Friday, November 30, 2012

Francis, Thomas and my Canine Friends

I'm told that Thomas Aquinas held that animals have no souls. St. Francis for his part could talk of sister/brother dog and I have had so many canine friends that I'm in no doubt that, if it is a soul that makes one a person, dogs have souls. I'm sure about that. Of course its true of horses too! And probably in a different way cats!

Well anyhow I've often thought it would be interesting to hear a discussion between Francis and Aquinas. So if my recent near death experience had a downside I suppose it was putting off to a later date the much looked forward to debate.

Then in what did not feel at all like a dream although it might have been. Perhaps a vision of the night (whatever one of those is!)  this:

I was with two other children of men who I knew to be Francis and Aquinas in a wide meadow - the Elysian Fields ? - and with us were  all the dogs I have ever known. Not just my friends: Spot my godfather's dog with whom the 8 yearold me went rabbiting; Toby my cousin Sue's Black Lab an inseperable friend; Brandy who ate socks and passed them through at the other end darned as Uncle Tom would quip. No among them all was Squirty Bertie a dacshound with bowel problems who lent his name to any sauce my family topped ice cream with and a not to be trusted Dacshound who sunk his teeth into me when I was visiting a recently bereaved and newly drunk widow!

All these dogs, known and loved, some with really bad traits, were romping through the grass - Billy, Jacqueline and Darren's Springer was flying his ears as he sprung clear of the grass line and following him were his Springer replacement brothers, Bracken and Barley.  And Benny, my long legged Jack Russel was there too! In life he had one bad trait,  he hated all other dogs - no that's not true I think it was all other quadrapeds -  but now he was transformed and seemed to enjoy the company. I'd catch a glimpse of him with William the Jack Russel companion of Uncle Tom's later years who would attack the postman and post van and was always in the process getting run over with little or no effect!

Janie's dogs the threee legged Muffin and the randy Weaver could be glimpsed in the throng and her recently deceased Red Setter Sienna added class to the the gathering.  And quietly by my side sat Gyp Sue and Tim's cattle dog waiting for me to kick a stone towards him that he could chew.

And Thomas and Francis and I wreathed in smiles and saluting at a passing figure. Was that the Archangel raphael with his dog?!

Thursday, November 29, 2012


West of Sheringham, on the North Norfolk Coastal Path, there’s a hill with amazing views.  From the top, next to the old Coast Guard lookout, one can see as far as the eye can see and sometimes a little further!  On a sunny autumn afternoon it was the first hill I’d climbed in weeks.

Putting one foot in front of the other and fighting for my breath, I thought of the last hill I remember climbing.  One’s summer’s evening I’d taken the rocky path from Castleton, in Derbyshire’s Peak District , up through a darkening Cave Dale and on to sunlit heights. From the hillside I’d watched a shepherd tending his flock in the fields below.  It is very much 23rd Psalm country!  

Little did I guess I’d soon find myself  passing through valley of the shadow of death !  A cardiac arrest started me out on a journey through first aid, to a hospital bed  and onto a life saving operation.  Overall, the experience has felt less like a passage through a dark vale and more like walking along a cliff top, or a mountain ridge!  The path brought me perilously close to the edge but it has given me a unique perspective!  

As in other pilgrimages, there were rich relationships on the way.  Good Samaritans - friends, paramedics, nursing staff, doctors and surgeons – saved my life!  I am amazed at people’s kindness and skill!  And immensely thankful to those who accompanied me on the way.  As in the Emmaus story (Luke 24.13 and following),  there have been resting places when my companions and I realized Christ’s presence and times on the road when new understanding blazed with  shining light.

When I first  came to in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, the chaplain gave me a holding cross.  It came with me to  Papworth Hospital and its still by my bed.  I thought I knew all about holding crosses. I’ve given them to people myself! They are a small wooden cross one can keep in one’s hand , as a way of prayer when other resources are low. Something to hang on to when times are hard!  

What I discovered was that it was not so much that I held the cross.  Rather, the cross held me! In the gloomiest times it was a sign of the presence of the Good Shepherd  guarding and guiding as I travelled a rocky road.

Thursday, November 01, 2012

A Cloud of Prayer (?)

Three and a half weeks after bypass surgery and  five and a half weeks after a cardiac arrest I'm beginning to get some perspective.
So much good will from so many people!
Standing in my Christian culture I'd call it prayer! It feels like I'v been upheld by a great cloud of prayer!
But the prayer has not been limited to fully paid up Christians, the good will transcends all the barriers and definitions!
Maybe Carl Rogers has a phrase I can borrow - Unconditional Positive Regard!

Yes, that does it! And I think the effect on me as a human being has been the sort of effect that Rogers imagined. I have a sense of myself as a more fully functioning human being: 

1. Open to experience: both positive and negative emotions accepted. Negative feelings are not denied, but worked through (rather than resort to ego defence mechanisms).
2. Existential living: in touch with different experiences as they occur in life, avoiding prejudging and preconceptions. Being able to live and fully appreciate the present, not always looking back to the past or forward to the future (i.e. living for the moment).
3. Trust feelings: feeling, instincts and gut-reactions are paid attention to and trusted. People’s own decisions are the right ones and we should trust ourselves to make the right choices.
4. Creativity: creative thinking and risk taking are features of a person’s life. Person does not play safe all the time. This involves the ability to adjust and change and seek new experiences.
5. Fulfilled life: person is happy and satisfied with life, and always looking for new challenges and experiences.

Mcleod, S. A. (2007). Simply Psychology - Psychology Articles for Students. Retrieved from

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Remembering ????

His name is not important. He came to children's church when I was Vicar of Old Lakenham.

Then we would see each other week by week, at Assembly, at Edith Cavell School.
It was the head teacher's suggestion that he and I had some one to one time.
She knew I had some play therapy experience, and although I wasn't being supervised at the time, what was suggested was hardly therapy.

 So they set us up in a small annex of a classroom with a window in the door for safeguarding purposes. Over a period of weeks, aided and abetted by me, the lad imagined and assembled a village out of discarded boxes and old cardboard.

I thought it was going really well and never did understand what triggered the crisis.
I never saw it coming. In rage my builder began to destroy the village!

I stood up and remonstrated!  

Wrong move!

Up he jumped, onto some spare desks.
He was as far away from me as he could get!
Dancing around on top of the desks!
Darting one way then another!

There was no way I could have caught him even if I'd wanted to.

Dropping to the ground, I made myself very small.
Instinctively, I had understood the child was expecting this angry adult to hit him!

Lesson's end found us both on the floor - calm and wondering what it was all about!
And me thinking I really, really did need supervision!

Last night I recognised the frightened child in myself.
The mirror image of my story is equally true.

 I've not come to terms with  those powerful people within the church who thought it necessary
to  undermine, threaten,  misrepresent and disadvantage me.

They frightened me so much that I failed to realise they find me threatening!


It was fear that got the King of Glory nailed to a tree.

In the watches of the night

 The notes from Papworth warn that some sleeplessness can be expected after heart surgery.

It feels to me as if I have caught something of the Psalmist

 Psalm 66

5 My soul is satisfied as with a rich feast,*
   and my mouth praises you with joyful lips
6 when I think of you on my bed,
   and meditate on you in the watches of the night;
7 for you have been my help,
   and in the shadow of your wings I sing for joy.
8 My soul clings to you;
   your right hand upholds me.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Day 10 after Bypass Surgery

 Back home from Papworth with these coronary artery bypass grafts. 
Following a cardiac arrest on Friday 28th September 

I awoke to find an otter in the dyke and a kingfisher diving for his breakfast. My thoughts went to Gerard Manly Hopkins

Texts have sparked and flashed with meaning and  high intensity as I have said my office. Yesterday I was reading Paul's Letter to the Philippians 1:
" For to me, living is Christ and dying is gain. If I am to live in the flesh, that means fruitful labour for me"
There's still work for me to do then!

Today, in a collect, I was praying, "graft in our hearts the love of your name

Thursday, October 04, 2012

My New Patron

Back in 2008 I visited the tomb of Lazarus - see

Lazarus's friend Jesus gave him a fresh lease of life when he fell dangerously ill (John 11). 
My friends Gary and Paul have just done the same for me!
So along with Francis (its his feast day today!) and Richard of Chichester, Lazarus has now become special for me!

Tuesday, October 02, 2012

Liturgy Sparking and Crackling

 Its Morning Prayer again and the words flash about me with  an intensity to 

wonder at. The opening canticle had me singing: 

Bless the Lord,  O my soul,
and all that is within me bless his holy name.
Bless the Lord, O my soul,
and forget not all his benefits;
Who forgives all your sins
and heals all your infirmities;
Who redeems your life from the Pit
and crowns you with faithful love  and compassion;
Who satisfies you with good things,
so that your youth is renewed like an eagle’

The plan is for me to have a heart bypass operation . i.e. for them to renew my plumbing!

Hope the outcome is my youth renewed like an eagle

Monday, October 01, 2012

Great Yarmouth: a near death experience

Elizabth Kubler Ross's reearch into death and dying 

(e.g. lifeafterdeath ) records how going down a tunnel to a place of light is a common place experience
I have lost the memory but my children retell the story I told to them as I recovered consciousness:
"I was going down (the River Bure ?  Acle Straiht? ) to Great Yarmouth, got to the Berney Arms and decided to turn back!

I learned that when my heart stopped Paul,Gary and the lady from St. John's Ambulence worked on me untill the ambulence men restarted my heart!

Is Great Yarmouth a place of light? Is it heaven or hell?

I'm sorry not to remember anything but I have a sense that in many ways it would have been OK to go all the way to  Yarmouth ( and to the God who is like an endless sea?)

Excited to find myself alive at 3a.m. this morning I decided to say Morning Prayer. How the words burned with meaning as I recited Psalm 71!

Forsake me not, O God,
when I am old and grey-headed, 
till I make known your deeds to the next generation
and your power to all that are to come.

I've been brought back from the brink of death for a purpose, then!?

A Walk Too Near the Edge for Comfort

A week and a day after a cardiac arrest the Norfolk Pilgrim is sitting up and taking notice in the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital
Like the boy Lazarus, whose friend Jesus raised him to live the rest of his life, his friends kept him going until the paramedics could set his ticker going again!
Many of his posts have been about walks on the edge. This past week has got him nearer to the edge than ever before!

Many of the earlier posts in this blog began life as articles in the Norwich Diocese magazine Across the See. His aim is to use this place to log his insights as he continues to tread the pilgrim path on the edge

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

A MichaelMass Meditation in Summer

An advert for the  annual Norfolk Churches Trust bike ride reminded me what a joy church crawling by bike can be.  Swapping feet for wheels I set out under a summer sky.

East of  Beeston, St. Laurence  I found myself meandering down  quiet lanes towards St. Michael and All  Angels,Barton Turf. When I got there I found an open door, a warm welcome to visitors (make yourself a cup of coffee) and a vibrant stillness.

Its 15th century rood screen has St. Michael and the nine orders of angels. Wandering in the churchyard before taking my leave I saw that the local church has a care for other feathered friends too! There’s an owl box high in an old oak tree!

My next church destination would be  St. Michael, Irstead.  But on the way , I popped into the White Horse at Neatistead for refreshments and explored the edge of Barton Broad.

At Heron’s Carr  there’s boardwalk that gives wheelchair access through the woody marsh and on to a lookout point overlooking the broad. Norfolk Wildlife Trust are doing wonders with Barton Broad.  In order to regenerate the polluted waters they pumped tons of nitrate and phosphate rich mud from the bottom. Now wildlife is thriving!

Butterflies and Dragon Flies were in the air as I walked to the viewpoint among the reeds.  Out on the broad Common Terns and Great Crested Grebes dived for fish. Among the boats dashing to and fro on a stiff breeze were those of the Nancy Oldfield Trust.  Based at Neatishead they providing water based activities for people with disabilities.

Arriving at Irstead  I admired a carving of St. Michael over the church porch. He’s wrestling with a great serpent!  As I sat reflectively in church thinking about angels and the fight against evil, I pondered the Evensong verse and response:-

Give peace in our time, O Lord : .Because there is none other that fighteth for us, but only thou, O God.

I concluded that it’s not accurate !  You can read of St. Michael and all the hosts of heaven fighting against evil in the book Revelation.  And beyond them, what about the people who maintain our places of worship?  Put up owl boxes? Run pubs? Provide specialist help for the disabled?  And  preserve and redeem those parts of the natural world that are in danger of being lost?  Are not they not also  on the side of the angels ?!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Ranworth, St Benet's, Pacificus

The Broads are my local wilderness.  I love the landscape, the wildlife and the slow waters. Under the wide skies I can be at one with nature; re-imagine Jesus’ lakeside ministry; slow down and escape from our 24/7 lifestyle; all that’s needed to catch up with a 3 mile an hour God.

Long ago, on an island where three rivers meet, hermits established a community. Following the example of Egyptian monks, the tidal marsh and reed beds was their green desert!  In time the community became a Benedictine  monastery and, until Henry VIII’s reforms, St. Benet’s Abbey was a powerful centre for the Christian faith.  Still the abbey has a powerful attraction.

Wandering on foot or by boat, I find my eyes searching for the familiar outlines of its ruined gate-house and scanning higher ground to catch sight of church towers on the horizon.  Higher than most is the one they call The Cathedral of the Broads - St. Helen’s, Ranworth

Visitors are invited to climb “89 spiral steps and two ladders” to see the view from the top.   

If you know where to look, St. Benet’s is clear to the naked eye and above your head.

Depicted on the wind vane, is the figure of  a monk.  It is said that Pacificus and his little dog rowed from the monastery to oversee the installation of the church’s famous rood screen.  Some believe his ghost still makes the journey and on misty, moonlit nights one could easily imagine such a thing! 

 Less spookily, the misericord  seats in the chancel  were most probably brought over from the abbey after its dissolution.
One day, returning from the top of the tower, I went to pray in one of those seats. The carving on the ledge had a demon in the middle, an opium poppy to one side and a rose on the other. The message still seemed just as clear and relevant as when it was first carved, “choose to be alert and attend in prayer: don’t drop off into numbed sleep, or fanciful dreams”.  

In solidarity with the monks of old I said a psalm or two and pondered Jesus’ question, “ What did you go out into the wilderness to see?  A reed blown by the wind? “

Come apart and rest awile

Traffic! It felt I’d been tailgated every mile of the way - aggressive drivers in my rear view mirror and almost in my boot, pushing me to go faster! Finally, at journeys end I parked by Moreston Creek and let the tension drain out of me.  It is a sort of lands end!  The North Pole is 2222 miles away and , apart from Blakeney Point, there’s nothing in between but sea and ice!

I thought I’d join holiday makers as they went out to see the seals but when I’d arrived early the ferry still sat firmly on the bottom.  Round about it long billed waders delved the rich mud and  a Little Egret stalked its prey in the shallows pools.  The liquid trill of a Curlew’s call carried on the and on high Larks sang their hearts out!

Soon a  trickle,  had turned into a stream of water pushing into the creek , lifting the grounded vessels and turning their bows to the flood. With that the ferrymen quickly got their passengers aboard and we were manoeuvring between the muddy banks and an honour guard of Oyster Catchers, on our way to the outer harbour and the sand banks.

Beyond the Point ferry boats dodged one another as they cruised up and down. Curious holiday makers looked at the seals and curious seals looked at holiday makers! When all the oohs and ahhs were done and all the photos had been taken, the boats headed back into the harbour and we were given  the chance to land on the Point.

Looking back to where my car was parked, I felt that I had gained some perspective on our hectic 21st century life style.  Calm and breathing easily I felt more in harmony with the rhythms of nature. “ I have calmed and quieted my soul like a weaned child upon its mother’s breast” (Psalm 131.2)

Jesus had urged his friends, “ Come apart and rest awile.”  Then they had got into a boat and gone over to the other side!   As a former vicar of Beeston Regis used to say, “Holidays can be holy days!”   Hmnn…..

I went out to Blakeney Point with Beans  Boats. If you feel you need longer away from it all the walk back to Cley Beach Car Park is 3 miles a further 3 miles gets one back to Moreston.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Ely was as much a holy island as Lindisfarne or Iona  in Saxon times. To this day  the cathedral stands on its little hill above the flat black fens, but since the meres and marshes were drained, on an island no more!

I had come to Ely in search of St. Withburg.  In the 10th century monks stole her body from Dereham churchyard and  enshrined her relics in the abbey church next to those of her royal and saintly sisters – Etheldreda and Sexburgh .  Etheldreda founded  the monastery in the 7th century and when she died  Sexburgh became abbess.

The tides of time have washed away most traces of the holy sisters. HenryVIII’s commissioners made a thorough job of destroying their shrines. And, with the passing of the monasteries, the abbey church became the Cathedral for the Diocese of Ely.

I did find one direct link to the foundation years, parts of a memorial that once marked the grave of Ovin, Etheldreda’s steward. Dug up by chance in the 19th century, Ovin’s Stone now stands in the south aisle of the nave.

I was disappointed to find no trace of the St.Withburg but the memory of St Etheldreda has been revived in recent years  A plaque marks the place of her shrine  in front of the high altar and there is a modern statue in a side chapel.

Ely Cathedral is full of light and life. After more than 1300 the site remains a vibrant focus of pilgrimage and prayer. Among the signs of the liveliness are exciting pieces of modern art dotted around the building.

I liked  David Wynne’s (1967) Easter morn sculpture of Jesus and Mary in the south transept and was disturbed by his  blond, bimbo (?) Mary in the Lady Chapel!  Best of all I loved  Jonathan Clark’s (2001) massive Way of Life that greets visitors as they enter through the west door.  It set me to pondering about centuries of Christian life and faith in East Anglia.

St. Felix and St. Fursey began the Christian mission at the invitation of  King Anna who was father of the three sisters.  He and their brother Jurmin both died in battle against the pagan Mercians. They took up the torch of faith and passed the flame on . Several generations later, in this Olympic year, the responsibility of  living this Way of Life and passing on the light falls to us.