Do We Still Need Shops?

 

Image result for hand held self checkout device

A few years have now passed since the first self-checkout gizmos (those little machines you hold in your hand and bleep at things before you put them in your trolley) made their appearance in my favourite supermarket.  The same supermarket also offers online shopping, which we were once told would be the future of retail, the implication being that we had all better get used to it. The gizmos are no doubt cost effective for the retailer, because they make it possible for shops to hire fewer people to run their checkouts. But fewer people running checkouts means more people in my community without jobs.

Added to this, is the sense of panic and the feeling of exposure to looking stupid which these gizmos induce in some of us. The gizmo seems to be waiting in its neat little rack for the anxious customer to do all the wrong things with it and finally have to turn to another human being for assistance, all of which takes twice as long as it would have done had the person opted for queuing at the checkout in the first place.

For many people who live in the country, as well as many who live in cities, shops supply more than food and the basics of life. They underpin community. For some, such as the elderly, the housebound, or the lone parent, the visit to the local supermarket will be the only chance they have to speak to another adult, or even to another human being, all day.

The best shops have made it their business to be interested in the human beings who buy their products. The people who work there and who staff their checkouts get to know their customers. They are not just being friendly for the sake of appearances. The result is that the shops feel more like markets than supermarkets. This should be encouraged, not only for social reasons, but also for the environmental knock-on effect of shopping carefully in one place. For one thing, it is easier to hold one big shop to account for where and how it sources its goods than to visit several in the hope of doing the same, even if that saves money.

Similarly, if we grow our own veg (assuming that is possible) the environmental damage caused by frequent car journeys to the nearest supermarket is reduced proportionately. We do not need to visit a supermarket every time we run out of lettuce. You tend to get used to making do with whatever is to hand, so avoiding the kind of additional impulse buying which makes going into town for the sake of one lettuce worth the time and the trouble. In other words, the home grower doesn’t just save money on veg. She saves it on all the things she didn’t buy had she gone there for the lettuce. She also diminishes her carbon footprint.

To some extent, the same could be said to be true of online delivery services. You pick what you want from what’s on offer. But these services presumably come with their own problems, like how to return sub-standard food ordered online or that has been delivered to you by mistake. I have never shopped for food online, so am unfamiliar with such a process.

All of this is about getting the balance right between being human and being a consumer. Going to the shops is not just about shopping. It is, in a deeper sense, about communion. Shopping provides an opportunity to be together with other human beings, to hear their voices and know companionship, even if you don’t bump into someone you know personally, although in small towns like ours, you generally do. These chance meetings, along with a sense of being part of the wider community, reflect the hospitality of God. They also invite joy and gratitude in experiencing, be it ever so slightly, his invitation to us to enjoy the fruits of the earth and benefit from the kind of marketing which brings people together rather than turning them into atomised consumers.

Without gratitude we become increasingly isolated from one another and hence from the giver of all good things. Gratitude is the basis for all human happiness. It is given and received in all sorts of ways. In the context of shopping, most of us experience it in a shared word or two with another person about the most trivial things, or the tiny moments of ordinary courtesy that are known while standing in a queue, and which may lead to remarks about the weather and to whatever is currently of interest to any one community; bits of news, thoughts and concerns about others or about what is going on in the world. For many people, such moments only happen while queueing at the check out.  A quick ‘thank you’ to the delivery person does not quite do it. Neither does the cost effective self-checkout gizmo, for all its promise of speed and efficiency.

 

Liberal Values In An Illiberal Age

 

Liberals have something very valuable at the heart of their political conviction for which they often pay a price. The word ‘liberal’ embodies both freedom and generosity so that, theologically, it is bound up with the very nature of God, with God’s love and mercy. I am a liberal in the context of both Church and society because I believe that the liberal vision for a just society and a just Church is closely bound to these two essentially divine attributes.

This liberal conviction is also part of the conviction of faith. The conviction of faith depends not on certainties, but on the humility that comes with an implicit trust in the deeper truth which makes the love of God a reality in people’s lives, a truth which embodies kindness. Kindness is what liberal Christians ought to be holding to as they try to help others reflect on the increasingly complex moral questions that face our high tech, money orientated world and society. It is also why some view them with suspicion. People like certainty in politics and they like it in religion, so those who suggest that less certainty is conducive to moral and religious health are perceived as a threat.

In the Church, as in society, liberals have been accused of being neutral, of ‘wishy washiness’, of having no real theology, of sacrificing integrity for the sake of a spurious unity, and even of cowardice. Many, if not all of these accusations are the result of the over-politicised, issue-driven and somewhat lazy mindset which drives the individual politically and which also drives the politics of the Church. Particular mindsets, or to put it more bluntly, prejudices, give a person a political identity, also affording them with (providing it can be squared with other prejudices) a party identity. For those liberals who see truth as bound up with God’s love and mercy, and therefore inherently dynamic and of the Spirit, the difficulty lies in defining the truths which make us fully human, rather than trying to pin them down so that we can identify with them and identify with like-minded people, or with a political party.

But truth is not to be confined in this way. Rather, it must allow for the freedom and generosity which speaks of true liberality. For liberals, the search for truth is an ongoing struggle for a deeper understanding of what is truly good. Christians engage in this struggle in the knowledge that God wrestles with us as we seek solutions to the questions which will inevitably accompany such a search. God wrestles, as we all do, with righteousness and truth as it pertains to the world today – or, put more simply, as it pertains to the question ‘What is the right thing to do in this situation?’ What is most conducive to the common good, to God’s overarching love being worked into the life of any one person in any one context – abortion, for example? or with the way we are as a nation among other nations – Brexit, for the UK, and the politics of immigration both in the UK and the US?

All of these questions, and their contexts, point to the variegated nature of truth, and hence to the near impossibility of providing a single answer to those which pertain to morality and to how a nation sees itself as one among many. At the same time, Donald Trump’s spurious policies are an all too painful reminder of what can happen when we do not pay serious attention to what those in power are doing with the power handed to them in regard to what is righteous and truthful and in the interest of the common good.

In the UK we are also being taught some salutary lessons in taking responsibility for the common good as we watch the disintegration of the Conservative party where the common good, along with truth and righteousness, are easily traded for the gratification of personal political ambition. And while Rome burns the party in opposition watches and waits – silently. This is the worst form of pragmatism. Why is the party of the opposition not opposing? Possibly because its leader wants to keep his options open for later, should he find himself running the country in the near future. But he is doing himself a great disservice politically. Many of those who might have voted for him feel disillusioned by his lack of what the poet Yeats would have called ‘conviction’ at a time when the country so badly needs to hear his voice. Although I would not bracket the leader of the Labour party with Donald Trump when it comes to integrity and righteous thinking, both, to a greater or lesser extent, remind us that weak men in positions of power are dangerous in the longer term.

Liberal theology, and all liberal thinking, needs to be true to itself by not shirking the questions which are asked of it and by seeking to address those questions in new and challenging ways, ways which will enable others to connect with the love of God. This is something Modern Church tries to do each year as we reflect theologically at our conferences. Our annual conferences remind us of the privilege and responsibilities which come with being a liberal voice for the Church and for the Christian faith. Liberalism, as we see it being worked out in the context of Modern Church, involves a kind of quiet passion for a religion which is capable of bringing hope where it is most needed – in the realm of ideas which are capable of shaping the policies of both Church and world into something that speaks of the kindness of God.

In both these areas, liberalism is neither heterodox or ‘fuzzy’, but it does threaten to disturb. It dislodges us from familiar habits of mind, because there is something deep and alive driving its life.

 

 

With Unaffected Love

Ceilidh

When a nine-year-old girl, whom you’ve never met before, gives you one of those fierce hugs that only children give, you know it as a life-defining moment (one that you’ll probably remember as you’re dying), and even more so when the hug comes with the words ‘You’re such a nice lady’.

I wonder if this is the form of greeting given by angels to heaven’s new arrivals. I like to think of angels as beings we do not see, except on very rare occasions and usually while we are still very young. Even so, they are, I suspect, very much around in moments of unaffected love, such as the one I have described.  I was privileged to receive this hug as the child in question was leaving a party which had been full of love and laughter. There had been a ceilidh, and ceilidhs always make for love and laughter and for wonderful parties.

Again, I suspect something like a ceilidh goes on in the great party of heaven, possibly with the occasional ‘rest’ period for everyone to catch their breath, as well as welcome newcomers who may or may not be natural dancers. From the ceilidh, which probably gave rise to the hug (I think we’d been partners at some point), we learn community. Not the kind of community which comes to mind when that word is invoked as some kind of proto-social ideal, but a reckless ‘not minding’ of what impression we are making or failing to make, as we join in the dance. The same is true of the reciprocal hug I received from the nine-year-old. There was no impression needed.

What really prompts such hugs? I think it is a kind of graced and holy obedience. By that I mean an obedience that comes as unconsciously as breathing, because it is the natural response to unaffected love. A ceilidh requires this kind of natural response to the general measure, or rhythm, which is being played by the band, and to the words of the caller. Without their music and the caller’s words there can be no response, no unaffected love between the dancers. There can be no dance.

The kingdom of heaven begins in the moment when we get the ‘measure’ of the dance, when we sense the rhythm and music in ourselves which prompts a kind of carefree obedience. For the dance to work, we must be obedient to its measure spelled out to us in the instructions and encouragement of the caller. Together, the music, the rhythm and the voice of the caller, combine to make us aware of the pull of love we feel towards our many partners. As a result, this kind of dance always involves a general sense of belonging to each other, no matter who you begin with as a partner at the start of the dance. My husband is not an enthusiastic dancer and I’m ashamed to admit that I borrowed someone else’s (with her agreement) for the final ‘strip the willow’.

The morning after the ceilidh we attended an ordination service in one of the nation’s iconic cathedrals. The ordination service was a dance in its own right – at least up to a point. Orchestration, fine timing, attention to detail and many beautiful and impressive words, both said and sung, reminded me of a kind of extended ‘pavane’ or ‘gavotte’. There was great beauty in the form, and in much of the dress. These are the things that many of the people sitting in the pews will remember. There was also a formal gesture of community, a stylised rendering of communion, in the exchange of the peace between strangers. But for all its choreography and carefully chosen words and actions, and despite the joyfulness of the occasion, the service lacked something of the deep and reckless love of a ceilidh.

Perhaps this is why the institutional church is losing touch with people. There is something solemn and unjoyful at work beneath its surface which jars with what is said and done on occasions such as this ordination. Some of us are uncomfortably aware of the internal politics and the machinations of power which are at work in the Church’s higher echelons, and within its very heart.

In ceremonies of ordination these higher echelons of power are both affirmed and celebrated through dress, liturgy and ritual. But as with all theatre, it is often a very different story in the green room downstairs. There, once the robes have been discarded, the private face of the Church will quietly re-assert itself. There will be a general sense of ‘bonhomie’, with old friends and political allies acknowledging each other. There will be a seeking out, with a passing joke or greeting, of people who might be useful to other people. There will be a degree of suspicion, even of fear, when eyes meet and silent confrontation of one kind or another bitterly reasserts itself.

But there will also be hugs, and many of them will be unaffected and full of the joy one experiences in an uncomplicated and trusting friendship, although these will mostly take place between ‘junior’ members of the power structure. Those at the higher end, with heavy robes and the valuable accoutrements which go with them to think of before they can start hugging, will usually be unrobing in a separate room or perhaps, in the case of an ordination, making their way to the steps outside to be photographed with the newly ordained.

This year, some of them have been made to jump up and down for these photographs. This, on the whole, they will not have enjoyed. It is never good to be forced to look silly and I suspect that, in the long term, making bishops look silly in public undermines their true worth (which is often hidden beneath the robes and mitres) and does nothing to further trust and unaffected love between bishops and their clergy. But to give the media the benefit of the doubt, in regard to these contrived photographs, perhaps they are suggesting that if the deep joy that is of Christ cannot be visible in the unaffected love that ought to exist between the members of his Church, photographers must do what they can to manufacture something that looks like it.

Church Plants – Are They ‘Relevant’?

The furore surrounding Angela Tilby’s Church Times article ‘Deliver us from the Evangelical Takeover’ (Church Times 27th April, 2018) has given rise to what many people probably see as a very large storm occurring, once again, in a very small teacup. They are right insofar as it can be felt as a more compact, and therefore more intense, re-working of the murderous Church differences that prevailed in this country and on the continent in the sixteenth century, and thereafter in other guises. But they would be wrong to see them as another reason for dismissing the Church, and the Christian faith to which it witnesses, as ‘irrelevant’.

Irrelevance is what Christianity is often accused of when there is nothing else left to blame for suffering and injustice, including the injustices perpetrated by the Church. But blame, merited or not, has never brought renewed life or hope, and the Church, with all its internecine conflicts, is badly in need of both new life and hope. It could even be said that the Church of England, in its more traditional form, has dropped below the critical mass needed for its very survival. It is for this reason that the idea of a takeover – Evangelical or otherwise, is frightening.

‘Takeover’ is really another word for conquest, and conquerors usually succeed in obliterating whoever they have conquered. ‘Takeover’ also resonates with the crude competitiveness of the market place, that whoever can occupy a coveted commercial space most quickly and efficiently is entitled to it. The church plant is legitimized in being quick and efficient. It appears to produce almost instantaneous results, so it is apparently worth a small amount of collateral damage in the shape of the people it displaces. By virtue of its success, the relevance, or irrelevance, of the plant takeover is no longer up for discussion.

But these two words are also deeply misleading. The idea of irrelevance is not an accurate description of the ways in which the Church can be found wanting. If the Church is seen to be irrelevant it is likely to be because the way that it goes about doing evangelism fails to connect with what matters to people, what we are all really yearning for, and which many people find it hard to give voice to. In other words, some way of naming, or giving meaning to, the concept of God.

The response to a perceived ‘takeover’ of the Church by Evangelicals is really an objection to the way one group appears to be taking it upon itself to name the unnameable for everyone else. Here, it has to be said that not all Evangelicals are sympathetic to church plants. There is also a sense of pressure and competitive hype driving certain kinds of worship and teaching which leaves some people feeling patronized, often to the point of exclusion. If you cannot join in the hymn or song, with its music, or with the theology it is expressing, you experience a sense of disconnect and exclusion and you are further disempowered in your desire to name and know the God whom you so deeply need.

This sense of disconnection and exclusion contributes to what Angela Tilby calls “existential distress.” Existential distress is the result of religious alienation. In the context of public worship, alienation is experienced as an inability to identify with those around you. The words being said or sung by a particular church do not express or connect with the fears and loneliness of the individual who may come from a different church background, or no church at all. They may even exacerbate them. This suggests that what is needed in all worshipping contexts is space in which to name our fears and own our loneliness, together and before God. At the more Catholic end of Anglican life, this is done implicitly through liturgy which draws the worshippers together into God. In Evangelical contexts a less formally defined and open way of praying does the same work, but more explicitly, so it requires greater self discipline in regard to how it affects others.

To this end, those who lead church worship must facilitate an encounter. They must enable those they serve to give shape to their need for God, as Jesus does with all those who ask the questions that really matter to them. A theologian visits him at night because he wants to know the real meaning of new life in the spirit. A woman is honoured in her genuine quest for truth as it is to be known in worship. Others, like Peter and Mary Magdalen, have few if any words for what is being revealed to them in a moment of profound understanding and relatedness with God. They simply “worship him”, as Peter did, or utter the name by which they know him best, as Mary Magdalene did in the garden of the Resurrection.

This is the relevance of connection with God that the Church of England, in both its Protestant and Catholic manifestations, so badly needs to have for the times we live in.

Testing Times

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Source: Eleanor Bentall Corbis

Public exams almost always coincide with the season of Pentecost although this year, given the early positioning of Easter, this happy coincidence may not quite happen. The official starting date for GCSE’s is the 14th of May, just a few days after the Feast of the Ascension and still a few days short of Pentecost.

University exams in the UK often coincide with the May bank holiday, or what used to be known as Whitsun, and with the first, and possibly only, summer weather. Trying to tell yourself that you’re revising when you are actually dozing in the sun leaves you feeling guilty, and even less confident about what you have understood than when you started. Added to this, some revisers will have been dreading the exam season since Christmas.

I have often found myself asking whether this kind of testing is really appropriate, whether it proves anything about a person’s innate intelligence, allowing for certain scientific disciplines, such as medicine and engineering, when it really is important that you know certain concrete facts, and how to go about establishing that they are correct. But do exams, for the most part, prove a person’s ability to stay task-focused and work to deadlines (important in any real-life working context), their usefulness and adaptability in terms of what subjects they have studied, and their general appearance of having some sort of a ‘grip’ on life as it is now, and on whatever it may have dealt them in the way of surprises, good or bad, so far? A brilliant person may have none of these attributes, even if they come away from their exams with a First or with straight A’s.

Another brilliant person, who has them all, may fail exams and thereby consider themselves to be a failure in life. They will live with the idea that their very existence is a mistake. The feeling of having failed as a person is one they will no doubt have had to live with since the first ‘put down’ experienced in childhood. ‘Put downs’, jokes taken too far, being marked out as different in even the most trivial detail of dress or personality, or of the weightier difference of gender orientation, sets a person up for failure long before they sit any exam. How then can such a person live?

Two things are needed here: First, that the idea of testing, which is always a narrow form of judgment, be re-assessed. Is it really the only criterion for deciding a person’s innate worth or suitability for a given profession or course of life? Second, that those who are sitting exams, and most of us have to at one time or another, know their own innate giftedness.

This is something they must ‘mark, learn, and inwardly digest’ (to borrow part of a phrase from the Book of Common Prayer) from the minute they open a book or a file of notes with a view to revising for exams. Laying hold of one’s giftedness is a form of prayer. It involves an ‘inward digesting’ of what might be called grace, or wisdom, a coming to terms with deep knowledge from within the hidden self. That hidden self is often where most of our goodness and giftedness lie, so we need to shed or remove the lies and delusions which obscure them from us when we are busy feeling afraid of failure, or giving into it. In other words, we have to ‘die’ to these often cherished delusions. This is probably best done while lying on that patch of grass in the sun – if the sun is still there, May being a fickle month. This being achieved, even if only for a nanogram of a second, it is time to return to those revision notes.

Those who have read this post so far may have noticed that I omitted a word from the phrase I quoted from the Book of Common Prayer. The full quote should be ‘read, mark, learn and inwardly digest’. So now the reviser needs to pick up their notes and start ‘reading’ them in a different way. In order to do this, she or he will need to first give themselves permission to rediscover what they once loved about the subject (before their anxiety about exams took over), or about this particular aspect of it. We have to love what we are learning, or it will never become part of us and we shall never learn in the fullest sense.

If we can be open to our innate worth, our deeper intelligence, and to our belonging, where belonging means our fitness for the task set before us, we can begin to be a blessing to others. Passing exams is a part of this beginning and in certain chosen professions it is absolutely essential. But there is always something else that must come with it and that is the quiet confidence that we are already counted worthy, that there are things that we are chosen to do or become, but for which we may need qualifications. The qualification is a means to an end. It is not an end in itself. That end, or purpose, is, for the moment, hidden in the life of God, where we are loved, honoured, and ‘enlivened’, which is perhaps why the exam season broadly coincides with Pentecost.

 

The Benefit of the Doubt

The notorious bombing of the abbey of Montecassino and its monastery in January, 1944 left 2000 casualties and 400 civilians dead. Delayed or wrong information contributed to this unnecessary massacre, but so did confused priorities. In the mayhem of battle it was assumed that the Germans were occupying the abbey, and firing from within its precincts, when they were in fact trying to defend it from outside and signalling to the allies that they did not wish to destroy it. The allies, misunderstanding the signals, bombed the abbey to destruction. Holding back on the bombing in order to save the monastery might, it was also thought, tie up allied forces in Italy when they would have been better placed in France. This particular hunch was correct, as it turned out. But did it justify the destruction?

Tactical questions are invariably best answered with the wisdom of hindsight, as are some ethical ones. I remember my mother saying that the loss of life and injury at Montecassino were worth it, and that she profoundly disagreed with someone who had declared that the life of a single GI was worth more than this particular heritage site. My sister and I were in the back of the car listening to the conversation, unaware of the facts and of the wider context. We were children and we found her response disturbing. I remember asking her, that if we had been among the dead or injured, would she still think that our lives were worth less than the survival of the abbey. “Yes”, she replied as, I suppose, we knew she would. I like to think that she did not know the full story of the muddle, mixed motives and undue haste which led to the attack on Montecassino and that she should perhaps be given the benefit of the doubt.

I am reminded of Montecassino, and of my mother’s response, when I think of Syria and the recent bombing of Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal. I think of the mothers of those suffocating children, of the dead fathers and brothers, and of the ravished homes. I doubt any of them are thinking as my mother did. They are thinking of their dead children and of the ones still left to them, if they are lucky enough to have any.

I am a peacenik at heart but I cannot condemn the decision taken by Theresa May, even though I wish she had sought the support of parliament first. Her reasons for not doing so were probably a mixture of judicious expediency, time being of the essence, and of political self interest; she might have been voted down, and she owed one to the French and the Americans in any case.

At the same time, I find myself wondering if the Syrian mothers of small children are spending much time dwelling on these political nice-ities and on the desirability of due process. Perhaps they are thinking that if there were to be yet more bombs, let them at least aim at the evil of Assad’s weaponry and do so quickly, accurately and with no human collateral damage, all of which was accomplished. The mothers are probably hoping that this will end the war and rid them of the tyrant.

That is the hope in which we all share. But hope is not hope when it is tinged with cynicism, or compromised by doubt. By doubt I do not mean the questioning of means and methods, which have been deployed and which may or may not be justified in view of the ends sought. No one in a position of ‘last word, last resource’ decision-making can be expected to know for sure what is, or may be, the ‘right thing’ to do in such circumstances, but I think it is important to give them the benefit of whatever doubt there is, at least in regard to their own motives; that the ‘right thing’ is what they really want and that they are prepared to take political risks in order to bring it about.

There are times when the wisdom of hindsight belongs strictly to hindsight. In the case of the bombing of Assad’s chemical weapons arsenal, the doubt seems weighted in Mrs. May’s favour.

 

 

 

The Why? Question

A great cosmologist dies and is buried on March 31st, Easter Eve, as it is kept by Western churches. For the Orthodox churches, Easter comes a week later. This year, partly due to the disparity which exists between the Eastern Julian calendar and the Western one, the Western celebration of the Feast of the Annunciation was moved to April 9th. It often falls in the latter part of Lent or in Holy Week itself. This year it would have fallen on Palm Sunday. So the Western church allows it to be a ‘moveable’ feast.

This year the Russian Orthodox church kept the feast of the Annunciation of the birth of Christ on Holy Saturday, the dark day of the tomb, while this year, in the West, it falls at the beginning of the second week of Easter itself. Either way, there is only the shortest of intervals between the sombreness of Holy Saturday, the exhaustion and joy of Easter and the day that we celebrate the becoming of the Word Incarnate. There is barely a moment between the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the end. All of this, as I said before, coincides with the passing of possibly the greatest cosmologist we have known.

Professor Hawking was somewhat ambivalent about God, at least the God of the bible, as many people read it. He was constantly being pressed for a clear ‘yes’ or ‘no’ about God’s existence, but he declined to give an answer. This was probably because he knew that he was being asked the wrong question. His work, and the work of scientists before him, was more concerned with why there should be anything at all, let alone a consciously creating higher power. I think he was right. If scientists and theologians are going to make progress in making sense of the universe and of the meaning of human existence, the question which they, and the rest of us, need to ask is ‘why?’

When it comes to an answer, it will be those with the uncluttered minds of children who will probably supply it. I would hazard a guess that these are most likely to be poets, artists, and perhaps even priests. The latter is a risky guess, given the Church’s standing in the eyes of many people at the moment. But I do believe that there are priests, both official and unofficial, who minister into the world’s need to make sense of life. These ‘ministers’ do it through simply being present to its pain, both in prayer and in the business of everyday life, without succumbing to the urge to supply answers.

I also think it more likely that the question will be answered in its own asking. Somewhere there are connections to be made between the ‘why’s’ that are wept and sighed in the pain and suffering of the individual, and especially of the innocent, and the moment of the Incarnation of the Word in the acceptance of a young woman’s fiat. We get our answers through letting go into the question. Perhaps Professor Stephen Hawking did this, as he allowed for infinite possibilities in the cosmos and in the nature of existence itself.

I sometimes wonder if cosmologists think of the question, and its possible answer, as hovering somewhere between the contingency of new life, its dependence on Mary’s ‘yes’, and the Cross as the gateway to eternal life, which we only know as death. Professor Stephen Hawking’s funeral took place on Holy Saturday, coincidentally the Orthodox feast of the Annunciation. So the day of his funeral marked the first ‘letting be’ and the last, the day after the final ‘letting be of Christ’, and the ‘why?’ question which Jesus spoke from the Cross, the place where human destiny is transformed.

Professor Stephen Hawking’s funeral took place on a day when the alpha and the omega meet, when a young woman’s fiat meets the summation of all life in her Son’s commending of his spirit to the Father and in his own ‘why?’ question. I wonder what Stephen Hawking is making of this dual contingency, coincidentally reflected in the timing of his own death.