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Why do you stand looking up towards heaven?

Lightenings viii
The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
Were all at prayers inside the oratory
A ship appeared above them in the air. The anchor dragged along behind so deep
It hooked itself into the altar rails
And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill, A crewman shinned and grappled down the rope
And struggled to release it. But in vain.
‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’ The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So
They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
Out of the marvellous as he had known it. Seamus Heaney – Selected Poems by Seamus Heaney
From “Seeing Things”, 1991
© Seamus Heaney


To cite this section
MLA style: Poetry. NobelPrize.org. Nobel Media AB 2020.  Fri. 22 May 2020. <https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/literature/1995/8424-poetry-1995-2/>


Seamus Heaney's poem turns the story of the Ascension, for me, upside down. I like that because it makes me think differently, a bit askance, at what we have received. We are accus…
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Living Stones

The Cross on the East Wall, Bradwell Chapel Taken by the author

I’m holding a large, heavy stone in my hand as I reflect this week. Just noticing its weight, its solidity, its integral strength, and its smoothness. Stones and rocks are a constant theme in our set readings for Easter 5 (Acts 7.55-60, Psam 31.1-5, 15-16, 1 Peter 2.2-10, John 14.1-14). Stones are a sign of durability, something you can rely on. In Psalm 31, the Lord is referred to as a refuge, a strong rock, crag, castle and tower; the writer wants the Lord to protect them and keep them safe. Large stones seem to have fascinated humans and had spiritual significance since the earliest times – think of all the ancient sites of standing stones. As humans we are subject to change and decay, so stones become to us signs of eternity. In the first Letter to Peter, the Christian followers are called to be ‘living stones’, which is a very striking metaphor. Humans are not stone; we are flesh and blood and we die. But, nonetheless,…

'Be who God meant you to be and set the world on fire'

Catherine of Siena, Teacher of the Faith, 1380 


This past week we remembered Catherine of Siena, Dr of the Church (RC), mystic, teacher, political activist. Born in Siena in Italy in 1347, Catherine was a twin and the 23rd child of 25 children - at least half of her siblings died, including her twin. But Catherine was known for her joyfulness as a child - and was given the pet name "Euphrosyne" - joy in Greek. From at least age 6 or 7 she desired to devote her life to God, and as she grew up resisted being given away in marriage, through passive resistance: fasting and cutting her hair. She joined the Dominican order at age 16 as a Tertiary (lay volunteer) and lived in solitude in her own house for 3 years, until she felt Christ tell her to go out and serve the poor.

Her self-isloation in order to draw closer to God, speaks to us today, as we too experience isolation. Imagine a 16 year old girl choosing to isolate in her room and only have contact with her Confessor? We are le…

Addicted to Travel?

Road to EmmausLuke 24.13-35

What has been the most significant journey that you have taken? Was it short, long, with friends, alone? The travellers on the Road to Emmaus were walking and a stranger appears alongside them. I was wondering how the story would have to be different if it were set today. Jesus' sudden appearance in a car, for instance, would have spoiled the slow build up of drama as they listened to this stranger! Someone suddenly appearing in your car is going to make you jump! But most of us don't usually walk seven miles just as part of our daily routines, let alone seven miles back again!

That made me think about how we travel today and I had the very uncomfortable and challenging thought that travelling in a car is a sin. Hmm. I didn't like that idea very much so I had a go at arguing with God about that one. I like the car: I go to Scotland in it for a holiday, or I visit my parents. These things bring me joy - I tried to push away the idea that I could…

Why are you weeping?

Why are you weeping?
As I get older, I seem to weep more frequently; maybe you accumulate experiences of grief and loss, so that the tragedy of life is always closer to the surface as you age. Perhaps I have become more compassionate. My son always notices when a tear has escaped my eyes and pounces on it. Mummy you are crying, Mummy have you been crying? For him, I imagine, his Mother’s sadness is frightening and causes him worry. He cannot safely contain my tears within his childhood existence – he must seek to make them go away.
Margery Kempe, a late-Medieval spiritual character, was renowned for her shedding of tears. These tears were despised and sometimes accepted as a spiritual gift. Her spiritual autobiography narrates how her copious crying in front of senior members of church and society caused consternation and disruption. However, she also encounters acceptance and encouragement. The following is one such incidence -Margery visits the Chapter Provincial of the Dominicans, w…

A Post-Covid 19 world?

A new heaven and a new earthAt Chelmsford Cathedral we have been studying Revelation during Lent. I have not found it an easy book to spend a lot of time with. I certainly couldn't have predicted that its apocalyptic form would suddenly become so resonant with our common experience. Its focus is on: a heaven's eye view of the world, the end times and judgment, a desire to ensure true worship of God, and its final, hopeful chapters on the promise of a 'new heaven and the new earth' (21 and 22). 

One of the effects of our current global health crisis is that people are talking about a radically different world emerging out of our experiences - could it be a better one? It’s shocking and perhaps salutary to consider that the human ability to affect transformation in our own lives, habits and behaviours is seriously limited. Just a cursory glance at our Lenten disciplines would probably reveal limited ambition in our moral endeavours and limited long-lasting affect with reg…

'I know why the caged bird sings'

When I was studying festivals and rituals in Renaissance Venice as a post-graduate, evocative paintings full of religious processions and miracles, one thing that struck me was how the public space was highly ritualised and controlled. Most of the time women were prevented from taking part in the public rituals and had to watch from their windows (see above). When they were out in public space, their appearance was strictly controlled. 


'Being part of the governing structure of Venetian life, civic ritual was a male domain. A woman’s world was a distinctly smaller one than a man’s, while men made forays into the political and economic centres of the Piazza San Marco, the Rialto and further a field to the East in merchant galleys and the terraferma, women remained in small communities at home. Dennis Romano argues that a woman’s neighbourhood was the parish of her residence and perhaps one or two adjoining parishes, adding further that ‘generally speaking, men did not want their wiv…