Sunday, 11 March 2018

Mothering Sunday Memory

Invited to preach for Mothering Sunday at S. Edward, King & Martyr, in Cambridge, maybe 1999. I quoted something of Francis Bacon, the artist of those tortured and upsetting canvases that tell the story of the 20the century - asked what he would have been, if he couldn't be an artist, he said "a mother".

Not sure if anyone listened. In the porch, one of the wardens, a man of rather military bearing, said "bravo, padré, made a change from the hairy-legged lesbians the vicar usually gets in".

Oh dear.

Saturday, 10 March 2018

Living Water ~ if you ask

A Homily for Holy Communion on
Monday , 5th of March, 2018, 9 a.m.

for the Sisters of the Love of God
Fairacres Priory, Oxford

Exodus 17:1-7 ~ the Israelites whinge at Rephidim
John 4:5-42 ~ the Samaritan Woman at the Well

Living Water ~ if you ask

+ May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Both our readings today are about water, and water’s been making itself all too apparent lately. It’s only when it does, when there’s too much of it, or too little, that we stop taking it for granted. My eyes were opened to this one time when I was a curate in Romford. It was a vision shared by the parish mystic – every church should have one. She was called Grace, and never was a soul more truly named. Her mystical experiences seem to have begun after she was widowed, quite late in life, and when I knew her she was in her late 80s. She went on to be 100. She shared her visions not to pull rank, or display spiritual depth or athleticism, but to cheer us up – principally the clergy, and usually in the church porch after Sunday service. One of her most memorable was a vision of a whicker basket, on her knees, full of water, and the fresh, pure, smell of it rising up. “So”, she’d say in the church porch, “that was the water of life, dear. Wasn’t that lovely?” And she’d amble off on her way home.

The story of the woman at the well is about the water of life and, being S. John’s Gospel, it’s also about everything else. The older I get, the more I hear and read the Scriptures, the more unfamiliar they become, and things that were always there emerge. It struck me anew how funny the narrative is, almost like a dialogue in panto. The Scriptures are more comical than I ever used to realise. Out of the banter between the Samaritan woman and Jesus emerges a hitherto unspoken need – a need for a prophet, a need for the Messiah. And Jesus replies “I AM” in that way he always has when S. John wants to tell us we’ve got to a good bit.

The need of the Israelites at Rephidim is more immediately practical – the Samaritan woman already had a well-full of water, all she needed was to collect it in her bucket, but the Israelites have no such thing. As so often in their long journey through the desert – and the Wilderness of Sin (and how marvellous is that, a joke that only works in English, lurking in the Hebrew all those centuries for us to find it!) – they whinge and become querulous, and frankly accuse Moses of a rip-off, bringing them out into the desert to die of thirst, and Moses despairs of them. Sometimes it seems Moses really doesn’t like them very much. He re-names the place Massah and Meribah, after the testing, quarrelsome, people who have demanded water from the rock.

And the thing is, they got it. Everyone in these stories gets what they want. The Samaritan woman doesn’t even realise what it is until she gets chatting to Jesus, then she rushes off and tells her friends, who come out to see and hear for themselves. But what of Jesus? His friends come back from town and tell him he must need something to eat – how Jewish is that? – but he’d asked for a drink, and as the story unfolds, he doesn’t get one. But – and for this sharp observation I am indebted to Dean Martyn Percy of Christ Church, in a sermon for Unity Week at Headington Quarry a couple of years ago – notice that when the woman rushes off to town to tell everyone she’s met the Messiah, she leaves her bucket behind. So Jesus can help himself to his drink after all.

The Good News of the Living Water is that God will give us what we want – all we have to do is ask. And keep an eye open for a bucket.


Richard Haggis
March 2018

Friday, 8 December 2017

Cam called me about the accident. If that's what it was. I came straightaway. My parents got quite dramatic about it, wanting to drive me there, but I said I'd walk. So I did. Twenty minutes.

Fred looked pretty bad. Sam said he was OK, I guess because her Dad was poorly, maybe she knew this stuff. My heart was breaking. I knew he loved someone else. Then she told me that Giles was in the hospital too. The damage that evil man had done in one night .... And I had to go to see Giles - well, you do, don't you? But I only wanted to see Fred.

Sunday, 12 November 2017

Yesterday I sat on a sofa with a 90-year-old man who'd just lost his wife - we were about to attend her funeral. He held my hand, and talked about things from long ago, repeatedly, because his dementia doesn't let him live in the present. Maybe it spares him what it would feel like to know you are alone again after 53 years of marriage.

Sunday, 5 November 2017

An amusing little quiz for couples

Who's older? Him
Age difference? Six years (but he's still in his 30s)
Who was interested first? Both
Who's taller? Him
Worst temper? Him
Most sensitive? Me
Loudest? Him
More social? Him
Most stubborn? Hard to call
Falls asleep first? Him
Cooks the best? Me
Better singer? Him
Most adventurous? Him
Who enjoys traveling the most? Haven't really done any
The most organized? Me
Stresses the most? Me
Best driver? Me - but I don't. He's good at parking.

Friday, 3 November 2017


“So, that’s Giles! What do you think?”
“He’s great, great cook, brilliant host, really nice with you”.
“There’s a “but” coming”
“It’s kinda rude, and not right to ask, but do you really fancy him?”
“Yeah, I do. Crazy, isn’t it?”
“He’s got to be older than your parents”
“He is, lots”.
“What would they say?”
“Who cares? This is about me and Giles, not them”
“Mine would slaughter me”
“Yours would slaughter you for being gay, no matter how old your boyfriend was”.
“Sometimes, Fred, you make going home so nice”.

Sunday, 29 October 2017

Thoughts on a Working Week With Fraught Bits

It was rather a nice weekend. One of my former fellow-students at Ruskin College was celebrating her graduation in her Social Work degree. Walking there and back in the dark was a bit spooky, but it was a charming welcome and a lovely place to be. Her youngest son in particular took it upon himself to teach me about Pokemon cards, and we spent quite a long time not really learning these mysteries. I wanted to take him home with me. In the brief term we were students, she had relatively few good words to say about family life, but her partner and children seemed to me a pretty good deal. I guess it's the stress of being away, when you've been at home. It must be so hard to feel on top of things, when you've always been there.

And then the week's work began. We're having new doors. Thirteen of them. Possibly more. They have a tendency to breed - the original plan was for six. And some of these doors are going to have video-entry intercom permission, and all are going to be on a single programmable system (by me!), and there's CCTV as well, and goodness knows what-all. Those of you who know me well will know about the Inner Stalin. I have never slaughtered a kulak, but I do like being in control of stuff. Agendas, minutes, keys, doors, cupboards, diaries, calendars .... This is how Stalin took over the Soviet Union. The others were too busy with the intellectual stuff, and left the drudgery to him. By the time they turned round from their boffin thoughts, he'd taken over the whole thing, and everyone appointed was his lacky.

Now, I'm not quite like that. But I do like to know what's going on in my building, and in my key safe, I've tried out most of the 90 keys, and I'm pretty sure there's nowhere I can't get into.

And then it was Tuesday, the day of the opening of the New Westgate Shopping Centre. At the church meeting previously we'd been given the choices of staying up all night to offer refreshment and relief (let the reader understand) to the waiting Mammonite masses, or start at 6 a.m. with Radio Oxford. We went for the morning. And, a little bleary, there we were - two deacons ahead of me, and others soon after. The vast crowds we were promised didn't materialise. One of our number arrived a little late, loudly apologising "I overslept!". I replied "we're over-staffed!". But it was a good morning, and it got better. We saw people we'd not seen before. There was the chap who used to have a hurdy-gurdy (I have no idea if that's the right word) in Cornmarket Street thirty years ago. And another who'd come to be with his girlfriend as her London job was re-located to Oxford (the closest she could afford to live was Bicester), but no, he had no plans to come here too, and they were going to schedule their weekends. I could see the parish matrons thinking "that's not going to work". And there was the homeless guy who had got so close to the top of the fortnightly council house lottery, within the top ten the last few weeks, he was sure he'd get somewhere to live. He was a widower. He was scarcely half my age (51).

Wednesday was spent trying to catch up on all the things that Tuesday wasn't, and then it was Thursday. Arriving early to work (I took the bus, which I hate doing, but my sleeping patterns are shot and this was the only way to get there in time) I saw the
CCTV people putting in the 4th and last camera in not quite the place that had been agreed by the grown-ups. But it was there.
Installed, in the sandstone wall. Of the listed building. The view it gives us is magnificent, and much better than the one planned. So I said "leave it be, and let's see if it becomes a problem". This isn't really my place to decide. But that's the
catch with works chosen by a committee of organ-grinders, and just the monkey on-site.

Friday was a new dilemma. A church funeral, for John, our organist, a serving deacon, fifth generation of the church for ever, and someone of whom I was personally very fond indeed, was fixed for a day when something else was fixed.

I had to unfix it. It was for the street homeless who have died this year. It was an uncomfortable thing to do (thinking to the widower I'd met on Tuesday morning), but the deacons have backed me. For my own part, I was thinking of the day five years ago when I was walking with my mother and six diaries (none of them family) trying to sort my father's funeral, and thinking how collapsing it would have been to be told No, after all. The homeless will do their thing at a nearby church.

And then it was the joyful stress-free weekend. And I remembered the November Prayer Diary, which begins on Wednesday. So, after much delay, off into town I go. There are few things I truly hate more than Oxford city centre on a Saturday. Add, opening of New Westgate Centre, and half-term, and you have the 6th pit of hell. I say that only because one must always, as in a filing cabinet, leave space for a 7th. And thus and so it was. A few cute legs - we're getting to the end of the shorts and thighs season, which I'm personally resisiting (the end, that is), but not to the delight of those others who are doing the same. Children everywhere for half-term. And then the monster of the New Westgate. Goodness. Well, goodness doesn't really come into it. It has shop after shop, restaurant after eatery, John Lewis on three floors (but not the corkscrew I wanted), a roof terrace and lovely views of the city. In fact, mainly lovely views of my college, but that's actually a pretty good deal.

But it was people, people, people. I was so glad to get out onto what I call "the coast road" out of town. It's the ring road, but I think the ebb and flow of the traffic is very like the waves on a beach. It's quite soothing.

This afternoon I headed into Headington mainly in search of milk from Waitrose - I have this notion that their cows are happier. Also some more sausages to replace those that are going to be turned into toad-in-the-hole (about which Ricardo is disgracefully rude) and I had this loony idea I might find an aloe vera plant. For that, I was too late, even if such a thing exists. I read somewhere that they give out good vibes. I could do with that.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
October 2017