For St Paul’s magazine May 2023

When I was ordained I vowed that I would only ever say from the pulpit what was true for me, personally. In this I am following the example of Anglican theologian and monk Harry Williams. I never met him but to read his writings is to get some idea of the man. You can glimpse his inner turmoil, his difficulties in finding God (his autobiography has the inspired title Some day I’ll find you), and his struggles with the conventions of society, with the conventions of religion, and with the conventions of church.

Maybe because of all this his joie de vivre shines through, effervescent and impish, pricking pomposity and getting to the heart of the matter. After a difficult time in a London parish he resolved he would never say anything that was not wrought from his own experience. I admired that when I first read it and I admire it still.

I will preach only homilies that are born from my experience. I will never preach sermons that demand merely, as so many do, that we worship Dear Leader, as if broadcast from loudspeakers in Pyongyang. My confession after the drama of Holy Week and Easter is that I’m left feeling drained. There are plenty that would condemn me for this honesty. Surely, they say, clergy should be on a high after Easter so “there must be something wrong with you”. 

It’s in these struggles and this suffering that we get down to the real you and me. Not by hiding the difficulties, but by acknowledging them. You can’t cure an abscess by ignoring it: it needs lancing to let the pus out. The problem with hiding our problems is that we then put on a false front. We pretend that things are better than they are. Propaganda. Spin. This is familiar to us as we read and listen to the news. 

Why do we give in to this temptation to ‘spin’, to big ourselves up?

Fear and insecurity certainly, which we think will be eased by having the approval of others. Human behaviour is much as it was 4000 years ago (to take a figure at random), and certainly 2000 years ago, and when I read early Christian authors, I’m struck by just how relevant are their little nuggets to me here and now, centuries later. 

One such writer was Evagrios (AD 345-399) who maintained that the sins that most sap our strength are gluttony, avarice, and the need to seek the esteem of others—to suck up to them. Interpret gluttony more widely than just greed for food, and interpret avarice broadly as wanting what is not yours. These three “demons” are the root of pride. 

Now, look at the world; look at the mess we’re in. The evil advertising industry is built upon our inability to resist gluttony and avarice for possessions. We are avaricious too for perfection. This is in part a noble longing: we ache for things to be better. The trouble is that we forget that perfection for us is likely to mean making things worse for someone else. Our latest fashions come at the price of people in sweatshops. Our quest for the perfect body, or the perfect anything, can lead us to neglect or harm our families, friends, and ourselves. And I write this knowing full well that I am afflicted. We are surrounded by the things that Evagrios warns us against.

Life on the planet is difficult. There are difficult decisions and hard choices to be made daily. Of course, things will never be just as we want them, and we have to live with this imperfection. But we also need to speak out and bring it into the open. This is prophecy, and the Hebrew root of the word is ‘to make things bear fruit’. It is revolutionary.

Jesus was a prophet, both spiritual and revolutionary—two sides of the same coin. Prophets ask painful and upsetting questions to reveal the true situation. Children are prophets by their openness and honesty.  People who speak against governments are rarely thanked. Whistleblowers are often prosecuted. But healthy society needs loyal dissent. We need look no further back than the twentieth century to see what happens when prophets are silenced. When something is wrong, we need people to say so, and we can’t do this if we want the approval of the majority. 

So what can we do about it?

As a minister I have only one message really, and it’s that we all have Christ within—the divine core like a pilot light on a gas stove. We begin to get glimpses of the Divine when we start to know ourselves through self-examination. This involves distressing internal turmoil as Harry Williams well knew. It involves soul-searching, the discarding of images from the past, discarding the expectations of others and the need to seek approval from them. It involves discarding the layers we use to big ourselves up, that cover up the Christ-within. My experience is that however far down into myself I go, I never seem to reach the bottom of the barrel: there’s always yet more muck hiding in a corner. 

Letting the divine core within take over our whole selves makes us all divine. That’s what the two great festivals of the church coming up are  all about. The Ascension is taking our human-ness into the realms of the divine, and Whitsuntide is about the divine being available to everyone, everywhere.

That’s something to look forward to as we struggle with the daily irritations and frustrations that life brings. 

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Or as Dolly Parton might say, “if you’ve got it, flaunt it”.


Easter joy

An Easter homily inspired by the sermon preached by Bishop Lancelot Andrewes before King James at Whitehall on Easter Sunday 1609.

The New Testament word for sepulchre, tomb (as in empty tomb) is mnema. It’s the word that gives us memorial, memory, and mnemonic. The stories in the gospels about Jesus expelling demons from men living in tombs are for me about freeing them from living in their memories, from living in the past.

People who live in the past cling to resentments, unable to let go, unable to forgive, unable to move on. They are entombed in the past. Think of Miss Havisham in Great Expectations. Think of parents who live through the achievements of their offspring. Think of sad men propping up sports club bars boring all and sundry with tales of their sporting achievements decades ago before their bellies started hanging over their belts.

Now think of the Easter story. The stone is rolled away. The contents of the tomb have escaped.

Can you see that this is an invitation for us to let go of the past? If we are to live life abundant then we have to let go and move on. The empty tomb means the past is cleansed. It is forgiven.

Think of people who refused to support Jesus, who deserted him, who told lies about him to save their skins or to curry favour with authority, who joined the chanting mob. How many of the Palm Sunday supporters joined that baying crowd? Now think how shocked they must have been to hear that the man they’d condemned wasn’t dead and gone, but might meet them in the street. It’s like gossiping with a friend about a mutual acquaintance who, just as you’ve made the most utterly bitchy remark, appears round the corner and cheerfully greets you. You want the ground to open up and swallow you.

How does Jesus react when he meets his so-called friends again? Does he berate them? Does he take them to court? Does he arrange for some big fellers from the local pub to kneecap them?

No, none of this. All he says is “Peace”. It’s like he says, “never mind the past, friends, let’s get on—we’ve got work to do”. They—we—are forgiven.

Now, think of those times you’ve gossiped, betrayed, told half-truths to get you out of a tight corner, or blindly followed the crowd. The story is not just about 2000 years ago. It’s about human nature, yours and mine, NOW. It’s about death of pride and ego and self in order that selflessness can ascend. We need to, we must, forgive and let go, otherwise we become entombed in living death. This is not about life after death—it’s about life abundant before death.

The most difficult person you’ll ever have to forgive is yourself. Some of us like wallowing in it, turning masochism into an art form. But life is to be lived. People make the mistake of thinking that forgiveness will just happen. It won’t. It’s hard work. We have to practise it like we have to practise any skill. We have to keep telling ourselves that we are forgiven. We have to brainwash ourselves. This is important as we get older because the brain circuits that deal with long-term memory are more robust than those that deal with short-term memory, so we old people are more prone to dwell on the distant past than on last week, and it becomes harder to imagine the future. (There are benefits—species preservation—but that’s another story.)

Forgiveness doesn’t mean you escape the consequences of your actions, but it helps you to move on and make the best of—confront—the hole you’ve got yourself into. It helps you to escape the tomb and see the big wide world: eyes that see shall never grow old.

The penalty for living in the past is to become wizened, resentful, odious, and mendacious. We risk becoming deeply unattractive miserable gits. If we behave like that, people will avoid us, and rightly so. The only person I harm by living in the past is me.

As Andy and Red say in Shawshank, “get busy living or get busy dying”. The choice is yours.

Happy Easter.

Bashing on

Easter Bunny?
Photo by Martha Bach Devine

Lent is a time for self-examination. John Bell’s hymn ‘Will you come and follow me’ has always struck me as a harsh and challenging text, so I chose it as the focus for our 2023 Lent explorations.

It’s based on Jesus’s words in Matthew 25 verse 31 onwards about feeding the hungry, tending the sick, and so on. Bell’s text and the teachings scattered throughout the gospels demand that we examine what makes us ‘tick’ as people so that we can see how our own desires and prejudices and behaviours prevent us from being Divine agents in the world, and prevent the Divine light that is in every one of us from shining out to light the way for others. 


But the more we have explored the text, the more I find myself torn. It is so demanding that I am doomed to fail. And if I am doomed to fail, then what’s the point of even trying? It raises the question: ‘why am I a Christian’?

The answer is simple. I am a Christian because I was born in Carlisle in 1950 with Scottish and northern English ancestors that were saturated in Methodism. Had I been born in Damascus or Khartoum or Delhi or Beijing I would almost certainly not be a Christian. I am a Christian, therefore, through accident of birth. Simple as that.

What has kept me a Christian? The answer without doubt is beauty: music, ritual, mystery, architecture, ideas, longing, being transported to another place. In short, liturgy and ritual done in a relaxed and seemly manner with all of us giving of our best in reading, in singing, in serving, in speaking. It is a performance — don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. Yes, gospel teaching is the best way to live life in all its fullness, but without the numinousness it’s all rather puritan and sterile.

Indeed, I wonder if the ritual, the beauty, the mystery are more important for me than the Christian message. If the focus of the liturgy were the Easter Bunny rather than Jesus Christ, would I still be a Christian, or would I be a devotee of a small mammal of the family Leporidae with a bobtail and floppy ears?

I’ve come out of these Wednesday evenings feeling inadequate about my inability to live the The Summons. And so I become more determined to enjoy the liturgy and abundant life and do the best I can secure in the knowledge that like everyone else I shall fail. I bash on. 

The Latin for ‘I bash on’ is perfero — which coincidentally was the motto of Cumberland County Council emblazoned on the exercise books of my education in the 1950s and 60s.  And that takes me back to where I started. You can take the boy out of Cumberland but never Cumberland out of the boy.

God bless this mess.

When to the Temple Mary went

Monologue for the Feast of the Presentation of Christ in the Temple 2023

Let me introduce myself. My name is Shimon. I suppose I was named after Jacob’s and Leah’s son of long ago. To the Roman authorities I’m Simeon.

I’m an old man. My enthusiasms have withered, all passion spent. My knees and back give me trouble. My guts are in an uproar. My sight fails, my hearing too. I have to get up once or twice a night for a piss and I often don’t get back to sleep. My friends and relatives are dying around me. And after a life of striving, hoping I was doing the best for my family and those I serve, I’m tired, even exhausted. 

I moved into town a few years ago and live near the Temple. I go there most days for a bit of peace and quiet and to think. I try to listen to what the Lord says to me, but it’s not easy with all the noisy nonsense in my head. 

Anyhoo, a couple of days ago a funny thing happened to me in the Temple. I was in my usual spot when a family came in. a mother, husband at least 10 years older, and the young babby. I imagined they were here because the child was being offered to the Lord as the first born son, and so it was. Turns out they were from up north, the back of beyond—Galilee I think.

Something drew me to them. After a few pleasantries with me cooing over the babe, the mother—Maryam was her name—gave him to me to hold. 

The most extraordinary feeling came over me, hard to describe but here goes. Awe, wonder, warmth, pleasure, a feeling that the child would grow up to speak truth and so cause trouble. He would not have an easy time, for truth is never welcome to dictators like the Romans and jobsworths. He would show us the way to the Lord. 

I suppose the overwhelming feeling was one of relief—relief that here at last would be someone who brought the past and present together, like in the narrow bit of an hourglass, to power the future. It so affected me that I actually said out loud “Now I have seen the way. I need nothing else. I can ditch the stuff that used to be so precious. I can relax and stop worrying. I can live the rest of my life in trust.” No need then to fret about nocturnal micturition and other troubles of old age—at least they mean I’m not dead yet.

The moment passed. The family went on its way and I was left in a rather strange trance.

The whole episode set me thinking. What if the way to the Lord—let’s call it salvation—was not just about who the baby was—and I still have no idea—but was also about the fact that it was a baby, a child, that was showing it? What if the qualities of being a child were themselves necessary for the journey?

So the next day after a fitful night I made a list of things that might be relevant. Here’s my list.

  • Dependence on others, readiness to accept help.
  • Straightforward. Trusting. Direct. Unhampered by so-called politeness and good manners.
  • Honesty, lack of guile.
  • Pushing at boundaries. Taking risks. So many of my friends are imprisoned in their own choices they’ve forgotten how to look over walls.
  • Full of energy. 
  • Using imagination to have as much fun as possible. I remember how a wooden box could be just about anything I wanted it to be.

The openness and open-mindedness of children reminded me of an image of salvation once given to me by a Rabbi: no boundaries, freedom to move, freedom from the past that comes from living in the moment—being fully aware of what exactly is going on in and around me, with open eyes and mind: observing but not judging.

I thought how the “freshness” of the child I once was had been squeezed out by having to deal with the trials and tribulations of jobs, family, and bureaucracy, together with things that come from pride, wilfulness, selfishness, thoughtlessness, self-deception, pretence, puffed-upness—in a word, ego.

I need to get in touch with that child. I see with stark clarity how the child is father of the man both personally and in the strange way that the baby in the Temple showed me.

I, Shimon, an old man, carried the child, but the child governs this old man.

Stations of Advent – the Antiphons

Address for Advent 3

I have written about prophets in the December magazine (see It is hard not to feel as if you are being harangued by them—as if they are wagging their fingers at you like a head prefect. It’s possible to read the words of John the Baptist like this.

I used to but I don’t any more. 

He talks about a baptism of repentance. It’s the feeling that comes in that moment when you see past actions and attitudes as having been selfish and self-serving though at the time you persuaded yourself that your motives were entirely pure and noble. Such a realisation leads to shock and the shedding of tears when you see that you are not as perfect as you thought you were. You see things in a new light.

This is repentance—no more and no less than a new way of looking at things. It is a joyous moment, even if painful, when you see the truth.This is what the Baptist was on about—a new way of looking at things in order, if you like, to clear the ground of weeds and rubbish that make it difficult for the seed of the Divine to grow and flower. It is preparing the way for the coming. It is hopeful.

What is it that comes? Who is he that comes?

The Advent antiphons give us a glimpse of he that comes. They are used from 17-23 December before and after the Magnificat at Vespers. They bring us images from Hebrew Scripture: wisdom, leader, descendant of Jesse, David’s successor, morning star, king of the nations, the Divine within.

I am always moved by these plainsong chants. I first heard them—sang them—as a choral scholar at Carlisle Cathedral, fresh from somewhat puritanical rural Methodism. It is as if they wrap me in timelessness, bringing the whole of history into the present moment in anticipation of the Divine growing within.

You have the Latin and English texts before you. Listen as I sing the antiphons and let yourself be enfolded by all cosmic history. Use them for the rest of Advent. Listen to them on Youtube. The are far more eloquent than any Advent sermon you will hear.

O Sapientia, quae ex ore Altissimi prodiisti, attingens a fine usque ad finem, fortiter suaviterque disponens omnia: veni ad docendum nos viam prudentiae. O Wisdom, coming forth from the mouth of the Most High, reaching from one end to the other, mightily and sweetly ordering all things: Come and teach us the way of prudence.

O Adonai, et Dux domus Israel, qui Moysi in igne flammae rubi apparuisti, et ei in Sina legem dedisti: veni ad redimendum nos in brachio extento. O Adonai, and leader of the House of Israel, who appeared to Moses in the fire of the burning bush, and gave him the law on Sinai: Come and redeem us with an outstretched arm. 

O radix Jesse, qui stas in signum populorum, super quem continebunt reges os suum, quem Gentes deprecabuntur: veni ad liberandum nos, jam noli tardare. O Root of Jesse, standing as a sign among the peoples; before you kings will shut their mouths, to you the nations will make their prayer: Come and deliver us, and delay no longer.

O Clavis David, et sceptrum domus Israel; qui aperis, et nemo claudit; claudis, et nemo aperit: veni, et educ vinctum de domo carceris, sedentem in tenebris et umbra mortis O Key of David and sceptre of the House of Israel; you open and no one can shut; you shut and no one can open: Come and lead the prisoners from the prison house, those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

O Oriens, splendor lucis aeternae, et sol justitiae: veni, et illumina sedentes in tenebris, et umbra mortis. O Morning Star, splendour of light eternal and sun of righteousness: Come and enlighten those who dwell in darkness and the shadow of death.

O Rex Gentium, et desideratus earum, lapisque angularis,[48] qui facis utraque unum: veni, et salva hominem, quem de limo formasti. O King of the nations, and their desire, the cornerstone[53] making both one: Come and save the human race, which you fashioned from clay.

O Emmanuel, Rex et legifer noster, exspectatio Gentium, et Salvator earum: veni ad salvandum nos, Domine, Deus noster. O Emmanuel, our king and our lawgiver, the hope of the nations and their Saviour: Come and save us, O Lord our God.


Homily for Proper 13, Year C

Ecclesiastes 1:2, 12-14; 2:18-23. Psalm 49:1-12. Colossians 3:1-11.Luke 12:13-21

I talk this morning about simplicity. Simple. 

Not simple as in lacking, stupid, inadequate, unsophisticated, not quite all there. Not that sort of simple, the sense in which the word is often used. A somewhat derogatory meaning. But simple in the way that it is properly used. In Latin, simplex: single, whole, having one ingredient, plain. Simple in the way that mathematicians and philosophers use the word: indivisible, incapable of being splintered—the opposite of diabolical. Innocent, modest, free from ostentation, unmixed.

Here is an image of our psychological development. We begin simple and whole in an allegorical Garden of Eden. Then as we see the world around us we begin to make judgments about what we think is good and bad. We become fearful. We hide behind metaphorical fig leaves. We tart ourselves up with finery to make ourselves look more impressive. We “embiggen”* ourselves with layers of flummery and hide behind spiritual cosmetics. We surround ourselves with more and more layers, like a Matryoshka doll.

Each hurt brings more and more layers of scar tissue around the simple core. We become heavier and more complex, weighed down, more and more rigid, less and less adaptable. There’s more to break down. Like electric windows in the car, they’re more difficult and more expensive to fix than the old fashioned wind up/down ones. The opposite of simple.

Simple is a beautiful word. A restful word even.

It’s easy to read today’s Gospel story as if it were about redistribution of resources. I am nervous about preaching such a message because it soon sounds sanctimonious: look how good I am because I ‘graciously’ give my stuff away. When I attack the mega-rich, it sounds suspiciously like envy.

We live in a society where governments and the evil advertising industry encourage us to want what we don’t need. The Lotto! How would you deal with winning millions? Go round the world? Buy this and that? Buy posh clothes? Eat and drink fine food and wine? So what? After all this, you are the same you, but now with new sensations behind you. Your quest for new experiences—for that’s what it is—means that ‘s now harder for you to experience the same degree of novelty. You need more and more of whatever it is to get the same degree of pleasure. This is the psychobiology of addiction. The more we have, the more we want. This is greed. It becomes dangerous for the community when we wilfully accumulate so that others are deprived. We possess – a terrible word. We think we are self-sufficient. If we have enough in the barn, we won’t need anyone else. Greed shows a lack of love and trust. We become lonely and paranoid like Gollum in Lord of the Rings.

In today’s gospel the man in the story was not condemned for being rich. Instead he was (somewhat tetchily) told by Jesus to use his wealth in ways that benefitted the most people, not just himself. It is not about renunciation, though there is plenty in Jesus’ teaching about exactly that. Today’s story seems more about how to cope with good fortune. It’s not about giving it away: it’s about sharing it. By sharing we demonstrate our being connected, our not being separate. When we keep things to ourselves we become wizened and twisted and consumed. We become inclosed in our own fat, living behind electric gates and security fences. Miss Havisham, unable to let go of the past

We can stop trying to accumulate goods and feelings and emotions and memories. We can simply exist and enjoy. Living with trust like this, directed towards the Divine, reminds us that there is no point trying to secure the future solely through possessing more and more just for the sake of it. Before it’s too late, let’s share what we have: talents, time, money. That’s what the men in today’s story need to be doing.To attempt to keep possessions and memories locked ‘in a barn’ is like chasing after wind. We can not recover the feelings we once had, we can not find the same stimulation we once found. We can relax. It doesn’t matter what I have or what I’ve done. What matters is who I am and how I share what I am.

Vanity of vanities. It’s all transient. You, we, are all going to die – maybe later today. Be ready. Get yourself sorted NOW so that when that time comes there is as little unfinished business and as few regrets as possible. Do not delay. One of my sons went to bed one night in October 2015 and did not wake up. That had and has a profound effect on the way I look at life.

A rich woman dies. Where there’s a will, there are relatives! How much did she leave? She left everything.

In our lives we move from simple to complex and hopefully to simple again. The wisdom of age, of experience, of searing self-reflection.

‘Tis the gift to be simple, ‘tis the gift to be free
‘Tis the gift to come down where we ought to be,
And when we find ourselves in the place just right,
‘Twill be in the valley of love and delight.
When true simplicity is gain’d,
To bow and to bend we shan’t be asham’d,
To turn, turn will be our delight,
Till by turning, turning we come ‘round right.

* embiggen came into use, along with cromulent, after being used in ‘Lisa the Iconoclast’, the sixteenth episode of The Simpsons, seventh series (1995-6).

Are you willing to be grateful to your enemy?

Into the gutter

I don’t often preach these days, but I am booked at Horninglow this Sunday. Here it is.

A homily on the parable of the Good Samaritan

Jesus must have been a very irritating friend.  Ask him a straight question, and the last thing you get is a straight answer.  It’s like dealing with a utilities company.  His excuse might be that rather than tell you what to think, he wants you to work it out for yourself. That’s why he uses parables, so that we can interpret them as appropriate depending on the context.

Today’s story of the so-called good Samaritan is just such a story.  On the face of it it’s a call to show compassion to all we encounter, not just to members of the club.  I imagine the rather supercilious and snotty lawyer who was trying to catch Jesus out being somewhat narked.  I hope so.  

The story today might concern football supporters.  Would a Liverpool FC supporter go the aid of a seriously injured Manchester United supporter? I once asked that question of a young lad in church, a Liverpool supporter, who responded “never”.  Do we even notice people who are not like us, the druggies by the canal or by the Town Hall? Do we greet them, or do we pass by on the other side?

This brings me to the Priest and Levite.  They are often painted as bad, hard hearted, lacking in compassion.  I don’t think they were.  They had roles in the Temple that required them to be ritually clean.  Had they touched the man who was bloody and may have been dead, they would have rendered themselves ritually unclean and thus unable to fulfil their professional duties.  They were guilty only of putting duty before compassion and humanity.  Is any of us free from guilt?  Who has been in too much of a hurry to help someone who needs it?  All of us. Who as a parent has emphasised duty at the expense of tenderness? All of us.

Now another way of looking at the story, one that was a revelation to me.  It’s a Jewish interpretation – and remember, Jesus was a Jew.  

Using the Manchester and Liverpool analogy, never mind whether Liverpool would go to the aid of Manchester, the question now is would the Manchester guy be willing to be helped by his mortal enemy? 

We are so very proud and stand-offish.  We are unwilling to expose our need for help to people we disdain.  We have in the words of the psalmist “a proud look and high stomach”.  We hide behind electric gates so as to keep out hoi polloi.  We are, again from the psalms, “inclosed in our own fat and our mouth speaketh proud things”.  

Are you willing to set all this aside and be grateful to your enemy?

Finally, a very personal interpretation.  The man was going down to Jericho on the shore of the Dead Sea, way below Mediterranean sea level, Fourteen miles by road, down, down, down more than three quarters of a mile.  Ears pop.  

This for me is an allegory of the descent into mental illness, overcome by the wilderness demons of depression until you simply can’t go any further.  For those of us who know depression and grief – I’ve been on antidepressants on and off for decades – it’s a realistic image.  We are immobilised, unable to make even the simplest decision or set foot outside home. Where is help to come from?

It comes from the most unlikely sources.  

The chance encounter.  The kind word that is nothing out of the ordinary to the speaker but that transforms your day.  The smile from a stranger that gives a glimmer of light and colour to the dark greyness within.  The Samaritan has been likened to Jesus, but every one of us has the divine spark within and with that spark we can with simple acts of humanity and kindness bring life to others.  We are the Samaritan.  If you have friends or family that suffer from depression, be kind.  Listen to them, talk to them.  Nothing dramatic, just tend their metaphorical wounds.  You are the Samaritan; you are the Christ who comes in the most unlikely of guises.

He comes to us as one unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lakeside, he came to those men who knew him not.  He speaks to us the same words: “Follow thou me!” and sets us to the tasks which he has to fulfill for our time.  He commands.  And to those who obey him, whether they be wise or simple, he will reveal himself in the toils, the conflicts, the sufferings which they shall pass through in his fellowship, and, as an ineffable mystery, they shall learn in their own experience who he is.  (Albert Schweitzer)

Lent as relaxation?

Welcome deare feast of Lent.

Ash Wednesday is a wonderful feast of being human. Since dust we are and to dust we shall return, we might as well stop trying to be what we’re not. Ditch the personae, shed the skins, get rid of the fat. Relax into yourself.

Lent as relaxation?

Relaxation from the constraints that we tie ourselves up with, and the new clothes we wrap around ourselves to appear bigger, brighter and better than we are, to impress others. (Evagrios the Solitary, 4th century: Of the demons … there are three groups who fight in the front line: those entrusted with the appetites of gluttony, those who suggest avaricious thoughts, and those who incite us to seek the esteem of men.)

Relaxation from the constraints that constitute addictions. I’m not suggesting we indulge them but, as it were, put them on the table in front of us and look at them full in the face. Addictions to food, booze, complaining, finding fault, having to win … and so many more. Hold them up to yourself. You can’t let go of something unless you look at it and know what it is you have to let go of. This is hard work.

Relaxation – letting go, loosening up, freedom from constraints,.moving to a wide place. If we are not constrained, if our view is not limited, we have freedom of action, we are farseeing, clairvoyant.

Relaxation – abstinence from things that hold us back. Don’t give up what you enjoy: that’s just another constraint. Rather give up what you don’t need any more. Let go of ways of thinking that you once needed but that now constrain you. Let go of hurts, resentments, oughts and shoulds. Let go of prejudices and attitudes that restrict your view of the world. Start saying ‘no’ to the expectations of others, and begin to get to know someone you’ve hardly ever met—no, not your maker, but yourself.

This Lenten abstinence has nothing to do with hair shirts, but everything to do with freeing up yourself for delight you had forgotten was in you. It’s about losing your ego, and rediscovering the Divine within. It’s about loving the hell out of you.

Welcome deare feast of Lent.