Walking with Gospel Women

61-MKjn-BSL._SL1360_At first, maybe this sounded like a strange choice for our book club. Was it just for women?  What about all the men in the gospels?  What was an ‘interactive bible meditation anyway’?  So we began reading and shared our reactions to what we read.

The book is structured with groups in mind, but can equally well be read by individuals. Each chapter focuses on one female character from the gospels. The reader is given the relevant references to the Bible passages and invited to read these again, never mind how familiar you already are with the story.

Martha serves while her sister sits and listens

Martha serves while her sister sits and listens

Then there is the ‘Monologue’: the main character tells her own story as though she was recounting what she had done, said and thought at the time , and we are invited to enter into this story in our imagination and apply any lessons we might have learnt to our everyday lives.

Finally each chapter ends with a series of questions  and suggestions for discussion.

This book opens up quite a different way to ponder the Scriptures and apply what we understand God to be saying in our lives.


The use of ‘imaginative contemplation’ is a tried and tested way to pray with biblical texts, of course, and for many it provides an opportunity (as St Ignatius of Loyola taught his early companions) to encounter God anew.

So who are some of these women who speak to us?  Obviously there are the central characters of Mary and Elizabeth together with, for example, the Samaritan Women who met Jesus at the well.

Mary Magdalene

Mary Magdalene

There is the Widow who gave all she has, and Lazurus’s two sisters, Mary and Martha;  and, of course, Mary Magdalene.

The gospels were obviously written by men, and during a very different society from today. Inevitably, sometimes the women’s voices have got lost or been hidden. This book redresses the balance a little by providing us with a new perspective.

Are there any less than positive aspects of this book? Some stories resonate more with one person that another, and often our group deliberately chose a character out of the chapter sequence.

A problem with each chapter being designed to ‘stand alone’ is that there is the irritating repetition of certain discussion points and/or instructions.

However, overall, the value of  deepening our understanding of the Bible, and hearing God’s Word afresh, enables the reader to overcome such small glitches.

The book club enjoyed discussing it. Why not try it for yourselves?


Book Review by Hilary Finlay

Walking With Gospel Women:  Interactive Bible Meditations by Fiona Stratta (2012) ISBN 9780 857460 010 3. Price £5.99. Available from Amazon.


Masterpieces of God’s Creation

Pope-Francis-kisses-a-baby-in-St-Peter-s-Square-Rome_mediumIn a special message to Catholics across Britain and Ireland for the annual Day for Life, Pope Francis has emphasised the need to care for life from conception to natural end.

In his message, he says that all life has inestimable value ‘even the weakest and most vulnerable, the sick, the old, the unborn and the poor, are masterpieces of God’s creation, made in his own image, destined to live for ever, and deserving of the utmost reverence and respect’.

He has promised his prayers that ‘Day for Life will help to ensure that human life always receives the protection that it is due.‘

Over half-a-million leaflets have been sent to parishes in England and Wales in readiness for Day for Life – Sunday, 28 July.

The theme of the Day is ‘Care for Life – It’s Worth It’ taken from a homily preached by Cardinal Bergoglio in 2005 during a Mass in honour of the protector of Pregnant Women, Saint Raymond Nonnatus.

Within this homily, the now Pope Francis said:

“All of us must care for life, cherish life, with tenderness, warmth…to give life is to open (our) heart, and to care for life is to (give oneself) in tenderness and warmth for others, to have concern in my heart for others.

“Caring for life from the beginning to the end. What a simple thing, what a beautiful thing… So, go forth and don’t be discouraged. Care for life. It’s worth it.”

This year’s Day for Life focuses on care for unborn children and their mothers; care for people who are elderly and care for those who are suicidal and their families.

One of its key aims is to build an environment of compassion and care that nurtures and sustains life, even in the most challenging of human events and personal circumstances.

You can find out more about this year’s Day for Life at dayforlife.org

Destroy your enemies!

Abraham_Lincoln_November_1863Have you ever wanted to destroy your enemies? Probably, at some stage, we have all been through such a stage of emotion. However, have you ever thought about destroying your enemies by making them your friends?

“I destroy my enemy when I make him my friend,” said Abraham Lincoln; but it’s much easier said than done.

Turning others into friends

This is the sort of work each of us, as people of faith, are called to do: not necessarily converting enemies as such, but perhaps aiming to turn into friends those “others” who may so easily become perceived to be our enemies.

Theologian Sally McFague once said:

We, all of us, are being called to do something unprecedented. We are being called to think about ‘everything that is’, for we now know that everything is interrelated and that the well-being of each is connected to the well-being of the whole. 

The statement above poses a great challenge to us because, most of the time, as different faith communities we become focused on the uniqueness of our claims about God. We busy ourselves defending our positions. This isn’t bad in itself and, in fact, can be essential for our sense of identity, belonging and hope. But it should not be the only focus of our being. Spiritual well-being is essential but so is physical, social, economic and environmental well-being too.

GlobalVillageThanks to the 21st century’s increasingly globalised and inter-connected world, we have to deal with something quite unprecedented: the huge scale rubbing shoulders of different languages, cultures and religious beliefs.

Engage to enrich

We should not assume that by engaging with people of different beliefs to ours the uniqueness of our faith must somehow get compromised. Inter-faith work is not about negotiating away our differences. In fact it is about asserting and affirming our differences; but in such a way so that it enriches rather than creates conflict.

_48341000_peacewalkjuly2010001Inter-faith work is not about reducing our beliefs to a thin line where we all merge into one. Nor is it an attempt to unify us all into one world religion. It is about co-operation across faiths and cultures and peaceful co-existence.

We cannot have peace until we have agreed to talk to one another; to address issues that confront us and strain our relationships from time to time.

No Peace without Dialogue

hans-kungHans Kung, the Catholic theologian and the founder of Global Ethic Foundation, once said, “No peace among the nations without peace among the religions. No peace among the religions without dialogue between the religions.”

It is said that from the 250 conflicts and wars of the 20th century, each had a religious component. Watching the news these days in our own century, it sometimes feels as if we stand on the brink of human extinction.

Break out of our places of worship


Inside a Mandir, a Hindu Temple.

It would seem that now, more than ever, is a time for us to break out from our respective places of worship (the Church, Mandir, Synagogue, Gurdwara or Mosque) and meet the other; talk to the other; develop ideas with the other for the common good of us all.

There is an apt quote from American novelist and social critic, James Baldwin:

For nothing is fixed……….Earth is always shifting, light is always changing. The sea rises, the light fails, and we cling to each other. The moment we break faith with one another, the sea engulfs us and the light goes out.

Following incidents like 9/11, 7/7 or the Woolwich Murder, people like us need to do even more and work even harder in order to boost the growth of mutual confidence, trust and goodwill amongst us all, across faiths and cultures!

How we think matters

March and Wisbech may not face the same problems and opportunities as those found in Luton and Leicester or Bedford and Bradford; but the toil of engaging with each other, and talking to each other, with working and living towards harmonious co-existence with each other, will still bear its fruit irrespective of location.

And it doesn’t matter if you don’t have that many people of other faiths and cultures living nearby. You have your opinion. You have your attitudes. What and how you think also matters.

Margaret_MeadIt’s small groups that change the world

Anthropologist Margaret Mead put it succinctly: “Never doubt that a small group of committed people can change the world; Indeed, it’s the only thing that ever has”.


 By David Jonathan


David Jonathan (far right) with members and guests of the Wisbech Interfaith Forum

David Jonathan (Johny) is the co-ordinator of “Grassroots”, a Christian ecumenical programme founded in Luton which aims to promote inclusion and a spirituality of justice and peace through dialogue between the Christian churches and other faith communities. Johny is also a member of the Luton Council of Faiths.

This article is based upon a talk given at the Wisbech Inter-Faith Forum on 5 June 2013.

St Benedict

492px-Fra_Angelico_031Benedict was born at the end of the fifth century in Norsia in Italy (then the Roman Empire). At the age of around 19 or 20 he abandoned his student life in Rome and went off to  live as a hermit, just outside of Subiaco. He wanted to get away from what he considered the paganism of Roman life. For three years he lived in a cave overlooking a lake, relying on food and supplies from a nearby monastery.

Gradually he became recognised as a person of outstanding holiness and when the Abbot of Vicavaro died, the community came to Benedict to plead with him to be their next leader.

Reluctant Abbot

images-1Benedict reluctantly agreed. He probably should have followed his instinct and refused, because his time as Abbot was a bit of a disaster. The monks tried to poison him not once but twice!

Benedict took the hint and left the community at Vicavaro to live once again in his cave near Subiaco. However, his fame seemed to spread even further afield and people began to turn to him increasingly for spiritual direction and advice.

Establishing communities

images-2Benedict set up 12 small communities around Subiaco and eventually founded the great Monastery of Monte Cassino, where a community of Benedictine monks still live to this day (albeit in a different building), perched on a mountain overlooking Subiaco itself.


Benedict’s Rule

Benedict is most famous for his Rule. This piece of “advice from a father who loves you,” as Benedict himself described it, was originally written as a guide book for monks living in community. Over the centuries it has proved relevant to all sorts of people living in all sorts of environments.

Patron of Europe

Benedict lived in a Roman Empire falling apart. Even before he was born, Rome had been sacked by the barbarians. The communities which Benedict founded – and the movement of Benedictine monasteries and convents inspired by his Rule – gradually brought about a new stability to Europe, education, and a care for the poor and needy.


High on Benedict’s list of priorities for his  monks was that they should welcome strangers as if they were Christ himself. Some monasteries today take this so seriously that, when visitors stay for a meal, they are given seats of honour at the top table and offered the food first. They are waited upon by the monks (including the Abbot) and shown the utmost respect. Many of these visitors in other circumstances would be considered down and outs.

images-3The most striking element of Benedict’s rule is the instruction to listen. “Attend with the ear of your heart,” he says.  Benedictine life is a mixture of work and prayer with an attentiveness to listen to the Lord speaking to us through both.


St Benedict Abbot & Patron of Europe. Feast Day: 11 July

You can find out more about modern day Benedictine life by visiting the websites for Ampleforth Abbey and the Holy Trinity Monastery in Herefordshire.


A prayer attributed to St Benedict:

Gracious and holy Father,
please give me:

intellect to understand you;
reason to discern you;
diligence to seek you;
wisdom to find you;
a spirit to know you;
a heart to meditate upon you;
ears to hear you;
eyes to see you;
a tongue to proclaim you;
a way of life pleasing to you;
patience to wait for you;
and perseverance to look for you.


Awesome God

It is certainly true of my experience that, for all the departmental rivalry between science and RE at school, we are far more likely to find ourselves by the age of twenty-one sitting in a pub somewhere discussing God and the meaning of life than debating the merits of Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle and the contribution to our well-being of particle physics.

41Z6S0J7RHL._SY445_In Awesome God, however, Sara Maitland has deftly demonstrated that the popular divide conceived between science and religion is rather less than paper-thin. Indeed, as she points out, “If we look at creation, and ourselves within it, we can indeed see the thumb-prints or brushstrokes of God.”

What Maitland means here is more far-reaching than simply being moved to prayer by a mountainscape, or stunned into contemplative stillness by a beautiful sunset. She proposes that as people of faith, as creatures who recognise their Creator, we should engage with modern science and discover a God more awesome than ever we could have thought.

Pulling together scientific strands from subjects as diverse as mathematics, cosmology, quantum physics, neurology, psychoanalysis and psychiatry, evolutionary theory, and a range of social sciences, Maitland maintains: “Nothing in this threatens the narrative of my faith. The incarnation of Jesus, the nature of the Trinity, and my hopes of salvation are all deepened, enriched, and secured in this science.”

saraMaitlandLet me say unequivocally: this is an excellent book. Sara Maitland not only writes about complex ideas with such a lucidity that means the reader needs neither a background in science nor theology; but also with such an appealing approach that one wants to develop a deeper interest in both these areas.

Her humour and humility, interlaced throughout the work, make this an inspired piece of writing from someone who relishes the opportunity “to wallow in all that we can find” and to rejoice in the splendid wonder of God.

Awesome God by Sara Maitland is available through Amazon