A reflection from the Revd Jim Craig, Chaplain to the Guy's Campus
As well as being the Chaplain to Guy’s Campus, I’m also a Personal Tutor to a number of medical students. I’ve gradually been catching up them on Teams over the last few weeks and they are all making the most of distance learning during this rather strange term. Despite missing campus life, they all agree on one thing – watching lectures online has its advantages. What they enjoy is having the ability to pause a lecture when they arrive at a tricky topic and speeding them up when they’re coasting or re-watching them.
To distract themselves from their lecture timetables many of them have found themselves binge-watching their way through the latest Netflix dramas. I can understand the impulse to turn to Netflix during lockdown. I binged my way through the whole of Season 4 of The Crown last week, and it almost gave me a migraine. One of the reasons the current epidemic has challenged us so much is its impact has been so hard to predict. We’ve been faced with so much uncertainty. We have all had to adapt to a huge amount of upheaval.
It’s like we’ve binge-watched the first season of a brilliant new TV drama only to find that the second season has been indefinitely delayed. We often turn to television to give us the illusion of control – the illusion that we can see a bigger picture which is being denied us in real life.
The Book of Job in the Old Testament is a story of one man’s struggle to cope when things don’t go to plan. The person of Job is God-fearing, and also a paradigm of a certain way of looking at religion. He believes that if he is good and obeys the commandments he will be rewarded with a big family, lifelong health and prosperity. God allows Satan (identified here only as ‘the accuser’) to subject Job to seemingly arbitrary sufferings, and Job loses sight of the hope he once had in God.
The character of Job is one of the most important in the Old Testament , and many theologians see him as a forerunner of Jesus. Job’s odyssey to meet God face to face echoes his journey from a theology bound by rules to one that is set free by grace. Towards the end of the book Job finds the face of God in the whirlwind - that ultimate symbol of blindness.
The parallel for today’s lockdown experience is clear. Wisdom only comes to us when we learn to sit in the grey areas of life, in life’s whirlwinds. It is often when we feel most powerless that we truly discover our inner strength.
A this second lockdown continues, I pray that you’ll all discover the patience and wisdom of Job. Keep on working hard, studying hard. But when the whirlwind hits, I hope that you will accept the invitation to see God face to face.
God doesn’t call us to be spectate life, he calls us to participate in it. God wants us to interrogate life, and to interrogate its injustices and inequalities. Ultimately He invites us to interrogate Him, to seek him face to face and to thoroughly interrogate the faith which we have received from our forebears.
23 November 2020
A reflection from the Revd Jenny Morgans, Chaplain to the Denmark Hill Campus
The Chaplaincy has been thinking recently about what it means to be a ‘multi-faith’ presence here at King’s. Being multi-faith is a core principle in the Chaplaincy’s mission and identity, not a bi-product or a minor consequence of living in such a diverse and plural city. So what difference does it make and why should we care?
Barbara Glasson argues that ‘God’s story is about transformation … about experiencing our own experience in the light of God’s encounter with us’. For her, such transformation involves not only encounter with God, but also genuine encounter with one another. She writes, ‘if I ask who you are it makes me ask myself who I am.’ Such encounters involve ‘standing with each other in the not understanding’.
The Chaplains at King’s are keen to encourage genuine multi-faith encounter between students and staff of all faiths and none. Such activities build relationship as well as understanding. They are about more than just our common humanity, although this is of course important. Rather, they demonstrate that ‘my story’ only makes sense through the lens of another’s experience – we are all deeply connected and reliant on one another. Multi-faith activities do not pretend that ‘we are really all the same’. Nor do they seek to blur or dilute our different traditions. Instead, they demonstrate that difference does not equate to discrimination or ignorance. They show that none of us separately have all the answers, but that we can journey together as we seek greater understanding. They offer an opportunity to learn not just about one another, but also about ourselves and our own tradition.
As Chaplains, we are always interested in learning about one another’s beliefs or practices so that we can be better equipped at challenging injustice, and can be drawn closer together for the common good of all. And we really hope that you’ll join in too.
Barbara Glasson is currently President of the Methodist Conference and a tutor at The Queen’s Foundation for Ecumenical Education, Birmingham. The quotes here are taken from her excellent and very readable book, I Am Somewhere Else: Gospel Reflections from an Emerging Church (London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2006).
13 November 2020
A reflection from the Revd Jim Craig, Chaplain to the Guy's Campus
I’ve never been far from a radio since the Covid epidemic began. I don’t particularly enjoy silence, or even semi-silence as my children can be quite noisy at home. Having the radio on makes me feel like I have company, and when the conversation gets a little boring I listen to music instead. My summer had a soundtrack all of its own, and I found the genre I was listening to a bit of a surprise. I’ve been getting enormous comfort from listening to African-American spirituals. My non-Christian friends expect me to be listening to religious music all the time, but it’s only since I’ve been a chaplain at King’s that I’ve started to really pay attention to choral music.
In an effort to familiarise myself with more of these highly emotive songs of slavery I downloaded a 4 CD collection called Wade In the Water. The first volume is dedicated to songs that have become part of the canon of contemporary choral music, and if you’re new to spirituals I can’t recommend it highly enough.
One of my favourite tracks on this first volume is called ‘Wade in the Water’. Here is the chorus:-
Wade in the water
Wade in the water
Children wade, in the water
God's gonna trouble the water
Over the top of this chorus a cantor sings a number of verses, including the following:-
I looked over Jordan and what did I see?
A band of angels coming after me
They're gonna take me to the heavenly place
Where the streets are paved with gold and they've got pearly gates
The song was born out of the African-American pursuit of emancipation from the evil of slavery. The song is steeped in baptismal imagery – we are called to be obedient to our baptism vows and follow Christ into the Jordan to claim our share of the resurrection life. This is also the Red Sea, the same water that God ‘troubled’ and ‘separated’ so that Moses could lead the people of God into the promised land.
The message is clear – wade into the waters, even the waters of death, and God will deliver you. Spirituals work on many levels, and were also codified calls for slaves to rebel and escape their captors. I’m only just beginning to recognise the multiple meaning in these songs, and perhaps Black History Month is a prescient time for me to begin to recognise my quite considerable white privilege. This journey has just begin for me, and I recognise that I need to do an awful lot more to understand what it means to be oppressed and marginalised.
However, I still believe that these songs of hope and lamentation have the power to call out to oppressed people throughout the ages with a message of unity and comradeship. We have all faced a torrent of troubles over the last few months, and we need to gird our loins and wade in the water. When we face our fears we do this together as the people of God, forever mindful of our own role in the silencing of those who suffer. I pray that we can become advocates of the freedom that is promised for all of God’s people, no matter what their colour or creed.
NB. You can listen to the whole album for free here (Spotify).
For further reading about the history of African-American Spirituals, read this article in The Western Journal of Black Studies.
2 November 2020
A reflection from the Revd Jenny Morgans, Chaplain to the Denmark Hill Campus
Reflection on ‘You’ by Dennis O’Driscoll
I think that the neoliberal trait of individualism is unhelpful and even damaging. I am wary of anything suggesting that a person has chief responsibility for determining her own world; that individual ‘choice’ takes precedent over the common good. However, I love this poem. It takes our bodies as seriously as our minds in the shaping of our experience. It encourages us to enjoy being ourselves, whoever we are or whatever we’re like. It draws attention to our idiosyncrasies as part of us, not despite us. For me, the poem says something of how God sees us: not to give us a superiority complex placing our own individual lives over that of others; but rather to recognise our faults while delighting in who we are amidst the scheme of humanity and all the cosmos. If we can delight in ourselves in this way, then we cannot help but also delight in one another.
Can you delight in yourself – and in someone else – today?
Be yourself: show your flyblown eyes
to the world, give no cause for concern,
wash the paunchy body whose means you
live within, suffer the illnesses
that are your prerogative alone –
the prognosis refers to nobody but you;
you it is who gets up every morning
in your skin, you who chews your dinner
with your mercury-filled teeth, gaining
garlic breath or weight, you dreading,
you hoping, you regretting, you interloping.
The earth has squeezed you in, found you space;
any loss of face you feel is solely yours –
you with the same old daily moods, debts,
intuitions, food fads, pet hates, Achilles’ heels.
You carry on as best you can the task of being,
whole-time, you; you in wake and you in dream,
at all hours, weekly, monthly, yearly, life,
full of yourself as a tallow candle is of fat,
wallowing in self-denial, self-esteem.
19 October 2020
A reflection from Laurence Jasper, Lay Chaplain (RC) to the Guy's Campus
In this hectic part of the academic year and during these challenging times in which we live, I have a personal longing for peace and for the strength to be a peacemaker. I long for peace of mind, for peace in our families, communities, and in the wider society. I also want to grow in courage, to be able to actively bring peace to others and to put their needs above my own.
This is why I pray the Rosary.
St Pope John Paul II, whose feast day is celebrated on the 22nd October, taught the following in his encyclical Rosarium Virginis Mariae:
‘The Rosary is by its nature a prayer for peace, since it consists in the contemplation of Christ, the Prince of Peace, the one who is “our peace” (Eph 2:14). Anyone who assimilates the mystery of Christ – and this is clearly the goal of the Rosary – learns the secret of peace and makes it his life's project. Moreover, by virtue of its meditative character, with the tranquil succession of Hail Marys, the Rosary has a peaceful effect on those who pray it, disposing them to receive and experience in their innermost depths, and to spread around them, that true peace which is the special gift of the Risen Lord (cf. Jn 14:27; 20.21).
The Rosary is also a prayer for peace because of the fruits of charity which it produces. When prayed well in a truly meditative way, the Rosary leads to an encounter with Christ in his mysteries and so cannot fail to draw attention to the face of Christ in others, especially in the most afflicted. How could one possibly contemplate the mystery of the Child of Bethlehem, in the joyful mysteries, without experiencing the desire to welcome, defend and promote life, and to shoulder the burdens of suffering children all over the world? How could one possibly follow in the footsteps of Christ the Revealer, in the mysteries of light, without resolving to bear witness to his “Beatitudes” in daily life? And how could one contemplate Christ carrying the Cross and Christ Crucified, without feeling the need to act as a “Simon of Cyrene” for our brothers and sisters weighed down by grief or crushed by despair? Finally, how could one possibly gaze upon the glory of the Risen Christ or of Mary Queen of Heaven, without yearning to make this world more beautiful, more just, more closely conformed to God's plan?
In a word, by focusing our eyes on Christ, the Rosary also makes us peacemakers in the world….Far from offering an escape from the problems of the world, the Rosary obliges us to see them with responsible and generous eyes, and obtains for us the strength to face them with the certainty of God's help and the firm intention of bearing witness in every situation to “love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony” (Col 3:14).’ (paragraph 40)
As I pray the Rosary during this month traditionally dedicated to the Holy Rosary, please be assured of my prayers for you all and for your loved ones. If you would like to know more about this beautiful form of Christian meditation, you are welcome to get in touch with me or Fr Toby Lees OP. We also run together a weekly virtual Rosary group for students and staff which meets every Wednesday at 5pm.
Finally, if you are fed up with being indoors, I recommend a visit to The Shrine of Our Lady of the Rosary in London (image above, photo taken by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.).
12 October 2020
A reflection from the Revd Jenny Morgans, Chaplain to the Denmark Hill campus
Welcome! Whether you’re in London or elsewhere, new or an old hand, student or staff, welcome to this new term at King’s. I’m quite a visual person, and I always associate this time of year with the colour yellow. Yellow is usually a spring colour, but for me September more than any other time represents new life and new starts. This time of year always feels like a new beginning even when nothing has actually changed. For me, September still smells like new shoes and carries in the air the thrill of fresh pencils.
This September is a tricky one. Any newness is tinged with its strangeness, tainted by the ongoing restrictions and the uncertainty about what teaching and learning and community can look like amidst COVID-19. Some students are encountering London and King’s for the first time amidst an eerie quasi-lockdown. Some students are hundreds or thousands of miles from London and won’t be visiting any time soon. Some staff are busier than ever while some don’t have enough to do.
This September feels neither thrilling nor comforting, yet for some reason I still seem to be wearing my yellow-tinted lenses. I’m reminded that yellow is also a colour often associated with Easter. There’s a great poem about Easter cards by Eleanor Nesbitt (pdf, 132 KB). The first line simply reads ‘daffodils mostly.’ It demonstrates the association, at least in the West, of new life with these beautiful spring flowers. Easter is about more than new life – it’s about resurrection and the overcoming of death and despair. The poem also speaks of life’s darkness and the brutality of death, so close to our consciousness at the moment. As the poem says, daffodils are an unoffensive and ubiquitous way of celebrating Jesus’s new life and its power to inspire and transform, some two millennia later.
Being Welsh, daffodils have even more significance for me. They speak of home, of welcome, of remembering the good things about where we have come from and about who we are.
Whatever your circumstances this September, I hope you get a sense of newness, of positive change, of inspiration and the overcoming of despair. Remember that you are not alone, reach out to others and try new things. When it feels hard, think yellow thoughts. May this new term bring you ‘daffodils mostly.’
14 September 2020
A reflection from Dr Clare Dowding, Business Manager for the Dean's Office & Chaplaincy
Being alone, being lonely, and just being
I’ve been thinking a lot in the last few months about the difference between being alone and being lonely. I live on my own, so when lockdown started I wasn’t worried about having to get used to being alone, because that’s my default state anyway. I was concerned about being lonely, though, and at times this has indeed been the case.
On the whole, I like living on my own. I like being able to close the door behind me when I get home of an evening, and shut out the world when I need to. I like the fact that I’ve got somewhere to sit in silence when I want to, if I need to recharge my batteries. But this all relies on the state of being on my own as something which is clearly separated from the state of being with other people – and of course since March this has been very rare indeed.
Of course, I’ve seen and talked to people in that time, whether it’s on the ubiquitous Zoom and Teams calls, or on the regulated trips to the shops for groceries. But being with people, spending time in the company of others – that’s something which I wasn’t able to do until recently, and that’s where being lonely is different from being on my own.
It’s a generalisation, but I’ve come to think that being on your own is sometimes a choice, but being lonely is never a choice. As a Christian, I believe that in Jesus God chose to become human, to come and be with people. We are therefore best placed to be all that God wants us to be when we engage with other people. Yes, of course this can be done online and in phone calls and in other ways, but there seems to be a lot of comment as we start to come out of lockdown that for all the wonders of technology, there’s just something about being with people which video-calling just can’t reproduce.
As I write this, I’m looking forward to going to spend a week with my parents in south Wales. As much as I’m looking forward to going for a walk on the beach (not something it’s been possible to do in south-east London!), I’m even more looking forward just to spending time in the same house as other people.
One of King’s most well-known alumni, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, has written a lot about the philosophy of ‘ubuntu’, which can be expressed in terms of understanding that “I am because other people are”. To start to know the fulness of our own humanity, we have to engage with others in the fulness of their humanity. As we start to think about we operate beyond lockdown, we should keep in mind those who sometimes choose to be on their own, and those who never choose to be lonely, and see how each of us can encourage everyone truly to be, whatever their situation.
30 July 2020
A reflection from the Revd Jenny Morgans, Chaplain to the Denmark Hill campus
Housing is a big deal to God. God intends for all to have houses, for houses to be freely given to all. This is true both literally and metaphorically.
Walter Brueggemann is a commentator on the Hebrew Bible (or Old Testament as it’s often called). In a lovely little book called Homefulness, he talks about the importance of ‘Home’ throughout the Hebrew Bible: home with ourselves and with God. But mostly, he talks about home as a radical act of justice: providing a home for the foreigner, for the orphan or the widow. The thing about foreigners, orphans and widows, he argues, is not so much that they were poor or destitute or oppressed, although they were often these things. No – he says that in the social structures of the time, to be foreign or orphaned or widowed was to be cut off from society. It was to have no lineage, no advocacy, no name, no means, no connections, and thus no identity. Without these things, they were ‘everywhere at risk’. To be orphaned was to be totally marginalised and excluded from all the support structures that protected and included people. The Hebrew Bible’s insistence that the orphan be provided for and welcomed into the community did not simply ensure that all had physical homes, but rather that all were able to belong.
Before I trained for ordination, I lived in Sheffield with a number of asylum seekers. William, a quiet man from Ghana who made an excellent jollof rice, was suddenly deported with no warning. Zamir, from Iraq, was excellent on my sewing machine because he had worked with textiles before leaving home. Amos would do everyone’s washing up, singing Christmas carols whatever the time of year. I learnt so much from living with these men. I was their host, but I was always also an honoured guest.
Homefulness is God-filled act of inclusion and home-ing. But it is not an optional addition to faith. Instead, it is a requirement. Brueggemann writes that to believe inGodis to act justly. To believe in God is to do what God does. God loves the stranger, you love the stranger. God gives food and clothing, you give food and clothing. God says, ‘I am here, where bread and house and clothing are shared. And where there is no such sharing, there will be no such healing presence’. Because sharing brings belonging.
‘Yahweh is not a God safely in heaven or in church, but Yahweh is in fact a specific social practice’.
You be the social practice whereby God is made visible, available and effective in the world. Belonging is essential to all of our wellbeing, while loneliness is to feel orphaned from our own communities and selves. Homefulness means: that I need you, and you need me; that my story only makes sense when I hear your story; that your pain diminishes my very self.
So, ask yourselves: What does homefulness look like in a world adapting to COVID-19? And how can you make it happen?
Reference: Brueggemann, W, The Practice of Homefulness (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2014)
23 July 2020
A reflection from Dr Joseph Fort, College Organist, Director of the Chapel Choir & Lecturer in Music:
In the history of music making, perhaps the biggest shake-up that it has ever received came around a hundred years ago, with the advent of recording technology. Prior to then, music had always been an ‘in-person’ activity; it only happened live. If you wanted to hear a piece of music, you had to persuade or pay someone to play or sing it to you; or you had to make the music yourself—to D I Y. With recording, though, you could suddenly have music in your living room without the humans required to make it actually being simultaneously present. For the first time, you could hear music that someone made a day, or a month, or a year or decade earlier.
The present lockdown situation has brought sharply into focus questions over the value of music’s live-ness. Various technical challenges make live streams of performance somewhat risky, and—in the case of multiple performers in different locations—sometimes impossible. Various strange solutions have sprung up—perhaps the strangest coming from the Tokyo Symphony Orchestra a few days ago, playing along live to a pre-recorded video of their conductor.
Yet, for all the technical challenges that live performance can present, the lockdown has to some extent underscored its value. Yes, we can listen to innumerable wonderful recordings of performances by real stars, from years gone by, but somehow nothing quite replaces the excitement of a live performance, and particularly the connection that this brings. Haydn was a composer who thought about that connection with his audience: every piece is designed to provoke a reaction in his audience—to connect with them.
Perhaps this is why there remains a strong desire for liveness, such that even though we can listen to a recording of a piece any time we still get something of a thrill from listening to it live, together with other people.
When we put together our A Moment of Calm series in May and June—our Compline-inspired online video offering—a key feature of these were that they would be live (wherever possible). People might enjoy and benefit from watching them later, but it’s still not quite the same as watching live.
One area in which further thought into liveness might be interesting is that of prayer, and particularly communal prayer. A fundamental feature of in-person services is that of unification through joint prayer; how does this change (if at all) when the prayer is initially uttered several hours or days before, on a pre-recorded video? Of course, repetition has always been a crucial part of prayer, for at least two thousand years, but this seems different, somehow.
The lockdown has meant finding new ways of connection, and in some cases re-defining what that connection means. It has also reminded us of the importance of connection between each other, whether made through speech, through song, or through prayer.
21 July 2020
A reflection from Romana Kazmi, Muslim Chaplain:
Reclaiming our heart vision.
With the Coronavirus pandemic, and all the struggles we are facing in the world today, what we need more than ever, is to strengthen and connect more to our heart's vision and insight over our physical vision and sight.
There is a difference between our physical vision, and our inner heart-sight, our spiritual vision. Our physical eye looks outside of us and sees realities in the world around us. The heart's eye looks within and sees greater realities beyond what the physical eye sees.
Therefore, we need to start strengthening our inner, heart-vision, for when we go through hardships and struggles such as our current pandemic, our ability to receive guidance, and derive the truth, peace, meaning, and wisdom we need, depends on cultivating and strengthening our spiritual vision.
I feel a sense of solidarity with all workers in the hospital, who I have been more heavily supporting. They are all on the front lines of this crisis and it is an honour to be there with them. . I try to remind everyone that right now, it’s critical that we take care of ourselves so that we can take care of others. I know that I could not do this work otherwise.
As Chaplains, the work we do is to show up by providing a compassionate presence to offer spiritual and emotional support during a crisis. Where human touch offers understanding and warmth. It was the thing I most struggled with while working with end of life care. There’s a lot we’re missing out on… but those that hurt the most are such human moments & experiences. I had to remind myself that compassion means never running away from pain.
I struggled with it, but I try to remind myself that people are resilient — they contain within them the seeds of their own healing.
With so much time for reflection, I have come a long way to reconcile these tensions in my emotions, that two truths in being sad and grateful can co-exist, and that there’s always a silver lining .it’s ok to grieve the loss of normalcy, our opportunities, the routine of life but that the silver lining in all this disruption is that we’re pushed to unlearn very fundamental parts of ourselves, our identity.
I have never felt more introspective, and ironically in all this social distancing closer to the people in life.
The physical eye may see the hardships of the Coronavirus as great, but it is the spiritual eye, the eye of our heart, that sees God as greater.
13 July 2020
A reflection from the Revd Tim Ditchfield FKC, College Chaplain & Acting Dean:
I guess we have all had time to look back at what has helped us through this time. I have found this very challenging at times as someone who struggles with anxiety and depression. I’ve found poetry especially helpful this time. And our cats. And cooking.
Our cats are completely unaware of any external issues of course as long as they get food and cuddles. They are loving the extra opportunities to sit on laps and bomb our various Zoom and Microsoft Teams calls. And the need to look after them is a good fixed point in our lives. They show us how to relax.
I have for many years enjoyed cooking and now I have more time to discover some new recipes and revisit ones I haven’t used for ages. I have started working on a weekly menu so I have time to think what I’d like to cook and make sure I don’t buy too much food. We are fortunate through all of this time to have had enough to eat and I am so grateful for this and a safe place to live. Each time I cook I am mindful of those who don’t have enough.
This time has taught us how fragile our lives are and to be thankful for each day we have enough to eat and a safe place to live and family and friends to share our lives with.
Thankfully I’ve not been writing ‘such bloody awful poetry’ in the words of the Smiths but other people’s poetry has been a real blessing for me. I have always loved poetry since studying First World War poetry for A levels in the dark and distant past. Reading Wilfred Owen and others showed me how poetry could have a real power to challenge and unsettle as well as being beautifully crafted and celebratory.
I started sending an email to our Senior Management Team each week firstly to thank them for all their work and remind them of the need to rest and be refreshed as we were likely to be in this for the long haul. And I chose this poem by Wendell Berry:
The Peace of Wild Things, Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
Since then this has become a thing and I have revisited poets I have known and discovered poets new to me such as Roger Robinson as I continue to send a poem each week. It isn’t much in one sense but it has also opened up many conversations and I rather like the fact that I am talking about poetry with King’s senior colleagues.
Poetry speaks to our hearts in a very powerful way – at least it speaks to my heart.
3 July 2020
A reflection from the Revd Jim Craig, Chaplain to the Guy's Campus:
I’m writing this having just finished leading a weekly mindfulness session on MS Teams. I’m not the only member of Chaplaincy to run such sessions – my colleague Jenny also runs a weekly session on a Wednesday morning. A regular practice of mindfulness has proven to lower stress levels and improve both mental and physical wellbeing. I think it particularly relevant to university chaplaincy as it does not force participants to make declarations of faith. There will be people like myself who find it very useful for leading oneself into prayer, but others can just enjoy the invitation to give themselves an extended moment of calm. This calm can descend when participants allow themselves to step away from the time-based anxieties which trouble us in our daily lives.
As busy human beings we can be so preoccupied with both the past and the future that we completely fail to notice the present moment in all it’s colour and substance. We can be so locked into perfectly reasonable daily goals and targets that we spend the vast majority of that day on autopilot, completely ignorant of the people and places who are before us. In fact, in a constant state of business and haste we can go through almost an entire day without actually experiencing anything. We simply recognise objects and devices and contacts who have proven useful to us in some way. We are like computer algorithms clothed in flesh and completely detached from our senses.
Mindfulness, therefore, is one of a number of practices which can gently return our senses to an attentiveness to the present moment. The poet Robert Browning saw the artist as another ‘practitioner’ who has the power to draw people back into this existential relationship with ‘now’. He says in his poem Fra Lippo Lippi:-
‘We're made so that we love
First when we see them painted, things we have passed
Perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see;
And so they are better, painted—better to us,
Which is the same thing.’
In our time of lockdown, I’m sure we could all make a vast list of similar practices which have helped bring us back to a greater appreciation for the present moment. Artists, musicians, film, television, books, poetry, radio, and even a conversation with a good friend. These practices all help us to love things that we have walked past ‘perhaps a hundred times nor cared to see.’ I find that there is a tangible sense of healing to be had in the present moment. Once you’ve fought off the distractions which can lead you backwards or forwards in time, the present moment is a rich tapestry of resurrection.
The God who called out to Moses from the burning bush announced himself as ‘the being’, the ‘I am’. If there’s one thing we can grateful for these last few months it’s the opportunity to reflect on who we are and what we’re worth when we’re no longer slaves to our endless task lists.
25 June 2020
A reflection from Nat Frangos in the Dean's Office:
Another world is possible – if we can only be brave enough to remake this one.
We find ourselves in the liminal space between the pre-Coronavirus and post-Coronavirus worlds – this is a transitional time, and it can be transformative.
Let’s not be content to continue with a way of life that no longer serves us, because ‘that’s how it is, and how it’s always been’. It doesn’t have to be this way, and we don’t have to live like this anymore.
Now is the time for ideas and the audacity to speak up, to take individual and collective responsibility for what is broken in this world - whether or not we caused the damage, whether or not what is broken affects us - and commit wholeheartedly to working together to repair all for the common good.
We have every tool necessary for this task – imagination, knowledge, skills, talents, gifts, energy and materials are in abundant supply among us - we just need to be willing to fully share who we are and what we have, to create the good we want to enjoy, as individuals and communally, in this world.
Be under no illusion - remaking the world will take courage and co-operation, concern and care. It may mean that we will need to face and endure risk, embarrassment, danger and pain. It will require selflessness and sacrifice. Love, not fear, should guide our way forward.
It is no longer acceptable for us to disregard injustice and the suffering of others. It is no longer acceptable for us to invest our resources in throwaway things, without consideration, that suffocate livelihoods and poison the environment.
Pleading ignorance is for the past – we are living through the final stage of the Information Age and there can be no more excuses for not knowing any better. We must open our eyes and ears, our minds and hearts – the alternative is the slow death of humanity. There is so much available to us at the simple touch of a button, and we have so much potential to explore and develop. Let us learn from, and teach, each other. With sincerity and resilience, empathy and grace.
Friends, we are making heroes of the wrong professions, and we are letting technology use us. Celebrity culture is diverting resources and attention away from those that really need it. Let’s stop paying people to enrich themselves through self-promotion at our expense and shun the trend of being manipulated to feel guilt and shame about ourselves, and jealousy and resentment towards others.
When did you last feel free of the pressure to be anyone other than who you really are? What kind of world are you investing in every time you open your purse/wallet or tap your card on the card reader? How much is enough?
Let’s put a high value on the content of character and uplift and reward those who toil in the service of others. Let’s rediscover the joy and comfort of community and serve our neighbours in any way we can, big or small. Let’s be better, do better, and make better choices.
Just think about it – a BIG, DEEP, OUT-OF-BODY think – what would you change to improve the quality of your life, the lives of others, the state of the earth? What would it take to bring about that change, however small?
Do that thing. Do it now. You’ve got this. We’ve got this.
18 June 2020
A reflection from our Associate Chaplain, the Revd Jarel Robinson-Brown:
George Floyd’s murder didn’t shock me.
On one level, I hope that statement in itself is shocking. But it’s true, the video of George Floyd having the life snuffed out of him, didn’t shock me. All my life I have grown up and lived with the awareness of the fragility and the vulnerability of black lives. Through a myriad of subtle and visceral cues I learnt very early on that to much of the world black lives, my life, my friends lives - were and continue to be expendable. Black people die at the hands of white supremacy and racial injustice all the time, and there are long list of names of which I have known and been aware which many of the rest of the world are only now discovering. This is what it means to grow up black – growing daily with the reality of premature death. I have lived with the experience of school friends who’s seats were suddenly left vacant not necessarily by racist violence but by a violence borne of socio-economic neglect and knife crime in a City policed by those who several times stopped and searched my friends and I with a force and vilification twinned with the presumption of guilt that meant your skin made you eligible to be handled and spoken to in the most inhumane of ways.
My earliest memory of the police as a child is of a white police officer at an event prior to Notting Hill Carnival with his foot on the head of a black man who, as far as my memory serves, posed little threat to the little boy in close proximity to him. These things, particularly in the midst of a pandemic which poses a particular threat to the BAME community, come flying back into the mind’s eye when you witness the harrowing video of George Floyd’s last moments. For those of us who are black and in the UK or USA, the issues behind the current protests are not new – they have been part of a struggle we have been fighting with less than enough solidarity for years.
Now, as possibly the first Chaplain at King’s of African descent, I live with the experience and insight from my life and ministry which has opened my eyes to the reality of the world’s brokenness. In 2008, I led the memorial service in Southwark for Lyle Tulloch a 15 year-old black teenager stabbed 13 times in London in gang violence. In 2018, I found myself as the Minister for the Church which Stephen Lawrence attended, in which his funeral was held and in which Sunday by Sunday I preached from the pulpit which stood beside a stained-glass window of him. As someone who grew up in the same city in which dear Stephen lost his life, I was aware of the brutality with which young black men so frequently lose their lives, and the justice which their families were often denied – and for years, I lived wondering if I would ever live to see 28 years of life as I have. George Floyd’s murder has ignited protests all around the world – but let us not be fooled into thinking that the protests we see are only about what happened to George Floyd. The protests that we are witnessing are the result of a people who have grown tired, they are the result of a people who have lived for more than 401 years in a world of racial injustice, a world which has benefited financially from the abuse, torture, enslavement and exploitation of black people – these protests are the result of a people and their allies who are saying enough is enough. As a preacher of the Gospel and as a queer black man, it’s important for me to say that not only do Black Lives Matter, but All Black Lives Matter, and most importantly they matter to God. I hope a time will come when saying this is not necessary, but George Floyd is a harsh reminder - that time is not yet now.
11 June 2020
A reflection from our Baptist Chaplain, the Revd Dr Simon Woodman:
As a Chaplain-by-night, Baptist-minister-by-day, my Lockdown has been mostly concerned with the challenges posed by helping my congregation, Bloomsbury Central Baptist Church, work out what it is to ‘be church’ when we are exiled from our building. One of the early questions we had to face was whether, as part of our Zoom Webinar Sunday morning services, we should share communion.
It is often said amongst Baptists that our buildings are a function of our faith, rather than integral to it. I paraphrase. What is actually often said is that, ‘we could worship in the woods if we had to’. What traditionally matters for Baptists is the gathering and the worship, not where we do it. But the Coronavirus epidemic has raised a slightly different question for us, which is that of whether we need to ‘gather’ physically at all, for church to still be church.
There is of course biblical precedent for ‘virtual fellowship’, just ask St Paul, who continued his ministry in a variety of congregations while physically distant from them, using the technology available at the time (and inadvertently writing a large part of the New Testament while he was at it).
It seems to me that when God’s scattered people share bread and wine intentionally and in harmony, the sacramental moment is still to be found. So I decided to write a liturgy for Baptists to use for ‘Scattered communion’, which can be accessed here.
There are a number of elements of this liturgy which it is worth reflecting on.
1 It is multi-voiced.
One of the important features of our early experimenting with an online gathering has been to make it as multi-voiced as possible. The congregation ministers to one another, even as they are led in worship. It is our conviction that what will sustain the church through these difficult times is the fellowship and community that binds us to each other.
2 The image of scattering and gathering
There is a Baptist communion prayer which says, ‘As this bread, once scattered over the hills, was brought together and became one loaf, so, Lord, may your Church be united and brought together from the ends of the earth into your Kingdom.’ While this prayer is not used in my liturgy, it generated the idea of the grain and the grapes having their origin in separation, but finding their fulfilment in communion.
3 The broken and re-membered body of Christ
There is something profound about the brokenness of God’s people mirroring the brokenness of Christ’s body on the cross, and the sharing of communion ‘in remembrance’ is symbolic of the fact that we are always now incomplete and imperfect and broken, and that we long for greater communion with God and with one another.
4 The image of manna
Jesus spoke of himself as the bread of life which comes down from heaven, as the fulfilment of the hope which the gift of manna in the wilderness pointed to. As manna sustained God’s people in the wilderness, so the bread of life sustains us as we too journey through difficulty and danger towards the hope that holds us.
5 The words of institution
It seemed important to include the words that are normally spoken over the bread and wine in our regular church services, rooting our scattered communion in our previous (and hopefully future) practice of gathered communion.
6 The prayer of thanksgiving
This emphasises the hope of future wholeness even as we are scattered and broken in the present, grounded in the incarnation and the cross of Christ, and held by the assurance of God’s eternal loving ingathering.
7 Jeremiah’s promise to the exiles
The taking of bread and wine are both introduced by promises of restoration given by Jeremiah to the exiles in Babylon. As we are exiled from our church, and from our normal lives, we need to hear again the promises of hope that infuse our faith tradition.
8 The promise of Jesus to his disciples
The service concludes with the words of Jesus to his disciples that even when they are scattered, they can have peace, courage, and hope.
(You can read a longer version of this reflection here.
4 June 2020
A reflection from our Orthodox Chaplain, James Johnson:
Lockdown can be described on many levels. When people ask me how we are (that’s me, my wife, and our two children, three years and 11 months old), I usually explain that our routine isn’t so different. We wake up, earlier or later, depending on the previous night, have breakfast, play in our back yard, which may involve cycling around in circles, playing football or hide and seek, then we have lunch, then walk to our local park, where we play and explore (amazingly, there usually is something we haven’t yet noticed). Then we head home, eat supper, watch a cartoon, read a book, and go to bed. I also work, which happens in between or during all these things. The other constants in our days are Lego (building boats at the moment), reading books, and dancing, if the mood or the music takes us.
The above description is slightly deceptive, because, as most other parents will testify, our days are also filled with laughter, tears, anger, joy, despair, love, worry, irritation and even peace. And that’s mostly just me. Sometimes I look at my son behaving like a three year-old, and see my own behaviour reflected back at me. Sometimes the emotions run so high that I feel like I’m in an opera.
Lockdown has made me ask myself what are the foundations of my life. My mother says that in some ways her life is more peaceful now, with nobody else in the house apart from my dad, but sometimes all the phone calls, emails and online chats make her feel fragmented. That is exactly the word. But I am pulled in different directions by fear of the future, sentimentality about the past, and by my frustration at not being able to do what I want to do. All these feelings pull me away from the present, which is the only place I can have a relationship with everyone around me and, most importantly, with God. Our children truly live in the present — why can’t I?
Listening to a piece of beautiful music helps, as does trying to give my undivided attention to my wife and children. But best of all is to look up and away from myself and thank God, not just for the things I have (and there is much I can be grateful for in these difficult times) but for everything, despite my fragmentedness, my weakness and my childishness.
One of my favourite prayers, the Akathist “Glory to God for All Things”, was written by Fr Gregory Petrov in the Soviet Gulag. It came from an awful place but you would never know it, as it is filled with such a sense of peace, beauty and thanksgiving to God. Here is an extract:
I was born a weak, defenceless child, but your angel, spreading his radiant wings, guarded my cradle. From my birth, your love has illumined my paths, and has wondrously guided me towards the light of eternity.
From my first day until now, the generous gifts of your providence have been wonderfully showered upon me. I give you thanks, and with all those who have come to know you, I exclaim:
Glory to you for calling me into being,
Glory to you for spreading out before me the beauty of the universe,
Glory to you for revealing to me through heaven and earth the eternal book of wisdom,
Glory to your eternity within this fleeting world,
Glory to you for your mercies, seen and unseen,
Glory to you for every sigh of my sorrow,
Glory to you for every step in my life’s journey, for every moment of joy,
Glory to you, O God, from age to age.
28 May 2020
A reflection from our Jewish Chaplain, Dr Harrie Cedar:
Kabbalistic Tree of Life with the Ten Sephirot
1 Keter - crown
2 Hokhma – knowledge
3 Binah - understanding
4 Hesod / Chesed – loving kindness, benevolence
5 Gevurah – justice, disciple, restraint, awe
6 Tiferet – beauty, harmony, compassion
7Netzah – endurance, fortitude, ambition
8 Hod - humility, splendour
9 Yesod – bonding, foundation
10 Malkuth - nobility, sovereignty, leadership
A space in time
Lockdown has become a new FOMO (Fear of Missing Out). Instead of seeing better social lives than our own on media outlets we now are encouraged to compete to have a more successful lockdown than anybody else, full of achievements and accomplishments. Thank goodness the Choir of King's College London came up with A Moment of Calm.
Judaism has been doing a spiritual lockdown for over 3000 years. In the Hebrew calendar we are currently in a period of time just after the 10 plagues of Egypt which sent us out into an Exodus, passing through the sea into the desert, a liminal space.
This desert gives rise to the fourth book of the Torah, Bamidbar (in the desert) which is called Numbers in English. We count the days between leaving Egypt (the festival of Pesach- Passover) and gathering at Mount Sinai for divine revelation (which we celebrate as Shavuot, Weeks). Numbers mark time and space. We call these days ‘Omer’. What we receive at Mount Sinai is Torah and the 10 commandments, the ultimate lockdown list.
The Omer is a time period of seven weeks, 49 day during which we are meant to work on ourselves and our behaviours, in readiness for revelation. We have a minor celebration during the Omer on the 33rd day for Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, who is thought to have written the Zohar, the mystical book of Kabbalah, which forms the basis of this self-improvement. The Zohar codifies the spiritual underpinning of the Torah. It illuminates the world by bringing elements of holiness down through a ‘Tree of Life’ whose roots are in heaven and whose branches descend into this realm. The branches of the Tree of Life represent characteristics of the divine name in ten ‘Sephirot’, manifestations or aspects of holiness such as humility and kindness, that we are meant to emulate.
Shimon bar Yochai lived about 2000 years ago in Israel. At that time Israel had come under Roman occupation and had been given a Latin name by the occupiers, Palestine. The tale is told of his nattering about ‘what did the Romans do for us’ which was rather unflattering. This conversation was reported back to the Romans and Rabbi Yochai was sentenced to death. He escaped to a cave, with his son, and lived there for 12 years until his sentence was annulled. During his years in lockdown, their discussions led to the written Zohar.
At the time of this piece appearing, we will have 2 weeks of the Omer to go and perhaps, an end to this current lockdown. Hopefully, we shall reach our own Mount Sinai and have some revelation about ourselves and our lives which will result in our having learnt the essential life-skill we all need, being kinder.
21 May 2020
A reflection from the Revd Canon Dr Keith Riglin, Chaplain at the St Thomas' campus & Assistant Dean:
During this lockdown, I’m finding comfort in the words of the American theologian Reinhold Niebuhr (1892-1971). He said, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.” It’s often known as the Serenity Prayer, and seems most appropriate for these days – learning and discerning that some things can be done during this time, but also grasping that there are some things, frustrating though it is, which we cannot change. My hope and prayer is that we will all find the wisdom “to know the difference.”
If only it were an easy thing to do. I’m sure I’m not the only person who’s finding this period of lockdown somewhat challenging and frustrating. It’s true, I’ve been able to keep in touch with folk at King’s, and to keep up with some (though certainly not all) of the work which comes our way in the Chaplaincy. And throughout King’s we’ve found new ways of holding conversations and meetings, of discussing and praying.
Like many at King’s I’d also thought of all the things I could catch up on during the lockdown – work that had somehow got left behind or forgotten, that project which I always hoped to complete, the organizing of my at-home work space which I never quite got round to when I first moved in.
The frustration of it all is obvious, especially in King’s, where so much of our work is built upon the sense of community and personal relationships which informs our unique emphasis on teaching, research, and service. However, with serenity, with wisdom, we can find new ways of doing things which enable King’s to survive and flourish during these difficult days.
The Chaplaincy is here as a resource for this – I especially invite you to join us for A Moment of Calm every weekday evening at 5pm.
14 May 2020
Guess the Chaplain! ART in Isolation - 'Girls Night Out in Peck-hen':
'Exhibition for Chickens' - Curated by @father_of_dawdlers (Instagram)
"The exhibits in the show ranged from sound work, performance work and dance to sculptures and works on paper. My 'work' was a cheapy cheep populist ruse 'Girls Night Out in Peck-hen' containing a version of Do the Funky Chicken by Rufus Thomas and a collection of 'flocktails' containing bird seed, which attracted the chickens and goats and led to its destruction. The whole piece was set, ironically, in a silver foil baking tray. It was accompanied by a very wordy text. The 'artist' of this 'work' decided to remain anonymous, hiding behind a street name.
This exhibition generally became highly 'interactive' due to the goats muscling in and eating all the exhibits.
However: Louisa Buck wrote about the show in The Art Newspaper and you can read all about it here."
14 May 2020
A reflection from our Lutheran Chaplain, the Revd Sarah Farrow:
Dogman and Rabbitgirl with Coffee - a sculpture in Spitalfields (Artists: Gillie and Marc)
"As part of my work, I have been sending on emails and advice about working and studying from home. I’ve been telling others how important it is to keep healthy, to exercise, to take the opportunity to learn new things and the importance of routine. But in recent weeks the most important thing I’ve learned is to remember the gift of acceptance and grace. We are each unique so I can't expect to react to the current situation as those around me are reacting – and that’s okay. There is no ‘one way’ to live in the midst of a global pandemic and lockdown. We are each going to find our own ways of coping and supporting one another.
I’ve heard recently that our stress response is like a fingerprint with a unique pattern set by our own unique experiences. No one else has lived your life so no one else will react the same way as you do when things change unexpectedly or when our routines and expectations are flipped upside down. So, I’ve been learning to accept that if my friend or colleague is reacting to the lockdown differently to me, that doesn't mean either of us are reacting 'wrong'. We are all finding our own way and that’s going to be different and that is okay. We will each have our own coping strategies and we can figure those out in conversations with one another, but not by comparing ourselves to one another.
I have now discovered that I really don’t like routine. I have now accepted I won’t become super-fit and I won’t be learning a new language or all of a sudden become some kind of superhuman. But I have rediscovered who I am – a unique person living in grace each day.
We all have different struggles and circumstances we’re coping with in this time and we encourage you reach out to a member of our Chaplaincy team if you would like to talk. We are here to listen and support you as you find your way – whether that is over email, video calls or a phone call."
7 May 2020