A Taunting Twilight

23 June 2021

Splinters of light,

rounded,

softened

and receding to the shadows within the twilight.

A subduing cloak envelopes a remaining edge,

smothering clarity of conviction and denial.

An inward swelling realisation of a rising tide, the incessant tide,

consuming all we’d known,

cherished routinely and felt we’d owned.

The distance is lost,

as nearness alone

becomes all that can now be known.

We find ourselves grasping at what remains,

hesitant at that which lies beyond.

 Our memory, the amassed memory,

like a mystery,

furtive and flitting,

drifting in and out of cognizance,

a solace for the growing uncertainty

that had threatened our stability and security.

From reality to fantasy, and back again,

as twilight returns again and again,

twisting and turning our taunted imagination.

We have travelled, to this time,

to this time, here and now,

of that we can be sure;

but we’ll travel still, you and I,

to another dawn,

where the mirror complete and true

and the image truly divine,

are both, then, but maybe only then, real

as real as can be.

Romans 8:22-27

22We know that the whole creation has been groaning in labour pains until now; 23and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly while we wait for adoption, the redemption of our bodies. 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

26Likewise the Spirit helps us in our weakness; for we do not know how to pray as we ought, but that very Spirit intercedes with sighs too deep for words. 27And God, who searches the heart, knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God.

The late John Taylor, an ex President of Conference, said when he was senior Methodist tutor at Queens Theological College that the task at the college was to teach ministerial students to ‘wrestle with Romans.’

Such was the level of importance placed on what we call the Letter to the Romans.

Today, I want to wrestle with one brief and important aspect of the passage we have just read.

 24For in hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? 25But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience.

I invite you to think for a few moments what it is that you want.

Now consider what it is that you need.

Are the answers the same or different?

Is what you want different to what you need? For most people they are different.

We might want many things that we definitely don’t need.

Now consider what it is that you wish for, and compare it to what you hope for.

Are they the same things? For most people they are the same.

So what we want and what we need are often different.

However, what we wish for and what we hope for are often the same.

Yet the outcome of what we wish for and what we hope for can be very different.

Usually what we wish for is out of reach. For example, I might wish for a two-seater hand-built Morgan in British racing green. I might wish for it – but at around £100,000 out of the show room – I know I will never have one.

On the other hand, there are many things that in faith I hope for and those things are generally not out of reach. That is the teaching of Jesus and it is the interpretation of Paul. We are taught that the Kingdom, the sovereign rule of God, is within touching distance, it is there ready to be grasped, for all those who will it.

Therefore, a list of things for which we hope should not be a wish list. Our hope list should be of those things we know from experience, faith and understanding are perfectly possible to attain; even though we may not experience them as fully as we’d like in the here and now, one day they will be realised.

Sadly, our conviction in such hopes being realised is sometimes diminished by the pain and misery of life, the injustices and conflicts within our world.

As Martin Luther King said “It’s all right to tell a man to lift himself by his own bootstraps, but it is cruel jest to say to a bootless man that he ought to lift himself by his own bootstraps.”

That is not just an accurate statement in economic terms; it is also true in terms of faith and discipleship. If we do not live in a context where faith is present in the lives of others, it is that much harder for ourselves to live in faith. Hence the need to be in a community of believers, the Church. As so many Christian leaders have said over e centuries, ‘The Bible knows nothing of solitary religion.’ It is that much harder to have hope in our lives and world if we are exercising our faith alone..

Therefore, many of us have good reason not to hope.

  • Life may have dealt cruel blows.
  • Relationships may not have turned as they we had intended.
  • Maybe our ambitions have been thwarted, our dreams not realised.

However, when we enter and dwell within a community of faith, despite all the challenges of doing so, we recognise there is at least one relationship that does work. We come to see there is at least one who remains faithful to us through thick and thin. There is at least one purpose we will always find fulfilling.

According to Jesus, and as interpreted by Paul, our relationship with God in Christ is rock steady. God remains faithful to us, even as we are sometimes unfaithful to God. Our discipleship may sometimes be hard graft, but it is never without reason. Knowing all this is crucial for us in our lives of faith and our reason to hope.

In an age where routine, ritual and discipline is slipping, hope is in short supply. When we recognise the importance of a devotional routine, reading and reflecting on scripture, offering regular and frequent prayer, there is greater hope in our lives. When we mark the passage of time and especially those seasons that call to mind the life, death and resurrection of Christ, there is greater hope in our lives. When we remain steadfast to responding to God’s claims on our lives and world, there is greater hope in our lives.

This is what I believe John Wesley and his brother Charles just a few days before him, experienced at Aldersgate on the evening of the 24th May 1738. The warmed heart, as the Spirit filled his life, was the ultimate recognition, that all is well.

The faithfulness and diligence of discipleship becomes that much easier once a complete awareness of God’s love is present in the life of the believer. Know this, and know it fully without question, doubt or hesitation – that no matter what God is in deepest love with you, and all will be well.

1 Through all the changing scenes of life,
in trouble and in joy,
the praises of my God shall still
my heart and tongue employ.

2 O magnify the Lord with me,
with me exalt his name;
when in distress, to him I called
he to my rescue came.

3 The hosts of God encamp around
the dwellings of the just;
his saving help he gives to all
who in his mercy trust.

4 O taste his goodness, prove his love;
experience will decide
how blessed they are, and only they,
who in his truth confide.

5 Fear him, you saints, and you will then
have nothing else to fear;
his service shall be your delight,
your needs shall be his care.

6 To Father, Son and Spirit, praise!
To God whom we adore
be worship, glory, power and love,
both now and evermore!


Nicholas Brady (1659 – 1726) and Nahum Tate (1652 – 1715) © Jubilate Hymns Ltd

A great teacher was once on a journey.  The teacher came upon a bandit who threatened to kill him.  ‘Before you do so’ responded the teacher, ‘please grant me one last wish’. ‘Your wish is granted’ replied the bandit. ‘Well then’’ said the teacher, ‘firstly, chop that branch from the tree’. With a swift sweep of his sword, the bandit slashed the branch from the tree.  ‘My final wish,’ said the teacher ‘is that you put the branch back.’  The bandit laughed, ‘you’re crazy to think anyone can do that.’ ‘On the contrary,’ countered the great teacher. ‘It is you who are crazy to think that you are mighty because you can wound and destroy. That is the task of children. The mighty know how to create and heal.’

This serves to highlight the disruptive nature of humankind, as opposed to the creative energies of God.

The crucifixion of Jesus highlights the fact that humanity seeks to damage the best of us. You don’t have to believe in the Jesus that I believe him to be, to know this to be true. Even his harshest critics admit that Jesus was a good, honest, wise, and insightful teacher at the very least. However, for those of us who see Jesus as God incarnate, we know that humanity will even seek to destroy the eternal goodness that is God, God alone.

On the other hand, the resurrection of Jesus highlights the fact that God will have the last say. That even in the darkness God will provide for us undimmed light.

Once travel restrictions are lifted again, some will journey many miles to observe beauty yet overlook beauty on their doorstep. They will gaze upon a deeply moving work of art depicting poverty yet step past the beggar on the street outside the gallery. Any fool can build a cross, only God can empty a tomb.

Over the last year, we may feel that we have been at the foot of the cross; for far too long its shadow has been cast across the landscape of our lives and disrupted our plans. However, winter has turned to spring, the days have lengthened, and the colours are returning, and we now stand at the gate of a garden. In the garden, there is a tomb. The light is not penetrating it, but radiating from it. This gives us all hope.

As each day passes, we know that we get nearer to the end of a long journey, this period of pandemic. We will not only give thanks for our survival, we will also rejoice in the resurrection of those whom we have loved and lost along the way.

This is the unshakeable faith that I have in the One who creates and heals, the One who empties a tomb.

Holy Week Reflection

4 April 2021

Isaiah 50:4-9

4The Lord God has given me the tongue of a teacher, that I may know how to sustain the weary with a word. Morning by morning he wakens— wakens my ear to listen as those who are taught. 5The Lord God has opened my ear, and I was not rebellious, I did not turn backward. 6I gave my back to those who struck me, and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard; I did not hide my face from insult and spitting. 7The Lord God helps me; therefore I have not been disgraced; therefore I have set my face like flint, and I know that I shall not be put to shame; 8he who vindicates me is near. Who will contend with me? Let us stand up together. Who are my adversaries? Let them confront me. 9It is the Lord God who helps me; who will declare me guilty? All of them will wear out like a garment; the moth will eat them up.

The Agony of Sacrifice | VCS

One of my favourite paintings in the Methodist Collection of Art is Theyre Lee Elliott’s Tree Form (agony). It was painted in 1959 soon after the artist survived a life-threatening illness.  The Crucified Christ and the Cross-have merged into, or out of the trunk of a tree.  The style reflects the shattered trees in No Man’s Land from the First World War and the barbed war reinforces the possibility.

I recently discovered the preparatory sketches for the work. The tree form is from different angles and at various stages of development. The one most resembling the finished work is on the bottom right, albeit a reverse and the arms are not bent down from the elbow. 

However, it was the sketch on the bottom left of the page that I found most intriguing.

We are accustomed to seeing the Crucified Jesus front on, or occasionally side on and of course Salvador Dali famously painted the scene from above his head as the dying Jesus looked upon the Galilean Lake, boat and fisherman below him.

Nevertheless, to see the back of the crucified Jesus is probably unique in my opinion. Yet why should it be?

I gave my back to those who struck me,
    and my cheeks to those who pulled out the beard;
I did not hide my face
    from insult and spitting.

The gnarled back, the tense muscles that were whipped and bruised from the blows inflicted upon it; the back that stretched and strained as Jesus struggled and stumbled towards Golgotha. The bared back that few would have seen is now visible for the world to gaze upon.

To turn ones back is often seen as dismissive of something, of an incident, or an issue, or even a person.

In this instance, Isaiah sees it as an example of how to behave well when others assault us – perhaps still dismissive, but from a position of strength in the face of unjust hostility. To develop this in a paraphrase:

Strike me and I will not even defend myself – I will turn my back and you can strike me at will. I won’t even see it coming.

We are familiar with the turning of the cheek, the offering of a shirt when sued for a cloak, the walking of an extra mile.  This passage from Isaiah clearly illustrates that such teaching was not innovative on the part of Jesus, but part of a long and rich tradition.

The whole point is to shame the oppressor, to not strike back when there would be every reason to do so:

  • When slapped, turn the cheek so that the striker can physically punch you.
  • When sued for something, give them even more than they ask.
  • When forced to carry a load to the next milepost, as required by Roman law, go beyond it to the next milepost. 

An oppressor thinks that from a position of strength they can make the oppressed look weak and foolish. However, the tables are turned when we bear this teaching in mind and it is the oppressor who comes to be seen as weak. They thought they were going to punish us, but through our indifference, we make them look foolish.

As Isaiah continued:

The Lord God helps me;
    therefore I have not been disgraced;
therefore I have set my face like flint,
    and I know that I shall not be put to shame;
    he who vindicates me is near.

The words of Isaiah, like the teaching of Jesus much later, give us an indication of what we must do when attacked and how we might come through it. The Crucified Jesus exemplifies such instruction and, like no other, speaks to us in our pain and suffering.

None of this is possible of course unless we have firm faith, often nurtured through experience, trial and error over the years.  We come to come to trust in a God who will not let us down, but given time provides us with the eventual victory that is ours in Christ. It may not come in the here and now, but one glorious day it will for sure.

It was one of my favourite spiritual writers, Carlo Carretto, who said:

Anyone who dreams of a triumphant Church in this world is mistaken and is ……… reverting to a childish conception of God and humanity. The true Church is the Church of the defeated, of the weak, of the poor, of those on the fringe of society.

Carretto then criticises great gatherings of Christians where ‘there are many lusty people (shouting) hosannas!’ Where realities are forgotten in a wave of escapism, and everything on the surface seems fine.

Carretto goes on to suggest that

rallies of Christians are more suitable in hospitals, in prisons, in shanty towns, in mental homes, where people cry, where people suffer, where the devastation of sin is being physically endured, sin in the form of the arrogance of the rich and powerful.

Isaiah may instruct us to turn our backs to be beaten at will by our oppressors.  Jesus may teach us to go the extra mile. In addition, Lee Elliott may provide for us the image of a tortured back, but in so doing each of theme teach us to face the reality of suffering, our won and that of our neighbours.

It is this to which are called, to pledge solidarity with the afflicted and oppressed. To take on the pain and sorrow that comes with costly grace. To let go of self and embrace the cross of Christ Jesus. 

When my love for man grows weak,

When for stronger faith I seek,

Hill of Calvary, I go

To the scenes of fear and woe.

There behold his agony,

Suffered on the bitter tree;

See his anguish, see his faith,

Love triumphant still in death.

Then to life I turn again,

Learning all the worth of pain,

Learning all the might that lies

In a full self-sacrifice.

John Reynell Wretford (1800-81)

Theyre Lee Elliiott, Crucified Tree Form (The Agony), Trustees Methodist Church Purposes

Come what may, I want to shout hosanna today


I want to shout hosanna today.

I want to stand against the wind,

to feel the passing of the dust on my face

and the debris at my feet.

I want to cloak myself in Sunday best

and join with a singing crowd.

I want to shout hosanna today.


I know we have come a long way

and even been tired by it.

I know there is still a journey ahead

and my mind, when captured by it, is uneasy.

I know some think of it as momentary

But I want to shout hosanna today.


I will not desist from joy that might yet be mine.

I will not shy away from those who look to light in me

and who want a share in such a lightness of being.

I will not feel shame in my pleasure

For I want to shout hosanna today.


The bliss, the delight, this treasure,

call it what you will,

is no transitory glee

but a state that will open me

to an eternal ecstasy

that is definitely heaven.

So, knowing it will echo through the ages,

I will shout hosanna today.

When I was a boy, I looked for God by directing my gaze towards the light coming from on high.

As a lad, I looked for God in my brothers and sisters around me.

When I grew up, I sought God along desert tracks.

Now I have come to the end of the road, I have only to close my eyes and their God is, within me.

If I see light, I see God in the light, and if I see darkness, I feel God in the darkness. But always within me.

I no longer even feel the need to search for God, or to kneel down to pray, or to think or speak in order to communicate with God.

I only need to think of my human state – and there, in faith, I see God in the midst.

Carlo Carretto, Selected Writings, p.61, Orbis Books 1994

Carlo Carretto was a man of great faith, of deep faith. In this particular passage, he looks back on his life and the formation of that faith as stages along the way.

When I consider the Bible. I do not see it as a textbook of history, nor a science manual, but a record of faith. Individuals, tribes, and on occasion, a nation explored faith development. Looking back on the past, they recorded how interaction occurred with God, from the Garden of Eden, to the fulfilment in the New Jerusalem. At first, God spoke in a cloud, later in a bush, then through a wrestling Angel. Eventually a voice in a wilderness, a child in the manger; and of course, a man walking with a cross on his back.

In the early stages of our faith development, it is important to look up at light in the hope that we might find God. Then we might look around us, to see if God is in our brothers and sisters. However, for the one of a mature faith, it is no surprise to find God in places, so many would overlook. In those whose lives are far from holy or in works that are far from sacred, places that would be surprising to many, God is to be found.

So it is that we might find God in bread and wine yes, but also in hunger and thirst. We might find God in Sacred Scripture, but we may also find God in secular text. It is immaterial to the one of a deep mature faith, where God is found, all that we know is that God is in the midst of us.

A Palm Sunday Reflection

Mark 11 When they were approaching Jerusalem, at Bethphage and Bethany, near the Mount of Olives, he sent two of his disciples and said to them, “Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately as you enter it, you will find tied there a colt that has never been ridden; untie it and bring it. If anyone says to you, ‘Why are you doing this?’ just say this, ‘The Lord needs it and will send it back here immediately.’” They went away and found a colt tied near a door, outside in the street. As they were untying it, some of the bystanders said to them, “What are you doing, untying the colt?” They told them what Jesus had said; and they allowed them to take it. Then they brought the colt to Jesus and threw their cloaks on it; and he sat on it. Many people spread their cloaks on the road, and others spread leafy branches that they had cut in the fields. Then those who went ahead and those who followed were shouting,

“Hosanna!
    Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!
10 
    Blessed is the coming kingdom of our ancestor David!
Hosanna in the highest heaven!”

11 Then he entered Jerusalem and went into the temple; and when he had looked around at everything, as it was already late, he went out to Bethany with the twelve.

Twenty-five years ago, I went on a pilgrimage. I had been excited for months about it. I went with three friends and we joined a quarter of a million others over August bank holiday weekend. It was to be one of the biggest rock concerts in Britain for over twenty years.  On that previous occasion I think that Led Zeppelin were the star turn. In 1995, it was the turn of Oasis. 125,000 on the Saturday, 125,000 on the Sunday.  We were there for the Saturday gig. 

I have vivid memories of the occasion; it was an unforgettable experience. I recall leaving the car and walking across the fields dusty from the crowds that had gone before me. There were thousands of people milling around, stallholders, entertainers, and people laughing and joking. A large fence surrounded the open-air arena and the gates through it were at that time closed.  It all built up the anticipation. When the gates finally opened, we rushed in, even though there were three or four hours to go before the first band would put in an appearance. Knebworth is a natural amphitheatre. To enter it and gaze upon the distant stage, set for a major performance, helped create a sense that the moment was very real.

When Jesus arrived at the Mount of Olives on that day, he looked down upon the city.  It was contained within walls. For a festival such as Passover, the crowds would spill out of the city camping in the surrounding hills. The most popular would be the Mount of Olives.  It provides a glorious view of the city and more important the Temple platform with the Holy of Holies built over the summit of Mount Moriah where Abraham was to have sacrificed Isaac generations before. There would have been great excitement and great anticipation the moment Jesus passed through the crowds, descended the Mount and entered through the city gates.

For now, no one would want to think about the risks this involved. No one would want to think about the dangers that lay ahead: of the temple being trashed, of a betrayal by a kiss in the darkest of nights, of the hostility or indeed of a lonely death.

When I rushed through the gates at Knebworth 25 years ago, I didn’t consider the lack of toilet facilities, the thirst that would inevitably ensue under a long August sun.   I didn’t think of the hour and a half it would take me to get out of the venue or the three hours to get out of the car park. I didn’t think of the long journey home, or the exhaustion the next day. For now, this was enough. This was all I needed.

There is a story from the monastic tradition. A lot of tension had built up amongst the brothers and there seemed no way of repairing the relationships.  Then they remembered that at another monastery there was a very wise, learned, and insightful Abbot. So some of the brothers set out to meet with him. They were excited and full of anticipation. When they told the Abbot of their predicament: that there had been much falling out in their own monastery and they had no way of understanding how they could heal the rifts they asked him what they were to do. The Abbot looked upon them with kindly eyes and responded that each time they saw a brother they were to remember this: that one day they will all die.

For now, if you are able to shout hosanna then shout it out loudly. We know what lies ahead for all of us, but for now, our hosannas may be enough. For the Kingdom of God is at hand

Lent 5

17 March 2021

John 12.20-26

20 Now among those who went up to worship at the festival were some Greeks. 21 They came to Philip, who was from Bethsaida in Galilee, and said to him, “Sir, we wish to see Jesus.” 22 Philip went and told Andrew; then Andrew and Philip went and told Jesus. 23 Jesus answered them, “The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. 24 Very truly, I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains just a single grain; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. 25 Those who love their life lose it, and those who hate their life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me, and where I am, there will my servant be also. Whoever serves me, the Father will honour.

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote a play about the Second World War in which the Nazis capture a group of Resistance members.  They are put it in a cell and await execution at dawn. A little while later someone else is thrown into the cell. The members of the Resistance group recognise him as their leader.  However, he hasn’t been brought in for being a member of the Resistance. The Gestapo are unaware of his activities; he has simply been arrested for breaking the curfew. The condemned prisoners commit themselves to holding their tongues so that the Gestapo will not realise that they have caught their leader. The leader is of course appreciative and expresses his feelings by stating that he thanks them for himself, for the resistance, and for France, and that their courage and sacrifice will never be forgotten. Then one of the prisoners, who happens to be his fiancée, tells him to shut up. Nothing he could say could possibly mean anything to them. ‘I’m not blaming you,’ she says. ‘The fact is that you are a living man, and I’m a dead woman. The living and the dead have nothing to say to each other, and that fact puts an impenetrable barrier between us.’[i]

The mediaeval mystic Thomas à Kempis wrote in his book The Imitation of Christ that there are many people who love the cross, but hate the way of the cross. They are happy to see Jesus on the cross but are unwilling to carry their own. 

All too often those who will not walk the way of self-sacrifice and suffering claim to be our leaders; people who get others to face or to fire the bullets but are not prepared to put themselves in harm’s way.

The writer of the letter to the Philippians quotes an early Church hymn where Jesus is said to self-empty, to makes himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, of a slave, and being born in human likeness, to walk the way of death, even death on a cross. 

This is clearly no cartoon strip superhero. Jesus is not Chris de Burgh’s spaceman who came travelling on a ship from outer space. He is flesh and he is blood. Homo Sapien, bone of our bone, DNA of our DNA. Only then can God speak to us.  Once God is prepared to take on our flesh, our life, our suffering, our death ca we know that this God is worth following, worth giving up our life for, no one else will do. 

One of the most important theological books of the 20th century has to be Jürgen Moltmann’s The Crucified God. In it he asserts the centrality of the crucifixion:

The death of Jesus on the cross is the centre of all Christian theology. It is not the only theme of theology, but it is in effect the entry to its problems and answers on earth. All Christian statements about God, about creation, about sin and death have their focal point in the crucified Christ. All Christian statements about history, about the church, about faith and sanctification, about the future and about hope stem from the crucified Christ.[ii] 


[i] Quoted by Michael Battle in Feasting on the Word Year B, Vol2, p 142, WJK 2008

[ii] Jürgen Moltmann, The Crucified Christ, p204 SCM 1974

When did we see you clinging to a life raft, or washed up on the beach?

When did we hear you cry out through the walls that divide us, or through your forcibly sealed lips?

When did we see tears roll down your cheeks at the protest, or fall to the ground as you were pinned down?

When did we hear you sigh in sadness as we laughed at the joke about you, or when we clicked ‘like’?

When did we ever miss coming to your rescue, or challenging your persecutor, or rejecting the normalisation of evil?

When did we ever owe you a favour?

When could we have ever done anything to help?

When we have so much to cope with already?Greater ones than me forgive me.

Forgive my indifference, my complicity, my trivialisation and my self-absorption.

Stir me, O God, into confidence and courage. Amen

Lent 4

14 March 2021

Lent 4

John 3

14 And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. 17 “Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.”

I had no better friend than Dave. Dave was a senior police officer and for a while he was in Traffic. Please don’t get thinking he stood on the corner of a junction waving cars through; no, Dave tended to drive high powered unmarked police vehicles through Manchester in high-speed chases. Dave often confided in me that he felt I, a minister, had his dream job. I’ll be absolutely honest with you, I think he had my dream job. I would have absolutely loved driving round a city in a high-powered unmarked police car, pulling over the bad guys. How often have I longed to switch on a blue flashing light after someone has cut me up at a junction or traffic lights? However, for a period I had the best of both worlds. For 2 or 3 years, I was an assistant police chaplain in East Manchester.


I met some interesting characters during that time, some entertaining and some pretty dangerous. Rarely would a police officer tell me why a prisoner was in the cell but occasionally it was for my own safety that I was told what it was that they were being investigated for or had been charged with. On one such occasion, I had to meet with someone who had just murdered his girlfriend the day before. The police had been trying to get him for many years because he had beaten up many women but none of them had been prepared to follow it through in court, which was in itself a tragedy. However, the tragedy now was that another young woman had trusted the man seated opposite me. To all intents and purposes, he seemed a good guy. We had a very reasonable conversation about all sorts of things; he was calm and he was collected. No one could have guessed what he had done less than 24 hours earlier. All was relaxed in the cell until he asked me an important question. Could I arrange for him to attend the funeral? I had to explain to him that this wasn’t my job. My job was to listen to him, but not represent him. He gently persisted with the question. I told him that he needed to speak to his solicitor and not a chaplain about such a matter. There came a point when he obviously realised that he was getting nowhere. He looked up at me. My spine went cold. This man, who had been chatting reasonably with me for 15 20-minutes, suddenly became a very different person altogether. It was as if someone had switched off a light. The transformation was extraordinary. I realised then how quickly someone can change their demeanour. It was instant. I felt incredibly vulnerable and afraid for my own safety. I rose from the bench and knocked on the cell door. The police always had someone outside the door if I was meeting with someone who was potentially dangerous. On a couple of occasions, a police officer had actually rescued me when it got a little difficult.


All of this reminds me of how each and every one of us has the ability to do great good and the capacity to do great harm. Jesus said, ‘people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed.’


I’ve been thinking over the last week or so of Princess Diana. I recall vividly the eulogy given by her brother Earl Spencer. In it, he remarked on the fact that those who are kind and good often draw out the worst in some. Inherent goodness doesn’t just inspire people to do further good, it can actually inspire people to do bad things. It is certainly true that people often feel uncomfortable by goodness in others. It can highlight their own limitations; it can make them feel guilty or ashamed.


This is an important message for us so that we might recognise it not only in others, but hopefully in ourselves too.