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Getting Ready for Christmas ? Gratitude and Light !

Getting Ready for Christmas ? Gratitude and Light !

Last week I travelled to the Midlands for meetings in Birmingham. Walking through the centre later in the day I appreciated the lights and colour and smell of the German market. It was great to see families browsing, eating, drinking and laughing. It was also very good to hear German stallholders enjoying theirBrummie customers.

 Three preachers at the bottom of the street braved the cold to proclaim: We are here because of the birthday of Jesus Christ. Don’t forget the message at heart of Christmas. Don’t get lost in all of this frenzy of consumerism.

I wasn’t around long enough to judge whether their bold declarations made any difference to the crowds.  

 But I did reflect on how the power and agency and love of a positive and affirming approach can convey a message better than a negative and denouncing one. Withoutdevaluing those who want passionately to share something of the hope and light of God with others – I was reminded that showing what this means is always better than shouting. We bear witness by the kind of people we are and are becoming more powerfully than a multitude of words.

I suspect that in this run-up to the Christmas season – for Christians it’s Advent – most of you know what it is really all about.

Some will find your way into churches to express your spiritual selves in prayer and wonder and music. You don’t need to be reminded that we are more than just material beings – that all of us need to find space to nourish the human spirit as we say at Sarum College.

Two pointers for a deeper experience of Advent. 

Rediscover your hopeful selves by nurturing gratitude. Count the reasons to be thankful – the security of our homes, good work colleagues, the beauty of the world around us, those who have shown us kindness. All these and more are reasons to be hopeful. Perhaps each of us may resolve to do something that might give others firmer confidence for hope.


Second, light a candle at home or in a church as a sign of prayer for someone or something that is concerning you. These are particularly uncertain times. Most of us will have had points of hardship or upset this year. We will know people for whom this season will be painful or lonely. Many will not know peace and comfort. Light a candle for them. Let us each make a protest against the darkness.


May the coming days bring you and those you love both hope and light. Be that hope for others. Be the light that will empower us to turn the darkness into light!


James Woodward

Principal Sarum College

(first published in the Salisbury Journal)

A Shaking Reality – a new book for Advent from Peter Price

A Shaking Reality – a new book for Advent from Peter Price

A Shaking Reality : Daily Reflections for Advent

Peter B Price

DLT 2018 



Sometimes even the the most faithful of hearts might wonder how our religious words, images and  metaphors make a difference. How do they shape our understanding of the world, God and the practice of believing ? If we desire God to shake and change us then we need to pause and resolve to open ourselves up to the Gospel. On this lifelong journey of transformation we shall need wisdom that often comes from others who know the something of the struggle to believe and faithfulness to Christ. You will find in Peter Price a trusted guide and in these pages you will discover a grounded, honest and humane exploration of why we should take this season of Advent seriously. He understands that our experience of the world can distract and confuse. He understands how Christianity is always drawing us into a changing and a profound shaking.

Acceptance of the soil of this real world does not dilute or distract us from the firmest of convictions with which these series of reflections and prayers are offered for us as a resource for Advent. I promise you that you will be warmed, encouraged, challenged and confronted by the beauty of a prose that takes the reader into the very heart of our faith. I found in these pages a renewal and a call to re engage with with what is authentic and real. There is comfort in the promise and food in plenty for our journey of discovery into the loving invitation into the mystery  of redemption in the incarnation of Jesus.

I shall be sharing this book with others and will tweet nuggets of its treasures during Advent in praise of the ‘heart-led ‘spiritual release into a deeper truth that Price leads us.

On an informative note the book is inspired by a meditation ( The Shaking Reality of Advent ) written by Fr Alfred Deep SJ while he was imprisoned by the Nazis during World War 11 and before his execution. There is a reflection and prayer for each day of Advent with a prayer. Each is short enough for even the busiest of us should be able to carve out some time for reflection and prayer.

Finally worth pondering what is is that made this book so captivating and challenging ? A pen that has been informed by a wider horizon, an engagement with the presence of God in the world and its communities ? A passion to make a difference? Perhaps also the generativity that comes with age? Buy it and you decide! May your journey towards Christmas be blessed by the places Price will take you.

You can buy the Book from Sarum College Bookshop


James Woodward

Principal Sarum College



Advent Offers an Invitation to Wait and Hope

Advent Offers an Invitation to Wait and Hope


We are midway through the season running up to Christmas, which is called Advent. One of its key themes is the importance for us to see the possibilities that waiting might bring or us.

I overheard a child in Tesco this week say to her brother, “I can’t wait for Christmas”. In her eyes, I glimpsed how children are caught up in the excitement of waiting. The experience of waiting is a common one and it shapes the rhythm of all our lives. We wait for trains, for the postman, or for pay day.

When I think of waiting, my own mind most immediately goes to the hospital as a place of waiting. Patients waiting at the start of the day for a bath, waiting for the doctor to come, for the bed to be made. They wait for the results of tests, for surgery, for the day of discharge or perhaps, they even wait for their death.

Experiences of waiting can lead to what we might call enlarged perceptions. Waiting might just help us to see things differently. In waiting, instances of enduring, because they are intimate, are vexingly uncomfortable. We fidget, we pace, we complain, we consult our watches.

Although the experience of waiting is a common human experience – we live in a world where we want or create a culture within which waiting is undesirable. This shapes our financial culture. Do you remember the advert with the first credit card: “Access takes the waiting out of wanting”? At regular intervals, the bank sends me offers for the loan of money with suggestions how to spend it. It is a sharp contrast to my grandmother telling me before I went to university that I should never buy anything until I had saved up enough money to pay for it. We live in a world where we are promised that we can have what we want and have it now – and more than that, that we can have now what we do not want or need.

Waiting has its own value and dignity. Advent is the invitation to wait with hope. We live in a time when thoughts of the future may fill people with fear – and not with hope and joy. We must learn to hope, to rest, even to pray and to wait.

So think about waiting this week. Spare a thought for those who wait anxiously or are in need. May these days running up to Christmas be for us a time when we open to see living in a different light and in a deeper trust in hope and love.


First published by the Salisbury Journal 14th December 2017


Please pray for me

Please pray for me


As a priest, I should not be surprised at how often sometimes perfect strangers ask me to pray for them.  Sometimes it is related to a specific difficulty or crisis – more often than not people understandably take comfort from the reality of being prayed for.

Intercession, prayer that is to ask God for something or somebody, is a very complex reality and problem.  Intercessory prayer centres on prayers of asking, but God is not insensitive, deaf or unyielding, and we need to be careful not to try and twist God’s arm.  One wonders whether God answers prayer, or, indeed, how boring it must be to hear the stream of intercessions that flow from earth to heaven!  This image and the presuppositions that lie behind it raise another set of questions for another day.   But, let’s remind ourselves of what this balance of thanks and praise, pointing up local events and world events, might be about.

We place all in the palm of God’s hand, letting go of our control and waiting to discern, in trust, how God will take and shape situations with us.  This means we have to be sensitive and alert, to discern and respond with action and commitment to the shaping that God gives us.  Bearing up a situation faithfully before God is as important as being an agent of change for Christ in that situation.

But God does not need reminding that we need to offer certain of our hopes and feelings to him.  We do not need to be too long in our asking, but need to try and pick up what is deeply felt by others.  My daily prayer is enriched by the needs and concerns that are shared by such diverse number of people in various places and situations.

So prayer is about being in close attention with God and growing into God’s presence in a self-forgetful way.  But in our praying we ought to search out and grasp some measure of integrity and balance.  There are always two sides to a story and we should try to achieve that balance in the words we choose for prayer.  I wonder what petitions have been offered in and around the present complex situation in Iraq?  Praying for both sides and for common understanding in a dispute, strife or war enlarges our humanity.

So today, I thank God for all those people who ask me to pray and I offer the following list as a challenge to deepen our intercession which is no less than:

Standing before God

Longing for God’s grace

Asking for those in need

Naming those needs before God

Hoping for grace and love.

And so, in the standing, longing, asking, naming and hoping we pray that we might be changed as the Kingdom of God is proclaimed.

Waiting and Wondering

Waiting and Wondering

I find myself along with others caught up in quite absurd activity as ‘ the Christmas rush’ bears down. I discover that in this maddness I have no evenings free before Christmas and wonder how much of this is of my own making! An early flurry of sleet and the promise of snow for some tomorrow  took me back to my childhood and our open fire – filled with coal not wood as in this image. The heat and warmth and reassurance from a coal fire is one of those extraordinary experiences of life….my only essential requirement from a retirement house will be an open fire!

The fire somehow slowed things down – it transfixed its glow and helped those in the room to stop and wonder. Contemplation – the here and now – the nourishment that comes from Doing Nothing ( as Stephen Cottrell puts it in his book Do Nothing to Change your Life ). We all need to slow up and dig deeper – allow some time to wait and wonder – and see what emerges from this process.

RS Thomas expresses it in this way:

Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after

and imagined past. It is the turning

aside like Moses to the miracle

of the lit bush, to a brightness

that seemed as transitory as your youth

once, but it is the eternity that awaits you.

One of the things that older people teach me is the deep joy that can emerge out of this waiting and contemplation of the ordinary in everyday life. Its there if we will but stop and see and wonder.

The twenty third day of December

The twenty third day of December


O come, O come, thou calling child:

the creatures, those both tame and wild,

the weak and pow’rful, coax along

and change their trembling into song.

Rejoice! Rejoice! The vuln’rable

shall make us all insep’rable



Jim Cotter

Expectant : Verses for Advent

The twenty- first day of December

The twenty- first day of December



O Come, O come, thou shaft of fire,

to lead us on through dark and mire;

through desert bare thou moving cloud

protect and guide, fulfil what’s vowed.

Rejoice! rejoice! Our God afresh

the covenant shall soon enflesh


Expectant : Words for Advent Jim Cotter

Advent: Light and Darkness – knowing and not knowing

Advent: Light and Darkness – knowing and not knowing



where the moon lives


From the tawny light

from the rainy nights

from the imagination finding

itself and more than itself

alone and more than alone

at the bottom of the well where the moon lives,

can you pull me


into December?


The black moon

turns away, its work done. A tenderness,

unspoken autumn.

We are faithful

only to the imagination. What the



as beauty must be truth. What holds you

to what you see of me is

that grasp alone.


From Denise Levertov, Everything that acts is actual

Advent: and our thirst.

Advent: and our thirst.




Like the water

of a deep stream,

love is always too much.

We did not make it.

Though we drink till we burst,

we cannot have it all,

or want it all.

In its abundance

it survives our thirst.


In the evening we come down to the shore

to drink our fill,

and sleep,

while it flows

through the regions of the dark.

It does not hold us,

except we keep returning to its rich waters



We enter,

willing to die,

into the commonwealth of its joy.

Wendell Berry, Like the water

Advent :Life and Death

Advent :Life and Death


sweet day

SWEET day, so cool, so calm, so bright!

The bridal of the earth and sky—

The dew shall weep thy fall to-night;

For thou must die.
Sweet rose, whose hue angry and brave

Bids the rash gazer wipe his eye,

Thy root is ever in its grave,

And thou must die.
Sweet spring, full of sweet days and roses,

A box where sweets compacted lie,

My music shows ye have your closes,

And all must die.
Only a sweet and virtuous soul,

Like season’d timber, never gives;

But though the whole world turn to coal,

Then chiefly lives.

George Herbert, Virtue


Advent and our hope of salvation?

Advent and our hope of salvation?



In our postmodern culture self-fulfilment has become a matter of individually self-chosen goals. Freedom – in the sense of the absolute autonomy of the individual – has become the single, overarching ideal to which all other goals are subordinated. I must be free to be whoever I choose to be and to pursue whatever good I define for myself. There must be no normative goals, models or ideals for which I should aim. The point is not simply that there are no such norma­tive goals, but that there must be none, if I am to be truly free to be myself – to be the self I choose to make myself. Needless to say this contentless freedom is much more of an ideology than a reality. Most of us in fact seek fulfilment in goals presented enticingly to us by society, not least by commercial interests, as those normally thought desirable – especially in sexual relationships, work and an affluent lifestyle. But these are ideologically packaged as means to a freely chosen, non-normative path of self-creation. This ideological packaging is seductive. It leads people to set great value on, for example, freedom to buy things (consumer choice) and freedom from long-term commitments in relationships – understanding these things as important to their self-fulfilment. Such notions of self- fulfilment have all the potent allure of the ideal of freedom. They also have their victims: people impoverished by debt and children thrown out of a parental home to live on the streets are just some of the more obvious of these.

The roots of this particular ideology of self-fulfilment lie in the rejec­tion of God, and it requires the rejection of God. This is because it envisages freedom as absolute autonomy. The freedom it desires is not freedom to discover and to embrace truth and goodness for oneself, but freedom to create one’s own truth and goodness for oneself, ‘God’ is only conceivable as a land of function of one’s freedom, and in some debased forms of contemporary religion ‘God’ becomes a mere means to the religious person’s self-fulfilment – a genie in their lamp. In a culture which has lost the sense of what it could mean really to believe in God, this is not surprising. But it illustrates how carefully Christians need to distinguish the Christian understanding of salvation from the culturally dominant notions of self-fulfilment.

Fulfilment as the pursuit of absolute autonomy has freedom from God as its presupposition. By contrast, salvation – in the Christian sense – is what people seek when they know that God is the reality to be reckoned with from first to last. For people who seek salvation, whatever else they may think they can know about God, it is self- evident that God is the source and goal of all things, never a means to an end. God is the source and the goal of my freedom, never its function. I do not know what Christians mean by salvation until I realise I can be fully myself only in receiving myself from God and in giving myself utterly to God. Salvation is to experience as the source and the goal of my own being and living the one who is the source and the goal of all things.


Advent and our need for Patience

Advent and our need for Patience





An absolute


Trees stand

up to their knees in

fog. The fog

slowly flows



cobwebs, the grass

leaning where deer

have looked for apples.

The woods

from brook to where

the top of the hill looks

over the fog, send up

not one bird.

So absolute, it is

no other than

happiness itself, a breathing

too quiet to hear.


Denise Levertov, The Breathing


Advent :Longing and Desire

Advent :Longing and Desire


climb the stair


Turn from that road’s beguiling ease; return

to your hunger’s turret. Enter, climb the stair

chill with disuse, where the croaking toad of time

regards from shimmering eyes your slow ascent

and the drip, drip, of darkness glimmers on the stone

to show you how your longing waits alone.

What alchemy shines from under that shut door,

spinning out gold from the hollow of the heart?



Enter the turret of your love, and lie

close in the arms of the sea; let in new suns

that beat and echo in the mind like sounds

risen from sunken cities lost to fear;

let in the light that answers your desire

awakening at midnight with the fire,

until its magic burns the wavering sea

and flames caress the windows of your tower.

Denise Levertov, The Sea’s Wash In The Hollow Of The Heart



Poppy Flower Seeds[1]



You come to fetch me from my work to-night

When supper’s on the table, and we’ll see

If I can leave off burying the white

Soft petals fallen from the apple tree.

(Soft petals, yes, but not so barren quite,

Mingled with these, smooth bean and wrinkled pea;)

And go along with you ere you lose sight

Of what you came for and become like me,

Slave to a springtime passion for the earth.

How Love burns through the Putting in the Seed

On through the watching for that early birth

When, just as the soil tarnishes with weed,


The sturdy seedling with arched body comes

Shouldering its way and shedding the earth crumbs.

Robert Frost, Putting in the seed


Advent and contemplating our mortality ?

Advent and contemplating our mortality ?




When death comes

like the hungry bear in autumn;

when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse


to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;

when death comes

like the measle-pox:


when death comes

like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,


I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering

what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?


And therefore I look upon everything

as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,

and I look upon time as no more than an idea,

and I consider eternity as another possibility,


and I think of each life as a flower, as common

as a field daisy, and as singular,


and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,

tending, as all music does, toward silence,


and each body a lion of courage, and something

precious to the earth.


When it’s over, I want to say: all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.


When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder

if I have made of my life something particular, and real.

I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,

or full of argument.


I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.

Mary Oliver, When death comes