Be more SAS – Screwball and Subversive

When organisations fear their own imminent demise, they can respond in a couple of ways. They can batten down the hatches and hang on to what they have, do the same thing over and over expecting a different result. Or, they can throw caution to the wind, get creative and take some risks! This might be what Christ was alluding to when he said in Matthew chapter 10, verse 39, “If you cling to your life, you will lose it; but if you give up your life for me, you will find it.”

A fantastic, if slightly left-field, real life example of this is the birth of the SAS which is being dramatised on the BBC currently. It’s 1942 and the British Army’s supply chain in North Africa is stretched across 500 miles of desert making it incredibly vulnerable to enemy attacks. Like cutting off air to the body, to prevent vital supplies getting to troops on the front line will be lethal. That’s when one bright spark, ‘Jock’ Lewes, comes up with the idea of parachuting saboteurs behind enemy lines to take out German planes while they’re still on the ground.

He persuades a couple of men from his regiment and an old friend from army training corps days to help him do a trial run. Unfortunately, one of the parachutes Jock has stolen is damaged and his mate, David Sterling, suffers a near fatal fall. Yet, even this brush with death does not deter them. They then find out that spy, Brigadier Dudley Clarke, has already created a fictional regiment called ‘Special Air Service’ (SAS) in order to demoralise the Nazis. So now they only have to convince the upper echelons of the military establishment to let them start recruiting just 60 soldiers to their maverick new venture.

They are looking for very specific individuals. Lewes explains, “In a world where there are no rules, no order, no organised plan, certain men are identified by war itself as natural executors. And those natural executors take matters into their own hands. I’m bringing together men of a particular calibre. The others are all insane, in jail or, like me, in despair.” One scene which particularly struck a cord with me was when a 3-page document is handed out to all the new recruits and Sterling says the first page is a list of objectives, then there’s a list of rules and finally an inventory of all the resources they have at their disposal. The camera then zooms in and we see that every page is blank!

To me there are many resonances with pioneering and entrepreneurship. We too need to think beyond the tried and tested, take risks for the sake of the bigger picture and find the qualities which mean we struggle to thrive in hierarchies, come into their own when we’re given the freedom and autonomy to follow the unpredictable pull of the Spirit. An actor in the series, Tom Glynn-Carney, says of this first band of brothers, “…these were the perfect cohort. They weren’t followers, they were extroverts, wild and untamed. And they were willing to put themselves on the line to make an impact…”

That’s me! But where, I wonder, are the leaders who would put their trust in crazy ideas, give pioneers a blank page to work it out as they go along and not expect too much in return until a genuinely new way is found which, like Heineken in the 70s, refreshes the parts others fail to reach. Well, maybe this is part of the problem. Still looking to those in authority to give permission, when actually the lesson of SAS Rogue Heroes is it’s enough they turn a blind eye, leave well alone and don’t mess with the magic!

Fan the fire of hope

“I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God”

Fire is a powerful symbol. Like other things in life, in small quantities it is essential for survival and yet when out of control it’s terribly destructive. Over the summer we saw plenty of images of wild fires caused by the heatwave that gripped Europe. Fire is often used as a warning. I recently watched the Lord of the Rings trilogy of films and there’s a moment in one of them when the stubborn old king will not seek help from the neighbouring kingdoms despite being under siege and over-run by Orks. Gandalf, the white wizard, and the Hobbit, Pippin, work together to over-rule him by setting light to a beacon at the highest point in the fortress castle. A chain of beacons is then lit across the mountain range and armies of middle earth ride out in aid of the king to rescue him and his people at their time of greatest need. It feels like the fires this summer are a warning. A warning that the climate emergency is real. It is now on our doorstep and adversely affecting the rich nations of the Western world, as well as those in the 2 thirds world who have struggled with the consequences of extreme weather for years.

There are lots of significant moments in the Biblical narrative that centre on fire. Moses encounters God in the burning bush. Thus, fire indicates holiness and we think of Isaiah’s lips being burnt with a hot coal to cleanse him as he’s anointed for his ministry as prophet. Fire also symbolises God’s presence. The pillar of fire went ahead of the Israelites having been freed from slavery in Egypt as they journeyed to the promised land. Then, in the book of Acts in the New Testament, the Holy Spirit at Pentecost is seen as tongues of fire resting on each of those gathered in the upper room. In addition, fire symbolises hope and redemption. Peter was huddled by the fire when he was tempted to deny Jesus three times ahead of his crucifixion and yet, after his resurrection, Jesus cooks breakfast for Peter over a fire on the beach by the sea of Galilee and recommissions him as the rock on which he will build his church.

Fire can also represent celebration and a coming together to share stories. It’s warmth and light dispels the darkness and helps to ward off our worst fears and anxieties which feel particularly real and overwhelming at night. Although, this winter, heat and light will feel for many like a luxury they can’t really afford.

In 2 Timothy chapter 1 verse 6, a God-given anointing is likened to a fire that is received by the Holy Spirit through the laying on of hands. However, Paul is concerned that this fire might go out due to discouragement and despair. So, he is urging Timothy to fan into flame the gracious gift of God, that inner fire. He is imploring him to stand firm and not see suffering as defeat, but rather as a means for Christ to be illuminated even more clearly through him.

I wonder what fanning into flame the gift you have might look like? Where are you in need of encouragement? Are there people you need to spend more time with because they stir up energy and positivity inside you? Are there spiritual practices such as regular prayer, meditation or silent reflection which would help you to stay more aware of the divine presence as you face life’s difficulties or challenges? We all go through seasons when faith is a struggle and the fire of conviction dies down. But we can proactively seek to re-energise our spirits, look for the good in others and trust that the light will ultimately triumph.

One of the ways in which I encourage myself in my faith is to think back to times when our prayers were answered. I can remember as a child listening to intercessions in church week after week as we prayed for peace in Northern Ireland, the end of apartheid in South Africa and the collapse of the Berlin wall. Resolution to these conflicts without more significant bloodshed seemed impossible. Yet, I saw a peace deal signed, Nelson Mandela become president and the wall come down! Things may seem pretty bleak at the moment, but let’s think of one thing we can commit to that will help keep the fire of our hope and faith alive.

We don’t do this in our own strength but in the knowledge of, as Paul reminds us, “Christ Jesus, who has destroyed death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”

Deep Diving

I am a type 4 on the Enneagram. For those not familiar with this, the Enneagram is a means of categorising and better understanding our personality traits. I have found it a good way to, I hope, become more self aware and put effort in to balance out the worst excesses of my weaknesses and vulnerabilities. A type 4 is one of the feeling types, so I will tend to react out of my emotions and our dominant core emotion is, interestingly, shame. 

I find being a type 4 very difficult as the world is disparaging and unsympathetic to those of us who primarily respond out of emotion. I think this is because most people, especially – although not exclusively – men, are actually in denial about their feelings. They believe they act rationally. But, it is impossible to do anything without emotions being involved in addition to thought processes. Yet, as I am honest and brave enough to acknowledge and own my feelings, as well as think deeply and act reasonably, what I articulate is diminished or dismissed entirely and I become a receptacle for other people’s emotions that they are not willing to observe and acknowledge in themselves.

A manifestation of this is projection. For example, someone familiar with my work liked to say I was a one trick pony. Actually, I have lots of ideas and am working on many different projects at the same time. He is the one trick pony, but he couldn’t own this for himself. Instead, in his envy, he tried to convince himself and others that I was the reflection of what he couldn’t face about himself. I have learnt through bitter and painful experience to no longer just take on these personal criticisms. More often than not they are not about me at all and reveal more about the person expressing the derogatory remark. And yes I have to admit, in the past, I have also been guilty of doing the criticising in order to deflect and protect my own fragile sense of self.

The things I like about being a type 4 is that we are creative, enjoy pleasing aesthetics and can be incredibly original as we gain insights from situations few will allow themselves to experience. One of the reasons for this is we go to the depths. About 11 years ago, when I was going through a similar re-evaluation of my personhood and discernment into what is my unique gift to the world, I felt the Spirit tell me I was like a pearl. I was then thrilled to be reading Richard Rohr’s book on the Enneagram where he likens a type 4 to being a pearl. That’s because we are often the irritant that, if allowed creates the beauty and value. Due to shame, I am also prone to hiding!

Yet, often these unique insights and original ideas come out of intense suffering and soul searching. I don’t know why it has to be this way, but that is what I experience time and again. Yesterday I spent the whole day wrestling with the most unbearable and intense feelings of despair and hopelessness. I slept on and off through the night. I kept reaching out to God and imploring the divine for help and relief. Then having watched the dawn, I had a profound thought which seemed to make sense of my anguish. I was then able to sleep and enjoy some peace.

I do wonder if the revelation is worth it. However, I am reminded of the parable of the pearl of great price. If this is the treasure, the thing of real worth and value, then everything else should be sacrificed to own it. However, there is also a scripture about casting pearls before swine. And, my deep diving to secure the treasure of the kingdom has by some been ignored, suppressed and even actively despised. So, maybe, if we maintain a honest and humble assessment of ourselves, we will be able to move beyond envy and projection. Forgiveness is always available when we admit our failings and seek to make amends. This, in turn, leads to greater maturity and models a mission spirituality that has the power to change us into the perfected version of ourselves that was always the intention of our Creator.

A Holistic Gospel in Three Dimensions

When I submitted my paper on shame to an academic journal for consideration, I was subject to a peer review. One of those who gave feedback suggested I read and refer to a book called ‘The 3D Gospel’ by Jayson Georges. What he argues in this short publication, which is actually little more than a pamphlet, is that there are three main cultures in the world. In the West we understand justice through a sin/guilt lens. The Eastern worldview revolves around a honour/shame interpretation of punishment and redemption, and the global South makes sense of the world with reference to the battle between good and evil spiritual forces. He goes on to suggest that in the accounts of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we see an answer for each of these perspectives and taken together they represent the fullness of the Gospel to heal, save and eternally liberate.

For years I have wrestled to understand what might have caused the decline in church attendance and the collapse of influence of the Christian worldview on our contemporary Western culture. Obviously, one element for me has been the observation of a shift away from the sin/guilt lens Georges says is traditionally at the core of Western philosophical thought and the exploration of the impact of shame which has long been associated with Eastern cultural assumptions and means of regulating behaviour. However, yesterday I watched the film ‘Eat, pray, love’ and wondered if there’s another 3D perspective that has been lurking at the back of my mind and finally came into the light as I saw the dawn this morning.

Although it attempts to do justice to the memoir by American Elizabeth Gilbert, the film remains too Hollywood and overly simplifies the learning of her spiritual awakening post divorce and as a consequence of experiencing life in Italy, India and Bali. Yet, it reminded me of a Ruach card reading I had as part of a training session I was leading last month. One of the cards I picked was turquoise and on that particular card there is an image of three windows. The trainee giving the reading suggested that the number three might be significant and so I’ve been praying about what God might be revealing to me. Firstly my mind went to the Trinity. The Divine as Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer. Then my immediate family, my husband and two sons. I am also working on three new projects – the Green Shoots Network, Spiritual Places Pilgrimages and my own teaching and mentoring practice, Gestate.

But in the middle of the night, my mind went to a conversation I’d recently had about the importance of embodied spirituality. A couple of weeks ago the principal of a theological college told me how saddened he was that the majority of his students seemed to have a very mechanistic view of the body and I mentioned how one of the members of our community, Sacred Space Kingston has launched ‘Embodied Perspectives’ to help engage the physical in prayer, as well as our minds and our spirits. I, therefore, wondered if in the West we are overly preoccupied with the mind. I even catch myself viewing my body as little more than a vehicle to carry around my vast brain!

This is not healthy or, I believe, godly. If we take the concept of the Trinity seriously, God became flesh. The Divine Creator dignified and sanctified the physicalness of our humanity by becoming embodied. Not only that, but a huge proportion of His earthly ministry was concerned with healing bodies that were diseased and damaged. Illness not only causes pain and incapacity, but has a devastating impact on self worth, being an acceptable part of community and robs the capacity to earn a living. Perhaps the interest in Yoga is an acknowledgement of wisdom in the East that recognises spirituality needs to have a physical dimension. And maybe from the global South we need to learn that not everything can be explained by science and reason. Our struggles are rooted in the spiritual every bit as much as psychology and physiognomy.

So then, as we are each body, mind and spirit and God is Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, we reclaim a 3D gospel. The West might prioritise the mind, but we also need the embodied practice of the East and spiritual sensitivity of the South. A rediscovered holistic Gospel to recalibrate our thinking, ground us in reality and ultimately restore our souls.

It’s a man’s world, but…

… it would be nothing without a woman or a girl, so sang James Brown. I am loving the success of the lionesses, England’s woman football team. I really hope they go on to lift the Euro trophy ahead of the men! This would appeal to my sense of justice.

Women’s football has a long history of being successful in this country and yet was ruthlessly shut down and banned by the FA in the early 1900s. Like so many areas of life, women have had to fight for the right to compete and enjoy what men take for granted.

I find it difficult to understand why men feel threatened by women flourishing. There’s a mistaken idea that persists whereby to allow women to shine somehow robs men. I really don’t believe this to be true. Perhaps if women can be all that they choose to become, men can be released in order to fulfil their God-given potential too without wasting time and emotional energy asserting their abusive power and dominance. I have spent much of my life being a leader in the church who isn’t able to be fully what I have to offer. I have also been blessed to have men in my life who have done what they can to help me thwart this.

Yet, as the saying goes, ’necessity is the mother of invention’. I think the reason there are so many amazing female pioneers and entrepreneurs is because we’ve been forced to be creative so as to find another way. What had meant to paralyse and destroy us has actually led to our liberation and thriving.

Maybe this is the subversive kingdom Mary celebrates as she nurtures the newly incarnated God-King in her womb. The divine Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, “has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts, the mighty are brought down from their thrones and the humble are lifted up. The hungry are filled with good things and the rich are sent away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53)

Sometimes I wonder if this can ever happen. I regularly despair at the injustice of the world. But then I hear 30,000 football fans chanting, ”football’s coming home” in support of a team of dedicated, skilful and determined women and, once again, I think oh yes it can!

What is integrity anyway?

Boris Johnson resigns yesterday

We’re hearing a lot about integrity in the news at the moment. But actually what is integrity? The dictionary definition says, “The quality of being honest and having strong moral principles,” as well as, “The state of being whole and undivided.” Being honest sounds straight forward enough, but as we’ve seen over recent months truth can be manipulated, distorted and stretched in order to justify all manner of indecency and wrong-doing. 

There’s also the problem of interpretation. My truth might not be the same as your truth because we are filtering events through our own prejudices and expectations based on previous, unique life experiences. We all know how social media can disseminate and perpetuate fake news. What we see cannot necessarily be trusted. I am of the generation that has had their childhood heroes exposed as paedophiles and even church leaders and Christian writers and commentators have been found to have abused their power and positions of trust in the most diabolical fashion.

So where does that leave us? I have always considered integrity to be the consistency between what is said and what is done. I always try to treat others as I would like to be treated and to follow through with action when I say I will do something. This often leads me to initially turn down a request. This is because I need to go away and consider whether I have the time and emotional energy before I commit to the action. However, once I have agreed to act I will give my all to see it through to what I believe is a satisfactory conclusion.

Jesus says something similar in Matthew chapter 7, verse 15, “Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits.” In my experience people will say almost anything to get you to believe they are decent and trustworthy. Yet, what about their lives? They might appear good and successful on the surface, but how do they treat those around them? And do they let people get close enough to see what is really motivating them?

I think culture has a big part to play in defining what is understood by integrity. We can easily assume we all mean the same thing by such an ideal, but I wonder if this is where self delusion can creep in. It’s astounding how individuals and organisations can say they abide by one set of values and then behave completely contrary to those values when presented with a particular set of circumstances! As Peter Drucker famously said, ‘culture eats strategy (or integrity) for breakfast.’

I’ll give you an example, we say every person is created in the image of God and therefore has equal worth. Yet our organisational structures are hierarchical and those at the top get paid more, presumably because we actually believe they are of greater value. I was so impressed with Traidcraft who following a restructure introduced a flat structure and committed to pay their employees the same wage. You might be a cleaner or the CEO but both are working to the best of their albeit, different abilities in order to bless others and bring glory to God. 

You could call me a Marxist, but I just want to challenge us to ponder whether we’ve really thought through what actions are required in the light of what we say are our values. And when we are quick to judge politicians for not living up to the standards we say we espouse, yet who the majority of citizens voted for, perhaps we should more closely examine whether there really is an alignment between what we say we believe and how we live in the light of that revelation. Or, in reality, are we continually compromising our values in order to accommodate an ungodly culture that we unconsciously perpetuate? It’s hard to make a stand and no one thanks you for it. However, it’s the role of the prophet to unmask falsehoods, as well as imagine a better future.

Celebrating Pride

Marking 50 years of Pride at Glastonbury this weekend

When I was a child I was often reminded about the sin of pride. This might be because I was precocious and liked to be the centre of attention, but I think it also says a lot about the values of British culture. After all we don’t want to be like the Americans, brash, showy and over the top!

We were not encouraged to shine, be brilliant or think more highly of ourselves than we should. We were expected to be modest, polite and an attitude that children should be seen and not heard persisted.

As I grew up in a Christian home, there were also the quotes from the Bible about the danger of pride. ‘Pride comes before a fall’ and ‘God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble’, are etched into my memory and psyche.

Yet was this used disproportionately to keep little girls, in particular, from getting too big for their boots? And, as someone who now acknowledges their struggle with shame, has the sin of pride been used as a stick to beat me? Actually, in order for me to be fully alive and the person I was made to be I needed to be seen, nurtured and helped to find my place in the sun. Could this have been done in such a way that I also learned it was possible for me to be my absolute best self while not requiring the crushing or diminishing of anyone else in their own joy of flourishing?

This week I’ve been ill, so I’ve watched a lot of television. As well as huge amounts of tennis and cricket, I binge watched ‘Everything I know about Love’. I found it interesting, and surprisingly subversive, that the ‘love’ in question was actually the plutonic love between best friends. There is a moment when Mags is being publicly shamed on social media for sleeping around during freshers week. She does what I do when I feel shame, that is close all the curtains, take to my bed and hide. She says, “I feel like I don’t want to exist. Not forever, I just don’t want to be here, right now, being me…I feel wrong. I feel like there’s something wrong with me…I’m sorry I’m such a mess..I’m sorry I’m so loud and clumsy and I always get things wrong and forget things and lose things. I’m just this disaster, but I can’t ever seem to change. I don’t want to be this constant storm causing chaos everywhere.” But her bestie Birdy, who is lying beside her, responds with, “You’re not a storm. You’re a hurricane, Hurricane Maggie. It’s like what Katie Perry said, after the hurricane comes the rainbow. See you’re the hurricane and the rainbow. You blow through a place leaving the most spectacular things as you go. No one ever forgets you once they’ve met you.”

At this time of year there is a lot being said about pride. In Eastern cultures we tend to think the opposite of shame is honour. However, in our Western societies maybe it is actually pride. Obviously, pride in our context has been a specific response to the shame and stigma attached to homosexuality. Rightly so, a strong and powerful counter narrative of pride has been necessary to undo the demeaning and oppressive legacy of shame around sexuality very specifically.

Yet, I wonder if we also need to reclaim pride for other areas of life where we’ve been robbed by shame. As a parent, I’m advised to tell my offspring not just that I love them, but that I am proud of them. And, I try to do that when they’ve show attributes or character traits that I’m proud of, such as being kind or showing empathy and not just academic or material success.

Yes the Bible has negative things to say about pride, but it also says, ‘we should love our neighbours as ourselves’ and this morning I was reminded that, ‘it was for freedom that Christ set us free’. That definitely includes freedom from shame.

We all feel shame. While at the same time, we don’t all have a best friend to be there with us in our pain and remind us we are still loved. However, I am not going to stay under the duvet forever. I am reminded of the words by Marianne Williamson quoted by Nelson Mandela at his inauguration as President of the new, free South Africa, ‘the rainbow nation’, “Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that others won’t feel insecure around you. We are meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It is not just in some of us; it is in everyone. And as we let our light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”

“Here’s another way to put it: You’re here to be light, bringing out the God-colours in the world. God is not a secret to be kept. We’re going public with this, as public as a city on a hill. If I make you light-bearers, you don’t think I’m going to hide you under a bucket, do you? I’m putting you on a light stand. Now that I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand—shine!” You have permission from the Saviour and Creator of the Universe!

So be proud. Not just this week in June, but all year round. What would the world be like if we could all do that, for most of the time? Sounds like the kingdom of heaven to me!

The Buttercup Prayer

I was away on retreat last week. The weather was glorious and surroundings beautiful. I was inspired to write this prayer as I observed the buttercups opening to the sun. You can replace the word ‘sun’ for ‘son’ if you feel comfortable praying to Jesus.

Let the sun warm you.

Let the sun enliven you.

Let the sun restore you.

Let the sun melt your coldness.

Let the sun lighten your darkness.

Let the sun rekindle hope.

Let the sun spark dreams back to life.

Let the sun shine on new possibilities.

Let the sun sparkle on the path of your new tomorrows.

Let the sun guide you, strengthen you and bless the days ahead.

The Pioneer Gift – a love story

I really like the film ‘Sense and Sensibility’ and must have watched it a million times! What I find fascinating about it is the different approach to love that the two Dashwood sisters Eleanor and Marianne adopt. Hence the title. One seems very sensible and level-headed, yet nurses a secret hope. The other is passionate, romantic and indiscreet, almost allowing herself to be destroyed by betrayal and rejection. I resonate with this story so much because I see the two sides of myself represented in these characters. As Marianne asks throughout the film, ‘is love a fancy or a feeling?’

As you have seen from my previous blog, I have been reflecting on the relational dynamic between the pioneer and the institution. I had a great conversation this week with a friend and she really helped me to see that the issue at the heart of what often goes wrong is trust. But why does trust break down to be replaced by control? On reflection, I think it comes down to fear. The institution fears losing what it has and feels threatened by the critique of those who see new possibilities. Yet I am reminded of these words of Jesus, “For whoever wills to save his life will lose it and whoever will lose his life for me will find it.” (Matt 16:25) This seems equally true for institutions, as well as individuals. By seeking to maintain the status quo and go for the safe, tried and tested model of growth, organisations can become irrelevant and their fear of loss actually becomes reality.

So what is the antidote to fear? Well, the Bible is clear on this too, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.” (1 John 4:18) And what is love? Yes, “Love is patient and kind and keeps no record of wrong.” However it also, “does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but delights in the truth.” I wonder if pioneers are misunderstood because when we think of love we only remember the first part of 1 Corinthians 13. Yet, as the passage continues, there is another way to express love. And that is to say the difficult, truthful things no one else is honest and brave enough to say.

I love like this not because I want to wound or destroy, but the exact opposite. I want the best for those I care about most. I love enough to be unpopular. I love enough for my intentions to be misconstrued. I love enough to be excluded and humiliated. However, there comes a point when I also love enough for the consequences of poor decision-making and misdirected strategy to come to pass and I love myself enough to say no more.

In addition, I love God enough to create the new thing without it benefitting the institution. “Is love a fancy, or a feeling? No. It is immortal as immaculate Truth.” So, neither is love dead. “It is my love’s being yet it cannot die, Nor will it change, though all be changed beside; Though fairest beauty be no longer fair, Though vows be false, and faith itself deny, Though sharp enjoyment be a suicide, And hope a spectre in a ruin bare.”* Love will always remain and, even though I choose a different path, be assured I continue to grieve the loss just as keenly.

*Sonnet VII by Hartley Coleridge

The Pioneer Gift – A fairy tale

Sanguine Pelican – Lino cut print by Fuchsia Voremberg from 2021 Moon Calendar produced by Simone Kay and Lewis Kay-Thatcher

I’ve been reflecting on the relationship between pioneers and the institution and what goes wrong. This story came to me which explores this dynamic. It is just my imaginings and I’m sure you will find different ways to interpret it.

Once upon a time there was a handsome prince who would one day become king. He looked at his father’s kingdom, and while there was much that was good and holy, he could see how things could be done so much better in order to generate even more beauty and creativity in the world.

On the birthday he came of age, the king showed his love and pride in him by granting him enough power to begin creating the better world he could see so clearly in his mind’s eye. On that same day, the wise woman who lived in the woods gave him a special birthday gift. It was a fire bird with the most striking red plumage who always sang the truth. When the bird flew, she sang her prophetic song and new life would spring up in what looked like dead and desolate land. Yet the bird could only be seen by the prince and the wise woman. Everyone else was unaware of the significance of the gift he had been given.

So the prince set about turning his dreams into reality. Together with the fire bird, he explored forgotten bits of the kingdom bringing healing and restoration to places that had been ravaged by war and famine. Regularly the prince purposefully strode out from the palace with the bird on his wrist. And when he released her to fly, a spirit of hope, joy and new possibility was let loose in his father’s land.

As word of the success of the prince’s endeavour began to spread, the king became concerned that he would not be able to keep up this rapid growth and transformation. So he begged his son to take a wife to share the work with him in order that he wouldn’t be overwhelmed and become discouraged. For a while the son was able to resist the increasingly persistent concerns of his father. But, eventually, he too became persuaded that he needed help to achieve all he believed was possible.

The prince took a wife and together they began to build in the places which needed reconstruction. They worked hard and buildings went up, rivers were redirected and barren fields began to sprout crops. Things were going so well and he enjoyed co-labouring with his new wife so much, he clipped the wings of the fire bird. No longer did he need her help to do the resurrection work they had started together and he didn’t want her to fly too far without him. Yet despite grief and frustration, she continued to go ahead, as far as she was able. And there were times newness sprang up in unexpected places.

However, the prince did not really like this. He wanted his and his wife’s endeavour to prosper without the assistance of the fire bird. He knew the places that should be rebuilt and wanted just him and his wife to be responsible for this amazing turnaround in the fortunes of his father’s kingdom. He no longer enjoyed the assistance and companionship of his gift and began to resent the influence of such a small and insignificant creature on his grand plan. So, to curtail her activity further, he locked her in the castle.

Here too the fire bird flew around and tried to bring her gift. But she could only sing the truth. Once her song had been one of love and hope for the future. Now it was shrill and critical of the prince and his wife. The prince took to throwing stones at the bird when he caught sight of her and covering his ears to block out the song which was increasingly desperate and rage inducing.

Finally, he decided this situation could not go on. He set a trap to catch the bird, put her in a cage and covered it with a cloth. The bird grew silent. She could no longer see the sky and bring her gift to anyone or anything. There was no way out and she lay at the bottom of the cage waiting for a different kind of release, the freedom of death.

Then one day the wise woman came out of the woods to see what the prince had been able to achieve with his vision and the gift he had been given. She was impressed. There was life and energy in places where previously there had only been devastation. However, she also began to notice something else. It wasn’t so much who was present and engaged in communal life, but those that were missing; the uneducated, the poor, the sick and there was a lack of diversity of age, colour and tribal identity. The wise woman was confused. She knew this wasn’t the fruit of her gift!

She sought out the prince and found him hard at work with his wife and the others he had recruited to his cause. They were doing good work, but she was surprised that there was no sign of the fire bird. The purpose of her gift had been to make the work easier and more joyful. Yet he had chosen the harder road, which at the same time appeared to the king and his subjects the most obvious and sensible one.

She asked what had become of her gift and he began to curse her for giving it to him. He went back to the castle retrieved the cage and threw it at the wise woman in disgust. She picked up the cage and at the sight of her the bird began to stir and find her voice. The wise woman uttered an incantation and instantly new feathers grew. The bird began to flap around her cage. The wise woman opened the door and set the fire bird free.

The scarlet songstress soared high up into the broad expanse of blue sky. Once more she could bring the gift of her song and release divine resurrection power in the world. Never again would she let a prince, or anyone else, silence her and she lived happily ever after.