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Weekly Reflections Archive

A reflection from Revd Dr Jenny Morgans, Chaplain to the Denmark Hill campus

Sun child drawingAt the moment, Christians are celebrating Lent.  Lent is often known as a time to ‘give up’ something.  I wonder if, this year, the best way to mark Lent might be to ‘give up’ all that gets in our way of living simply.  I don’t mean chocolate or alcohol, but rather to think about the excesses of our broken world: it’s violence and injustice, oppression and discrimination. What can we give up – or take up – that will remind us what it means to be human?  What will it take to remember that we are intrinsically interconnected with humanity and all the creatures that make up God’s cosmos?

Here is a reading that says what I mean much more beautifully …

Note: to read the poem most easily, please click on the poem title link below, or on the body of the poem, and you will be redirected to an online pdf.

All I Ever Really Needed to Know I Learned in Kindergarten by Robert Fulghum

All of what I need to know

© Robert Fulghum (1990) All I Really Need To Know I Learned In Kindergarten Villard Books: NewYork pp.6-7.

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A reflection from Rabbi Dr Harrie Cedar, Jewish Chaplain

Remember to erase the name of Amalek              

Ukraine flag 2Purim, which occurs 16th-17th March this year, is celebrated as a moment when evil intentions are thwarted. It may give us hope at this moment in time with a new war in Europe looming. Strangely, on Purim we are told to get so drunk that we cannot tell the difference between the good guy, Mordechai and the bad guy, Haman. Many participants put on fancy-dress costumes so we are unrecognisable as ourselves.

In mystical terms, Good and Bad (or lack of Good) stand in opposition to each other, but in a necessary opposition in the same way that Up is opposite Down or Left is opposite to Right. Most of us do not live in the extreme ends of these oppositions, we are somewhere between extreme Up and extreme Down, extreme Good and extreme Bad.

In a much earlier story in the Torah, we are reminded to erase the name and therefore the memory of a very wicked man, Amalek (Deuteronomy 25:17-19). Amalek led the tribe, the Amalekites. A long time before the story of Purim, the Israelites came out of Egyptian slavery. What is called the ‘mixed multitude’ of Israelites proceeded out across the Sea of Reeds into the Desert of Sinai and included elderly, weak and orphaned. Often these people were stragglers at the back, slower and weaker than the people at the front. Amalek attacked at the rear of the Israelites, where these weaker, slower people were (Exodus 17:8-16). The stronger ones, led by Joshua under the instructions of Moses, turned on the Amalekites and defeated them, but some Amalekites survived.

But, as I said before, we seldom live in extremes where good and bad are so clear cut. We also need to remember that Amalek is the grandson of Esau and therefore the great-nephew of Esau’s twin brother, Jacob. Jacob is one of the Patriarchs of the Hebrews, a man who is renamed after his struggle with an angel. He is given the name ‘Israel’, and his 12 sons form the 12 Tribes of Israel. Many generations later, these descendants of the 12 Tribes of Israel end up fighting their cousins, the Amalekites, in Sinai.  Just like the current war, there is a relationship between the aggressor and those they are fighting.

And this festival of Purim memorialises a time, much later in Israelite history, when another Amalekite, called Haman, lived. He tried to have all the Israelites erased. Instead of his wishes coming to fruition, through the actions of Esther, the niece of Mordechai, Haman and his sons are erased. Purim celebrates the survival of a people, a nation, a culture from being exterminated and remembers and tries to erase the name of Haman. Unfortunately, in every generation a new Amalek, or a number of them, arise, destructive people, usually men. And we are reminded especially this year as a war in Europe emerges.

We are each given the choice between Good and Life versus Bad and Death. We are instructed to Choose Life, in other words, choose to do good (Deuteronomy 30:19). It really is that simple. But some people never learn. So, it seems, that every year we will still need to remember to erase the name, the memory and the existence of Amalek. Perhaps that is why, when we drink, we say L’chaim (to Life): Choose it!

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A reflection from the Revd Dr Simon Woodman, Baptist Chaplain

another worldThe first Sunday in March this year is celebrated by many Christians as the first Sunday of Lent. This is the 6-week period when many people undertake some act of self-denial (such as giving up chocolate, alcohol, or social media) as a modern-day parallel to the 40 days of fasting in the wilderness undertaken by Jesus.

Many Christians also read the story of Jesus’ temptation on the first Sunday of Lent, which is a story of Jesus facing the temptations of pleasure, possessions, and glory. Firstly, the devil suggests that Jesus might satiate his desire for food (which must have been strong after 40 days of fasting!); secondly the devil offers him possession of all the kingdoms of the world; and thirdly the devil suggests he throw himself from the highest point of the temple to be caught up by angels (Luke 4.1-13).

At the heart of the temptation story is the question of what kind of leader people want? Do they want a leader who satisfies the desires of the heart and the body? Do they want a leader who enacts dreams of military conquest and domination? Do they want a leader who sets themselves us as a god, display glory and demanding worship from the masses?

And this story speaks to our context, particularly as we see war once more in Europe, and elsewhere around the world.

We too recognise the kind of leader who promises the good life. From Harold MacMillan’s post-war slogan to the British people that, ‘You’ve never had it so good’; to Bill Clinton’s campaigning on ‘the economy, stupid’; to Boris Johnson’s policy on cake - ‘pro having it, and pro eating it’. Politicians of every stripe are quick to tempt us with the promise of satisfying our desires, if only we will vote for them. And all too often we fall for it! We too are prone to the temptation to prioritise our desires, often at the expense of those who have less than we do.

We also recognise the kind of leader who wants to rule the world, who is never satisfied with what they have and always wants more. The great tyrants of history are the greatest examples of this, but we see lesser forms of it as lesser leaders seek to undermine confidence in democracy, to twist the public to their will through misinformation and manipulation. But maybe we can also see this temptation in ourselves too, as we face the daily temptations to prioritise the acquisition of possessions. Having more of everything isn’t necessarily going to lead to a fulfilled life.

And finally, we also recognise the kind of leader who sees themselves as little less than a god, leaders whose monumental egos and deep insecurities continually demand adoration and affirmation, constantly testing the public response to prove that they are still the top dog. From leaders of countries, to leaders in other areas of public life, the desire to dominate absolutely is a temptation far more widespread than we may at first realise. Maybe we can see it on ourselves, too, in our darker moments, as our fantasies of dominance play themselves out in our minds?

In response to all of these temptations, Jesus quoted from the Hebrew Bible (Deut. 6.13-14, 16; 8.3), drawing on the wisdom of his religious tradition to resist, and to point the way to a better way of being human. ‘One does not live by bread alone’, ‘Worship the Lord your God alone’, and ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’.

And I wonder if we can hear a call here to draw on our religious traditions, to help us resist the temptations that we face, and to guide us to a better way of being human?

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A reflection from Laura Elworthy, Chaplaincy Assistant

Queer and Holy: Finding your faith

Pauli Murray Reflection

“In not a single one of these little campaigns was I victorious. In other words, in each case, I personally failed, but I have lived to see the thesis upon which I was operating vindicated. And what I very often say is that I’ve lived to see my lost causes found.” – Pauli Murray

On Wednesday 16th February, I watched a wonderful documentary called ‘My Name is Pauli Murray’. The documentary explored the life of a legal trailblazer whose ideas influenced Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s fight for gender equality and Thurgood Marshall’s civil rights arguments. The documentary was a portrait of Murray’s impact as a non-binary Black luminary: lawyer, activist, poet, and priest who transformed our world.

Murray’s life was new to me; I am ashamed to say I had never heard of them before. You can watch the documentary for free on Amazon Prime. Their life made me reflect on different aspects of my own identity and how I reconcile them to my faith.

I have been involved in churches which take a hard-line on gender and sexuality: women should not lead but should learn in submission from male leaders; homosexuality a sin and those who experience these attractions should live celibately and not pursue romantic love. Neither of those convictions ever sat well with me and caused me a lot of personal anguish, and I’m now in a place where I believe those convictions to be damaging and unloving.

Pauli Murray never stopped fighting for a world which was more equal, even in areas which were well before her time. My faith inspires me that we all created equally, and that no one is a ‘lost cause’. No LGBTQ+ individual is a ‘lost cause’ because of their gender or sexuality. No conservative, non-affirming person is a ‘lost cause’ because of their views. We are all loved and come to these conversations with our own histories, traumas, and preconceptions.

You will never meet someone who is not loved by God, and I believe that’s one of the most profound truths any of us will truly know. For if we believe this, we will love others with all our souls, and not delight in seeing them ‘lost’ in self-hatred, bigotry, or fear. If we believe that God loves every person unconditionally, we will forgive ourselves. We will also forgive the same in others too.

I understand why people are of different convictions, particularly in issues relating to gender and sexuality. It is important in all our disagreements not to misrepresent or malign those who disagree with us, especially in the midst of such emotionally charged topics. However, it is also important to stand up for what we believe to be loving and just.

I pray it is true that we can all say that we ‘lived to see our lost causes found’.

You can check out our social media campaign ‘Queer and Holy’ on Instagram here. All information is from the Chaplaincy Assistants, Laura and Matilda, and may not reflect the views of every member of the Chaplaincy team.

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A reflection from the Revd Sarah Farrow, Chaplain to the St Thomas' & Waterloo campuses and Vice Dean

TreesHave you heard of ‘forest bathing’? No, it’s not trying to do the breaststroke through a pile of leaves. It’s the idea (with a lot of science behind it) that time spent in mindful exploration in a forest can help both your physical and mental health.

There is a saying, attributed to the Zen tradition, ‘You should sit in nature for 20 minutes a day. Unless you're very busy... then you should sit for an hour.’ It reminds me of a similar quote attributed to Martin Luther, ‘I have so much to do that I shall spend the first three hours in prayer.

It’s often those times when we are stressed out or at our busiest that we think the simple things can be skipped. It’s easy to think we may not have time to just be in nature or time to just be in God’s presence – whether in prayer or meditation. Or we may think that taking time for such simple things is selfish when we should be using that time more productively. But it can often be the case that it is the simple things that feed us the most – that nourish our souls.

I love being out in the woods on a walk and for me, it can often be in those moments when I can stop and look at a tree - I mean really look at it’s magnificence in absolute awe and wonder – and my heart soars. And the gratitude of being part of God’s wonderful creation becomes a prayer in itself. There is much truth to both of the sayings above. There is a life-giving element to taking the time to stop and be mindful – whether that is to commune with nature or commune with God or commune with whatever else is life-giving for you. 

And as we start coming out of hibernation and the days are getting a little bit longer it’s the perfect time to start bringing in new habits and get exploring again. And the Chaplaincy has some wonderful opportunities to help you get out into nature – including our walk in Banstead Woods this coming Saturday the 19th (we also have opportunities for prayer and mindfulness ). Just as we may need to schedule in exercise and study, we need to schedule in walks outside, time in nature and time to just be. Maybe the poem below will motivate some time outside...

When I am Among the Trees by Mary Oliver

When I am among the trees,

especially the willows and the honey locust,

equally the beech, the oaks and the pines,

they give off such hints of gladness.

I would almost say that they save me, and daily.

I am so distant from the hope of myself,

in which I have goodness, and discernment,

and never hurry through the world

but walk slowly, and bow often.

Around me the trees stir in their leaves

and call out, “Stay awhile.”

The light flows from their branches.

And they call again, “It's simple,” they say,

“and you too have come

into the world to do this, to go easy, to be filled

with light, and to shine.”

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A reflection from the Revd Dr Simon Woodman, Baptist Chaplain

‘Jesus said to him, “Go; your son will live.” The man believed the word that Jesus spoke to him and started on his way. As he was going down, his slaves met him and told him that his child was alive.’ John 4.50-51

Heart PlasterIn the story of the healing of the Royal Official’s Son from the gospel of John, we find Jesus doing something unusual: healing from a distance. The gospel writer describes this as a ‘sign’, inviting readers to delve deeper, to explore what the story of this healing reveals to us about the love of God made flesh in Jesus.

The point of this story is not that Jesus heals, nor is it that Jesus does miracles at a distance. Rather, this sign is an exploration of the significance of the statement found earlier in the gospel that in Jesus ‘was life, and the life was the light of all people.’ (John 1:4).

The healing of this young boy is a sign of God’s intent to bring life to the world, to create life and light in the lives of human beings, banishing the fear of death and deeds of darkness that blight the human experience.

But in the midst of all the symbolism, I don’t think we should lose sight of the fact that this is a story about a healing. It’s a story about a young child at the edge of death, a story of a desperate father pleading for his child’s life.

And in this sense, it’s a story that resonates with our world, and the situation faced by so many people around the globe. The statistics on infant mortality make depressing reading. On any average day, 15,000 children under the age of five die, that’s just under 4% of all live births, and almost all of these are of preventable causes.

This story, of a rich man at his wits end because his child is dying, invites us to reflect on the correlation between wealth and infant mortality, and to then reflect on what it means for Christians to proclaim a gospel of ‘life’ to a world where too many, far too many, children never get their chance to live.

This story speaks of the care that Jesus has for those facing tragedy, and of his desire for all, whatever their nationality, creed, colour, or status, to receive the gift of life in all its fullness. In other words, it tells us that we cannot separate spiritual and practical concerns.

We cannot say that we long for people to receive life eternal, if we do not also desire that they get to live life in all its fullness.

This story calls us to compassion, to action for justice, and to follow the example of Jesus, who took action at a distance to bring the gift and chance of life to a child he had never met. Jesus didn’t go to Capernaum to bring the child back to life personally, rather, he spoke his words of life from afar, transforming the life of a stranger and their family.

So thanks be to God for the relief agencies of the different faith traditions represented through King’s College London, and may we hear the call to be partners with them in their life-giving work as they bring the gift of life in all its fullness to those who need it the most.

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A reflection from Rabbi Dr Harrie Cedar, Jewish Chaplain

Cycles, Celebrations and Memorials

'And six years you shall sow your land and gather in the increase of it; but the seventh year you shall let it rest and lie fallow, that the poor of your people may eat; and what they leave the best of the field shall ear.' Exodus (23:10):

ShmitahEvery seven years there is an entire year called the Shmitah year (Exodus 23:10). We are in that year now.

It acts as a long Shabbat for the land, a year of rest for the land.

The cycle of Shmitah also gives rise to the Sabbatical year (the gap year!).

As we become more urban, city dwellers, we lose sense of cycles in natures, seasons, fluctuations in temperatures and agriculture, where food comes from and when it is produced. Our high technology lives take over and we become consumers rather than producers. Currently, many of us are only producing waste, consuming more and more.

'you shall take of the first of all the fruit of the ground, which you shall bring in from the land that the LORD your God gives you; and you shall put it in a basket and shall go to the place which the LORD your God shall choose to cause His name to dwell there.' Deuteronomy (26:2):

PlantingOn a yearly cycle, we have just celebrated another agricultural festival, Tu B’shvat, the festival of a New Year for Trees (Deuteronomy 26:3-10) The fruit of trees are not allowed to be eaten in the first three years of planting. This means that all trees have to be marked (usually with a string) to say what year is their birthday. When the first fruit emerges on any tree, in its fourth year, it has to be taken to be offered as thanks. We celebrate, even in the diaspora, by eating fruit and planting trees.

This year it occurred just after the Colleyville Texas hijacking of innocent synagogue attendees. But still, we Jews prefer to celebrate life, as commanded in the Torah to get as much joy as possible in being here.

Religious festivals, cycles of time, sacred times and texts remind us of our temporary existence on this planet. They remind us of community and land, of the ancestors that got us here and the futures that we shall leave behind for those we shall never meet.

Seasons, festivals and food in many traditions are linked to geographies and agriculture and we are all reliant on a piece of land, somewhere, to call home. Nowadays, we are becoming more aware about these resources and that we need to care more about them, be careful, full of care and caring. We are meant to be partners with the Divine in caring for the planet, being careful with our environment and with each other celebrating the gift of life.

Holocaust MemorialAt this time we are also approaching the annual International Holocaust Memorial Day (27th January).

The UK Government is thinking of building a Holocaust Memorial in a garden next to the Houses of Parliament. We seem to be good at commemorating dead Jews, but we are not so good at caring about live ones. Colleyville and other racist attacks against Jews demonstrate this.

Jews have been sacrificed for other people’s causes since the Romans sacrificed Jesus (and then blamed the Jews). Instead of mausoleums to death, let’s celebrate the gift of life on this glorious planet. We do.

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A reflection from the Revd Jim Craig, Chaplain to the Guy's Campus

WaterintowineLast night I had an epiphany. It was nothing too dramatic – it was more of a panic really. I was meant to be coming up with this week’s Chaplaincy Reflection and was running short of ideas. I was desperately in need of an idea, a theme, anything! It’s pretty difficult to engineer an epiphany out of thin air and I’m pretty sure that attempting to force an original idea into existence is unlikely to happen at 11pm on a Sunday evening. The dictionary definition of ‘epiphany’ is a moment of sudden and great revelation or realization.  We have epiphanies all the time. If you’re one of our students, you may have had a sudden epiphany whilst you were studying at high school about what course you really wanted to study at university. If you’re a member of staff at King’s, you may have had a sudden epiphany about an important aspect of your work.  

As human beings we often find ourselves in need of an epiphany, a new sense of direction. The trouble is, they often only come to us when we’re knuckling down to the important tasks that are set before us. We study, we read, we sit exams, we undertake interviews, and hopefully at some point of this process we’ll have a revelation about that next precious piece of the jigsaw puzzle – what our next life-goal might be and how we can achieve it.  

In the Church calendar the current season is known as Epiphany. Unsurprisingly it’s a season of revelation, where the true nature of Jesus is shown, made manifest, to the world. In this we hear about the arrival of the wise men, as well as the story of Jesus’ baptism in the river Jordan. Despite being an important festival in the church year, Epiphany is so close to Christmas that it often gets overlooked. It’s not as rock and roll as Christmas and nowhere near as dramatic as Easter. For the Anglican priest and poet Malcolm Guite, the real revelation is to be had with another Epiphanytide story, when Jesus turned water into wine at a wedding in Cana in Galilee. You can read the whole story here if you’re interested.

This is what he writes in his poetic response to the reading:-

Here’s an epiphany to have and hold,

A truth that you can taste upon the tongue,

No distant shrines and canopies of gold

Or ladders to be clambered rung by rung,

But here and now, amidst your daily  living,

Where you can taste and touch and feel and see,

The spring of love, the fount of all forgiving,

Flows when you need it, rich, abundant, free.

As this new term begins I hope that it brings with it multiple revelations, and perhaps an epiphany that you can taste upon the tongue, one which is here and now, rich, abundant and free. Happy New Year from all in Chaplaincy!

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A reflection from Fr Toby Lees, Roman Catholic Chaplain

IconThe marking of the memorial of Our Lady of Loreto, which Catholics observe this week, is quite a weird feast, although maybe not that weird by Catholic standards, but what we are doing is commemorating a place where something quite marvellous happened, the house where Our Lady said ‘yes’ to God, in what Pope Benedict described as the pivotal moment of salvation history.

Pope Francis says that the ‘sanctuary of Loreto recalls the mystery of the Incarnation and prompts all those who visit it to consider the fullness of time, when God sent his Son, born of a woman, and to meditate on both the words of the angel in the Gospel and the words of Virgin who answered the divine call. Overshadowed by the Holy Spirit, the humble servant of the Lord has become the house of divinity, the most pure image of the holy Church.

What’s interesting is that this house where Mary said yes, is not where it was when she said ‘yes’. In fact, it’s been in several places since that time, including Croatia.

But even though it’s not in the same place it’s been changed by what happened in it, by the ‘yes’ that was said there and the Christ who came to dwell in Mary’s womb there.

And, in that sense, it’s like each of us. To the degree that we have said ‘yes’ to God we have been changed by that ‘yes’, and when Jesus is received in the Eucharist, then, too, we are changed. We are no longer the same, and we remain changed even when we leave the bricks and mortar church. And just as Loreto is a sign in bricks and mortar of the Incarnation, every Christian is called to be a living sign in flesh and blood of the Incarnation.

You have a part to play. You might think it minor, you might think it great, but you must play it, because nobody else can.

A French Dominican, Yves Congar once said:

Each one has his place. It matters not a whit whether it is glorious or modest . . . . It is the plan which is grand. One is only great in occupying one’s own place within it. The most modest place is quite incomparably great, provided only that it is inhabited with faithfulness.

Yes, Mary was given a greater part than us, but her part makes our part possible. And no, our part is not as great as John the Baptist’s either, though like Mary we’re called to make our life one resounding ‘yes’ rather than the stuttering, inconsistent ‘yes’ it might be right now, and like John the Baptist we are called to decrease so that Christ may increase in us, and we are called to make Jesus know to others, but what really matters is that we have a part and that the plan is great.

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A reflection from Rabbi Dr Harrie Cedar, Jewish Chaplain

Hanukkah Illustration

It is Hanukkah. It is also Chanukah, Hannukah, Hanukah and other spellings. All of them are fine as of course they are transliterations of the Hebrew: חֲנֻכָּה which is from the verb חנך‎ which means to dedicate.

Hanukkah is a celebration of two miracles. The first is the capture and re-dedication of the Temple in Jerusalem by a small band of Israelites against a large colonising Empire 2200 years ago. The second miracle is that there was only enough oil in the Temple to last one day in the 'everlasting' flame, but somehow it lasted eight days until fresh oil arrived.

So we celebrate these miracles by lighting candles in a hannukiot candle holder and adding one candle each day for 8 days to remember the oil lasting that long; by eating oily foods such as latkes and donuts - a modern addition - to celebrate the olive oil in the everlasting flame and by singing songs about this small band of Israelites, the Maccabees who took on such a large and cruel empire.

The Israelite calender is a solar-lunar calender with all months being 30 days, so this year Hanukkah has come at the beginning of the secular month of December and some years it is at the end of December, but for us it is always on 25th Kislev until the 1st of Tevet and this year we are in 5782 still celebrating 2200 years later.

Perhaps that is a third miracle, that we are still here against all the colonising forces and all the racist encounters we have suffered and we are still celebrating. Perhaps that is the secret - celebrations; 'celebrate good times, come on' as the song goes.

Hannukkah is also a celebration of light; light in the darkness, light as the first created thing 'Let there be light, and there was light' (Genesis 1) and the very idea of a genesis of anything, of generating something out of nothing and passing it on through generations in our genes and in our cultures and that it is light that is the first generated thing, something that is almost nothing, insubstantial but so significant.  Light has so many meanings for so many people. Among all the meanings, such as of growth and energy, also rests the idea of hope; light in the darkness seems to signify hope for a brighter future.

And that too is wrapped up in the Hanukkah story, that a little light, from a small candle, can dispel so much darkness, can bring so much hope for brighter times.

So, whatever your faith, I wish you light and joy at this time of year, to be a light in the darkness and to be part of a world making wonderful miracles happen.

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A reflection from the Revd Jim Craig, Chaplain to the Guy's Campus

WhamageddonIt's that time of the year when we're regularly bombarded by the dulcet tones of Christmas songs. Hmm, perhaps dulcet isn’t the right word. Perhaps cloying is a more accurate word? At least that’s how my brain feels after a Christmas earworm has been awakened from it’s 12 month slumber. And if you’re the kind of person who can stomach a solid 4 weeks of Christmas tunes, then perhaps you’re familiar with the festive social media game, Whamageddon?

Whamageddon is where the player has to go from the 1st of December to midnight on the 24th of December without listening to "Last Christmas" by the 80’s pop group Wham! If the player hears the song between the 1st and midnight on the 24th, they are out of the game and have to post "#Whamageddon" on social media to indicate that they are no longer in the game. The exceptions to this game are that the player can only listen to remixes and cover versions of the song. Whilst not encouraged on the website, but technically still a part of the rules, a player can send another player the song, or play it to them so that the other player loses the game.

Ask yourself this - what is so cringeworthy about most people’s build up to Christmas that means they need to turn the period of Advent - the 4 weeks leading up to Christmas Day - like a game? Perhaps some of it has do with anxiety. Anxiety about whether you’ll have a good Christmas, whether you’ll be able to afford to go out socialising with your friends, how much of the traditional Christmas break you’ll actually get to enjoy, after all, most of our students will be facing exams soon after you return to King’s in January.

When God sent his only son as a vulnerable child into the world, to a small town called Bethlehem, he was affirming us all, affirming humankind. Not just men, not just women, not just one sect, religion or colour or creed, but all of us. And I wonder if we’d be so anxious about pursuing the best Christmas experience both for ourselves and for our loved ones if we had firm grip on our own sense of self-worth.

This Advent I want you to be selfish - a little anyway  - take time to think about your true worth. Take time to think about ways of not just affirming others with your actions, but affirming yourself. Take serious time to think about self-care. You are all a gift to this world - not a gift that is financially quantifiable, but a gift that is your personal offering to the world. You’ve all got so much to give, you just have believe in yourselves and your gifts and talents. Of course we all want you to study hard at Kings - but never forget that you are more than just your latest grades. Have a great Advent. 

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A reflection from Laura Elworthy, Chaplaincy Assistant

Suffering 2John 11:17-44 invites us into a deeply personal encounter and offers a moving insight into what Christians believe about Jesus’ humanity and divinity in the face of death.

Mary, Martha, and Lazarus were close friends of Jesus; they were people he loved and cared for. Earlier in the chapter, Martha and Mary ask for Jesus, knowing that their brother is ill. Yet, by the time Jesus arrives in Bethany, Lazarus has not only died, but has been in the tomb for four days.

There are so many parts of this story we could dwell on, but I have been drawn in particular to both the reaction of Martha and Mary to Jesus’ arrival and Jesus’ reaction to them, as well as the miracle itself.

In verse 20 we are told “When Martha heard that Jesus was coming, she went and met him, while Mary stayed at home.” Can you imagine all the unspoken emotions hidden beneath that line? Why did Mary stay at home?

Martha is the first to speak to Jesus. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.” But she adds “even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him”.

Martha’s response opens the way for Jesus to offer encouragement and hope: “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live, and everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.” There is a hope in the face of death. Death is not the end.

However, Mary, when she finally comes out to meet Jesus, reacts differently. “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”  She has nothing else to say to him.

And here, I believe, is the reason for Mary’s reluctance to approach Jesus to begin with. She clearly cannot bear to say something which she can’t believe at that moment.

Jesus had healed people, Martha and Mary had seen it. They had called for Jesus, trusted him, believed in him. Yet Jesus did not come in time to save Lazarus. Is it any wonder that, in the wake of this knowledge, and her brother’s death, that Mary breaks down and weeps? It may be that you recognise yourself in Mary and her reaction. You may feel angry, sad, confused and you may be struggling to believe there is a God at all.

What is Jesus’ reaction to Mary’s all-consuming grief? We are told “he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved”. In the King James Version, it describes how Jesus “groaned in the spirit, and was troubled”.

And then Jesus weeps.

Martha, and Jesus’ response to her, illustrates what future hope Christians believe in. But Mary, and Jesus’ response to her, reminds us we also have a present hope and assurance; God is with us in the midst of our grief and pain and longing.

Until the fullness of time, where death and mourning and crying will be no more, God weeps with us in our grief. You are never alone. 

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A reflection from the Revd Sarah Farrow, Chaplain to the Waterloo & St Thomas' Campuses & Vice Dean

 

Interfaith Heart

 

Welcome to Inter Faith Week (14-21 November)!

Since living in the UK, I’ve always looked forward to Inter Faith Week and writing this week’s reflection for the Chaplaincy has giving me the opportunity to share a bit more about why that is.

One of the first Inter Faith Week events I ever went to was about the commonality found amongst different faith traditions in the command to love one another.

In just about every major faith tradition there is a writing or scripture passage that calls us to love our neighbour. It was such a simple but eye-opening moment for me in two ways.

Firstly, it reminded me how this basic command brings us together across our differences to a common place of love. And secondly, it raised a challenge – at least to me – that part of loving my neighbour is taking the time getting to know them. So much hatred in the world is held around misunderstanding, suspicion and just a general lack of seeing the human being in front of us. Inter Faith Week teaches me year on year that in meeting one another’s authentic selves, that in celebrating our differences, we actually have the chance to grow closer and more unified. And Inter Faith Week is such a gift - not only to learn about one another’s faith traditions but also to come together in working towards that common principle of loving our neighbour.

We have a number of events taking place in the Chaplaincy for Inter Faith Week such as Scriptural Reasoning, an Inter Faith Tea and Disco and a Faith Crawl! I also encourage you to look at other events taking place around the city and the country during Inter Faith Week.

I’m keeping my own words in this week’s reflection short in order to end with the Faith Leaders’ Statement from the inaugural Inter Faith Week in 2009. I hope we can continue to live out the words of this statement this year and into the future.

“We believe that good inter faith relations are a vital part of a harmonious, just and respectful society.

We pledge today, to deepen our work to increase understanding about and between our faiths and to strengthen our cooperation on social issues.

We renew our commitment to developing effective and long term ways of dialogue and mutual learning. We shall continue to seek to understand the patterns of engagement of our faith communities – through history and today; to affirm the positive aspects of these patterns; and to heal wounds of misunderstanding where these are found.

While our great religious traditions are distinct in belief and practice, there is much that unites us. We will draw on fundamental values held in common and on the wisdom of our respective faith traditions to continue to work – as individual communities together – for the wellbeing of our society, our wider global community and the planet that is our home.

Alongside all of good will, we will work to tackle with renewed determination the challenges of poverty, ignorance, injustice, crime and violence, and social fragmentation and to help shape a society where all feel at home; all are valued and justly treated; and all have a chance to thrive.” (from Faith Leaders’ Statement - Inter Faith Week)

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A reflection from the Revd Dr Jenny Morgans, Chaplain to the Denmark Hill Campus

Here we are, you and I, and God is in our midst.

Being a student can be a scary, isolating, overwhelming and even traumatic time, especially in the first year.  If you’ve moved away from your childhood home, you might know nobody and nobody know you, yet you’re surrounded by a sea of unknown faces.  If you’re still living in your childhood home, you might feel a bit left out compared with your peers, or caught between two worlds/selves as you travel between your home-life and your uni-life.  COVID has exacerbated some of these challenges as we’ve all to some extent been isolated and felt unknown, struggling to meet people over Microsoft Teams with cameras off, different time zones, and varying bandwidths.  We want to – perhaps need to – make new friends, but this too is scary and hard.  It requires us to be vulnerable and show our true selves, to step out in faith hoping to find people who will like us, just as we are.

True friendship can transform university life, and students who are lucky enough often form ‘quasi-family’ groups of new friends.  I recognise this from my own university experience nearly two decades ago now. I remember one evening clearly.  I received a text from my flatmate, whom I considered part of my new university ‘family’, saying, ‘Crisis meeting in the pub, come now’.  So I did.  I got the bus from where I was to our regular pub, and by the time I arrived the rest of the group were already there.  One of our friends’ expensive bike had been stolen and she was devastated.  Her insurance wouldn’t cover it.  She was also suffering with a cold and generally felt rubbish.  So the ‘family’ gathered, in a crisis, to support her and share the pain together.  This was the family I had chosen, for whom I would drop almost anything else.

What has all this got to do with faith?  Ben Quash writes that to be ‘home’ is to abide somewhere with a particular group of someones, in turn enabling a ‘transformative abiding with God and oneself’.   Liz Carmichael argues that Jesus considered himself to be friends equally with his disciples, with God, and with ‘tax collectors and sinners’. The love of friendship sets people free to become their unique selves, inspired by God’s friendship with humanity.  I wonder if you have ever thought of God as ‘friend’?  Sallie McFague argues that such an image of God breaks down hierarchical and patriarchal language for God, emphasising instead mutuality, co-operation, solidarity and delight in our relationship with God.  

danceAnd Christians have the best model of friendship at the very heart of God.  The Trinity is nothing if not relationship, often described as a dance between the Creator, Christ and Spirit, almost like a ceilidh or barn dance, relying on one another, literally lifting one another up in turn.  And it is into this relationship that you and I, and all our friends, are invited to participate.   And where is God in our own friendships?  The Spirit moves in but perhaps more importantly between each of us.  As the twelfth-century Cistercian monk Aelred of Rievaulx wrote to his brothers, ‘here we are, you and I, and God is in our midst.’ 

How can you be someone’s friend today?

Aelread of Rievaulx - Spiritual Friendship (2010)

Liz Carmichael – Friendship: Interpreting Christian Love (2004)

Sallie McFague – Models of God (1987)

Ben Quash - Abiding (2012)

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A reflection from Matilda Tempest, Chaplaincy Assistant

I don’t like mindfulness.

It might be strange to hear this coming from me. After all, I work in the Chaplaincy, where we offer three mindfulness sessions every week. Surely, I should be singing its praises and encouraging you all to come every week!

Well. I do encourage you, if you’ve not tried it before, to give it a go, at least for one or two sessions. Many people have found that mindfulness makes them feel calmer, less stressed, better able to cope with the difficulties in their lives. I have friends whose lives have been changed by practicing mindfulness, and I’m really happy that it works for them.

But for me? Whenever I try to do a mindfulness session, all I feel is a sense of dread that, if unchecked, spirals down into heart fluttering anxiety.

So I’ve stopped attending mindfulness sessions.

I actually felt pretty guilty about this at first. The way some organisations talk about mindfulness, you’d think that it was a big cure-all that can carry your worries away. I wondered if I was just not trying hard enough, if there was a point where it would just snap together for me.

Prie pour nousBut the truth is, mindfulness is just one in an arsenal of tools we have to help our own mental health – and not every tool is going to work for everyone. For me as a Christian, I’ve found that contemplative prayer is incredibly valuable. Having quiet time to talk about my worries with God, and listen to what God has to say in return, helps ground me and make my troubles seem much more manageable. If you’d like to try something more contemplative, I run a Lectio Divina session every Monday afternoon!

Other people find that exercise helps to create a space of calm, whether that’s heart pumping cardio or something slower and more meditative like yoga. Journalling, crafting, long walks around the park – all of these can serve to give us space to look at our own minds and untangle some of the stresses we face.

So if you’re stressed, anxious, overwhelmed or just want a bit of calm in your life, I urge you to try mindfulness – but don’t sweat it if it isn’t for you. There’s plenty of other options out there! 

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A reflection from Revd Tim Ditchfield FKC, College Chaplain

‘Little Amal, a young refugee, has embarked on a remarkable journey – an epic voyage that is taking her across Turkey, across Europe. To find her mother. To get back to school. To start a new life. Will the world let her? Can she achieve what now seems more impossible than ever?’

Pilgrims

Amal is in fact a puppet of a Syrian refugee and is part of a project highlighting our continuing failure to care for and treat with basic kindness, respect and humanity those who are forced to flee from their homes. 

Amal – whose name means ‘Hope’ in Arabic – will be in London this weekend. St Paul’s Cathedral is opening its west doors to welcome her; something it only does on special occasions such a royal weddings or state funerals.  This is a powerful statement of welcome for refugees. And Amal will be celebrating her birthday in Trafalgar Square on Sunday.

 

As people of faith, we are called to welcome people and not keep them out and exclude them. In Matthew’s Gospel in the Christian Scriptures, it says that when we welcome a stranger we are welcoming Jesus:

Matthew 25: 35for 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, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”

And those who don’t do such things will be judges harshly by God. We often feel powerless, especially in a country where there is so much anti-refugee rhetoric from our government and certain parts of the media, but we can do something: there are suggestions of ways to act on Amal’s website.

King’s has been a strong leader here. In February 2020 Citizens UK named King's as the first 'Refugees Welcome University' for our contribution to the global issue of forced displacement and the educational potential of refugees.

And the King’s refugee sponsorship scheme is about to see the arrival of our first student and their family in the UK. They have been displaced because of the Syrian conflict, and we will be welcoming them to London very soon. The student will have a fully funded scholarship to attend King’s to complete an undergraduate degree and we have found the family a house and will offer support as they adjust to their new life here in London. We hope they will be the first of many and are encouraging other Universities to do the same.

If you want to support this work in any way you can fill in this form, or email KRES directly - kres@kcl.ac.uk

I came across a poem by the British-Somali poet Warsan Shire recently. Of course, like so many of us I have no concept of what it must be like when home is not safe – something experienced by many and not just refugees – and this poem has made me think and feel a little deeper about this.

I hope we can help more people to feel they have a home that is safe and as a country we can welcome many to their new home here.

Home, by Warsan Shire

no one leaves home unless
home is the mouth of a shark.
you only run for the border
when you see the whole city
running as well.
your neighbours running faster
than you, the boy you went to school with
who kissed you dizzy behind
the old tin factory is
holding a gun bigger than his body,
you only leave home
when home won't let you stay.
no one would leave home unless home
chased you, fire under feet,
hot blood in your belly.
it's not something you ever thought about
doing, and so when you did -
you carried the anthem under your breath,
waiting until the airport toilet
to tear up the passport and swallow,
each mouthful of paper making it clear that
you would not be going back.
you have to understand,
no one puts their children in a boat
unless the water is safer than the land.
who would choose to spend days
and nights in the stomach of a truck
unless the miles travelled
meant something more than journey

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A reflection from Dr Harrie Cedar, Jewish Chaplain

Shofar SoundingThrough most of my life I have felt that my year begins in September rather than January. August has always been my end of year, when I have run out of steam and need to stop. But as Autumn arrives, I revive. Spring may bring new life, but Autumn brings its own beginnings. It is the start of the school year and remains the start of the academic year in many countries. Coincidentally, or perhaps not, it is also the time of my birthday.

In many cultures, there are a number of New Years. In the UK there is the January 1st New Year, the Tax Year (April), the Academic Year, the Parliamentary Year and many more. In Judaism we too have a few New Years. Rosh Hashanah, also known as the time of blowing the shofar, is on 1st Tishrei-(around September/October in the Gregorian calendar).It celebrates the New Year of the birth of the world.  Tu B’Shvat on 15th Shvat (around February/March)– is the New Year for Trees as you are not allowed to eat the fruit from trees for the first three years and then have to bring ‘the first fruits’ to the Temple as an offering; Pesach on 1st Nisan (around April) is the New Nation Year, celebrating the Exodus from slavery in Egypt and the gifting of the Promised Land; as well as some New Years that have fallen out of practice such as the New Year for cattle on 1st Elul. Israel and the Israelites are tied to nature and the cycle of seasons in the land; agriculture, rain, dew and water. We pray prayers for these things. We are told our land, of milk and honey, will be abundant in rain at the right season and dew all the time, if we keep our end of the covenant. And so, as the days shorten, we start the New Year of the World, Rosh Hashanah, the renewal of all of us.

After the celebrations of the New Year of the World, we go into a Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur on 10th Tishrei (Leviticus 23:26–32).  But surely, we make resolutions and plead our case before we make a fresh start?

We think of beginnings as wiping the slate clean, but we must want to wipe the slate clean in the first place. Rosh Hashanah reminds us that we have a chance to do that, to begin (again). We are at the start of our year, but we must also clear up our mess from the previous year. We get ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur to do that, to reflect and return to the path that we have strayed from, to come back to our better selves, our true selves, to remove the debris, the detritus that has hung onto us from the previous year; to find our real purpose and celebrate the joy of being here.

And after Yom Kippur we turn to the festivities of Sukkot on 15th Tishrei (Exodus 34:22), gathering in the fruits of the year and sitting in temporary accommodation, called a sukkah, to remind us of the fragility of all life and that we are all temporary visitors here. We have a very busy beginning.

I hope you all have a wonderful beginning to your KCL year and realise your full potentials, your true purpose, bringing joy to your life. Shanah Tovah.

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A reflection from the Revd Sarah Farrow, Lutheran Chaplain

We cannot walk alone

As we mark Refugee Week (14-20 June), I’ve been going back to the writings of Rev’d Inderjit Bhogal (founder of the Cities of Sanctuary movement and author of ‘Hospitality and Sanctuary for All’). I find myself most struck by his words on what hospitality looks like and is about. He writes: ‘…hospitality is not a one-way process of paternalistic giving which puts the giver in a position of power. This service is not a feel-good factor to satisfy the giver. This service is a mutual expression of love and solidarity, a service with a two-way process of giving and receiving.’

It seems a great shame to me that we often approach discussions about helping refugees and those seeking sanctuary starting from a point of ‘what will I lose?’ We are constantly pushed into a scarcity mindset that there is not enough of what we need so we couldn’t possibly start giving things away to others – to those ‘outside’. And while there is definitely a conversation to be had about our understanding of what we ‘need’, what if we also took the opportunity to ‘flip the script’? To approach discussions about helping refugees and those seeking sanctuary acknowledging the gifts we are given through this opportunity for hospitality. To replace this fear or distrust of the stranger – to replace this view of human beings as a cost or a burden, and instead to honour and celebrate the gifts that they are. 

One of the things I love about Refugee Week is that it is a celebration! It is not about that ‘paternalistic giving’ that Bhogal refers to in his writings. It is a ‘festival celebrating the contributions, creativity and resilience of refugees and people seeking sanctuary.’ (from refugeeweek.org.uk). And this year’s theme ‘We Cannot Walk Alone’, recognises that we are bound up in one another, we need one another, we are interconnected. As this pandemic has shown us my safety, my security, my life is bound up in yours and vice versa. And this year’s Refugee Week theme encourages us to reach out to one another, to learn from one another in order to create a space for mutual flourishing. Because ‘true hospitality is never a one-way process. It is mutual. We all give and receive. We all serve and are served. And all of us enriched in the process.’ (Bhogal, ‘Hospitality and Sanctuary for All’)

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A reflection from Laurence Jasper, Roman Catholic Chaplain 

Praying with the Bible - A brief introduction to Lectio Divina

Lectio Divina is a Latin term meaning 'divine reading' or 'sacred reading'. As a practice, it is a way of prayerfully approaching Sacred Scripture to enable the living and active word of God to shape, nourish, and strengthen our Christian lives.

It is a way of encountering God the Father, who comes lovingly to meet us and to speak to us, in and through the sacred books. We are invited in turn to listen to Him and to respond to His words in prayer and by active changes in our lives. It is a way of growing in our knowledge about, and knowing and loving of, the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ who is the Incarnate Word and Son of God, who lived amongst usand whose coming and saving work was foretold and is recorded in Sacred Scripture. Lectio Divina is a way of opening ourselves to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, through the reading of texts which themselves were composed under the inspiration of that same Spirit.

Throughout history, the practice and methodology of Lectio Divina has taken many forms through the writings of the saints and the spiritual masters of the Church. Drawing from this tradition, I would like to recommend here a simple five-step method one can use to pray with the written word of God.

Before you begin, pick a short passage from the Bible. For example, it could be the Gospel reading or one of the other readings from the Mass of the day. Then start with an opening prayer, perhaps asking the Holy Spirit to inspire and guide you during this time of prayer. Then slowly make your way through these five stages. The key is not to rush and to take as much time as you need on each stage:

Contemplation1)      Lectio (Reading): Read the Scripture passage once or twice in silence and do so slowly and reflectively so that it sinks in.

2)      Meditatio (Meditation): Be open to God’s presence in stillness and silence. What is God saying to you in this text? You may like to re-read it. Note any word or phrase that touches your heart. Reflect on why that word or phrase may be significant for you.

3)      Oratio (Prayer) Respond in prayer to the Lord and to what He has spoken to you. You may like to make a prayer of repentance, or of thanksgiving, or of petition, or of adoration and praise.

4)      Contemplatio (Contemplation): As much as it is possible, try to clear your mind-even of the text itself-and enter into the silence where God is seeking you. Rest in God and in His loving embrace.

5)      Actio (Action): Try to discern if God is calling you to make a commitment or to take some kind of action in your life-an action which will make your life a gift for others in charity.

What steps will you take to implement this?

In order to remember these five stages more easily, they could be given the names of Read, Reflect, Respond, Rest and Act.

If you would like more information on this form of Christian meditation, or would be interested in being part of a KCL Lectio Divina prayer group, please email me.

Photo by Fr Lawrence Lew - a fresco painted by Blessed Fra Angelico in the 1430s

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A reflection from the Revd Dr Jenny Morgans, Chaplain to the Denmark Hill Campus

Gratitude WR

Recently, scrolling through BBC Sounds and looking for something to listen to, I stumbled across an audiobook of Charlie Mackesy’s The Boy, The Mole, The Fox and The Horse.

It's a book many of you know already. Apparently, it was the thing to buy as a gift last year, but I'd never heard of it before. The recording is beautiful, including music and sounds from nature, I’d definitely recommend it to you. 

I know the book can be critiqued for moralising, and there isn't much in the way of narrative, but I was struck by the book’s simplicity, yet profundity. 

It's portrayal of friendship, kindness, love, and cake, really stayed with me.  In particular, one small exchange struck me:

‘Is your glass half empty or half full?’ asked the mole.

‘I think I'm grateful to have a glass’, said the boy.

It’s the last week of term at King’s, and I’ve been thinking about what I am most grateful for - for infection rates dropping and restrictions easing, for friends and family, for great colleagues, for my garden, for trees, for the sun and the rain. 

In my weekly Mindfulness session, I challenged everyone to think of ten things each day for which they were grateful, and to do this for a whole week. A week later people reported back.  They were surprised – both that they had ten things each day to be grateful for, and for the range of things for which they were thankful – 'From the sublime to the ridiculous', as one person said, 'from having a roof over our heads to an emergency plumber.'

A theologian that I love, Miroslav Volf, says that gratitude has quite a tenuous place in our modern world, partly because people feel far from God and from creation.  He says,

“God has made me” means: I am a gift to myself; my very existence is an expression of God’s care for me. Everything God created is also a gift to me, an expression of God’s care for me. I can therefore receive myself and all other creatures with gratitude, and I ought to care for myself, all creatures, and for God, as God the giver cares for me."

I wonder what you’re most grateful for this week?  You might like to keep a gratitude journal – writing down the things we're thankful for each day helps us to feel better about life, recognising the good things, and to spot where God is at work.  There’s an app called Presently where you can do this. 

Try naming ten things, counting them on your fingers, and do the same again tomorrow.  Force yourself to reach ten, even if it seems difficult at first.  You can include anything – even something as simple as a glass.  You might be surprised by what you notice. 

Charlie Mackesy (2019) The Boy, the Mole, the Fox and the Horse London: Ebury Press

Miroslav Volf (2021) ‘God, Gratitude and Being at Home in the World’ The Charles Gore lecture, Westminster Abbey Institute

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A reflection from Laura Elworthy, Chaplaincy Assistant

This term, we’ve been reading Expectation by Anna Hope in our Tuesday afternoon book group. It’s a great story about three women in their mid-thirties dealing with the fact that their lives, for all kinds of reasons, have not lived up to all that they wanted or expected they would be. So much of the pain, drama, and miscommunication in the book comes from regretting the past or worrying about the future.

Cate looks around at her table, at her guests, and she feels happy – suddenly and completely happy. There is no future to fear, no past to regret, only this, only a series of moments, strung along, like lit globes on a string – there is warmth, there is food, there is comfort. (p.205)

In this moment, Cate is fully present and, as a result, is the happiest she has been for a long time.

I like to plan, I like to be in control. I worry not just about the next decision but the next five decisions that will need to be made after that. In many contexts this is a good thing; we need to think of all the possible outcomes, mitigate risks, and plan for as many consequences as possible.

However, we can become so used to this that we forget to be fully present, particularly with other people. Rather than worry and plan, what if we asked ourselves this question:

What is the most loving thing to do next?

When we’re dealing with ourselves and other people, all of whom are unique, there is no prescribed answer. It might be that we need to be kind, and prioritise another person’s feelings and needs. It might be that we know that this friendship, or relationship, is not working and we need to offer some tough love and uncomfortable truths. Acting in love doesn’t always mean that we avoid conflict, but it does mean that we are kind and ultimately act in the best interest of others rather than ourselves.

This can be frightening and can lead to unforeseen outcomes. Yet it is always the right time to do the most loving thing.

May God give you the strength to love and may this prayer work its way into our hearts.

William TempleO God of love, we pray you give us love:

Love in our thinking, love in our speaking,

Love in our doing, and love in the hidden places of our souls;

Love of our neighbours near and far;

Love of our friends, old and new;

Love of those whom we find it hard to bear,

And love of those who find it hard to bear with us;

Love of those with whom we work,

And love for those with whom we take our ease;

Love in joy, love in sorrow;

Love in life and love in death;

That so at length we may be worthy to dwell with you,

Who are eternal love.

~ William Temple, pictured right (1881-1944)

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A reflection from Fr Toby Lees, Roman Catholic Chaplain

Not Back to the Future, but Forward to the Ascension

back to the future

Over Zoom calls in recent weeks, and increasingly in person, a common topic of conversation has been commenting on how much better people look now they’ve had a haircut again. However, in my parish, one of our daily mass-goers seems to have become rather fond of his lockdown mop of hair. There’s not much on top but it has sprouted with great vigour from the sides and has caused him to look a lot like Doc in Back to the Future.

The reason I mention this is that in the Christian life, I think we often wish that we could go back to the past so that we could change our now and our future. However, exasperating as it is, and painful as it can be, we have to live with the effects of our past, but all the while trusting that God can and does work through this, right now in this moment

The Christian life is always lived in the present, God dynamically active now in our midst, making a new now possible, opening up new possibilities for our future, able to work through what we have done in the past, but not simply erasing that past, however, painful it might be.

In the Resurrection, Jesus didn’t come back to life, he went forwards to life – the new life of the new creation. This is not a turning back of the clock.

And so we shouldn’t say he came back to life, as if the resurrection wiped away the crucifixion. The implications of this, we often don’t like, because it means that if we are to follow the way of Christ then we must follow the way of the Cross. Suffering has not been done away with even though it has been transformed.

Each Christian is called to be able to say ‘I have died with Christ, buried my sins in the tomb, and now it is no longer I who live but Christ in me’, that’s the mark of friendship with Christ.

If we realise this then we can properly grasp the significance of the Ascension. There is always a danger with this feast that we think of it as a convenient way of getting Jesus off stage, ready for the next act, the Acts of the Apostles.

But it is almost exactly the opposite: it’s a celebration of Jesus’s abiding presence with us, not his disappearance. It’s more an everlasting encore than a stage exit. Far from being less real, less bodily than when he was with his disciples in Galilee and in Jerusalem, his presence with us now is more real and more bodily. For those Christians who believe in the Real Presence, when we receive him in the Eucharist, the very Body of Christ, we are united with Him in a more profound way than having Him next to us. His very being becomes our very being.

But, nonetheless, He has still ascended. He is not here in the way He was before, and that is both because we are not to live here in the way that we lived here before, but also because as followers of Christ, we are to set our gaze on something beyond this life. Christ broke into our prisons of sin not just to sit alongside us, but to lead us out. Where He has gone he calls us to follow. We are wayfarers in this life, a pilgrim people. Christ is leading us calling us to our heavenly home, and He feeds us along the way with the manna from heaven, His very self.

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A reflection from Callum Bucke, Chaplaincy Assistant

Michelangelo was one of the greatest artists of the Italian Renaissance. His sculptures were equalled by none of his contemporaries, and his artistic vision was legendary: where others saw only a useless lump of marble, he saw David slaying Goliath or Moses coming down from Sinai. But Michelangelo was not an easy person to get on with. He was arrogant and argumentative, and his obsessive perfectionism drove away his friends and assistants. However, he soon met his match in the figure of Pope Julius II.

Pope Julius was more of a soldier than a priest, having spent years outwitting assassins and spies, but after a series of military defeats, he decided to focus his attention on spiritual matters. In 1508, the Pope set his sights on renovating the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel in Rome. The Chapel would be his legacy, so only the best painters could be entrusted with such a monumental task.

The cardinals suggested Raphael. Young, charming, and talented, Raphael was the perfect choice. But the Pope refused: he wanted Michelangelo. The cardinals protested – Michelangelo was a sculptor, not a painter. Nonetheless, the Pope insisted. Only Michelangelo would do.

             Michaelangelo

Michelangelo was far from impressed with the project. He had limited experience of frescoes, and painting, to him, was amateurish. Why on earth would the Pope want him to paint one of the most important churches in Rome? Even he thought Raphael would be a better choice. But Pope Julius was insistent.

The task wasn’t easy. Soaring 65 feet above the ground, Michelangelo was forced to build an elaborate scaffolding system to reach the ceiling, and when the Chapel was infested with mould he had to start again. As if things couldn’t get worse, the Pope himself would frequently wander in and offer unhelpful criticisms, once ordering the scaffolding to be removed so he could get a better view. Michelangelo was furious. As soon as Pope Julius left Rome, Michelangelo packed his tools and ran away to the mountains so he could continue sculpting. It didn’t take long for the Pope to find him again and drag him back to Rome. Michelangelo tried several times to run away again, but each time the Pope would find him and force him to finish the job.

Finally, in 1512, Michelangelo finished painting the ceiling. By then, Pope Julius was dying and was so frail that he had to be carried into the Chapel. When the cardinals saw the ceiling – with its majestic figures and striking colours culminating in the famous image of God reaching down from Heaven to breathe life into Adam – they were stunned. Never before had they seen such breath-takingly beautiful artwork. Now he could see it properly, even Michelangelo couldn’t quite believe how extraordinary it was.

Now you know why I chose you,” the Pope said to the artist. “Only Michelangelo could have painted this.”

What strikes me most about this story is the faith that Pope Julius had in Michelangelo. The Pope saw something in Michelangelo that Michelangelo himself couldn’t see, and knew that he was the right man for the job even when the artist refused to believe it. In each brushstroke, Michelangelo revealed God at work in his life, in his calling to bring glory to God through his art, art that would transform those who saw it. The Creation of Adam, the centrepiece of the ceiling, reminds me of how close God is to us.

There will be times when we struggle to do what God has called us to do, times when, like Michelangelo, running away seems the only sensible thing to do. But God never calls us to do anything we can’t do. God knows us better than we know ourselves, and just as Michelangelo was the only person who could have painted the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, God always chooses the right person for the job.

Five hundred years after his death, 25,000 people come every day to the Sistine Chapel to see Michelangelo’s ceiling, now considered to be one of the most important works of art in the world. The Pope made the right choice after all.

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A reflection from the Revd Tim Ditchfield FKC, College Chaplain

I was asked recently why the Chaplaincy runs mindfulness sessions in an interview for Student Services online and I said this:

Those of us who lead mindfulness sessions have all found silence and mindful meditation a help and strength for us personally – and so we are happy to offer this as a possibility for others. It is a means of slowing down and engaging. For some that is spiritual practice and for others it is a healthy life practice. I think mindful meditation for me leads into prayer – prayer being a connection with the Divine and for me that is mostly about silence these days. I like to think people come and engage in a way that is appropriate for them.

I have also been reflecting on the challenge of sitting in silence. I have spoken with several people in the past weeks who have found mindful meditation really challenging as sitting in silence with our thoughts can be painful sometimes impossibly so. Those of us who have struggled with anxiety and depression can find such times unbearable as sitting in silence leads to a spiralling of negative thoughts and painful memories, and we can find ourselves overwhelmed by the experience. In those times I have found it helpful to be silent in other ways. For me focussing on cooking is a mindful experience where I can be present but not necessarily with my thoughts. Or indeed not present to thoughts when chopping onions with my awesomely sharp Global knife!

I think there are probably seasons for silent mindful meditation and sometime we are just not in the right frame of mind to do it and at such time we might find focussing on other things more helpful: watching a box set or engaging in activities that demand we focus on something ither than our overwhelmingly negative thoughts.

It is also possible to use a guided mindful meditation where we are guided through a body scan, or a regular breathing pattern, or a more imaginative meditation using our imagination or our creativity and these can help us focus on other things than thoughts.

And then there are times when we are able to sit with those negative thoughts and painful memories. We can allow them space and not be overwhelmed by them. Only we know when the time is right for that. And we learn to trust our instincts. Sitting with our pain and grief is important, and it is also important to have someone who can listen with us as we unpack these painful thoughts.

Wendell Berry – my go to answer to pretty much any question – has this poem to offer which really captures what it means to meet our difficult thoughts in silence.

Trees PathwayI Go Among Trees, Wendell Berry

I go among trees and sit still.

All my stirring becomes quiet

around me like circles on water.

My tasks lie in their places

where I left them, asleep like cattle.

Then what is afraid of me comes

and lives a while in my sight.

What it fears in me leaves me,

and the fear of me leaves it.

It sings, and I hear its song.

Then what I am afraid of comes.

I live for a while in its sight.

What I fear in it leaves it,

and the fear of it leaves me.

It sings, and I hear its song.

After days of labor,

mute in my consternations,

I hear my song at last,

and I sing it. As we sing,

the day turns, the trees move.

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A reflection from Laura Elworthy, Chaplaincy Assistant

Guys ChapelLet nothing frighten you,

All things are passing away:

God never changes.

Patience obtains all things

Whoever has God lacks nothing;

God alone suffices.

~ St Teresa of Avila (1515-1582)

A friend introduced me to these words while I was going through a difficult time a couple of years ago and they brought comfort to my troubled soul.

It’s easy to be frightened. It’s easy to lose patience. It’s easy to envy others and mourn what we’ve lost rather than rejoice in what we have. It’s not only easy, it’s human.

Yet, this prayer asks us to have perspective. It asks us to remember God’s changelessness in the midst of all that is changing and uncertain around us. It reminds us that God was always enough, is always enough, and will always be enough for us to live life in all its fullness.  

I’ve always found music helpful for getting in touch with my emotions. Perhaps it is unsurprising, then, that I find music a helpful way to be still and enter into prayer with God. Sometimes, the music itself fixes me to my seat or makes me look at the world around me, the people walking past me at that moment, in a more intentional way.

One song I’ve been reflecting on over the past year is ‘Rest in You’ by All Sons & Daughters. It is based on St Augustine’s famous phrase “You have made us for Yourself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in You”. I would highly recommend you listen to it when you have time to pause and reflect on the lyrics.

One of the song’s lines in particular struck me as deeply profound:

You cannot change yet You change everything

Southwark Cathedral

So much has changed over this past pandemic year.

Yet, it is only a starker reminder of the change and uncertainty that always surrounds us. On my daily walks throughout the pandemic, I’ve walked past Guy’s Campus and the famous sights surrounding it countless times. Then, one day last summer, I looked behind me and saw this amazing view; the Shard and Southwark Cathedral, side by side, the ancient and the modern. 

Like a beautiful song that suddenly grabs my heartstrings, I saw in this image a sign of how, though change is unknown and unrelenting, God is always present in the midst of us.

You cannot change yet You change everything

During this exam season, there may be many things that you are worried about. If you’re a student, you may be feeling the pressure to do well and finish your year, or your degree, in the best way possible. As a member of staff, you may be exhausted by the demands of the academic year. Any of our chaplains are always here to talk to you if you need someone to process with, or if you are struggling and would like support.

I would encourage you, in the middle of all your worries and anxieties, to take some time to be still and know the presence of God, who was, who is, and who is to come.

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A reflection from the Revd Jim Craig, Chaplain to the Guy's Campus

The summer semester began last week. For the majority of you the final term is synonymous with examinations. There’s no getting away from it, King’s is an educational establishment and we want to help you make the most of your time here. As Chaplains at this fine institution we’d definitely encourage you all to apply yourself to your studies. But, we would also encourage you to not forget to employ yourself to certain amount of playfulness. Even God rested on the seventh day.

Jim Children PaintingI studied A Level Art, and one of the earliest paintings I fell in love with was a painting by Austrian artist, Oscar Kokoschka. It’s called Children Playing, from 1909. I love the colours, the playful juxtaposition of the children. One child, a girl, appears lost in her imagination. The other, a boy, appears to be trying to distract her. Or perhaps they're both equally lost in their play. There is something about the way the children appear to be floating on the canvas which seems to convey that removal to another realm which accompanies imaginative play.

What I like about art is that it's open to interpretation - one can behold it playfully without being too worried about the artist's original intention. 

We're all dreaming about a return to normality at this time. It's been over  a year since the first lockdown, and we can't help but imagine how things will look in September. We are creatures of play, but in times of anxiety our brains begin to demand certainty. That demand for certainty can lead to a work/life imbalance, causing even more stress. My hope  is that you make a little time for play this term. Draw, write, journal, build, knit, or simply daydream. We are just as much 'human beings' as we are 'human doings'. Study is good; having a professional attitude to work is good; putting time aside to be playful is vital. I hope you all have a playful summer term.

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A reflection from the Revd Jim Craig, Chaplain to the Guy's Campus

Over the last week, the Chaplaincy has been running it’s #wildhope campaign. Throughout our social media platforms we’ve been posing the question ‘what brings you hope today?’ The responses have been fascinating to read. Here are just a few of the responses we’ve received:-

‘For me, the trees are blossoming in the parks. One in particular is a beautiful lilac colour – it reminds me that Spring is on its way!’

‘What gives me hope today is the resilience of the human spirit and the small acts of kindness I see around me.’

‘What brings me hope at this time is watching the birds in the garden, and just seeing that, even in isolation and lockdown, life goes on around us.’

In any one normal working day we make sure we have our hands full. Full of purpose, full of busy, full of meaning. On any given day our hands and our heads are literally crammed full of usefulness. When we are encouraged to take time out we find it so hard. We’re so used to justifying our ‘hands-full’ life that we it’s difficult to let go, to stand empty handed.

Mary Oliver The Sun              The Sun

The poet Mary Oliver speaks of turning away from our incessant search for power and self-affirmation and standing empty-handed and silent before the wonder of nature. ‘Do you think there is anywhere, in any language, a word billowing enough for the pleasure that fills you as the sun reaches out, as it warms you.’ I love that image.

The thing about #wildhope is that it is often found in wild, surprising places. One day we might find it in the whispering wind through as it enfolds the trees, on another it might be the sight of a flower erupting through broken pavement. We have a bad habit of paying scant attention to the familiar – the things we walk past a thousand times on our daily search to complete our task lists. Perhaps we need to unlearn and un-see our world. Perhaps we need to let go of our fruitless search for a tame, empty hope and reach out for wild, fulsome, unpredictable, undeserved hope.

In Holy Week is a time Christians are invited to approach the cross empty handed. Throughout the forty days of Lent we come to realise that we have nothing to give except our whole selves. This is the gift that Jesus gave on Good Friday; his #wildhope was that we might discover light and life through his ultimate act of love. I hope you all have a relaxing Easter break.

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A reflection from the Revd Sarah Farrow, Lutheran Chaplain

SF WomanMarch is Women’s History Month and 8 March was International Women’s Day. And in the midst of this time of celebrating women, we are once again pushed to work for our right to simply exist in peace in public spaces.

The news of Sarah Everard’s brutal murder was heart-breaking yet not surprising. For many it brought about an active outrage and for others a weariness that yet another woman’s life was taken away, another woman’s body violated.

While the theme of International Women’s Day was ‘choose to challenge’, in one community I work with we ‘chose to challenge’ through ‘rest’. Rooted in Black Liberation and Womanism/Womanist theology, the concept of rest is also a form of resistance. We have created cultures where there are those who must constantly prove their worth or fight for their right to just ‘be’. And while I am not a woman of colour, as a woman, this speaks to me in resounding ways. As we’ve seen throughout this pandemic, there has been a sharpening of gender inequality with increased pressures across women’s work, home-life and health. And as Sarah Everard and the 118 women and girls whose names Jess Phillips, MP, read out in Parliament, all killed in the UK where a man has been convicted or charged, we are reminded that while we might all be in the same storm, we are not all in the same boat.

I found it interesting that in the daily lectionary I follow, today’s readings were about rest:

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel:

In returning and rest you shall be saved;

in quietness and in trust shall be your strength. (Isaiah 30: 15a)

So then, a sabbath rest still remains for the people of God; for those who enter God’s rest also cease from their labours as God did from his. Let us therefore make every effort to enter that rest… (Hebrews 4:9-11a)

SF PosterI want to rest. I want to just be. I want to walk home from the train station to my flat with my shoulders relaxed, without clutching my keys. I want to sit in the park enjoying the fresh air without having to constantly watch over my shoulder. I want to rest and I want to be able to see the women and girls around me be able to rest and to just be. However, I know the reality is that I still need to teach my daughter how to make a scene if she feels scared or unsafe, to keep her head down and walk on quickly if catcalls are shouted at her, to stay in well-lit areas – to stay alert and don’t relax.

But I also want to teach her that our bodies are a wonderful gift. That we are strong in so many ways, that we have value beyond our work, that we are made in God’s image. And that we too, must rest.

I pray that as we work towards justice and peace, we also enable one another to rest.

‘Rest is resistance...Slow down. Uplift silence and the technology of your sacred body. Rest.’ - Tricia Hersey, The Nap Bishop

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A reflection from Laurence Jasper, Roman Catholic Chaplain

The Catholic Church is currently celebrating a special Year of St Joseph. It was initiated by Pope Francis and began on the 8th December 2020 and will end on the 8th December 2021. With the solemnity of Saint Joseph, husband of the Blessed Virgin Mary, being celebrated this coming Friday (19th March 2021), I want to share with you some quotes about the saint drawn from Papal writings. They focus on the theme of the silence of St Joseph

St Joseph

‘The Gospel does not record a single word from him; his language is silence.’ (St Pope Paul VI, Homily for the Feast of St Joseph, March 27, 1969)

‘In the course of that pilgrimage of faith which was his life, Joseph, like Mary, remained faithful to God's call until the end. While Mary's life was the bringing to fullness of that fiat first spoken at the Annunciation, at the moment of Joseph's own 'annunciation' he said nothing; instead he simply 'did as the angel of the Lord commanded him' (Mt 1:24).

And this first 'doing' became the beginning of 'Joseph's way'. The Gospels do not record any word ever spoken by Joseph along that way. But the silence of Joseph has its own special eloquence, for thanks to that silence we can understand the truth of the Gospel's judgment that he was 'a just man' (Mt 1:19).’ (St Pope John Paul II, Apostolic Exhortation Redemptoris Custos, para. 17)

 ‘The same aura of silence that envelops everything else about Joseph also shrouds his work as a carpenter in the house of Nazareth. It is, however, a silence that reveals in a special way the inner portrait of the man. The Gospels speak exclusively of what Joseph 'did'. Still, they allow us to discover in his 'actions' - shrouded in silence as they are - an aura of deep contemplation. Joseph was in daily contact with the mystery 'hidden from ages past', and which 'dwelt' under his roof. (Ibid, para. 25)

‘His silence is steeped in contemplation of the mystery of God in an attitude of total availability to the divine desires. In other words, St Joseph's silence does not express an inner emptiness but, on the contrary, the fullness of the faith he bears in his heart and which guides his every thought and action.

It is a silence thanks to which Joseph, in unison with Mary, watches over the Word of God, known through the Sacred Scriptures, continuously comparing it with the events of the life of Jesus; a silence woven of constant prayer, a prayer of blessing of the Lord, of the adoration of his holy will and of unreserved entrustment to his providence…

Let us allow ourselves to be 'filled' with St Joseph's silence! In a world that is often too noisy, that encourages neither recollection nor listening to God's voice, we are in such deep need of it. (Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, Angelus, December 18, 2005)

In light of these words, let us try this Lent to imitate the life of St Joseph and be both active and contemplative. To follow the commands of the Lord and silently, secretly and without seeking praise, serve and give alms to the poor and needy (see Mt 6:1-4; 25:31-46) Let us try to spend time in silent prayer, meditating on, and contemplating, the mysteries of the life of Christ (see Mt 6:5-6; Lk 2:19, 33, 51; 10:38-42) As the Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches: ‘Contemplative prayer…is a gaze of faith fixed on Jesus, an attentiveness to the Word of God, a silent love’ (para. 2724) St Joseph, pray for us.

Photo by Fr. Lawrence Lew, O.P.

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A reflection from Fr Toby Lees, Roman Catholic Chaplain

PrayerIn a Lent where you might feel that COVID has already done the work of giving up everything for you, we’re still called to deepen our prayer life, and I’ve been trying this Lent to enter more deeply into the prayer that Jesus gave us.

The line I find toughest is also one of the shortest, and I often find I’ve said it before I’ve really started to tune in on what I’m saying: ‘Thy Will be Done’ - easy to say, difficult to intend, harder to live.

Is it bad that I’ve said this most of my life, without really meaning it? Well, it definitely would have been better to have sincerely meant it, but I don’t think we have to wait before we’re perfect to pray perfect intentions, otherwise we’ll never get started and we really do need to get started.

In fact, good prayers form us and shape us, and I think that. said enough times intentionally and with the right disposition, words that we may have not given enough attention to may start to mould us, becoming imprinted upon our soul. And, this does matter because the words and phrases in our head are the vocabulary of our thoughts, and our thoughts are the grammar of our actions: we want the word of God to be the syntax of our lives.

Back, though, to ‘Thy Will be Done’, and how we might go about beginning to will it and then to do it, because the struggle to do so is literally as old as humanity.

And, I think at least a part of the key has got to be taking the first and shortest line of that prayer Jesus gave us a little more seriously. Because even if we didn’t have the best father, I think we all know what a good father should be . . . most fundamentally he is one who wills the best for you, and the one in whose word you can trust, the one whose word is good, and who is good to his word.

And Jesus is that trustworthy Word of the Father, and so in the Our Father we have the Word who was God teaching us the words to use to pray to His Father, who has become Our Father.

We’ve been invited to make real in our lives this most beautiful intimacy with God, and so I just want to close by sharing one way of praying the Our Father that you might like to try, borne out of my experience of, on occasion, slipping into mindless repetition: I slow myself by repeating each line in turn.

I pray:

Our Father… Our Father

Who art in heaven … who art in heaven….

And as I’ve been thinking on this further, it occurred to me that this repetition of each line might make us think of what it might have been like to have been taught this prayer by Jesus.

To have Him say to us ‘Our Father’ and for us to repeat, ‘Our Father’, to have Him say, ‘Thy Will be Done’, and to repeat ‘Thy Will be Done’. And, to look at Him and see that this was good: to see that the invitation for us to call His Father, Our Father, was also an invitation to share in His life.

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A reflection from Callum Bucke, Chaplaincy Assistant

Callum CartoonI collect comic books, from the more well-known superhero titles like Batman and Superman to stuff I’m sure no one else has heard of. One of my favourites is the little-known DC Comics superhero team The Doom Patrol. Created in 1963 and dubbed ‘the World’s Strangest Heroes’, the Doom Patrol was formed of Elasti-Girl, Negative Man, Robotman, and The Chief, a group of misfits cast out of society for their ‘deformities’.

The series revels in a particular brand of 1960s weirdness – outlandish plots, colourful characters, and bizarre villains – but the appeal comes from the relationship between the members of the Doom Patrol and how they learned to put aside their fear of rejection and work together to save the world.

Before becoming Elasti-Girl, Negative Man, and Robotman they were Rita Farr, Larry Trainor, and Cliff Steele, and they all had their own stories about being outsiders. Rita was a Hollywood actress, but while filming in the jungles of Africa, she was accidentally exposed to a strange volcanic gas which gave her the ability to grow to any size from hundreds of feet tall to mere inches high.

Larry was a test pilot, the best in the business. However, while piloting an experimental fighter jet, Larry hit a band of atmospheric radiation that tore his body apart. Cliff was a daredevil, a thrill-seeking racing driver with little regard for his own safety. One day his car overturned, severely injuring him. Faced with no other choice, surgeons transplanted his brain into a robot body. Horrified at what they had become, and shunned as freaks by a terrified society, Rita, Larry, and Cliff hid themselves from the world.

Then one day, Rita, Larry, and Cliff are all summoned by a mysterious man known as ‘The Chief’. How The Chief came to hear about the odd trio is not explained, but he knows everything there is to know about them, even those secrets they would rather forget. The Chief has a proposition for them: become the adventurers they once were, but this time embrace their so-called deformities and use them to help save humankind.

The Chief then reveals that he too knows what it is like to be called an outcast and a freak – he is in a wheelchair, paralysed from the waist down. Elasti-Girl, Negative Man, and Robotman may have comic book superpowers, but they are humbled by The Chief’s very real disability and how it never stopped him from continuing what he feels called to do.

Just as The Chief knew the rest of the Doom Patrol were outcasts, being an outcast too, Jesus knows what it is like for us to suffer, as he suffered himself. When we feel rejected, shunned, scared, or hated, remember Jesus felt the same thing as he hung on the Cross. In John’s Gospel, he reminds us “If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.” The Incarnation teaches us that Jesus lived a full human life, sharing in all our human experiences, even the bad ones. He knows what it’s like.

Lent is a time of reflecting on our struggles, and of wandering through the wilderness, but we do not struggle alone. Jesus walks alongside us, bearing the weight of all our fears and hardships, and fully understanding what it is like to be scared and hated, and loving us regardless. Even if we struggle to find a place for ourselves, remember that God has a place for all outcasts and remember that God spread His arms wide on the Cross to embrace the whole of humanity.

God speaks to us in the most unusual of places, even in an obscure 1960s comic. If you want something more unusual to do this Lent, remember the Doom Patrol and remember that we all have a place in God’s plan, even if we can’t see it ourselves.

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A reflection from the Revd Dr Jenny Morgans, Chaplain to the Denmark Hill Campus

I’ve been a wild swimmer for many years now, but during a stressful period a few years ago I took ‘the plunge’ and started swimming all year round. When I lived in London, I swam in the Serpentine (in Hyde Park), Brockwell Lido (less wild), or the Hampstead Ladies Pond.  In the autumn, I moved south to Brighton, where I try to swim in the sea several times a week – which was part of the reason for the move.

Wild swimming occasions many responses from friends and on-lookers, most often either “Is it cold?” or “Are you mad?” The answer to the first question is, naturally, “Yes.” As for the second, I sometimes struggle to find a polite response, because for me it can be the highlight of my day, and I find that it brings me closer to God. If that leaves you surprised, I’ll try to explain…

Islay Panoramic

Loch PoemEvery swim is different. The water may be sparkling clear with sunlight shimmering to pebbles below, or foaming white against blue, or gun-metal grey atop a muddy bank. Or even – like this loch on Islay – peaty orange against the skin. Whatever it looks like, the beauty and vastness of the scene lifts my heart to God in appreciation and thankfulness for the glory of creation. Looking at the water is one thing; but once I am immersed in it, I become part of the scene. I feel held by God and her creation, at one with it. Because the water is cold (it’s around 5C in the sea at this time of year) the experience of being in it is all-encompassing. After the initial shock, it is exhilarating and joyful. There is no room in my head for anything but how it looks and feels, and often it makes me laugh out loud. 

In the Second Century, Irenaeus wrote that that the glory of God is a human being fully alive, and to be alive is to behold God. When I am immersed in that water I feel fully alive.  I’m not only beholding the glory of God’s creation all around me, but also knowing myself to be a part of it. And that energy can linger with me for hours after each swim.

At the moment, we’re hearing a lot about the effect of the pandemic on our mental health.  As well as being good for my soul, swimming is also good for my body and my mind. 

I don’t expect everyone to be into wild swimming – or to have access to swimming spots during the lockdown.  But I wonder: is there something that you can do which feeds every part of your being, bringing you closer to the divine, making you laugh out loud and enabling you to feel fully alive?

And who knows, maybe once lockdown lifts, you might tempt yourself into the chilly depths too.   

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A reflection from the Revd Jim Craig, Chaplain to the Guy's Campus

time-to-talk-2021

We have all become acutely aware of our mental health needs over the last 12 months. In years gone by, I have happily promoted events in the annual calendar of health and wellbeing, such as Stress Awareness Month (April) World Sleep Day (19th March) and Time to Talk Day (4th Feb). This year, these events have become especially relevant as the isolation which Covid has placed upon us has taken its toll on all of us.

Time to Talk Day exists to start conversations about mental health and help end the stigma. In its promotional material it is suggested that being busy isn't an adequate excuse for not joining in - 'During lunch, in the toilet, even up a mountain, wherever you are you can always share with someone the thing that makes you smile the most, or thank someone for something they've done for you'.

During lunch, in the toilet, up a mountain, hmm, that reminds me of a Bible story. In King's 19 we come across the mighty prophet Elijah not long after he has won one of his most famous battles. He had overcome the prophets of Baal, despite the fact that they outnumbered him by 450 to 1. It was seen as a mighty victory, and one which should have seen Elijah full of confidence for the future.

And yet, Elijah panics and flees for his life. Perhaps if he had only been to his local Time to Talk event he might have realised that a problem shared is a problem halved. Elijah's reverse in confidence is astounding in the context of his recent victories, but it’s not that surprising when we look at the vicissitudes in our own health. Part of the problem is the stigma that is attached to these admissions. At best we see these things as a weakness that we mustn't admit to, and at worst we see it as a taboo subject which will somehow mark us out as inadequate. 

Whatever our experience of mental health, we need to recognise the early signs of overwork and exhaustion. It can be unappealing to introduce stress-busting ‘me-time’ into a work timetable already bursting at the seams, even if we think these activities might do us some good. Yet the busier we become the less likely we are to begin our self-care journey and to prioritise our own wellbeing.

This Wednesday is Ash Wednesday in the church calendar – the first day of Lent. Putting ourselves in a position that makes it easier to hear the still voice of God is what Lent is all about. It's worth using this time to think about how to go about curating a good Lent. Will you commit to giving something up, or will you take something on? Whatever you do, I hope you'll take Elijah's story to heart. God is not just found in the big things - whirlwind, jobs, first-class degrees - but in the smaller things - prayer, friends, scripture, home, and the invitation to nurture our mental health and wellbeing. However you mark Lent this year, I hope that you find time to talk each other about your mental health, and time to talk to God about those things in life which bring you the greatest joy.

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A reflection from the Revd Sarah Farrow, Lutheran Chaplain

IMPORTANTWe’ve recently learned that the poem used in the reflection below was largely plagiarised from a poem by Beth Stano. We wish to give credit to Beth’s original work (below) while also acknowledging the pain and harm that comes from acts of plagiarism. We keep both Beth and Micky in our prayers as they move forward together – in a space that ‘will not be perfect’ but one they can ‘work on side by side’.

There is no such thing as a “safe space” —

We exist in the real world.

We all carry scars and have caused wounds.

This space

seeks to turn down the volume of the world outside,

and amplify voices that have to fight to be heard elsewhere,

This space will not be perfect.

It will not always be what we wish it to be

But

It will be our space together,

and we will work on it side by side.

By Beth Stano

 

Invitation to Brave Space - by Micky ScottBey Jones

Colourful GlassTogether we will create brave space.
Because there is no such thing as a “safe space” —
We exist in the real world.
We all carry scars and we have all caused wounds.
In this space
We seek to turn down the volume of the outside world,
We amplify voices that fight to be heard elsewhere,
We call each other to more truth and love.
We have the right to start somewhere and continue to grow.
We have the responsibility to examine what we think we know.
We will not be perfect.
This space will not be perfect.
It will not always be what we wish it to be.
But
It will be our brave space together,
and
We will work on it side by side.

This poem, ‘Invitation to Brave Space’ has held a prominent place in my thoughts during this past year. First heard in a Chaplaincy webinar last spring, it has been a touchpoint for me to help begin difficult conversations, to help create a space of trust, to remember our shared humanity.

This poem is also a point of reference for The People’s Supper in the USA. A series of shared meals designed to help community leaders address those subjects often avoided because they are ‘too uncomfortable’. In the ‘brave space’ of The People’s Supper, individuals work together to confront their own fears, misconceptions, and barriers that have caused division in the past and work together to find new ways forward.

In our shared humanity, we recognise a shared failing – we will make mistakes, we will hurt other’s feelings; we will often sit in our own world of our experiences and understanding quick to judge those who think or act differently to our expectations. In this ‘brave space’ we are not shielded from all of this, but rather, we are challenged. This is not a space where the loudest voice wins, but rather a space where all voices are heard. A space where we come together on that journey of discovery and discernment. A space where we may say the wrong thing, but can be vulnerable enough to learn and grow from our mistakes.

I do not know your journey and you do not know mine. I have not seen what you have seen nor have you experienced what I have experienced. And we can either stay in our own echo chamber, surrounded by voices that agree and share our world view or we can meet in the brave space – learn from one another, share those experiences that make us who we are.

This is what I believe chaplaincy strives to be about- creating a brave space. A place where we can recognise our own hurt and where we have hurt others. A place where are not judged, but where we journey together. A place where we are not left behind because of what we think or do or say, but a place where we are carried forward in the search for greater understanding. A place where no one is expected to be perfect, but a place where we remember our shared humanity.

I am often inspired by meeting others in the chaplaincy. We come from different backgrounds, different faith traditions, different world views – but still we come together and learn from one another. In acknowledging that we don’t have all the answers, we can be vulnerable and humble enough to make those mistakes from which we will all learn. This brave space may be uncomfortable at times, it may be challenging at times – but it is never an empty space. It’s a space we enter together and work on together. I hope you will accept this invitation to brave space

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A reflection from Laura Elworthy, Chaplaincy Assistant

‘Resilience’… how does that word make you feel? The desire for it, both for ourselves and other people, seems particularly acute at our present time.

To tell you the truth, that word has given me a lot of anxiety over the last few years. I’ve worried whether mine was actually any good, or whether everyone else was better at coping with life than I was.

When I worked at a summer school at the university of Greenwich in summer 2018, teaching English to children aged 10-18 from Spain, Kazakhstan, Morocco, Italy, and Turkey, I was pushed to my limits. I had never taught teenagers in groups, let alone 15 teenagers from different countries with different first languages. I felt out of my depth and aware of how woefully inexperienced I was. Getting through that first day was the hardest step.

At that summer school, I had to learn resilience. I’ve had to learn – and am still learning – strategies to cope when I feel low and hopeless. When I feel overwhelmed, I break tasks into smaller, manageable, achievable tasks so that I face the day realistically and efficiently. But I’m also aware that it’s not weakness to ask for help and to tell friends, family and colleagues that I’m struggling.

There is something to be said about being brave and pushing through, even if you don’t feel like it. But I think the most important thing of all is knowing yourself and your limitations. Saying ‘no’ to things which you know you do not have capacity for is strength, not weakness. It is far better for yourself and others if you know your limitations rather than pushing yourself to exhaustion and unnecessary guilt for struggling to meet a deadline.

Of course, as so many of us are finding now, we don’t always have a choice; sometimes we simply have to go above and beyond, pushing ourselves well over our limits to simply survive – or because other peoples’ lives depend on it. Sometimes we don’t have the luxury to say ‘no’ and I’m very conscious of those at the front line for whom this is painfully true.

But this is not sustainable, and it’s not healthy.

Seascape LauraIf you find no other comfort from scripture, I would encourage you to draw strength from the Psalms. In them we find songs covering the spectrum of human emotion, from joy to sorrow, thanksgiving to anger, petitions to lamentations.

You may resonate with the writer of Psalm 34 : ‘the Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit’.

In our struggles, God is with us.

Even if all you can do before opening up your emails for the day, or sitting down to write a tricky essay, or confronting a difficult situation, or stepping into the hospital for a 12 hour A&E shift, is cry out: ‘Lord, be with me’, that is enough. You will not be alone.

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A reflection from the Tim Ditchfield FKC, College Chaplain

Once again, I find myself reflecting on light and darkness. I have always found January a challenging month: short days and mostly grey skies with little to look forward to in the immediate future. It is a month that so many of us find very difficult, and in Lockdown 3 (or whatever number we are currently in!) it is even more of a challenge for us all.

Light TunnelI’ve heard the phrase ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ rather a lot recently. Mainly in relation to the vaccine roll-out, which is, of course, excellent news, and I have always been struck by the human desire to get through the dark time as quickly as possible to get back to the light. It is a powerful metaphor, but not always helpful.

There is something crucial about engaging with the present as far as we are able to, as opposed to wishing time away until the days get longer or warmer, and until things get better.

I know from personal experience how awful a time of depression is, and I wouldn’t want anyone to have to experience that type of darkness. And I know one can never generalise from a personal experience, but in such dark times, along with medication and talking therapies, what has helped me is learning to sit and accept the darkness for what it is. To be present in, and to, the darkness whatever that might be. It is, of course, easy to say that when we are no longer in such a time.

And, it also helps to be kind to ourselves. It is so easy to be hard on ourselves and think we should be able to deal with this dark time and sort it out, and then judge ourselves harshly when we find we can’t sort it out.

And, checking in with other people is helpful for ourselves - and for them. It is easy to drop someone an email to see how January is going for them.

Always for me, there is a Wendell Berry poem for times like this - his poem beautifully reminds us as well as sitting in the present it is important to look back. And see the blessings we may have experienced.

There is a light at the end of the tunnel. But the tunnel is an important place to be, as frightening and painful as it may be.

Sabbath Poems 1999 VI, Wendell Berry

We travelers, walking to the sun, can’t see

Ahead, but looking back the very light

That blinded us shows us the way we came,

Along which blessings now appear, risen

As if from sightlessness to sight, and we,

By blessing brightly lit, keep going toward

That blessed light that yet to us is dark.                            

from Collected & New Sabbath Poems

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A reflection from the Revd Dr Ellen Clark-King, Dean of King's College London

 

CamelliaThere are only two feelings.

Love and fear.

There are only two languages.

Love and fear.

There are only two activities.

Love and fear.

There are only two motives,

two procedures, two frameworks,

two results.

Love and fear.

Love and fear.

-          Michael Leunig

This is one of my favourite prayer poems by the Australian cartoonist and writer Michael Leunig. I find it challenging and inspirational in equal measures. Challenging because I know my own tendency towards the fearful – the internal doom-scrolling that can become habitual, and inspirational because I also know the power of love to work for good in my own life and the life of the world.

One thing I have found essential in the last year is to search out the activities and relationships that strengthen the love side of the equation and allow the fear to slink further away. Currently this involves an intentional focus on keeping up relationships and conversations with friends in the US and Canada (we moved back to the UK from 16 years away in October), despite the limitations of Zoom and the inconvenient 8 hour time difference – our pre-dinner drinks are their morning coffee.

Lincoln's Inn Field

I am also allowing myself to fall in love again with London. I grew up in Bromley, almost yet not quite London, and am enjoying the feeling of being rooted again. The daily allowed exercise is helping some places become quickly familiar favourites – Lincoln Inn’s Field with its trees and dogs and cheeky crows – and others to be treats for longer walks – the current birdsong installation in Leadenhall Market for one.

And I know that when I allow more space in myself for love then there is less room for fear. We can speak out of that love into the issues of the day rather than retreating from them because they feel overwhelming. The language we use to speak with others becomes more spacious and allows more room for the person we are speaking with to communicate. Our actions get less about self-preservation and more about mutual flourishing.

So what do you need to do in the next few days, and the months beyond, to strengthen and broaden your capacity for love and to limit the bandwidth of your fear? How can you be gentle with yourself to enable yourself to be gentle with others? Are there ways to limit your own doom-scrolling and root yourself in life-giving relationships?

Love and fear remain present in each one of us, but the one who created us from and for love cheers us on as we work to make more room for the former and less for the latter. May you grow in love and your ability to overcome fear in 2021 and beyond.

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A reflection from the Revd Jim Craig, Chaplain to the Guy's Campus

Happy new year to you all. I hope that you managed to as close to a normal Christmas break as possible. But now 2021 is well and truly here, how do you feel?

Are you optimistic about the year ahead? Happy to see the back of 2020? Elated at the arrival of the Covid vaccine? Disappointed that we’ve entered yet another lockdown? Perhaps the truth is that we are probably all feeling all of these emotions at the same time. Our feelings are rarely straightforward and we must allow ourselves time to process our feelings. It took the wise men up to two years find the infant Christ, despite their presence in so many of the nativity scenes we find in our greetings cards and calendars. It’s important to take our time when it comes to working out who we are and what our response should be to situations like this.

Once again, happy new year! But how long can we be expected to keep up this enthusiasm for the new year once the festivities have died down and we have returned to work or studies? If I’m being honest with myself it’s not very long. Very quickly I turn from a spirit of hope to a spirit of dejection. At least, I start to recognise very quickly the same doubts and patterns of behaviour present in me as they always have been. I think about starting a new project, and I immediately doubt whether I have the requisite skills to complete it.

‘New’ isn’t easy. Our brains are complex organs and out ‘thinking’ self often predominates over the ‘feeling’ self.

In my mindfulness group this week and I invited people to have a fresh look at what ‘new’ means to them. I encouraged them to pay attention  to the ambient sounds around them. This can take a bit of effort as our brain will try and categorise and label what we’re hearing before we actually experience the sounds themselves. I asked them to pay attention to their breathing, especially their breathing out. Why? Simply because it is something we do thousands of times a day and take for granted. No breath is exactly the same, just as none of the sounds around are as predictable, mundane, or repetitive as we first believe.

Jim Hand SandOur thinking selves will always try and tell us what ‘new’ will look like. It’s only when we slow ourselves down that we discover that ‘new’ can be unpredictable, calming, surprising, engaging, and perhaps just a little exciting. That is what I hope for us all this year – that we will make a little room for something new to happen in our lives. This might be our third lockdown, but our response to the restrictions imposed on us does not have to be the same as last time. This might be our second or third academic term studying remotely, but every day still holds a sliver of light that can lead us from the temporal and the predictable to the eternal.  

As William Blake wrote in his Auguries of Innocence, ‘To see a World in a Grain of Sand, And a Heaven in a Wild Flower, Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand And Eternity in an hour.’

Happy NEW year!

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A reflection from the Revd Jarel Robinson-Brown

For Christians, this time of year known as 'Advent' typically involves a change in rhythm - life in Church generally feels as though it's building up to both the new calendar year, but also the new Church year which begins on the First Sunday in Advent. For four weeks we usually follow the them of the 'Four Last Things': Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell - remembering that the one whose birth we celebrate on the 25th December (in the West) and 7th January (in the East) is one who comes as Saviour and as Judge. Of course, this year - those themes: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell have felt much more real than ever before.

Baby handAs I write this, the death toll to COVID-19 is 1.52 million, an unfathomable amount of human loss – untold amounts of human grief – the result of a plague that has ripped through our communities, across borders and through the barriers of race, class, gender, and religion. In Church this year, if we were allowed to sing we might have sung a hymn which says:

‘He comes the broken heart to bind, the bleeding soul to cure, and with the treasures of His grace, t'enrich the humbled poor…’

 

It can be tempting for us, as we approach this new year to try and leave 2020 behind us, but we have been told time and again that the pandemic won’t stay in this year…that the notion of ‘once this is all over’ is really not the way to think. So what difference does the birth of a child make in a world of so much pain and dismay? Well Jesus came into the world as the Son of God to show us what God is like. In Jesus we see a God whose love and compassion reach out into the most painful parts of our human experience. Jesus heals the parts of us that are torn, and tender. Jesus shows us that God cares and is alongside us in this moment, and that in the coming year – whatever we experience we do so surrounded by God’s love and care – a love and care we can and should show to one another.

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A reflection from Fr Toby Lees, Roman Catholic Chaplain

In last week’s reflection, Revd Tim mentioned his time studying in the pre-history of 1980s, and we return to the 80s in my thoughts this week. Of late, the twin causes of lockdown, and having turned 40 a few months ago, seem to have combined to make me incredibly nostalgic. The nostalgia wasn’t helped when I passed a coffee shop yesterday which had a sign outside: “Pretty wild thought . . . there was a time when someone would blow on a cake and then everyone would have a slice . . . happy days!”

ClockAnyway, all this thought of nostalgia, as well as the beginning of Advent has had me thinking about the nature of time, as well as listening to some favourite 80s tracks. And whilst not my favourite (that would probably be something like Waiting for a Star to Fall or St Elmo’s Fire, if you’ve not heard them before, you’re most welcome!), the song that keeps coming to mind is The Final Countdown. Now, that’s not because the song is by the rock band, Europe, and because Brexit is fast approaching, or because of the COVID relevant question in the lyrics: ‘Will things ever be the same again?’ No, it’s because it seems to me that all Christian life is in reality a waiting and a countdown.

The season of Advent is most obviously a countdown to Christmas, when Christians remember the marvel of the Incarnation, but more importantly a countdown and a preparation for the second coming of Christ or the hour of our death, whichever may come first.

Now, according to your disposition, this might sound morbid, but it is the reality, and it’s better to be jolted by reality every now and then, than to live in a comfortable delusion. And the reality for each of us is that our days on this earth are numbered, it’s just the number that remains uncertain . . . unlike the number of days to Christmas (although as one friend said to me, according to her chocolate Advent calendar, it’s only two days to Christmas). In this context, the biggest question of our lives is, ‘How will I wait?’ and ‘What does this countdown lead to?’

Each of us is called to ponder whether our lives look like we’re simply passing the time, whittling away the hours in 80s nostalgia? Or is our waiting a dynamic waiting; is it a waiting that transforms, a waiting that, for Christians, sees the fruits of the union of our human nature with the Divine, brought about by the Incarnation, realised more and more in our lives? Is it a waiting for something, Someone, in fact, rather than a waiting for nothingness? Is it a waiting which changes the way we experience our now? Is it a waiting which does not place all our hope in the things of this world because there is so much more to come; is it the waiting of a wayfarer? On which note I leave you with one more song suggestion, Poor Wayfaring Stranger, as rendered by some of my Dominican brothers - here (YouTube).

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A reflection from the Revd Tim Ditchfield FKC, College Chaplain

This past Sunday was Advent Sunday. A couple of weeks ago our Hindu, Sikh & Jain friends were celebrating Diwali. And in a couple of weeks our Jewish friends will be celebrating Hanukkah. All of these celebrations are tied in with the symbolism of light shining in darkness which is so resonant in the Northern Hemisphere this time of year as we approach the mid-winter equinox.

We have our Advent Carol service on Tuesday 1st December, live-streamed from Chapel. Normally it's a huge celebration: three nights of beautiful candlelit services with over 1000 people in Chapel. It will still be beautiful but very different this year. Again the symbolism is the same and the theme of the service is ‘the light shines in the darkness’, a quote from the opening chapter of John’s Gospel which speaks of Jesus’ time on earth as such a light shining in a dark world.

There is something truly primal about light shining in darkness. When I studied Archaeology back in the prehistory of the 1980s there was evidence of Homo sapiens control of fire dating back 300,000 to 400,000 years. But in 2018 archaeologists found traces of campfires that flickered 1 million years ago in South Africa’s Wonderwerk Cave, a site of human and early hominin habitation for 2 million years. Our ancestors discovering fire for the first time saw the power that this light had in dark places.

It is a common theme in many of our religious traditions to explore the power of light. We find the power of light to dispel the darkness comforting. This time of year we like to have candles lit around the house. Some of us may be putting Christmas trees up soon with lots of lights on them. There is something really beautiful about having main lights off in a house, and just having a candle lights, firelight and Christmas tree lights shining in the darkness.

Shining in the Darkness is a powerful metaphor for the image of good in evil times. And it seems that this year more than many other years we really need to be reminded of this truth. I came across a great quote by Richard Rohr recently:

‘People who live with faith in the midst of darkness never stop growing, are not easily defeated, are wise and compassionate, and frankly, are fun to live with. They have a quiet and confident joy. Experiences of darkness are good and necessary teachers. They are not to be avoided, denied, run from, or explained away. All the saints and mystics assure us that darkness will never have the last word. The Scriptures promise us that the Light shines in the darkness and will not be overcome by it.’

There is something important about light. And there is something important about darkness. I'd like to finish by reading one of the poems that we are using in our Advent service by one of my favourite poets - Wendell Berry. He is a farmer from Kentucky. A man of Christian faith. And a lot of his imagery is about the natural world. And this poem captures the beauty and challenge of light in darkness.

Sabbaths: 1985 III

Advent CarolsAwaked from the persistent dream

Of human chaos come again,

I walk in the lamed woods, the light

Brought down by the felling of great trees,

And in the rising thicket where

The shadow of old grace returns.

Leaf shadows tremble on light leaves,

A lighter foliage of songs,

Among them, the wind’s thousand tongues,

And songs of birds. Beams reaching down

Into the shadow swirl and swarm

With gleaming traffic of the air,

Bright grains of generative dust

And winged intelligences. Among

High maple leaves a spider’s wheel

 

Shines, work of finest making made

Touchingly in the dark.

The dark

Again has prayed the light to come

Down into it, to animate

And move it in its heaviness.

So what was still and dark wakes up,

Becomes intelligent, moves, names

Itself by hunger and by kind,

Walks, swims, flies, cries, speaks, or sings.

We are all praising, praying to

The light we are, but cannot know.

This poem also asks - how each one of us can be light shining in the darkness?

Can I also invite you to listen to one of the beautiful pieces of music in our service this year - here (SOUNDCLOUD) 

And also to view our Advent Carols service here (YouTube)

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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.

Job ConfessingThe 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.

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A reflection from the Revd Dr Jenny Morgans, Chaplain to the Denmark Hill Campus

Shadow Walk

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).

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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.

Suffering 2However, 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.  

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A reflection from the Revd Dr 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?  

Today you are youBe 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.

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A reflection from Laurence Jasper, Roman Catholic Chaplain 

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:

Rosary photoThe 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?

Rosary Shrine 1In 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.).

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A reflection from the Revd Dr 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. 

Daff LockdownThis 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.’

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A reflection from Dr Clare Dowding, Business Manager for the Dean's Office & Chaplaincy

Being alone, being lonely, and just being

Bench photoI’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. 

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A reflection from the Revd Dr 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.

Homefulness JMWalter 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)

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A reflection from Dr Joseph Fort, College Organist, Director of the Chapel Choir & Lecturer in Music

 

Yellow MusicIn 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.

Yellow Theatre

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.

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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.

Heart

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.

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A reflection from the Revd Tim Ditchfield FKC, College Chaplain

spriteI 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.

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A reflection from the Revd Jim Craig, Chaplain to the Guy's Campus

mindfulness 2I’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:-

mindfulness 1

‘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.

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A reflection from the Revd Jarel Robinson-Brown

George Floyd’s murder didn’t shock me.

BLMOn 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.

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A reflection from the Revd Dr Simon Woodman, Baptist Chaplain

FieldAs 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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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A reflection from James Johnson, Orthodox Chaplain

Child pathLockdown 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:

Child TreeI 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.

Amen!                                                                                                                                                                                                                                

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A reflection from Dr Harrie Cedar, Jewish Chaplain

Kabbalistic TofLKabbalistic 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.

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A reflection from The Rt Rev Dr Keith Riglin, Bishop of Argyll and The Isles

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.”

SerenityIf 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.

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Guess the Chaplain! ART in Isolation -

'Girls Night Out in Peck-hen'

'Exhibition for Chickens' - Curated by @father_of_dawdlers (Instagram)

Chicken discoThe 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.

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A reflection from the Revd Sarah Farrow, Lutheran Chaplain

dogman-4863999_640Dogman 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.

Meet the Chaplains

Meet the Chaplains

Chaplains are public figures - shaping a vibrant, caring & compassionate King's community.