The Reverend Robert Willis, Dean of Canterbury, has been lifting my spirits, restoring my soul and making me feel far less of a Misfit every day since just after lockdown. The team at Canterbury Cathedral who appear daily on line from various places around the cathedral precincts provide Morning and Evening Prayer as well as the Eucharist and Compline. However, it’s the Dean who has stolen my heart.
Every morning, no matter what chaos has been caused getting the day started — six of us in a three generation family, plus two puppies — the Dean, in his garden, gives me sanity, security and the assurance that God is in his Heaven and all’s right with the world, really. With consummate skill, he draws together the reading for the day, the needs of the day, a special person or event of the day and the wonders of the Deanery garden in a particular spot every day. All these elements are woven into the fabric of Morning Prayer, directly, simply and with eternal truth.
On Wednesday morning I found it unusually powerful. The reading was Luke, Chapter 7 vv. 2-10.
It is a story about a Roman officer in an army of occupation and his sick servant. However, the soldier, a Centurion, is a man of wisdom and understanding. Far from being a hated enemy he has taken a keen interest in the local people, their culture and religion and has even built a place in which they can worship their God. He also keeps abreast of local affairs and has the sensitivity to listen when he hears of a remarkable man doing remarkable things. As a man of authority he recognises authority in another.
As the Dean tells the story it is all about Faith. Jesus himself says as much. “I tell you, not even in Israel have I found such faith.”
Even as I was listening to the Dean amongst the irises the memory of another sermon on this story was bugging me. At the same time, as I tried to concentrate on the prayers, two words from a poem were buzzing in my brain. ‘Fools’ and ‘traps.’
Later, over a cup of coffee, my brain cleared and I remembered both the elusive sermon and the poem. The sermon had been given in Liverpool Cathedral by Revd Jeffrey John in May 2016 and the poem was “If” by Rudyard Kipling.
After a lot of history about homosexuality in the Roman Army the point of Dr John’s sermon was not faith, but, because Jesus would have known the Centurion’s servant was gay, proof that Jesus loves gays.
Here is the bit of the poem I was remembering:
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools . . .”
What I remember now of Dr John’s sermon was a complex convolution by an angry man. I still find those two lines of poetry most apt.*
Long may the Dean, in the company of his cats, continue to preach wisdom and faith amongst the flowers.
UPDATE Saturday, 23rd May
Oh, Joy! This morning the Dean was in the Wild conservation part of the garden. And we had pigs!
They are called Winnie and Clemmie, in honour of Sir Winston Churchill. He liked pigs. Cats, he said, look down on you and dogs look up to you but pigs look you in the eye. As well as the garden and the animals I also appreciate the fact that the Dean wears a cassock. No casual mufti for him. He is a priest, he looks like a priest and as a priest he looks you in the eye.
*I blogged about this sermon in a blog entitled “More than just good friends” on June 11th 2016