I lift my voice to praise you

David Candlin reflects on the joy of music-making and the gift of praising God with this talent. 

 

At Morning Prayer in the Edmund King Chapel on Thursday I’ll jump up at the blessing, put on my guitar and strum the opening chords of a contemporary worship song.

 

Then we’ll start singing and, in the next two or three minutes, we’ll express our thanks and praise to almighty God for the innumerable gifts he bestows on us. It’s something we’ve done many times this past two years.

 

It’s thanks to the warmth and generosity of this community that I have rediscovered the gift of music-making. I learned guitar at primary school and played in bands as a teenager at school and university. But then I got a job and life got serious.

I stopped making music.

 

Looking back I can see that – without realising it – I thought you had to be really good at something to do it. My role models were driven people who focused on what they were good at.

 

There was simply not time to do everything and it seemed you needed to drop peripheral things to succeed in your chosen field. Or maybe I just wasn’t good at finding balance in my life.

 

God rejoices when we offer up our gifts in worship and praise. Thank you to all at Cuddesdon who have so warmly embraced and encouraged me as I rediscover the gift of music-making and the joy it brings to us and to God.

 

guitar jpg

 

Two poems: ‘Because they are no more’ and ‘I’ve had better days’

Two inter-related poems by Dr. Cathy Ross, on the Massacre of the Innocents told in the second chapter of Matthew’s gospel. The text gives the context for the Holy Family’s Flight to Egypt, told in the installation of this image of Mary and the Christ Child as refugees

 

Because they are no more

Soldiers.
Levi and Joshua rush in from outside
Excited, noisy, eager to tell me
Soldiers! Soldiers! They shout in unison.

 

Hush.
Quiet! I admonish them gently
You will wake up our sleeping baby boy
Asleep now after incessant crying.

 

Soldiers.
The boys pant again, more softly this time.
Jumping out of trucks. Striding into homes.
Nervous, I peer out the curtained window.

 

Pounding.
At the door. At the front door. At our door.
Sudden, Brutal. Insistent. Entitled.
Slowly, terrified, I open the door.

 

Baby.
Where is the baby? The soldiers demand.
Sleeping in his cradle, replies Levi,
Awe, fascination and fear on his face.

 

No.
No baby I insist, heavy in my heart
Sensing danger, cruelty and evil.
I move my body to block their entry.

 

Panic.
As they push me to one side, carelessly.
Invade my home, my precious sanctuary
Tracking my sleeping baby boy, Samuel.

 

Abruptly.
The soldier tears him from his small cradle,
Samuel awakes, gurgles, chortles softly
Locks his gaze onto this khaki stranger.

 

Whimpers.
Now Samuel sees the soldier’s troubled face
Quickly the soldier turns his face away
How do you kill a gurgling baby boy?

 

Herod.
He mouths. We just have to obey the orders given.
I scream. I leap forward to save Samuel
The other one pins my arms. Well practised.

 

Blood.
He quietly slits my baby’s throat.

 

Silence.
The silence of the entire universe.
Because they are no more. No more. No more.

 

 

I’ve had better days

 

I had good days
The camaraderie. Training. Purpose.
Join the army. Travel and see the world.
Taxpayer funded. All bills paid, this gig.

 

I had good days
I lacked nothing. My body fit and lean,
My hands not idle. My mind engaged, alert,
My soul, the padre to attend to.

 

I had good days
I enjoyed being useful, part of a team.
Our platoon always obeyed the orders,
We made a difference. Our presence noted.

 

I’ve had better days
The mothers, the bitches screamed and wailed,
They fought like mad she-devils, insanely
Desperate to save their infant children
From our murderous slaughter.

 

I’ve had better days
I am crazy now. The boys’ small bodies
Haunt me still. Boys under two years old
Murdered by psychotic command of a
Paranoid king. Herod, he was called
If I remember rightly.
Or wrongly.

 

I’ve had better days.

 

Nov 2017.
Iffley.

 

massacre innocents.jpg

 

 

 

Snapchatting the Sistine Chapel

 

A poem by Sorrel Wood.

 

I looked for you in the Sistine Chapel,

Peering through a bustling scrum of tourists.

One tour guide waved a faded Minnie Mouse

Precariously flopping on a selfie-stick

To herd his chattering, snap-chatting flock.

 

Then I saw you: bearded, robed, reclining;

Your Father Christmas face so iconic

That it was all a disappointing déjà-vu.

Your accusatory finger pointed

Towards a languid, naked, tight-muscled Adam

Genitals small as a bunch of shrivelled figs.

 

A megaphone bellowed demands for silence

And I tried to pray, I really tried

But a backpack swung in my praying face

And I was carried by the rushing crowd

Like a rootless branch of river driftwood

Out of the chapel, towards the cafe.

 

I sought you out in the vast corridors

Of the Vatican art collection.

I found you, a thousand versions of you:

Baby doll eyes, girlish hair, impotent

Bearing faint traces of Christ-likeness

Like the almost-familiarity

Of meeting someone’s cousin.

 

I tried to buy you in the gift shop.

A glittering, gold cross (five hundred Euros)

Sparkled in the soft, Italian light.

“Nothing made in China! Everything blessed!”

A wrinkled nun informed me with a grin.

I wondered if the blessing extended

To the red-rimmed shot glasses, key rings,

The black and white “sexy priests” calendar.

 

I pined for you in the almost-quiet

Of a shrine at St Peter’s Basilica.

I lit a turgid electric candle

Longing for the warm light of a real flame.

And as the cameras clicked I understood

 

That I would find you where you’ve always been:

Healing leprous scabs, washing grubby feet

Kissing the smudged-lipstick face of the whore

Scooping up the knee-grazed child again

And when I found you, I would come to see

I was already lost in your embrace.

 

 

Sistine-Chapel-Michelangelo

 

Geraldine Crimmins: wellbeing and the arts

During Arts Weeks 2018 at Ripon College Cuddesdon, artist and wellbeing advocate Geraldine Crimmins came to speak to students and staff at the college.

 

Geraldine Crimmins is a London-based artist, currently in a professional residency at the Old Diorama Arts Centre in Camden.

 

Geraldine has exhibited at Somerset House and Spitalfields amongst other places, and since 2015 has won four awards for her work, including ‘Outstanding Progression and Achievement in the Arts’ from the Westminster Adult Education Service in 2015, and in 2016 she was awarded the national prize at the UK’s Festival of Learning.

 

Geraldine has said that it is her view that creativity can be a source of nourishment, a kind of ‘food,’ especially for the vulnerable.

 

Although a budding artist in school, Geraldine convinced herself she ‘didn’t have the imagination’ and went on to pursue a successful career as a counsellor and psychotherapist.

 

Geraldine joined us to share the story of her remarkable life, and the part in which the arts have played on that journey, followed by a Q&A session towards the end.

 

A good introductory article on Geraldine’s life and work is provided in this interview in The Canary, and we encourage a visit to her website which has more information, and an an excellent gallery.

 

Here is the talk, followed by the Q&A (which begins at 22.00 minutes), with Geraldine in full:

 

 

 

Kingdom People

A hymn and a reflection on collaborative hymn-writing

by Sarah Brush and Michael Brierley.

 

Tend us, Lord, as Kingdom People

planted in the world, your field:

love, compassion, justice, freedom

are the crop we long to yield.

 

At our root, in depth and richness,

love divine provides the ground,

that our lives, secure and nourished,

may in love for all abound.

 

Forth from love there stems compassion:

we will weep with those who mourn,

staying with the lost and lonely

through the darkness to the dawn.

 

From compassion, justice blossoms

for the weak, outcast, oppressed,

casting down the rich and mighty

so that meek and poor are blest.

 

Freedom is the fruit of justice –

not the choice of our own way,

but the God-giv’n grace to follow

Christ in every step each day.

 

Love, compassion, justice, freedom –

grant, creator God, our call

by your Spirit so to grow

’til Christ our Lord fills all in all.

 

Sarah Brush (1974) Michael Brierley (1973)

Tune:  Servant Song

 

Below is a collaborative reflection about a piece of creative collaboration in the writing of the hymn above.  The words of the Revd Canon Dr Michael Brierley, Precentor of Worcester Cathedral and Cuddesdon alumnus are in black and the words of the Revd Dr Sarah Brush, Tutor in Pastoral Theology at Cuddesdon are in green.

 

The Diocese of Worcester has an initiative ‘Kingdom People’, which seeks to enable Christian communities more fully to embody four ‘kingdom values’  –  love, compassion, justice and freedom.

 

I’d always thought those four words had such a good rhythm to them and, as I was preparing to leave a diocese I’d worked in for nearly ten years, I tried to put them to music. At an earlier diocesan event we had used the hymn Brother Sister Let Me Serve You for which I’d written a couple of extra verses reflecting the particular prayer activities at the event. I thought using that tune would be a suitable echo for people to half hear in their minds as they sang the new words; linking life as Kingdom People with the Servant Song.

 

I worked on several versions of the words but couldn’t get them quite right. Thinking it would be good to have someone else reflect on it, I sent it to our cathedral Precentor, Michael Brierley who had incorporated other modern hymn compositions by young clergy, like Ally Barrett, in various services for the diocese.

 

Sarah Brush, then a curate in the diocese, sent some hymn words on this theme for possible inclusion at the diocesan services which I help to arrange at the cathedral.  I was both excited by their freshness, their structure (a verse on each value, introduced and concluded) and their topicality, and also found myself wondering whether one or two corners could be further polished.

 

I’d never worked on a hymn before, and found that a couple of train journeys to London on the sluggish line through the Cotswolds were the ideal setting for the polishing.  I ended up re-writing more than I expected.  The metre (and tune) was 8787, and the difficulty of filling the unemphasised, last syllable on the first and third lines spilt over into altering other lines.

 

It wasn’t always an easy process; sometimes we would critique phrases the other had painstakingly constructed or pitch for a change of one particular word. Often, changes meant more changes were needed and sacrifices of other words were necessary. Yet most of the time, perhaps begrudgingly on my part at times, Michael’s suggestions improved what I’d written and even expressed something I’d been trying to say but hadn’t quite achieved.

 

There was also the issue of focusing on a single metaphor – that of a plant – to run through all the verses.

 

This was one particular development which was a truly collaborative creation: the hymn transformed from reflecting the Kingdom People values with only a passing allusion to the vine logo which accompanied them to one which was woven throughout with an extended metaphor of a growing plant. This development gave us lots of new challenges but resulted in something so much better than my original version.

 

Several email exchanges later, the result was premiered at the chrism eucharist in Worcester Cathedral in Holy Week 2018.  All the better for being a genuinely collaborative exercise, it was a harder task than I imagined: but having done one, a next one – given a train journey or two through the Cotswolds – might turn out to be easier …

 

 

kingdom people

 

 

 

 

 

 

This is My Body

A poem by Rev’d. Ruth Wells

This is my body
This
Is my body
This is
My body
This is my
Body;
Broken

I trace the cross on my belly
Vertical linea nigra
This black line, marking out your expected arrival
Then the horizontal one I barely dare to touch
The ‘sun roof’ as my sister called it
Made for your quick escape
Your great evacuation
Made in haste.
This is my body broken for you.

This is my blood shed.
The messy reality of new life
Carnage
The aftermath
Blood for weeks
That secret that nobody told me first time round
The woosiness of the initial venture out of bed
Tentative steps like learning to walk again
The return of sensation to limbs numb
The shock of it all.
This is my blood.

And as I flit inbetween sleep and wake
In the liminal hours
The sound of your guzzling
Lulling me into dreamlike trance
I chance again upon the Eucharist
The broken body
The blood shed
And I’m walking the line
Placing your broken body into outstretched hands
Some eager
Others hesitant
All broken
And my brokenness
My bloodshed
Becomes all the more poignant
The collision of humanity & the Divine

And as I hold you to me
Our heartbeats echoing
I am caught up in it all
The brokenness and the beauty.

Wells

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.

 

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.

Irrational.

Ice-queen.

One of those silly feminists.

Keep away from those silly feminists.

Breastfeeding and hormonal.

Is your husband interested in theology?

LIBERAL. CHRISTIAN. SLUT.

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?

Silencer.

Oppressor.

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.

YOU WILL BURN IN HELL YOU F**KING C**T.

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.

Abomination.

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.

Intimidating.

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.

Vicarette.

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.

Intimidating.

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.

SPAWN OF SATAN.

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!

Priestess.

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.

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.

 

gypsy

Lila: Life, Blood, and Birth into Love

Jamie Franklin reflects on parenthood, God’s love for humanity, and the miracle of birth into love, through ‘Lila’ by Marilynne Robinson. 

Published in 2014, Lila is the third book in Marilynne Robinson’s rightly celebrated Gilead trilogy. It is also, in my opinion, its crowning glory. Robinson is a deeply and obviously Christian writer, and yet she is also widely accepted by the broader society as one of the greatest living Western novelists, winning the Pulitzer Prize for literature and being chosen as an interviewee by no less than Barack Obama due to his affection for her books.

The eponymous Lila is a multi-dimensional narrative that illuminates Lila’s present by gradually revealing to us her past. We find her as a child ‘just there on the stoop in the dark, hugging herself against the cold, all cried out and nearly sleeping’ and we come to understand that she was neglected by her parents to the point of death when her salvation arrived in the form of Doll, a mysterious woman who takes upon herself the burden to remove Lila from her abusive situation and to give her the best life that she can. Doll and Lila spend the latter’s formative years wandering around from place to place, sometimes alone, sometimes with a gang of similarly rootless nomads headed up by the ruthlessly pragmatic character of Doane, who at one stage abandons Lila on a church porch when Doll is absent for a few days and hence not around to take care of her. After the death of Doll and a period in the hell-like prison of a whorehouse (the book’s language), the present of the book finds Lila in Gilead, the hometown of preacher and genuine man of God John Ames, living in an abandoned shack. Ames meets Lila, falls in love with her, marries her, seemingly unconcerned about her past, and then has a child with her, a baby boy. He is also very old, but I am fairly that his exact age is never mentioned in any of the novels. The moving denouement of the work finds Lila’s existence transformed by the relentless love of John Ames, whose affection for her is something that she finds it hard to accept much less to comprehend. Ames’ age, however, means that inevitably Lila will be left alone to raise their son at a not-so-distant point in his young life, the tragic side to love, being the fear and the inevitability of this sort of parting.

I was deeply moved reading Lila, and I have thought about it a lot subsequently, particularly around the time of the birth of my own son, Rupert, and our continued raising of our one year old boy Rafe. The temptation of critics of Lila (though I’m not aware of any) would be to say that it is a fundamentally patriarchal text that indicates that the woman Lila’s only possibly redemption could come in the form a male hero-character. This criticism, though tempting, would be to miss entirely the point and hence the power of the story. The fact is that Lila is twice saved and twice utterly helpless: the first as a little girl, neglected by the selfishness of her parents, and the second as a woman, whose life has gradually declined into a state of sub-human non-being. The first time, she is saved by Doll; the second time, she is saved by the prodigal love of John Ames. A leitmotif in the novel is the continual reappearance of Ezekiel 16:6: ‘And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live.’ Indeed, the book could be seen as an extended commentary upon this passage. The fact is that Lila stands for all of us: we are all helpless, like the little girl sitting outside on the stoop of her house; no eye pitied us, nobody had compassion upon us, but the Lord came to us in his grace. This is the love that Lila finds it so hard to accept, to draw near to. But it is the love by which she is ultimately transformed. It is a love which is sheer grace, totally unnecessary for God to give but absolutely vital for us to receive. It is giftedness and prodigality.

I watched Rupert being born (I really watched it) and this verse came back to me powerfully: ‘I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live.’ When Rupert’s head popped out, I could see nothing else but blood. When eventually his little body followed it was entirely grey and it took him a few second to draw breath to cry, hoping that someone, something, would be there to help him on the other side. He was covered in blood and meconium and other unidentifiable gunk. Strange images occur to you: I thought he looked like a small, hollow sock, so inhuman and incoherent did he look at that moment.

Children simply cannot live without love, not just because they need it emotionally, but because if somebody didn’t care for them, from the moment of conception in the womb to their birth and early fragile and vulnerable days and ever beyond, they would die without hope. And, in that sense, we are all, every single one of us, however imperfectly, literally loved into being. If somebody hadn’t taken pity on us; if somebody hadn’t seen us wallowing in our blood and from then on said to us, ‘Live”, we could not have done so. Maximus the Confessor says in the Four Centuries on Love, ‘We do not know God from his being but from his magnificent works and his Providence for beings. Through these as through mirrors we perceive his infinite goodness and wisdom and power’. Childhood and infancy is unquestionably one of those mirrors, in which, as parents, we are invited to participate in an imperfect way in the perfect parental love of God for us, and, in which, as children, we first learn utter dependency and reliance upon another which is the crucial, base and fundamental fact of our existence. As Maximus taught, if we can have eyes to see these things, then truly we can sense God’s presence among us. Nowhere is this clearer to me than in the beauty of my children’s lives, in their love and dependency upon me, and in my love for them.

And when I passed by thee, and saw thee polluted in thine own blood, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live; yea, I said unto thee when thou wast in thy blood, Live.

I finished Lila during a long period of reading late into the night. After I had finished, and despite the fact that we have been trying to get our toddler Rafe to sleep in his cot recently, when he awoke a bit later on, I took him to bed with me and allowed him to sleep with his arms around my neck, in the still darkness aware of the mystery of his being.