Occasionally I have a palpable sense of the communion of saints. This week it began in a second-hand bookshop in Sydney's Newtown. Looking up, a book seemed to spring out at me like a blessed shaft of light opening from above. It bore the author's name of Alan Webster, a beloved but sadly departed mentor on my life's journey. Reaching for Reality was a book written late in Alan's life and one of which I was not aware. Sketching people and events which have broken free from deadening routine and oppression, it speaks of vision and change, of the critical need and cost of risk-taking, and of the best of the Anglican spirit Alan embodied - warm, inviting, large hearted, open, culturally and intellectually intelligent, responsive and creative, down-to-earth, intimately concerned with every person and aspect of life, grounded in Julian of Norwich-like 'prayer in struggle', and discovering the transcendent in our earthly dust. As I and my immediate family make many transitions at this time, it is as though Alan again speaks directly to me - be encouraged; don't be afraid to be, bring and suffer change; the mystery of God calls us on...
What does London's St Paul's Cathedral represent to others, I wonder? For Londoners it symbolises many things, not least indomitable survival. As a northerner with a love-hate relationship to the Great Wen of the English capital, my feelings are more complex but just as deep. St Paul's is not quite my people's cathedral - 'wor cathedral' of Durham and the beauty of Lincoln both have claims to that. Yet it is also the people's cathedral for me - a very different entity from the royal chapel of Westminster Abbey. It is also my cathedral in a very special sense, as the place of my ordination as priest. Set in the centre of a great world city St Paul's also speaks to me of a love and vistas which are uiniversal and ever outward looking. Its design is also open to the future and to reason. Even the tomb of Wellington is tamed by poets and progressive purposes. Sadly Dean Alan Webster, a beloved mentor, is long gone. Yet his spirit still speaks to me, with St Paul's, of a greater peace and a rich and genuine liberality which even now could perhaps enable London, Europe and the wider world. Today's bridge across the Thames links Donne with Shakespeare, making the point even more powerfully to me.
It ill behoves an Englishman, and an Australian citizen, to advise Scots how to vote on their future. How exciting it is however that this debate is happening, both for the future of England (and Wales and Northern Ireland) as well as that of Scotland. Which ever way the vote goes, Britain as a whole will never be quite the same - thank God - as the Scots reflect on what it means to look to a post-Imperial future, and, hopefully, encourage the rest of the British to do likewise. For it is good that the British PM David Cameron tells us that he has a heart, at least for some things which have been good about the United Kingdom's structure. Even better though if he were to have a real heart for those things which are at the core of this debate: the longing of people everywhere to be taken seriously for who they truly are; to claim freedom and full responsibility for their lives, their land, and all that lives within it; and to seek a people's vision based on values of genuine democracy, justice and care for all, including free and fair partnership with the rest of the world. Generations of heartlessness by the English elites towards the poor and marginalised throughout Britain (not least to the Celtic so-called 'fringe'), have led us to this pass. A 'United Kingdom' which is still essentially a Union of ancient Crowns can never be enough. With the Scots, the English (the Welsh and maybe many Irish too) also deserve a forward-looking 'Community of Peoples'. My own Scottish friends remain divided on how that may best be immediately furthered: is full independence a help or a hindrance? I sympathise with them in their dilemma. Yet whatever the outcome, they agree that it at least begins to engage Britain's contemporary, post-imperial, identity. So may the spirit of my greatest Scottish hero, James Keir Hardie, thus prevail...
In Whitechapel Gallery at present there is a striking multimedia installation. Created by the French-Algerian artist Kader Attia, it uses the biblical story of Jacob's Ladder to address mind, memory, and meaning in our postmodern world. Indeed, it is is appropriately sited in the former Whitechapel Library, a significant 'crucible of British Modernism'. It explores what Michel Foucault called our human 'archaeology of knowledge': within which we live, move, shape and are shaped, whether we like it or not. Wandering through London, as I was on a brief transit visit, I had found myself wandering through features of my own life's memory and meaning and that of our wider world. Attia's work spoke powerfully of ways to engage fruitfully, not least through his concept of 'repair'.
Jo Inkpin an Anglican priest, trans woman, theologian & justice activist. These are some of my reflections on life, spirit, and the search for peace, justice & sustainable creation.