Welcome to our November newsletter.
Beginning to configure the newsletter with the island beset by the screeching winds of storm 'Babet', I became convinced of the increasing pulsating beat of powerful engines close by. Looking to my air-radar App I was shocked to discover a huge coast guard helicopter located a couple of hundred feet above the roof. The reassuring blue flashing lights of Holy Island Coastguard were already in the road and standing-by to facilitate the unexpected landing. The flashing lights returned into the village. No further sound was discernable above the noise of the storm. Who had been taken ill ... was it 'one of us'...
Often there is delay - perhaps a medic visiting a patient confirming the need for hospitalisation. Then, the increasing beat of rotors would signify the impending take off. But tonight nothing - or maybe just not loud enough to penetrate the storm? Wait - then wait again... Again, try that radar app. The trace had vanished!
Next day's morning dog walk revealed the aircraft that had arrived during the night. Local rumour has it that this coastguard pilot had been flying a night-mission in almost unimaginable weather conditions. Navigation would have keenly focused on the aircraft's large array of complex instruments. At some point in the flight one had indicated an engine fire. Hundreds of training hours had immediately 'kicked in'... A valiant pilot indeed.
Many UK schools had mid-term breaks during October and if you were visiting us over that stormy weekend it will be surely be a memory for some time. I know it will for some of us....
With 'Babet' in the past, we know there will more, perhaps worse, winter storms to come. Almost all our bridge's superstructure has been replaced - so we are as ready as we can be for whatever mother nature is about to throw at us.
Meanwhile, as daily cyber causeway-crossing plumet UK clocks have now returned to GMT with darker nights upon us - definitely not the time of year to risk missing a tidal opening! Please doublecheck the safe causeway crossing times and make sure that your mobile phone is fully charged in case you need to call for help:
As always, thank you to all who have given their time to write for us this month. Our thoughts are with Anne who is getting over a dose of Covid and has given permission for my St. Cuthbert's substitution.
We hope you enjoy our November newsletter and look forward to contacting you next month.
PS: A heartfelt thank you to the NHS and the surgical and nursing skills of the 'Zachariah-Team' at Wansbeck Hospital on Wednesday!
It was wonderful being in St Mary's Church this week to celebrate our harvest festival. During our forest school sessions, the children created a huge and magnificent collage using fallen leaves, petals & other natural materials. We proudly displayed this at the front of church during our celebration. Sarah, Sam and lots of parents and friends joined us all in church and some of them commented on how beautifully the children sang. 'All things bright and beautiful' is always popular of course and we really enjoyed singing 'Cauliflowers fluffy, cabbages green' which is a lovely harvest song. The children donated harvest gifts of food for the foodbank in Berwick. Thank you to all involved.
We are continuing our learning about the plague and fire of London in 1665-66. Although this is a history topic, in art & DT we've made a model of Pudding Lane, in English we've made a plague doctor mask and then written the instructions on how to make it and in music we've learned and performed some great songs about the fire! Cross-curricular learning in action!
As part of our focus on plants and their uses in science, we visited a garden near Ford where Pippa Willits (who runs our forest school sessions) showed us lots of plants that can be used for medicinal and healing purposes. The children learned that some plants are poisonous and they compared some fennel with hogweed. Even though the seed heads are similar, the leaves are very different and this really helped the children to understand the importance of plant safety.
We've been learning about Hinduism this half term and we are looking forward to a visit from Kirtida from the Hindu Centre in Newcastle shortly. She will be visiting us to share Hindu stories, music and culture with the children. We've been very interested in some of the Hindu Festivals and have shared (and acted out!) the story of Rama and Sita and how the festival of Divali began.
We are looking forward to our school trip to the Discovery Museum in Newcastle for workshops on the Great Fire of London and the Great Fire of Newcastle and Gateshead next month. We will also be taking part in our Remembrance worship - we usually do this at the war memorial on the Heugh - I hope the weather isn't too windy, I can remember a couple of years ago we had to stay in church because the wind was so strong.
We will be having another STEM (science, technology, engineering and maths) day this term. We have invited 'Professor Brainstorm' to come to Lowick and deliver two of his exciting workshops - the 'Magical Science Show' and the 'Mission to Mars' workshops. It should be educational, fun and inspiring.
And finally... on Friday 24th November it's our Winter Fair - 3.30pm - 5pm at Lowick school. Everyone is welcome, please come and join us - you could get your Christmas shopping all sorted!
Our website: www.lowickholyislandschools.org.uk
As expected, off island bookings for the hall for November are fairly sparse. We have a return group on the 4th November for a few hours, Liz Watson returns mid November, for her third year running with her weekend yoga group.
Whilst it's fairly quiet this winter, I'm hoping to be able to sort the office and the upstairs room out, we are holding records going back over 40 years!
The Warm Hub Christmas Dinner will be held in the hall on Friday 8th December at 6pm. The cost will be the same as last year £10 per person and £5 for children. Please bring your own drinks with you. The dinner is open to all local residents, names and payment please to any warm hub meeting any Tuesday from 11 to 12.30 in November. Last chance to book a place is Tuesday 28th November. Do please come and support us, it should be a great evening, we are hoping to organise some sort of entertainment.
Hopefully the air source pump will be repaired in November, apparently the parts needed have nearly all arrived so the job can be finished. Will be good to have hot water again in the kitchen and toilets.
We are also having the smoke and intruder alarms and the emergency lighting serviced.This hasn't been done since it was installed in 2014.
All the best, Sue Massey
Super swans fly in for winter with us
Among the many thousands of migrant birds which flood across the island each autumn from right across the northern hemisphere, none are larger or present a more impressive sight than Whooper Swans.
The appearance of these magnificent birds with their brilliantly white plumage, wing spans of over six feet and wonderfully loud and far-carrying trumpeting calls is one of the highlights of autumn and early winter.
They are, of course, the old countryman's "wild swans" to differentiate them from our largely resident and often very tame Mute Swans whose nevertheless fascinating life-styles I covered earlier this year.
They generally migrate in flocks often containing family parties. The greyish youngsters stick close to their parents throughout the journey and stay with them as they gather to graze in fields and on our many ponds, larger lakes and reservoirs and, occasionally, on our mudflats and estuaries.
Around 16,000, mainly from breeding populations in Iceland, arrive in Britain each winter and remain until early spring before departing northwards again.
These wintering flocks can turn up virtually anywhere suitable grazing is available and where there is water for safe roosting. They are also highly gregarious. There is no more splendid spectacle than a flock of Whooper Swans, heads and wings raised, trumpeting excited greetings as others glide down from the sky to join them. Then, as quickly as it started, the whole flock settles back to the serious winter business of feeding and staying alive.
Many of our swans have heads and necks stained yellow, red or brown, the result of feeding on submerged weed in mineral-rich waters, particularly on their breeding grounds in Iceland with its highly volcanic landscape.
Finding a feeding group of them can be one of the highlights of an outing during the colder months, indeed one close friend of mine has a saying: "It's always a good day when you come across swans."
Whooper Swans are creatures of habit. During March and April each year as they begin their return migration, parties tend to congregate in the fields at Beal, favouring the land just south of the island road. The area seems to be a regular feeding and resting pit-stop as they move northwards towards Scotland and then onward back to Iceland.
Their annual migrations led to one tale, which might or might not be true, dating back to the days of the cold war in the 1960s. Then the old Soviet Union and Britain and its western allies were continually probing each-others air space and defences.
The story involves RAF radar operators detecting a mysterious high-level blip on their screens moving steadily southwards down the North Atlantic towards Scotland. Jets were scrambled to intercept and investigate the oncoming unidentified intruder.
Imagine their surprise - and probably relief and amusement - when they discovered that the blip was nothing more sinister than a large flock of Whooper Swans sweeping southwards at well over 20,000 feet.
They were moving in conditions so cold and with oxygen levels so thin that we humans would not have survived. Yet they seemed unbothered by the extreme conditions.
Regular gatherings of whooper swans are always scrutinised closely by bird-watchers because, just occasionally, they also hold a much more highly prized species, the slightly smaller Bewick's Swan from breeding grounds in Siberia.
Apart from the size difference which isn't always easy to spot, Whooper Swans have mainly yellow bills with black tips whereas Bewick's have more or less bills which are half yellow and half black.
Bewick's Swans were much more frequent locally in the past but have now become a rare visitor to our county. The last local records involved ten which wintered in the Fenham Mill area in 2002-2003 followed by a couple at Fenham-le-Moor in January 2013. Since then only one or two have been reported on the move with flocks of Whooper Swans. They've now become so rare that in some years none are found in Northumberland.
It's really a great pity because they have an important historic link with the county and are, of course, named after Thomas Bewick (1753-1822), our famed local woodcut artist.
The swan was finally proved to be a separate species from Whooper Swan in 1829 from the detailed examination of an adult shot at Haydon Bridge. The discovery was announced in October that year at the first public talk in Newcastle of the newly-formed Natural History Society of Northumberland, Durham and Newcastle upon Tyne, now the slightly less wordy Natural History Society of Northumbria.
Nicholas Wingate excitedly described the discovery of this separate species and, having been a close friend of Thomas Bewick, announced to some acclaim that he was naming the new swan in his memory.
However, now the story gets a bit confusing. While Wingate was busy in Newcastle, down in London another leading authority, William Yarrell, had come to the same conclusion. After examining swans shot in the south of England, he also announced that there was a previously unrecognised species which he had named in Bewick's honour!
Yarrell, writing at the time, claimed it was his decision to name the new species in Bewick's honour and that Wingate, who had also come to the same conclusions about the new species, had immediately adopted the name he had proposed.
Like a lot of historic things after all this time we'll never know the real truth of who first came up with the idea of honouring Bewick. It seems that even back in the late 1820s one-upmanship was alive and kicking in scientific circles.
These days around 20,000 Bewick's Swans migrate annually to winter in Western Europe. Between 3,000 and 4,000 normally reach Britain with most of them wintering on marshes and washes in Cambridgeshire and in Gloucestershire where they are an annually attraction at Slimbridge reserve run by the Wildfowl & Wetlands Trust.
The trust was formed in 1946 by ornithologist and artist Peter Scott who discovered that most Bewick's Swans have unique bill patterning which enables individuals to be identified in the same way that many whales can be identified by researchers by the various cuts and injuries they've received on their tails and fins.
Sadly, the appearances of Bewick's Swans in our region are now few and far between. But it does mean that those flocks of wintering Whooper Swans will always get very close attention from hopeful local birders because just occasionally they can hold one of their much more rare cousins.
Bewick also had an American wren was named in his honour by the famed bird artist John James Audubon (1785-1851). Audubon visited Bewick at his Newcastle workshop at Amen Corner behind St Nicholas Cathedral in 1827 when he toured Britain seeking advance orders for his own monumental publication, The Birds of America, which appeared in four volumes between then and 1838.
Audubon described Bewick as "a complete Englishman, full of life and energy, though now 74, very witty and clever and better acquainted with America than most of his countrymen and an honour to England."
Audubon's huge book with pages a metre deep had 435 colour plates of American species and even back then it cost $1,000 dollars, meaning that only the richest people and institutions around could afford it.
Many were later cut up and their plates framed for display. There are now only around 120 intact sets left and they are an American national treasure. The last to come on the market was auctioned in New York in 2010 for £7.3 million.
I wrote last month about how we are working on preparations for next season at the castle, and since then have really been getting my teeth into the detail. Although much of the research is revisiting Edwin Lutyens and his letters mentioning the castle, I have also gone back to Edward Hudson's story. Hudson if you don't know is a bit of an enigma these days, but a century ago he was a well-regarded chap known for his love of the countryside and particularly architecture. His magazine Country Life was a vehicle for him to explore those passions and his patronage of Lutyens gave him the opportunity to turn them into a tangible reality. The problem for us with Hudson is that despite being in publishing, and having owned a magazine which is still in circulation today, we know surprisingly little about him.
Hudson did leave a trail of correspondence with the Crossman Estate during negotiations over the lease of the castle so from the period 1901-1906 we do at least have his voice in that form. Without having Hudson's own papers though we don't get the Crossman Estates' side of the story via the voice of their Land Agent George Bolam. We can also get a picture of the man through other sources like Lutyens' letters or articles in the magazine following his death - one from the 1960s by a lady who knew him well is particularly poignant. So, when new sources relating to Hudson come to light, they are very much worth following up. A visitor to the castle early in October had a link to Suggia via a friend of hers who had passed away sometime ago. The friend had been married to a man who had supposedly had an affair with Madama Suggia (pictured here with Hudson), the cellist who was a regular guest at the castle in Hudson's time, and also ended up engaged to Hudson in 1919. The visitor is busy looking through her records and will hopefully be sending me some information and maybe even some photographs shortly. There are also some letters from Hudson to Lytton Strachey, the writer who visited Lindisfarne in 1918, held in Strachey's papers at the British Library. These letters will be unlike most of the other more business-related, transactional material held in the Crossman papers, as Hudson was inviting Strachey to the castle for a party, possibly with the ulterior motive of getting him to write for Country Life. Some of Hudson's letters to Bolam speak of his feelings about the castle, and how the work is progressing, but given that the Strachey letters are so much later, we can hope for a more reflective, considered description of the place in Hudson's own words. I just need to wait on copies arriving here from the British Library. Hopefully once received and analysed, this new information can form part of the castle visitor experience from next year.
I'm currently looking at the weather forecast for the rest of the week and see that Storm Babet is on its way. The easterly winds it brings are a problem for the castle, which was originally built with the prevailing westerly weather in mind. The main entrance and many of our windows are all in the lee of the wind, but not when there is an easterly. We will have to keep an eye on conditions to make sure it is safe for visitors, but anyone who does visit will see I have had to take our flag down as a precaution!
Nick Lewis - Collections and House Officer
nick.lewis @ nationaltrust.org.uk
07918 335 471
It has certainly been a wet and wild October so far with storm Babet giving us copious amounts of rain over several days and strong easterly winds causing large surf and surge along the Northumberland coast. The strong easterly winds also meant that the island was visited by thousands of migrants birds including Redwings, Blackbirds and even tiny Goldcrests. These birds utilise the easterly winds to assist them from the continent across the North Sea to these shores. From the coast they will disperse into the rest of the country where many will winter. Holy Island is a vital fuelling stop for many birds on migration as it will be the first land they come across after the exhausting sea crossing.
Wintering wildfowl and waders have continued to arrive back in good numbers. The Reserve will support up to 60,000 birds through the winter; a vital food and roosting site. The first of the year's Grey Goose counts took place in the middle of October revealing the presence of over 8,000 Pink Footed Geese using the Reserve and surrounding land.
To celebrate their arrival we held our first ever Goose festival on the weekend of October 21st and 22nd. Sadly, due to Storm Babet the Saturday events had to be cancelled but the sun rose on a calm, cold and beautifully sunny Sunday morning. We were already at Budle Bay to greet the sunrise along with 25 visitors to watch the lift off of thousands of Pink Footed and Barnacle Geese as they made their way from their roost in Budle Bay to adjacent land. Alongside the Geese were a supporting cast of hundreds of Wigeon, Shelduck, Shoveler, Redshank, Curlew and many other species that utilise the safe haven of the mudflats and saltmarsh of Budle Bay as an important roosting and feeding site. Although in this corner of the world the sound of geese is the herald to Autumn it is not the case everywhere. The UK is uniquely situated; being bathed in the warm waters of the gulf stream and is often covered by the jet stream pushing mild Atlantic air from the south-west. This keeps the UK winters very mild for our latitiude and allows the geese and waders access to food right throughout winter as the ground is rarely frozen for long periods.
On the Sunday afternoon we also held a craft and games even at the Window on wild Lindisfarne where adults and kids alike could learn more about geese and play a Brent Goose migration game; taking the position of a goose and attempting to migrate from Svalbard to Lindisfarne NNR facing all the trial and tribulations that it entails!
We have had the first volunteer task days of the autumn and winter; clearing willow and hawthorn scrub from the Snook. We will be continuing with our winter programme of habitat management throughout the coming months with lots of scrub removal, cutting and raking and litter picking. Most habitat management tasks can only be carried out in the autumn and winter due to the presence of ground nesting birds during the spring and summer.
The 30 cattle arrived on the island early this month and have begun chewing their way through the rank grasses. They will be on site over the next few months to give them a chance to graze the 110 hectares of the Links.
We are still monitoring Avian Influenza but thankfully there has been no mass die off observed so far. There have been quite a few dead Guillemots and Razorbills wash up and a lot have been unusually noted very close to the coast. A few have been tested from a number of sites but have come back negative. However, we still have to assume any dead carcasses may have the disease so please continue to not touch any dead birds and report them to DEFRA. Any deaths seen on the Reserve please call the Reserve office on 01289481370.
Andy Denton - Reserve Manager
Lindisfarne & Newham NNRs
Which book, after the Bible and the Qur'an, is the most influential? Some say The Elements of Euclid by the Greek philosopher and father of geometry. Now, 2,300 years after he wrote his mathematical masterwork, Euclid's name has been given to a magnificent new space telescope that was launched in July this year by the European Space Agency.
The Euclid spacecraft has since travelled to join the more-famous James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) in a special orbit a million miles from Earth. Here, well away from light pollution, Euclid will begin its six-year mission to map the Universe in unprecedented detail.
Regular readers may be forgiven a sense of déjà vu, since last month's column was about the Vera Rubin Observatory (VRO) in Chile that will soon undertake a similar comprehensive wide-field survey of the heavens. However, the data that Euclid will gather is going to be different in several significant ways. First, because it is located in space rather than on the ground, Euclid will have an unrestricted view of the entire celestial sphere, whereas the VRO is able to see only the southern sky. Secondly, one of Euclid's two cameras is sensitive in infrared wavelengths, which are largely blocked by Earth's atmosphere. Thirdly, while Vera Rubin is optimised for taking a vast number of images very rapidly (every 20 seconds in fact) to detect changes, the Euclid space telescope is designed to take longer exposures. These will reveal the earliest and most distant galaxies, back in the mists of time.
And what are the differences between Euclid and its companion JWST I hear you ask? The main one is that JWST has a very long focal length, much more powerful magnification, but can only image a relatively tiny patch of the sky in a single frame. Euclid's enormous 600-million-pixel camera can capture stars and galaxies in a far bigger area of sky, twice that occupied by the full Moon. So JWST is for close-ups, while Euclid gives us an overview.
Not everything has been plain sailing. During its journey out to join JWST during the summer, the engineers controlling Euclid prepared it for science observations. But when they started to take test images, they were horrified to see results that were often a squiggly mess as shown. There was a serious problem with Euclid's guiding system, that is meant to keep the telescope pointing rock-steady at its target.
This cheered me up greatly, since guiding is all too often a challenge to get right for us humble ground-based astronomers. Happily, the cause was soon identified and a remedy found. In some positions, stray light from the Sun was unexpectedly getting through a small gap in Euclid's frame, dazzling the guide sensor. The simple solution is to orient the spacecraft in such a way that this stray sunlight is avoided.
Now both cameras are working brilliantly. Over the coming months and years, we can expect a series of exciting discoveries to be announced. In particular, Euclid's observations should throw light on one of the great mysteries facing cosmology today: what in heaven's name is Dark Energy? In a future column we will explore this question further.
Max Whitby, thevisibleuniverse.com
It was more than a tree in a gap
We - a group of 8 old guys from Tynedale, average age 70 - were hiking in the Balkan mountains in Albania, Montenegro and Kosovo, when the news came through. Our phones did not stop buzzing - texts, mails and WhatsApp's from home and from around the world.
The sycamore tree in the gap had gone - felled in an act of vandalism that we struggled to understand. We are typical old men - cynical - and it was just a piece of wood but it was all we talked about for 48 hours and more.
Those of us who were local had known that tree all our lives. For a dozen years my family had looked at it from our home. For us it was special. Our daughter had her wedding photographs taken there. It was our tree and yet it was everyone's tree.
The gap with the tree was a landmark and so much more. We've walked past it, run past it, photographed it. Sunshine and rain, wind and snow; all four seasons of the year. We took friends there. I took visitors there, many hundreds over the years I ran a guiding business. They came for walks to learn about the geology and history of the landscape, but even the literati among them were not immune from the power of the tree in the gap - regardless everyone wanted their picture taken there.
We all had our reasons for visiting the gap with the tree its celebrity, its history - and prosaically - its science. But much much more than that; there was its natural beauty, its symmetry, its presence, the memories it created. It wasn't just a tree in a gap.
The gap with the tree connected us with the place and the place connected us wherever in the world we live. They may have taken away the tree in the gap but they can't take away the place and it's memories. And its meaning for each of us.
On the last days walking in Montenegro I looked up. There was a tree in a gap.
Those who viewed the film of Rachel Joyce's best-seller 'The Unlikely Pilgrimage of Harold Fry' will guess that he got a view of Lindisfarne on his several hundred mile walk from a semi in Devon suburbia to Berwick-Upon Tweed. Rachel drew a good crowd at Berwick Literary Festival in October to hear more about 'a beautiful novella about motherhood, grief and the power of forgiveness.'
Although Harold, like many of our pilgrims, connected with unresolved inner conflicts, the land, the sea, his wife, the journey, heaven .his wife Maureen's self-centered filter (played magnificently by Penelope Wilton of Downton Abbey fame) made it more difficult for her to 'see' anyone else. But eventually she allows the dormant love at the heart of their marriage to break through.
The film ends with little white blobs of light passing through the windows of Tweed View Care Home, Berwick, as Harold's long-ago friend Queenie, who had begged him to see her before she died, passed away. I asked Rachel whether these represented angels, and whether, with the angels that accompanied local saints such as Aidan at their death in mind, she had experience of angels at death. She indeed drew a connection with her own experience.
So I wish you good angels in the dark season of November.
Revd. Ray Simpson - Books, blogs, info: www.raysimpson.org
Founding Guardian, The international Community of Aidan and Hilda
This is the last in our short series about the Picts and today we deal with the one thing for many people that is most distinctive of their culture, the carved symbol-stones. When the Picts accepted the Christian faith in the 6th, 7th, 8th centuries it was natural that they also received the monastic movement which was sweeping the Christian world at that time. This movement was the centre of literacy, a new art for pagan peoples; the documents that have come down to us are very largely directly from monasteries. But among these documents there is nothing in writing from the Picts apart from one list of the names of their kings. I found myself left wondering. Surely the Picts had absorbed Latin Christian culture? Surely they could read their holy book, the Bible? Surely their monks recited the psalms in Latin? But my understanding is that we have no documents from them and so nothing of the history of their own times.
What we do have is a large number of carved stones,bearing pictures of various kinds of symbols. These stones can be divided into two main groups; first, those made before the coming of Christianity and secondly, those bearing some kind of Christian symbol, often a cross, along with a variety of other art. Many human figures are shown, mostly men rather than women, as soldiers on horseback or huntsmen with hawks. Such animals as they had known are shown realistically, though there is one particular creature, rather like an elephant, which occurs often enough to be recognisable as 'the Pictish beast' which certainly never walked these lands. The Pictish artists also clearly enjoyed making up geometric patterns especially using triangles and circles. They incorporated some daily objects. One looks remarkably like a two-sided comb.
But what did the stones mean? Many of the symbols were used widely across the Pictish lands, and that suggests an agreement about meaning. Was it some kind of alphabet? Did they mark the extension and ownership of lands? It seems clear that the purpose of the symbols was communication. We should note with admiration the very high degree of artistic and technical skill shown by the craftsmen. But we have not yet got the key.
On behalf of all people who find themselves in harm's way at this particular time, we remember our recently-retired Rachel Poolman using "The prayer of St. Francis". Rachel published this in her induction year as Minister of St.Cuthbert's Church - now referred to as the Saint Cuthbert Centre:
As we try to respond to the news about the tragedy unfolding in the Middle East, I am dedicating this month's letter to that situation. It is hard to imagine what life is like in Israel and Gaza right now. We hear and see in the news heartbreaking stories, atrocities, killing and fear. The loss of life is already huge and it will increase. How do we explain this tragedy to ourselves? To our children? I don't know the answer.
The Bishops of our Diocese (Bishop Helen-Ann and Bishop Mark) wrote this - 'We have watched with horror the appalling violence that has taken place over the past days in Israel and Gaza as we have seen families devasted, communities shattered with countless lives lost.
There is no justification for the intentional killing and hostage taking of innocent people. We join in the call for an immediate opening of a humanitarian corridor into Gaza to allow the safe delivery of food, water and medicine to those in dire need.
We are all called to live side by side in peace and harmony, we pray with all of our hearts for those grieving the loss of loved ones, those who are living in terror, the many people whose lives are being torn apart, the injured and those without food and shelter.
'We encourage you to pray for peace and reconciliation, and for the de-escalation of the war in Israel and Gaza.'
In February this year I went to Israel and Palestine with a group of Christians and Jews. And we met others, including Palestinian Muslims when we were there. It was an interfaith visit, to experience and dialogue together in that contested land in order to try to understand each other's stories. We journeyed together, we listened to each other, we ate with each other. We tried to build relationships across some really big differences. We met some extraordinary people in that land.
One day we went to visit a blacksmith. He told us about his life. His family and children. He showed us his workshop. He helped us each to make something on his forge. He helped us to forge ploughshares. This is what he helped me to make(photo). It started off as a straight piece of metal with a rather pointy top. A bit like a small spear. And he showed me how to hold it in the forge so that the tip got really hot. And then he told me where to hit it with a hammer to make it bend. To make it curl. To change it from a pointy spear into something else. I don't know what it is now. But I think its beautiful.
It reminds me that there is hope. Of turning swords into ploughshares. Of forging a spear into something beautiful. It reminds me of Gods refining fire and his mercy that as we hear from the prophet Isaiah 'will wipe away the tears from all faces'.
God has a plan we are told in Isaiah. 'Plans formed of old, faithful and sure'. God's plans will work. Not our human political plans. It is God who has the answer to our question. And the answer is hope. Hope of final deliverance from violence, from fear, from tragedy. Hope of swords into ploughshares.
I still don't have the answer to the question - how do we explain this tragedy that is happening in front of our eyes in the Holy Land. But I, and all of us, are asked to trust that it is God himself who has the answer to this question. That it is God who is truly the God of peace. I pray earnestly for peace in the Holy Land.
A prayer from Archbishop Hosam of Jerusalem:
"O God of all justice and peace we cry out to you in the midst of the pain and trauma of violence and fear which prevails in the Holy Land. Be with those who need you in these days of suffering: we pray for people of all faiths - Jews, Muslims and Christians and for all people of the land. While we pray to you, O Lord, for an end to violence and the establishment of peace, we also call for you to bring justice and equity to the peoples. Guide us into your kingdom where all people are treated with dignity and honour as your children, to all of us, you are our Heavenly Father. In Jesus' name we pray.
With every blessing