Posted in power, spirituality

A Parable of Power

He was born afraid. Afraid that the world into which he had been ejected would consume him, eat him up until nothing was left. So before he was able to know it, he made his decision: he would eat up the world instead. He would consume everything that threatened him, bring it into himself, control it so that it wouldn’t threaten him any more. Then the fear would be gone.

He cloaked his fear with hunger; hunger for safety and security. And because he thought the world was full of enemies, that hunger became a hunger for power. Only having power over others would make him safe; he had to control others, so that they couldn’t control him. He had to eat them up or they would eat him.

The strange thing was, that the more he ate, the more powerful he became, the more hungry he was. There were always new dangers, new enemies. He gained more and more power, and became more and more afraid, more and more hungry.

Then one night, he had a nightmare – or was it a dream? As the dream began he was in his usual waking state – full of power, but even more full of fear and hunger. But even more powerful was the figure that confronted him. He couldn’t see them clearly, but they appeared to be no more than a small child. Even so, he was completely in the power of this other; all his deepest fears were coming true. And in the grip of that overwhelming power, he found himself doing something he could not imagine, something beyond his waking fears. He found himself giving power away. A crowd had appeared around him of the poor, the wounded, the homeless, and he was giving power to them. He was giving them the ability to feed, and heal and house themselves – at the cost of his own power over them. But there was one even stranger thing in the dream. As he gave away his power, his hunger was becoming less. And he awoke.

A dream? No, it was a nightmare, he decided. And in the morning he redoubled his effort to make sure that in waking life no-one would ever control him in that way. And his hunger grew and grew.

Posted in Easter, spirituality

Helplessness and hope – a personal Easter

Yesterday, on Holy Saturday, I wasn’t sure I was ready for Easter. Holy Saturday is the church’s day off – the day when the Eucharist is not celebrated, the quiet day, the Sabbath after the great work of the crucifixion.

After a traumatic and tumultuous few weeks, that was where I wanted to be too. The abbreviated prayers of Holy Saturday were as much as I could take. The ongoing agony of Ukraine, and the equal agonies of Yemen and other conflicts across the world; the evil of the UK Government’s attempt to win votes by demonising asylum seekers; the arrogance demonstrated by the fines for parties in 10 Downing St, and the refusal of the Prime Minister to take responsibility; all of these in different ways had left me feeling that I wanted nothing more to do with the world. I needed some time out from caring.

It was personal, too. Having moved to our home in Orkney, and full of anticipation of a new life there, our beloved cat became ill and died. The sadness of that loss drained some of the colour from the world, and made everything else that much harder to bear. Between the personal and the political, it felt as if my heart was too dry, too barren for the new life of the resurrection to take root.

Then came two gifts. One was to sit in a garden full of birdsong and spring flowers, just absorbing the new life bursting out of every corner, allowing myself to be part of the creation, not analysing or changing anything, just being. The second was to be asked to confirm two candidates at the Easter Vigil. I came to the service ready to simulate the energy and joy of Easter, and found myself receiving it, abundantly and exuberantly, from those two people. Neither of them have had easy lives, but they were open to the promise and love of God.

I didn’t need to make myself ready for Easter. Hope is gift, not achievement. The world is not suddenly a better place, I am not suddenly full of energy and raring to go. But I have been given hope that despite all that, Gerard Manley Hopkins was right –

There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Posted in Church of England, spirituality

An unpopular post

Repentance is something that has fallen well out of favour with preachers for several decades now. There is one very good reason – which is that the preaching of repentance had far too much in it of trying to persuade people that they were sinners, and far far too much about the punishments God might have in mind. But repentance is not about making people feel bad – most people feel bad enough already; the question is what you do about it. And it’s definitely not about punishment: the call to repent is about turning round to embrace the goodness of God. The aim of repentance is not misery, but change. Change is what we face, in our world and in our church. Repentance is practical, costly change. It goes to the very heart of who we are and bears fruit in lives that are lived differently.

As we come towards the end of this phase of lockdown, the question is particularly acute: this is a moment for decision. Is the re-opening of churches for public worship to be a going back, or a moving forward? After all the insecurity and exhaustion of the last few months, nothing would be more comforting than to settle back, as far as we may, into what we were used to. There’s something genuine in that desire: we all need a break, we all need some sense of security again. As with all the most tempting temptations, it is very nearly the right thing to do. But I believe it is a temptation, and it is not of God. To settle back now would be to turn away from all that we have seen and learnt, very painfully in the days of the pandemic. God is calling us to go forward – in trust that ‘those who wait in the Lord will renew their strength’, as Isaiah puts it, repenting of those habits and ways which we did not until now realise were blinding us to our calling as disciples of Jesus.

We must repent of the ways in which we – we as a society, as a church, and often as individuals – have demonstrated both conscious and unconscious bias against people of different ethnic background, culture and language, in the church and beyond. We must be much more searching in asking ourselves about how our inherited expectations and systems place different pressures on people – essentially the more you differ from a white, male, middle-class university educated person like I am, the less easy you will find the church as a place within which to live and minister. That is not how we reflect the good news of Jesus, which forms a community in which all are equally brothers and sisters of that Middle Eastern man, Jesus Christ.

We must repent of our church-building-centredness. Why has it taken the coronavirus to make churches realise that there are huge numbers of people out there who want to engage with prayer and worship – for the first time, or far more regularly than usually – but can’t make it into church buildings at the time we say they should be there? We have become so wedded to gathering people together in one place, that we have been blind to all the other means by which we could be communicating the good news of Jesus and drawing others into discipleship. We are at the beginning of a voyage of exploration: we don’t know yet how or in what way we will be able to integrate the different worlds in which many of us have now learnt to live. But God’s call to us is to do so, not to shirk or refuse.

I am only too aware of the other accusation levelled at preachers of repentance, that of self-righteousness. I know that I have been complicit in the sins I have just spoken about. But there is always hope. Repentance which has no joy in it is not Christian repentance, but despair. Repentance is always about hope, hope for the new future God promises, and for the strength of his Spirit to walk into that future and discover in it more of the love and power of God.

Posted in refugees, spirituality

Not looking away

Recently I was asked if I could write something for the Fellowship of Contemplative Prayer about praying contemplatively amid the disorder of our world. This is what I wrote.


Contemplative prayer is about looking. That’s what the word means. The call to contemplative prayer is to remain focused (another visual image), to bring your attention back time and again as it flits away, to that point of attention which can become the place in which we know ourselves to be seen and loved by God.

After I was asked to write this article, I did a little research of my own and came across  an article quoting some of the more surprising and difficult verses that Robert Coulson, the Fellowship’s founder, had used in his own prayer – verses such as “I will visit upon you the evil of your doings” (Jer 23.2 RV). As the article pointed out, these are verses “that we personally would find challenging, if not impossible, to use in our contemplative prayer time”.

Those verses were of judgement, verses which challenge our sense of ourselves as loved by God. Especially because of our own knowledge that some of our doings are indeed evil, we find it almost impossible to stay with verses like these.

But if we can move in deeper, I think a verse like this can in fact take us closer to God, through the path of mourning. I’d like to invite you if you can to stay with this image in prayer.

This is a picture of the former “Jungle” Camp in Calais before its demolition.
The Jungle, and other even more squalid encampments which have followed it, are our attempt to turn our collective eyes aw2015-11-14 15.20.27ay from those who have come to Europe – some seeking asylum, some “merely” escaping from poverty. We in the UK turn our eyes away by making it uniformly difficult for anyone to get into the country, however justified their claim might be. You can only claim asylum on UK territory – and without travel documents (which most asylum seekers won’t have, naturally) there is no legal way to get here. So people wash around our fortified borders, looking for a way in.

The Jungle was a place of squalor and desperation and danger – and also of extraordinary acts of love and mutual service. But you could only find that love, those signs of God’s presence, by staying with the ugliness and the pain. If you do not look away, but look for God here, you have no choice but to mourn the disorder in our world which has led so many people to prefer this life to the life they were leading in their countries of origin. And in that mourning you cannot help but find that you, like me, like all of us, are not separate from that disorder. We are all implicated; we are all guilty. And there is no simple, easy answer, but there is forgiveness, and so there is hope.

The prayer of contemplative mourning is not one of self-loathing. Seeing, staying with the pain of our world, and acknowledging that we are part of the cause of that pain, is also a way of opening ourselves to be a source of healing. There were extraordinary people in the Jungle, some migrants themselves, others from the UK and across Europe, who dedicated themselves to bringing what hope they could. As you all know, it is not just the active life of service which brings the love of God into the world; the contemplative life is an equally vital, if more mysterious, means of God’s grace. In the painful prayer of mourning, the healing of the world is brought nearer.

Posted in Poverty and Justice, refugees, Roman Catholic Church, spirituality

Year of Mercy – Year of Welcome?

Yesterday, December 8th, was the beginning of the Year of Mercy called by Pope Francis. It was also a day of prayer and vigil for refugees, organised by the Churches’ Refugee Network and generously hosted by St Margaret’s Westminster. The Vigil was entitled 20,000 Welcomes – alluding both to the traditional Irish greeting, and to the 20,000 Syrian refugees that the UK government has decided to allow to resettle here. During the vigil, the following reading was read, and I offered the meditation that follows

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Matthew 25:31-46

Jesus comes to judge the world, and he doesn’t ask people how religious they were – at least not in the sense of going to church a lot, reading their Bible, even praying. Those whom Jesus praises are those who lived lives given to serving others – particularly those who were despised or ignored by everybody else. They visited prisoners, cared for the sick, looked after the people who were at the bottom of the heap. In fact, they did exactly the sort of things that Jesus did. I can’t imagine that any of them managed to do all that without having lives that were radically dependent on God: but the proof of all that was in lives which were lived in love for the world. They receive their reward through being the sort of people who didn’t look for it. They weren’t aware that they were serving Jesus when they helped people in trouble; they weren’t doing it in order to tot up spiritual points. They just did what needed doing.

These, along with providing burial for the dead, are six of the seven corporal (bodily and physical) acts of mercy, and they all flow from this parable:

To feed the hungry

To give drink to the thirsty

To clothe the naked

To shelter the homeless

To visit the sick

To visit the imprisoned

Today has begun the Roman Catholic Church’s Year of Mercy – a year of receiving, and also giving and living, the boundless mercy of God. As Pope Francis put it in his letter setting out his vision for the year

I have asked the Church in this Jubilee Year to rediscover the richness encompassed by the spiritual and corporal works of mercy. The experience of mercy, indeed, becomes visible in the witness of concrete signs as Jesus himself taught us. Each time that one of the faithful personally performs one or more of these actions, he or she shall surely obtain the Jubilee Indulgence

Whether or not we are Roman Catholic, the Pope’s call should have resonance for us. We will connect most readily, many of us, with that encouragement to continue in the practice of mercy, and to encourage others to join with us in offering 20,000 welcomes. But we should also hear that other side of the Pope’s call – that we should be ready to receive the mercy of God in our own lives as well.

That action will take different forms for us according to our own traditions and spiritualities. For some the Pope’s call to renew the sacrament of confession will be a gateway to God’s grace and freedom; for others there will be other ways – the grace of God is confined only by our willingness or not to receive it. But receive it we must, if we are to have grace and mercy to share. The commitment to continue in the acts of mercy is demanding and sometimes draining. We have all met, and probably all sometimes been, those people who are still giving when they have nothing left to give – and we know that that is not sustainable, or healthy, or good.

We need to allow ourselves to receive acts of mercy as well as to give them, if we are to live out the spirit of the gospel reading. It is not for nothing that the corporal acts of mercy are linked with the spiritual acts – traditionally they are

To instruct the ignorant.

To counsel the doubtful.

To admonish sinners.

To bear wrongs patiently.

To forgive offences willingly.

To comfort the afflicted.

To pray for the living and the dead

The spiritual and the bodily do not live in separate compartments – they are dimensions of the whole human beings that we all are. In the giving and receiving which is the breathing in and out of the grace of God, may we be open doors of mercy in ourselves – doors that open in gratitude and thankfulness who come bringing gifts to us, and doors that open in hospitality and generosity to those who need our shelter, so that we are indeed able to offer 20,000, 50,000, any number of welcomes.

Posted in spirituality, Uncategorized

Holiday in Hiroshima

The Memorial in Hiroshima's Peace Park, with the Atomic Dome in the background.
The Memorial in Hiroshima’s Peace Park, with the Atomic Dome in the background.

And a very interesting lively city it is too – with the slight oddity that nothing in the central area is older than 1945. It’s hard to hold in your head that this place is also that place – even when visiting the Peace Museum and seeing the before and after pictures of the city.

Maybe that sums up the problem – how to reconcile the creativity, resourcefulness and co-operation which brought Hiroshima back to life, with the cruelty and inhumanity of war, of the war which led to the atomic bombing, and the horror of the bomb itself. What odd beings we are that we can demonstrate such love and such hatred.

Hiroshima is not a sign of resurrection, but of resuscitation. That’s a miracle enough (as Lazarus would testify). Hiroshima reminds me that we human beings need more, we need resurrection. We need to step off our treadmill of the human cycle, with its evil and even its good, and step into something completely different.

Easter is the eighth day of week – the beginning of a new creation. All our best instincts yearn for that, our best endeavours point towards it, but it can only be given to us, not achieved.

Posted in spirituality

The occupied tomb

Grant, Lord, that we who are baptized into the death of your Son our Saviour Jesus Christ may continually put to death our evil desires and be buried with him; and that through the grave and gate of death we may pass to our joyful resurrection; through his merits, who died and was buried and rose again for us, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord.

That is the collect for today, Easter Eve, Holy Saturday – the empty day in the church’s calendar. A day mostly ignored, because there is nothing to do, liturgically at least. On this one day of the year there is no Holy Communion, the church is dark and empty. The struggle and agony of Good Friday is over, the disciples are scattered and defeated, Christ’s body lies in the tomb.

Holy Saturday is of course, on another level a day of huge busy-ness: all the preparations need to be made for Easter Day. There may be no liturgy, but churches are full of people arranging flowers, cleaning, making ready for the celebration to come. And all of that is right and proper, but … it can also serve to distract us from that deepest mystery of the church’s life, the mystery of death and resurrection.

Because it is only resurrection hope which makes grief possible; resurrection provides a floor to what otherwise can feel like a bottomless abyss, in which we fall constantly, further into despair. Therefore we can, and should dwell with the emptiness and grief of Holy Saturday, not rush too quickly to Easter. Christ’s suffering and death is our assurance that God is with us in our darkest places; his resurrection is our promise that those dark places are not, in the most literal sense, a dead end. Death and ending are both a grave and a gate.

When Jesus was confronted by the Sadducees, who did not believe in resurrection, he responded by taking them back to the roots of Jewish faith, to the burning bush which was consumed by fire and yet lives, and the words which God spoke then

that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.’

That is the resurrection promise – that all that has lived and been of God still lives in God.

Posted in brain and spirit, spirituality

Where there is no vision, the people perish

I’ve got a problem, and it’s caused by you – you, reading my blog (immediate family excepted, of course). The problem is that you pay attention to what I’ve got to say, and remember it, and might even quote it back at me. So what’s the problem, you might say – surely in your job you would hope to have people listen in. And you’d be quite right; part of a bishop’s job is to teach the faith, and to speak out about issues in contemporary life. That’s not where the problem lies.

The problem is that another part of my role is to help the church deal with change, and to lead in mission. As well as being at the centre of the church, a focus for unity, I should be at the edge, an innovator – or at least be promoting and inspiring creativity in the people of God. There is a prophetic part of my calling.

(Incidentally, I’m not claiming that it’s only bishops who have these callings in the church. But that’s another discussion.)

The reason why the co-existence of those two things is a problem, is that it’s very difficult to do both well, and it would seem impossible to do them at the same time. At least, if you accept that there’s a direct link between the prophetic, edgy part of ministry, and creativity. There’s certainly a very strong link between being a public figure, and (in most cases) thinking more carefully about what you say. As a bishop, people do tend to weigh your words; I remember doing it to bishops myself before I was one. So as you become aware of that, you slow down, you check over what you’re about to say. And it would seem that you can’t do that, and be creative, at the same time.

The evidence? That great BBC institution Horizon. The recent episode on brain science showed how knowledge is developing about the areas of the brain which light up when creative activity is happening. The research shows that in moments of creativity, the ‘self-censoring’ parts of the brain are turned down several notches. It’s perhaps the neurological equivalent of that ground rule of brain storming sessions – no one is allowed to criticise anyone’s idea while the brainstorm is happening.

So, if I’m to be creative, I have to switch off my caution. But if I’m to exercise my role with proper care, I have to make sure I don’t say things that can be misunderstood or misinterpreted. So now I hope you see why there’s a problem.

And if there’s a problem for the Bishop of Croydon, think how much more difficult it must be for a Prime Minister, or an Archbishop, or a Pope. Both demands are accentuated to a far greater degree than I will ever have to experience. The bodies you lead need creativity, flair and imagination. But no-one allows you to brainstorm. As soon as you say anything, it’s analysed to death for its significances; as soon as you say anything different, it’s a u-turn, or a defeat. You certainly can’t float an idea – as soon it passes your lips it’s a policy.

And finally, it looks like it’s not easy to switch between the two. Caution is habit-forming, creativity likewise. Maybe that’s why I can’t end this post with a solution; maybe I’m losing the knack of creativity. But there’s always the verse from Proverbs which makes the title of this post: the verse runs in full: Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

An interesting parallelism there, if we allow ourselves a creative re-interpretation of the text. (Paying no attention to original context, accuracy of the translation, etc.) The first half sounds to modern ears like creativity and innovation; the second half like conformity and caution. Maybe there are ways of holding both – and another part of the Horizon episode might illustrate the way. We can open the path to creativity by consciously relaxing those parts of the brain that act as self-censors; and meditation is one of the ways to do it. Taking time out from the public eye can be the space in which creativity can begin to flow. The heart of this contradiction is that paradoxical activity, prayer.

So I think the remainder of my thoughts this evening will, with all due courtesy to my patient readers, remain my own.

Posted in spirituality


Morning Prayer with Cat

Unfortunately I can’t play you the purring sound track, but this morning’s company at Morning Prayer reminded me of D H Lawrence’s poem, Pax:

All that matters is to be at one with the living God
to be a creature in the house of the God of Life.

Like a cat asleep on a chair
at peace, in peace
and at one with the master of the house, with the mistress,
at home, at home in the house of the living,
sleeping on the hearth, and yawning before the fire.

Sleeping on the hearth of the living world
yawning at home before the fire of life
feeling the presence of the living God
like a great reassurance
a deep calm in the heart
a presence
as of the master sitting at the board
in his own and greater being,
in the house of life.

Posted in spirituality

A sermon for Epiphany

It’s really dark in the Orkney Islands, this time of year. Once when Alison and I were there at new Year, we saw the sun come up one day, rising over the sea and the islands, at 9am exactly. It was dark by 3:30. It was really quite difficult to get used to. You wake up, thinking you’ve had a long night’s sleep, and it’s still dark. Then you realise it’s 8 o’clock already. But when the light does come, there’s an amazing quality to it. The sunshine flows like butter, all day from such a low angle, sometimes bathing the island so that it seems to glow, sometimes shining up and off the bottom of the clouds to create an eerie, beautiful light. There’s so much sea and loch surface that there’s always a reflection of the sky wherever you look, so you feel as if you’re caught in between two mirrors reflecting light to each other.

One night it was completely clear, so we walked out beyond the street lights to see the stars – not the dozen or so which are strong enough to shine through the London glow, but the sky full of stars, thousands of them making you realise quite how small we are on this planet of ours.

Epiphany is a season of light – as the year begins to turn and the nights get a little shorter, we celebrate Epiphany, the coming of the light of Christ into the world. We are lucky enough that we don’t have to think about light in the way that our ancestors did: we have it at the flick of a switch. I think my only real experience of living without plentiful light was the three day week of the early 70s – I remember the strangeness of sitting in the living room with no light (as well as no television). But the lack of light was normal – for most people until our present age, and in our part of the world, when it got dark, that was about it. Candles wouldn’t light up much; there would always be far more darkness than light.

It’s into that sort of darkness that the light of Christ shines, not as just another neon sign competing for our attention in a brightly lit world. The Epiphany – the manifestation, the revealing of Jesus – lightens us at the point of our deepest darkness. Placing the festival at this point in the year is supposed to create an instant connection, a reality we can feel in our bones, between the darkness in our physical lives, and the spiritual darkness in which we walk without Christ.

George Mackay Brown is one of the greatest poets of the twentieth century (in my opinion) – and he was an Orkneyman. This is his Epiphany poem:

The red king
Came to a great water. He said,
Here the journey ends.
No keel or skipper on this shore.

The yellow king
Halted under a hill. He said,
Turn the camels round.
Beyond, ice summits only.

The black king
Knocked on a city gate. He said,
All roads stop here.
These are gravestones, no inn.

The three kings
Met under a dry star.
There, at midnight,
The star began its singing.

The three kings
Suffered salt, snow, skulls.
They suffered the silence
Before the first word.

The three kings (well, not in the Bible story, but never mind) are already on a quest before the star shines on them – a quest which has proved fruitless, leading them only to impassable barriers. It is the star which gives them a new path by which to travel. What John describes in cosmic terms – the light of the world – Matthew shows in the language of story: a star which leads the wise men to Jesus. The meaning is the same: Jesus is the one in whom the world becomes more than Matthew Arnold’s dismal vision at the end of ‘Dover Beach’:

                    the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

It’s not insignificant I think that Arnold’s poem, which is largely about the loss of faith, ends on a note of darkness. The wise men come out of the furthest dark place that Matthew can conceive. They come from beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire, in the darkness of barbarian lands (as the empire thought of them); they come from the darkness of being Gentiles, those who had not been given the gift of the Law, who did not know how to obey God; and they come from the darkness of sin: ‘magi’ almost certainly means something less complimentary than ‘wise men’: astrologers, probably. Out of this triple darkness, travelling in the dangerous night (if they are following a star) come these three to find and worship the light.

Their gifts, we all know from ‘We three kings’ demonstrate the depth of their insight into the mystery of Christ. Gold crowns him as king; incense is offered by a priest in worship; myrrh anoints a body for burial. These magi haven’t just struck lucky, or come wondering after a star to see what it might lead to; they know whom they are seeking, and understand that his light also will pass through the darkness of death.

When we switch off the lights, we realise that the darkness still exists. We can cover it up with light entertainment, but there are parts of each of us that we do not understand, parts we fear. There are areas of our lives of which we are ashamed. We do not live in as certain and untroubled a world as we would like.

The Epiphany reminds us that the light of Christ shines in all those dark places – whether we’d like it to or not. The places we would like to hide are not hidden from God. The places we do not know in ourselves are no secret to God. The star which led the magi to Jesus was bright enough to lead them: and Matthew wants us to know that if it could attract them, it can attract anybody. But there are also those who were not attracted, Herod and the priests in Jerusalem, the ones who didn’t wish to acknowledge the presence of another king. The star over Bethlehem is easily ignored; we can switch on the lights and live by our own resources instead. The Epiphany is Christ’s manifestation to the world, but the world did not receive him. The choice is always ours, whether to follow the way of Christ, to offer to him the gifts that we have to honour him with, or to keep them for ourselves.