Discerning vocation to religious life

I have recently been asked to articulate what the difference is between a committed Christian life and the religious life, in the sense of life as a member of a religious community. Clearly religious life is not for all Christians, so what is the distinction? It sounds like a simple question, but actually it is one I have been asking myself for at least the last 35 years and failed to come up with a convincing answer! […]

Guest post: Which Old Testament?

I was recently looking for an audio Bible app for my phone and came across a review of one particular app which declared, rather fiercely, that ‘This version can send you to hell’. The reviewer objected that: ‘KJV Jesus says we must be “converted” and this ESV says “forgiven”. This is huge. Converted and forgiven are two different words. Being born again and forgiven is not even close. This doesn’t save NO ONE. Garbage.’

St Mary Magdalen

Today—July 22—is the feast of St Mary Magdalen, our saintly patron. We have her in mind often, when we are putting material together for this site and for our books. Regular readers probably skip the front page of the website now, but it is a good time to revisit something Rowan Williams said to us when we launched the School of Theology […]

Theologising the Fear of Death, Pt 2

There is another obvious explanation for the findings we previously considered, which suggest that people do not really fear death. But this strategy risks being a question-begging one: that is that the fear of death is, in most people for most of the time—and perhaps most of all as death is nigh—sublimated or suppressed in some way.

Theologising the Fear of Death, Pt 1

It is not, these days, sexy to defend the fear of death, except perhaps as a transient stage in a process of grieving, à la Kubler-Ross, which is the last time her name will be mentioned in this paper. Perhaps it never has been sexy. All the same, I would like to try to provide a defence of sorts of the fear of death, not as good per se, but at least natural, rational, appropriate, and useful.

The priest's "secret" prayers at mass

Like all good catchphrases, ‘laborare est orare’ [‘to work is to pray’] is a mis-rendering. Just as S. Francis probably didn’t use the words, ‘preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary’, so ‘laborare est orare’ is a popular mis-rendering of the Benedictine, ‘ora et labora’ [‘prayer and work’]. 

Holbein's Dead Christ, Dostoevsky's Idiot, and Chalcedon's Jesus

Hans Holbein the Younger’s The Body of the Dead Christ in the Tomb (1521—1522) depicts, in unforgiving realism, the mutilated corpse of a crucified man, claustrophobically entombed. There is no indication of who the man is in the painting per se; the identity of the anonymous criminal has be to imposed, from above as it were, in an inscription borne by angels, IESVS NAZARENVS REX IVDAEORVM.

Corpus Christi: Procession of Love

If I'd like to say a brief word about processions. We don't have as many processions at St Mary Magdalen’s as I’d like. It would be wonderful to have a Corpus Christi procession outside for all to see in the broad light of day. The reason for this, of course, is that a procession is not simply a ritual of praise and worship, it is a witness to the gospel we proclaim. […]

A rerun for Trinity Sunday

Each year, the Easter season, stretching from Christ's resurrection to the sending of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, reminds us afresh that following in the way of Jesus leads us to the deepest, most inconceivable of paradoxes. It reminds us that Jesus reshapes what we mean when we say “God”. You see, the Easter season is immediately followed by Trinity Sunday. […]

Pentecost: Hearing in Tongues

I must confess that I am quite unable to tell apart an Ulster accent from a Scots one; or Cockney from Estuary; or Geordie from Scouse. I know RP when I hear it, of course; that’s just what villains in American films speak. Speaking of Americans, there is—as you might know—no better way for an American to encounter British snobbery than to talk about eggplants and cookies, bathrooms and the fall, candy and trash, and, the worst crime of all, pants. […]

Ascension: A Sermon

Perhaps you know this experiment. It uses two dolls. Sally has a basket, Anne has a box. Sally puts a marble in her basket. And then she goes away. While Sally is away, Anne takes the marble from her basket and puts it in her own box. Then Sally comes back again. Where will she look for her marble? […]

Christian Symbolism: The Absent Cross

Some time ago, at a local synod, a speaker suggested that we needed another symbol—apart from the cross—a symbol that suggested a more dynamic approach to Christian  faith. I was interested, indeed amused, that this scandalised some members of the audience, because it was clear that they were unaware of the sensitivities of those Christians who lived in the centuries immediately following the death of Christ. […]

Prayer: Five Books

Prayer is a universal marker and practice of the Christian life.  Yet it causes some of the greatest anxiety among faithful believers who feel that they do not know how to pray, do not pray “well” (whatever that means), or have ceased to be able to pray.  As a result there are probably more books on prayer than on any other aspect of the Christian life. But such books are potentially dangerous, for several reasons.

The Exsultet: the proclamation of Easter

In the weeks leading to Easter—and with terrifying memories of my diaconal year—I (with fear and trembling) practise singing the Exsultet, just in case the deacon tasked with the nine-minute solo falls ill. As scary as it is to sing this most beautiful and ancient hymn […]

Poetry and Lent: During Wind and Rain (Thomas Hardy)

I first came across this poem many years ago. I’ve never been a devotee of Hardy. As an undergraduate I tackled Tess of the d’Urbervilles; I found it utterly compulsive, emotionally exhausting, but slightly mechanical—at every key moment in the story, Tess has a decision to make, and after a while you get the idea that she’s not going to make the right one.

Poetry and Lent: Descending Theology (Mary Karr)

Mary Karr writes that ‘Poetry and prayer alike offer . . . [an] instantaneous connection—one person groping from a dark place to meet with another in an instant that strikes fire’. Poetry is akin to prayer, perhaps a form of prayer, as it turns us outward. Language itself does this, moving us beyond ourselves to connect with another. […]