a girlfriend or mother.

Good girl.

They’ll never put you forward for training.

You don’t look like the normal sort of vicar.

What about your family?

You’re throwing it all away.

Who will cook tea for your family if you’re not at home?

Your husband cooks? Aren’t you lucky.

If all vicars were as pretty as you, churches would be bursting at the seams.

Should you have this many tattoos and be a priest?

The congregation were just being kind with their positive feedback.

Jesus was a man.

Jesus only called men.

I can never hear you, your voice is too high.

You’ve lowered the tone in your voice, that’s much better!

Smile, it might never happen.

You just have to stand there looking beautiful.

I’ve never seen a woman priest who looked, well, like you.

You poor dear, you’ve taken on a lot.

Women aren’t meant to be ministers. It’s in the bible – look it up!

I believe every word of the bible.

Yes but you aren’t really the vicar, are you?

I don’t want to deliberately hurt your feelings.

My amazing friends can’t find a job because they won’t share an altar with a woman.

I don’t want to upset your feelings.

She’s very strident.

The best candidate will undoubtedly be a man.

We don’t feel it’s appropriate for a woman to be the vicar.

I didn’t put you on the rota because I assumed you’d still be breastfeeding.

We were warned we might be landed with a woman.

I can see why this church is growing. It’s got a sexy vicar.

That bloody woman.

Not very inclusive.

I spoke to your husband about it, to check it was ok with him.

Are you the strippergram?

What should we call your husband?

We already have a female vicar, we’d have rather had a male curate.

You won’t be so committed once you have the baby.


Oh good, you’re easy on the eye.

But I thought you wanted to have kids?

Oh you’re going to theological college to get married.

It’s a shame. When they let women do something the men stop.

That’s nice dear.

You won’t be presiding at communion while you’re on your period will you?

I mean you’re still going to be a youth worker right? Not a proper vicar.

Have you prayed about becoming a vicar?

Good for you.  I’d never want to have a female vicar.  But good for you.

This pathway would be unsuitable for you, being a mother of a small child.

It’s just not right is it? It’s like the women are taking over.

I’m sure God will call the best man.

Calling God She just isn’t inclusive.

It’s not that I don’t like women preaching, it’s just that their voices are too shrill.

What are you going to do after you ‘graduate’?

The lady leading the service.

So your husband must be the new curate then?

Oh you’re still breastfeeding, how will that work?

Oh no, they won’t accept your kind there.

I don’t think you have a chance!

All these women, it’s just the Church capitulating to culture.

You shouldn’t put your hair up, it makes you look unfriendly.

You must tie your hair up to preside, it makes you look more neutral.

Of course, you’ll be much more pastoral because you’re a woman.

Who is looking after your children?

Make sure you’re discreet when you feed your baby in church.

Good girl.

Where are your children? We never see them.

Your daughter looks so unhappy.

Where is your husband?

I think you will find ministry is incompatible with your duties as a wife and mother, my dear.

I can’t receive communion from someone who paints their nails.

We can’t confide in you, you’re too young.

Not bad for a woman.

You must promise not to have children whilst you’re here.

Your miscarriage is probably a blessing given your job.

You are paid to be here 100% for us, not for your children.

We all really love you, agape of course, but a bit of eros too – wink wink.

You should do something about your eyebrows.

Are you old enough?

Of course it helps that you’re easy on the eye.

Too obsessed with preaching on women in the bible.

I bet you’ve got suspenders on under that cassock.

But what about your family?

Aren’t you lucky your husband is letting you do this.

God doesn’t change so your call must be from the other one.

Have you thought about what earrings you wear to lead worship and whether they could be distracting?

You intimidate other women.

When you are ordained priest I won’t be able to worship here any more.


How are we supposed to concentrate on the service when we are distracted by your outfit?

We would have asked you, but we assumed you were busy with the children.

But your husband has worked so hard to get to where he is, it’ll all go to waste!

Here comes the coven!

You’ve ruined the Church of England.

Is there a male priest here?

But who will men go to if they have a problem?

We don’t want another female, it’ll upset the hen house.

Oh I do prefer women in skirts.

But you’re pregnant.

Are you going to get a lesbian haircut then?!

You’re going to be far too emotional if you get rejected from BAP, so it’s in your best interests to not be put forward

Wear your hair in a ponytail, you’ll be more attractive when talking to the young men.

The Whore of Babylon.

Satan’s Little Helper.

Where are your children then?

Is your husband here?

Does this mean you can’t get married?

I bet you can’t wait to have children.

Are you a children’s worker?

I didn’t’ recognise you without your children.

“Can everyone hear me?” No and we don’t want to.

Satan’s Whore

Daughter of Satan.

You’ve had a miscarriage, this vocation is just a surrogate child.

You’ve got a young child, now’s not a good time to train.

Are you in fancy dress?

I want my priest to be someone I get moral instruction from, not someone I wish to copulate with.

You’re very brave.

Our lovely little lady vicar.

You might have to work on your voice, as women’s voices can be shrill and unpleasant to listen to.

Keep wearing those skirts and batting your eyelids at the Bishop and you’ll not have to worry about your career.

Can we speak to your husband?

A woman who thinks she is a priest is like a whore trying to attend a cocktail party.  No one is fooled.

Well if she can’t preach, at least she’ll be nice to look at.

Now then, are you going to listen to the men in the room?

When’s all this women stuff going to be over and done with?

I am ashamed of you.

Oh, you’ve been a busy little girl, haven’t you?

You’ve misheard God.


She’s the four F’s of women’s ministry: Fat, Female, Forty, and Thick.

I’m not being told what to do by a slip of a girl!

You have desecrated this cathedral.

We shall have to find another church, we could never worship somewhere led by a woman.

Nice to see the girls leading the service today.

Not really leadership material.

That skirt is unfair to your brothers in Christ.

You’re just too emotional.

God’s Plan B.


If priests had looked like you when I was a lad, I might have gone to church!

I don’t believe in women priests.

I don’t take communion from you.

It’s nothing against you.

I don’t think we should have been given someone who will just go off and have babies.

Is your husband babysitting tonight?

Well that wasn’t bad for a little girl.

Do the gentlemanly thing and just resign.

A disaster.

Oh he loved women, in the kitchen and the bedroom, but not in positions of leadership and he’d really not want a woman doing his funeral.

Good girl.

Even more gorgeous than her photos.

Are you wearing mascara?

I’d have come to church if I’d known you’d looked like this.

I wish all churches had someone as good looking at you.

There’s plenty of work you can do without being a priest.

Stay in your lane.

Don’t you love God? He wouldn’t call you because you’re a woman.

Our party girl.

You’re doing the work of the devil.

You’re just a pseudo-priest.


I believe women should be nuns and nurses, not priests and doctors.

I just get such a maternal vibe looking at her.

*Spat in face* during procession.

A good fundraising idea – come to church to ogle the vicar.

You have a husband and two young children, isn’t that enough?

I won’t be able to take communion because you’re a woman, what are you going to do to accommodate me?

You probably won’t like this question but I need to know what kind of priest you are – did you lose your virginity before you got married?

I’ll put a list up of dates you’re presiding so people know when it’s safe to attend.

I can’t see you doing this, but I could see your husband as a vicar.  The calling must be for him.

I didn’t listen to the first few minutes of your sermon because you’re a woman.  Actually, you were quite good.

You have a young child, you don’t have time to train.

So who does the cooking in your house?

Of course I can’t take communion from you.

You need to have a family before you get ordained.

Of course, you’ll only be able to minister to other women and children.

You’ll need to apply for churches that men wouldn’t want to apply for.

Ooh if only I was 10 years younger.

I’m coming back to church, just to get you out!

There’s no sexism in the Church.

All women ministers should sign to say they won’t get pregnant whilst in their post.

So you’ll be able to bake cakes and preach about it.

As your brother in Christ I am obliged to encourage you to re-consider taking a pastor / teacher role in the church as it is clearly prohibited in God’s word.

Please don’t get me wrong, I’m not in any way patronising you.

I can’t see how the creator God would call you for something that He is against.

You say that God is not against women in leadership, so why was man created head?

Your pregnancy is bloody inconvenient.

You are the Mother of Satan

Are you planning on having more children because that could make training difficult?

You have a much nicer arse than that other female priest.  She has better tits though.

Cleavage in a cassock.

But what about your family?

Don’t your children miss you?

Yes, sweetheart.

She’s on her hobby horse again.

Do you think that this vocation is instead of a child?

Where do you intend to dump your children when taking services?

Your role is clearly to be with your children so we won’t be looking at stipendiary ministry.

You’re damaging your children.

Has the girl finished talking yet?

Where can I go to find a proper priest at Christmas?

Don’t go to the joint Good Friday service, someone pretending to be a priest will be leading it.

How dare you dress up as a man.

They’ve had two young females out of curacy, and now they’re looking for a mature man who will suit them better.

Is this the girls’ table?

Your husband is so brave!


I never really saw you as the leadership type.

Is your husband ordained as well?

Is that fancy dress?

To celebrate women’s episcopacy is triumphalist.

Why is someone so pretty going to be a vicar?

You’re too young to be a priest, and you’re a woman.

You’re far too pretty to be a vicar.

Hello, are you a strippergram?!

How will you manage the housework?

Where’s my kiss before you go?

Do you want to practise slamming the door in case you can’t manage it?

If you really knew your bible and were a proper Christian you would know that women can’t be priests.

Its good you’ve found something proper to do now the children have left home.

And what will you do for support if God doesn’t give you a husband?

Blonde vicar with a cracking rack.

Can you ask them to make sure we get a man next time?

Ha, well you would love beaver wouldn’t you…

You are the Devil’s gateway!

I don’t accept the patriarchal narrative.

Don’t worry, we’ll do everything possible to keep a pretty little thing like you in the diocese.

Now, the question is sex, that’s not how much you would like, but whether you’re male or female.

Do you mind if I touch your hair? It’s irresistible.

A Moment of Curious Holiness

Two poems, ‘This is My Body,’ and ‘Gifted,’ by Cat Connolly, with a reflection on playfully tracing lines between God and humanity through words. 

Illustration: ‘Wings’ by Matthew Colclough


My understanding of what it means to be artistic has been stretched in the last couple of years. For a long time I inwardly mourned my own lack of ability when it comes to painting, drawing, crafting, and all related subjects.


However, I was prompted a while ago to start writing, and to think of writing as being an art form. Perhaps this is obvious to some. For me it was bizarrely revolutionary.


And I love words. I love that emotions and images unique to each person can be conjured as the reader is taken by the hand and linguistically twirled. I love the beauty and flow of language captured on a page. I love the ambiguity and power that can coexist in simple communication.


So now, gently encouraged, I write. Not often, not much, and not with the dexterity of an acclaimed wordsmith. But it has become for me a way of being, journaling marbled with prayer and wonder, self-reflection and creativity tentatively combined.


It has become something vulnerable, but also bold. A small step of playful bravery. Musings between myself and God. And somehow, this encapsulates the way I have come to think of art.


 This is My Body


A moment of curious holiness.

Juxtaposition of beauty and brokenness.

As the melody of the Agnus Dei surrounds my soul with calm, the wafer is cracked.

A sharp cut of sound against a softness of voices.

And as we sing to the Lamb, the altar again bears the weight of outpoured love,


so that each can receive to themselves.

Wonderment surrounds the indwelling of God.

So violently torn asunder,

the broken reaches out and offers restoration

with open,


blessing hands.





‘Are those wings?’ you ask, looking over my shoulder.

‘What?’ Caught off guard the question surprises me. Someone asked me that once before, a long time ago. ‘I dream of flying sometimes, but I don’t have wings!’ I laugh.

Your smile is quizzical, as if you don’t quite believe me.

Later, I wonder. What is that other people see? I am quite ordinary and unremarkable. Only the gifted people have wings.

I dream it again that night – the gentle whisper of wind, the graceful dancing beneath the stars, the music carrying my bare feet – only, my feet aren’t on the ground.

When I wake I turn in the mirror. Is that a glimpse, a glimmer of something? But it can’t be, I tell myself. It’s not possible.

Time passes by. I see you again, and now, finally, I ask the question.

‘What makes someone gifted?’

This time your smile is kind. ‘They believe’, you reply.

My favourite place in the world is a roof garden by the river, where fairy lights twinkle in the overhead branches. It is quiet, and peaceful. Eventually I am alone in the twilight. The calm serenity falls like a mist around me and all seems content, full of wonder, perfect.

I take a breath and step out into the evening air.

My wings are beautiful.



The Gypsy Nun

A translation of Federico García Lorca’s ‘La Monja Gitana’ and reflection by Lyndon Webb

La Monja Gitana

Silencio de cal y mirto.
Malvas en las hierbas finas.
La monja borda alhelíes
sobre una tela pajiza.
Vuelan en la araña gris,
siete pájaros del prisma.
La iglesia gruñe a lo lejos
como un oso panza arriba.
¡Qué bien borda! ¡Con qué gracia!
Sobre la tela pajiza,
ella quisiera bordar
flores de su fantasía.
¡Qué girasol! ¡Qué magnolia
de lentejuelas y cintas!
¡Qué azafranes y qué lunas,
en el mantel de la misa!
Cinco toronjas se endulzan
en la cercana cocina.
Las cinco llagas de Cristo
cortadas en Almería.
Por los ojos de la monja
galopan dos caballistas.
Un rumor último y sordo
le despega la camisa,
y al mirar nubes y montes
en las yertas lejanías,
se quiebra su corazón
de azúcar y yerbaluisa.
¡Oh!, qué llanura empinada
con veinte soles arriba.
¡Qué ríos puestos de pie
vislumbra su fantasía!
Pero sigue con sus flores,
mientras que de pie, en la brisa,
la luz juega el ajedrez
alto de la celosía.

The Gypsy Nun

Silence of lime-wash and myrtle.
Mallows among the culinary herbs.
The nun embroiders wallflowers
on cloth the colour of straw.
Within the grey spider soar
seven birds of the prism.
The church groans in the distance
like a bear, paunch to the sky.
How well she sews! Such grace!
Across the straw-coloured web,
she longs to embroider
the flowers from her dreams.
O sunflower! O magnolia
of sequins and ribbons!
O crocuses and moons,
for the altar cloth!
Five grapefruits are ripening
in the nearby kitchen.
The five wounds of Christ
cut in Almería.
Before the nun’s eyes
two horsemen gallop by.
A soft and final whisper
slips off her blouse,
and seeing clouds and mountains
in the rigid distance,
it breaks her heart
of sugar and lemon verbena.
Oh! the soaring plains
with twenty suns overhead.
What rivers begin to run
in her dreams!
But she continues with her flowers,
whilst standing overhead, in the breeze,
the light plays the high
chess of the trellis.

Federico García Lorca, 1928
from the ‘Romancero Gitano’ (Gypsy Ballads)


Training for ordination during LBGT history month and the current political climate, Lorca’s voice speaks with a particular freshness, and an unsettling urgency. His nun is unaware of the nationalism which will sweep over Spain in the coming decade, drawing the country as tightly behind the Pyrenees as she is drawn behind the lime-washed walls of the monastery. Already she feels the repression of her gypsy heritage, a common mallow among the ‘fines herbes’ of the other nuns. That repression will tighten and tighten under Franco, whose regime will murder Lorca in less than ten years for being too colourful himself. He was executed in 1936 at the ‘Great Spring’ for ‘homosexual and abnormal practices’.


As he stood in that final place, I wonder whether Lorca thought of the rivers which sprung up at his gypsy nun’s feet as she too dreamt of a more colourful world; I wonder whether some church stood idle nearby, paunch to the sky; I wonder whether he thought of the outrageous cerise of grapefruits, and the wounds of Christ, another man too colourful for his climate. I hope the church of the day had not whitewashed Christ into one more oppressive figure at that moment; I hope in the crucified and risen one, Lorca saw a friend for the seven bright birds of his indecent imagination, which dared to remind Spain about the earth and sex and the strength of women – who invariably take centre stage in his works, alongside men of the fields and the road, in protest against the fragile masculinities of Francoist Spain.


I look forward to being sent out of this place, in the name of the indecent Christ, Son of the Creator who dared to embroider the flowers of Her dreams across the straw-coloured earth; I can’t wait to call out the colours in other people’s lives.



Nautilus Shell

A poem by Claire Carruthers.


Claire Carruthers lived at Ripon College Cuddesdon while her spouse trained for ordained ministry from 2015-17. The poem below was written following a bible study, as Claire reflected on the works of Thomas Keating and Cynthia Bourgeault in relation to nuance and mystery in biblical interpretation. The image of the Nautilus shell came to her: “so accepting of everything, and not judging anything. It has helped me going forward to cope with the times like that and also when I feel so far behind in my spiritual journey. So I offer it to you!”


Nautilus Shell


Old Ken woke at sunrise

on winter mornings to

collect nautilus shells

before the seagulls

tore them apart.

I was transfixed

by his rows of shells:

each one utterly perfect

and completely whole

whether large or very tiny.


The growing nautilus

creates new chambers to move into

whilst retaining earlier ones.

At every moment and at

any time, it remains

completely, mathematically whole –

whether a simple coil

or a multi-layered ancient.

And none of its work is

ever lost; long vacated chambers

exist as beautiful

logarithmic spirals within its

pearlescent heart, always

part of the whole, always completing the pattern.


And it is so with our own inner work –

whether we are a many-whorled ancient or

just starting out.

Our present growing, along with every chamber

from which we have

expanded, forms part of an

organically perfect whole

that is at every moment

and at any time, always




The Light Overcomes the Darkness

Revd. Dr. Sarah Brush reflects on light overcoming darkness through drawing. 


It was some time in 2005 that an image came to me which I just had to get on paper. I started drawing it and like many adults or even over 7s who are drawing, I was dissatisfied with it as it didn’t look like I wanted it to look. The pencil didn’t do what it needed to.

So, I tried again and again.

Finally, prayerfully, the image was there.

In simple black and white:

A silhouette of the head of the Christ on the cross, crowned with thorns.

Yet there was another crown too; a crown of light bursting forth from the head of Jesus and breaking through the darkness.

Of course, drawing in pencil, the light was created by filling in the dark and leaving the light. It rather touched me that; the light was already there – I filled in the darkness and through the darkness the light showed more clearly. The light was already there. It is we who bring the darkness.

Uniquely the cross is the place where the light meets the darkness and where it overcomes it.

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it. … The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God.

John 1.1-5 & 9-12


This passage from John sets out John’s whole take on the Good News. The light into darkness. The world in which Jesus was crucified was in darkness. They saw the cross as darkness – misery, torture and death. They did not understand. On Good Friday we try to focus on the cross in this way. Yet I find it very difficult. I cannot see the cross of shame without seeing the cross of glory. “The light shines in the darkness and the darkness cannot overcome it”

So this black and white sketch developed into the picture below.


Dr Sarah Brush - Crucifixion

Note that the darkness is not all bleak and blackness.

No there are colours there.

Just as sin is not all repulsive and evil – if only it were, we would never sin at all.

No in fact sin can be enjoyable and seemingly fulfilling.

Yet the light is not all pure stark whiteness either, far from it.

The cross here is like a prism which shows the light as it truly is; a rainbow of colours.