Monthly Archives: August 2023

Trinity 13 – 3rd September 2023

Jeremiah 15:15-21, Matthew 16:21-end

In the name of God, loving Father, risen Son and ever present Holy Spirit. Amen

Early September has a new beginnings and changing times feel to it, as people pick up the strings of activities and groups after the summer break, our children and young people return to school, the light evenings are drawing in and in the natural world (the summer wanes, and niche insects start to appear the daddy longlegs and the giant moths (including the one currently terrorising my shower room!))

Change is in the air but God’s love for us is a constant and we must not lose sight of that. We need to tune in to what is going on around us, and find what God has for us at this time. This may be how we want things to be or think they should be, or we may find ourselves in circumstances where we don’t understand or can’t see a way through – relying solely on God’s love for us – which is enduring and everlasting cutting through all the challenges and trials we may be experiencing.

Today in our first reading we encounter Jeremiah having a very tough time. He is in a tight spot. Jeremiah prophesied at a time of suffering; Jerusalem was besieged by the Babylonians in the lead-up to the city’s destruction and the exile to Babylon. Jeremiah expresses the anguish of facing condemnation for sharing the words God has given him. He is in an impossible situation, unable to remain silent but persecuted by those around him for what he says.

In the first part of that reading, we get a sense of jeopardy Jeremiah is feeling

On the one hand, his heart was joyful to be God’s messenger where it says: your words became to me a joy and the delight of my heart. On the other hand the consequences of sharing his messages from God have left him alone and isolated – where it says I did not sit with the merrymakers nor did I rejoice. He is both angry about his situation and clearly suffering with some kind of incurable wound too. We would say he is suffering, or to use the words of Jesus in our gospel reading he had taken up his cross in following what God wanted of him.

The second half of the Jeremiah reading is God reassuring him, that it is for good that Jeremiah is doing what he is doing. God remains faithful to those who serve him. Even though the going is clearly going to be tough, God says to Jeremiah things like – They shall not prevail over you, I am with you to save you and deliver you. He predicts the people in Jeremiah’s day will turn to him as a fortified wall of bronze.

This is a message to us about the going getting tough and keeping going. Not to give in or turn away from where God is leading us. To be honest with God about how we are feeling and to lean into God’s support for us. I have talked about lament several times over the last few months, and here again Jeremiah is lamenting, and God will take his prayer seriously and bring change to his heart and situation in the time and in the way God has for him.

I think it is also about remembering to take a longer perspective, to take a step back and not judge things immediately. This is difficult for us, as our culture is swift to conclusions and very instant, the ways of God sometimes only make sense to us weeks, months or even years ahead. Sometimes they may even never make the sense we want them to, as what we want is not what is on God’s heart.

Sometimes we are not in the place to make sense of anything too when the going gets really tough, or we are in deep pain following a traumatic experience or a life-changing bereavement. The important thing is to take each day as it comes, resting in God’s love for us in the moment, and keeping thankful for the tiny joys and pleasures we experience if we open our eyes to the love God has for us.

Praying for the spiritual fruit of patience, and for courage to hold onto what God wants of us is important too. Turning to our gospel reading, Jesus is very short with Peter, when he wants to future to be different from what it had to be. It’s a natural response to hearing that someone must undergo ‘great suffering’ as was the path ahead for Jesus, to want to avoid that. Jesus calls Peter ‘a stumbling block’ hindering his progress and what was necessary at that time, and to bring us all in the loving heart of God. As is often the case Peter seems to have only heard the negative – the suffering and the death part of it, and not that on the third day Jesus would be raised.

The simple truth is that we cannot have resurrection (and the power that changed everything) without the death part. This is one of the reasons why if we want to celebrate Easter fully, we must also linger at the cross and take onboard the cost and the pain Jesus suffered for us, to fully understand the power of God’s love for us. There is also the obvious truth that many of us have experienced, that our growth in faith is greater when the going is tough than when the going is easy. I am not wishing tough times on anybody, but they are a fact of life which cannot be all roses and apple pie.

A clue here on how to approach life is in the words Jesus says to Peter about where he was setting his mind. He was setting it at human things rather than on divine things. This is back to the question of perspective –  ours or Gods? God’s perspective is timeless and omnipotent, and knows the future, the present and the past for us. We can be very blinkered by what we want and when we want it (even more so in a society that is very instant and very consumerist). We can confuse what we think is best, with what God thinks is best for us very readily, especially when things don’t work out for us or don’t go the way we want.

Taking space to dwell with God each day, to pray, to be and to be thankful is very important, to be honest with God about how we are feeling, and to know in our hearts his presence and peace. To keep going with this kind of discipline is important too, even when we feel isolated and angry as Jeremiah was feeling. God’s love will save us, deliver us and redeem us. We are precious in God’s sight, and his love for us is beyond our capacity to fully comprehend. Love in this life and endless eternal love when our time comes.

I am going to end with the collect for today which very much captures what I have been trying to say today about resting and relying on God, not expecting the going to be easy.

Let us pray

Almighty God, you search us and know us, may we rely on you in strength and rest on you in weakness now and in all our days, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.

The New Revised Standard Version (Anglicized Edition), copyright 1989, 1995, some material reproduced with permission from ©, Some  material  is copyright Church House Publishing © 2000-2023

Trinity 12 – 27th August 2023 – Penny Ashton

August 27th – Trinity 12

I wonder how many of you recall the time when John Major was prime minister.  Although I did not agree with his politics, he was a prime minister that I liked – possibly because he was keen to involve the people he worked with in the decision making process.  One of his campaigns – I don’t think we can call it a policy as I was never too sure what he meant by it was entitled ‘Back to Basics’, and I can’t help feeling that Isaiah was talking about something like that in our first reading when he says ‘Look to the rock from which you were hewn.’  Isaiah is reminding the people that they are descended from one man who was faithful to God, and whom God blessed, until they became the many-tribed nation that he was addressing.

It is a very human trait to try to elaborate things – we often start with a simple idea, but before long – usually because somebody has questioned what we actually mean – we begin to define and add details, and immediately we are in danger of over complicating things.  If we think about the differences between, and indeed within our varying denominations today, we can see that we have come a long way from the early church, and have made our doctrines a great deal more complicated.

Some of the complications have been brought in for good reasons – in this country, for example the weather makes it important that we have somewhere indoors to meet, and we are just now coming to realise that in making a building ornate and beautiful, we can also make it difficult for someone with a disability to be comfortable in, and to get around.  By the same token, if we are to welcome all people into our fellowship, we need to have structures in place to ensure that the most vulnerable are kept safe.  These things are all right and good, even if, at times they can seem a little annoying.  I have been made aware of this personally in the last week or two as my DBS clearance has needed renewing and I found myself getting a little annoyed by some questions seeming to be repeated several times!  I have finished and submitted it now, so hopefully I will soon learn whether I am a fit and proper person to be standing here!

Our gospel reading reminds us that at the time of Jesus ministry on earth, there was a renewed longing among his people for the coming of the promised Messiah.  The land was full of soldiers of a foreign power, and taxes were demanded from all directions.  A good jew would pay a tax to the temple, quite possibly some form of local taxation, and tax to the Roman occupiers.  That must have hurt the most – knowing that your taxes went towards the pay of the soldiers and upkeep of the governor and his staff, who were not welcome in your country in the first place.  Small wonder that there were a number of itinerant teachers who each gathered a following of disciples around them preaching varying forms of freedom from oppression.

We need to be careful here, as it would seem on the face of it that Jesus was just one among many – and apart from the time in the synagogue in Nazareth when he claimed to be the fulfilment of the prophecy found in Isaiah 61: 1-2;

‘The spirit of the Lord God is upon me, because the Lord has anointed me; he has sent me to bring good news to the oppressed,    to bind up the broken-hearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives,    and release to the prisoners;  to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour,’  He made no apparent claim to be the saviour foretold in so many prophecies, and often referred to himself – as in today’s gospel as ‘the son of man’.

You will find the story of his claim to being the fulfilment of the prophecy in Lukes gospel, chapter 4 and from about verse 16, and if you read on a bit you will see that on that occasion it did not end well for Jesus and as far as I can tell, that was the only time that he made any claims to his status, and whenever he performed miracles, he was careful to remind people to adhere to the Jewish religious law, and not to tell people about what had been done or who had done it.  I am confident, however, that had he just been another itinerant preacher, as so many were at the time – largely preaching freedom from foreign oppression, we would not be here today – both he and his teaching would have been forgotten as happened to all of the others.  Jesus was so much more than just another preacher, as our gospel reading today shows.

What we don’t know, and will probably never be able to find out, is whether this wonderful realisation of Peter’s was something that suddenly came to him in that moment, or was something that he had known – or indeed seen as obvious for some time.  It is interesting to note that this confession of Peter’s comes before he had seen the transfiguration of Jesus on the mountain top and heard the voice of God affirming Jesus as his son.  As a friend of mine would have put it –‘he worked this one out for his own self’!

And so, surrounded as we are by a building so full of reminders of the glory of God, and busy as we are by ensuring that all the doctrinal and human requirements are met, how are we to share our faith with anyone who asks?  I am always challenged, but at the same time encouraged by the worship we have on Good Friday when we come together with all the denominations active in our town.  It is important at such times to try not to tread on anyone’s doctrinal toes, and so I am reminded of Paul’s preaching in Corinth – as he reminds the Corinthians in his letter to them:

‘For Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling-block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.’ (I Corinthians 1: 22-24)  If we are ever asked why we take up our Sunday mornings to be in church we could do a lot worse than doing as Paul did.  Let us resolve to know nothing but Jesus Christ, and him crucified.  I am sure we will get the same reaction that he did, but that should not put us off.  The stumbling block and folly that he preached is now a fellowship of millions all over the world.  Jesus once told a story about the wisdom of digging to a rock foundation when building a house.  By the same token, he told Peter that he would be the rock on which the church would be founded, as he was open to the wisdom from the Father.  We could do worse than remembering what Isaiah said: ‘Look to the rock from which you were hewn’.  Peter may not have been perfect – far from it – but come to that neither are we, and he still gives us a pretty good role model to remember where we came from and what we believe.

Trinity 11 – August 20th

Trinity 11 – August 20th 2023

Isaiah 56:1,6-8, Matthew 15:10-28

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Just before the beginning of our gospel today – Jesus had had a rather testy exchange with the Pharisees. They had come to him, and demanded to know why his disciples broke with the tradition of their elders, and did not wash their hands before they ate? What followed was a rather frosty conversation with Jesus answering with his own question, and then calling the Pharisees hypocrites! Quoting the prophet Isaiah saying This people honours me with their lips but their hearts are far from me. In vain do they worship me, teaching human precepts as doctrines.

Obviously with the Pharisees on his mind he talks to the crowd at the beginning of the  passage set for today – he said – ‘Listen and understand: it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but it is what comes out of the mouth that defiles.’ He was referring to the food eaten by the disciples without the ritual handwashing the Pharisees practiced, being what went in to the mouth. That did not cause the disciples to be defiled – which means to make impure or unclean (in the Pharisees eyes) – but the kind of things they said – where heart and life style didn’t match up – which was alluding to the attitude of the heart of the Pharisees who were more concerned with ritual and tradition than being loving!

What he goes on to say by way of explanation then to just his disciples is even more hard hitting for the Pharisees. First that every plant that has not been planted by God will be uprooted, and then a rather harsh reference to blindness – where if one blind person guides another, they will both fall into a pit! I think underneath this is a reference to the teaching role of the Pharisees and them leading people into dead ends and ritual practices that are not connecting them well to the loving heart of God.

I find it quite pertinent that Jesus reserves his harshest criticism for those in leadership positions who are not leading faithfully to God, and leading people into ways that are not good for them. When leading becomes self-seeking and self-serving rather than pointing to the love God has for us. The Pharisees were respected and admired for their serious pursuit of their version of righteousness. Perhaps this is exactly why Jesus criticised them so harshly. The source of their perception and perspective was not God, but the ways they had devised and carried on for many generations. Where tradition had taken too much hold, they were blind guides of blind disciples (and the leading people astray was of particular concern to Jesus).

Where does this leave us. I think at the very least it means we need to think carefully about some of our ‘traditions’ and where these have got a bit out of control, or are pointing us away from the God of love we know. The Christian faith, as the Church of England has it, is based on understanding the Bible, tradition, reason and experience. Tradition can play a big part, but sometimes it is also getting in the way of progress and what God wants of us today. There is a strong ‘pull’ to do what we have always done, rather than to change. Some of that may be right, but sometimes we are blinkered by it too.

Right now we are in choppy waters as a Church. There are a selection of things going on in the life of our Church on which people do not agree. This is the way with a Church that has always been a broad church – not a narrow one – enabling people with differing views to sit together.

This Autumn, at a National level, the next steps in the ‘Living in love and faith’ process will involve the results of three work streams:

  • Firstly looking at the Prayers of Love and Faith to be used for same sex couples.
  • Secondly looking at the guidance to replace Issues on Human Sexuality which governs particularly the behaviour of clergy in same sex relationships.
  • And thirdly a group focused on Pastoral Reassurance, is considering questions around freedom of conscience, implications for clergy and laity, and transparency around using the Prayers of Love and Faith.

The intent is to create a “generous theological, church and pastoral space”, offering a pastoral welcome to same-sex couples while not altering the doctrine of marriage. The difficulties in all this are obvious!

Even closer to home, this autumn I am expecting the next phase of consultation on the proposals to reduce the number of clergy in our Deanery to be discussed by our PCCs. Over the past year we have had a series of rather frosty discussions about this at Deanery Synod – nobody really wants to have to reduce clergy, but the truth is we can only have the number of clergy we can actually afford. This will have an impact, and the current proposal sees the separate benefices of Wincanton and Pen Selwood, becoming one benefice with Wincanton, Pen Selwood, Cucklington and Stoke Trister, and Charlton Musgrove. This will take time to come to pass, and for the changes to begin to take place, and there is plenty of time to have our say. However having said that we do need to be careful in light of our Gospel today about what we say!  

As we approach both these big things in the life of the national church and the local church, we need to do so with what comes out of our mouths reflecting God’s love for us and the needs of the common good! What comes out of our hearts has to reflect what God wants of us and it is important that we do keep firm foundations as the going gets a bit more rocky! Eating with unwashed hands may be unwise but does not make us any less in God’s eyes of love for us. Where as what we say…….. Enough said – lets share God’s love first and foremost!

End with some silence and a prayer. Jesus Christ, barrier-breaker, lead us from our comfort zones. We want to surround ourselves with like-minded people; help us to be open to those who are different. Jesus Christ, risk-taker, free us from our fear of all that is strange. We are afraid of what we don’t know and understand; help us to see the inclusiveness in your plan. Jesus Christ, hope-giver, show us how to be like you. We don’t willingly embrace change, or always welcome the stranger; Help us to open our hearts and minds, so that your kingdom may grow. Amen.

The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (1989 © 1995).

Prayer from © Reproduced with permission.

Trinity 10 – 13th August 2023

Trinity 10 – August 13th 2023

1 Kings 19:9-18, Matthew 14:22-33

In the name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen.

I want to start by settling where we are in Elijah’s story from our first reading. Elijah lived when there was one of the worst ever of kings in Israel – what was his name – That was King Ahab. And his wife was? Jezebel

Out of nowhere, but with the strength of God on side, Elijah had popped up and said to Ahab as God had spoken to him – In the name of the living God it was not going to rain for 2 or 3 years or at least until I say so. This was a dangerous thing to do and even more dangerous thing to say. Elijah managed to get away as God had guided him and he rested by a stream far away.

There God had guided one of his creatures to feed Elijah. What was it? Anyone know? It was the ravens. Here Elijah inspires us to be bold and courageous – even when the going is particularly scary. Three amazing things happened in the wake of this part of the story

  • First – there was no rain.
  • Second – God provided a widow and her son to look after Elijah along with flour and oil (enough for Elijah, the widow and her son to have bread).
  • Third – A death to life moment where Elijah saved the widow’s son.

Next Elijah had a huge victory over the prophets of Baal (really against the odds!). This is well worth reading earlier in 1 Kings! The result of this was the people turned back – The Lord is God. They vowed not to be wibbly wobbly anymore and standing firm in the love of God. The prophets of Baal came to a nasty end  and Elijah again managed to get away. But Queen Jezebel had promised Revenge – ha ha ha ha……

And now we getting closer to where today’s story started. Elijah and his servant fled from Samaria (which was back in his home land). They managed to get away again from the clutches of King Ahab and Queen Jezebel but were running scared…. This time they went over the border in to Judah and on and on and on to Beersheba. Only then did they stop running, Elijah left his servant in Beersheba and Elijah walked and he walked for a whole day – Before he sat down under a tree and told God exactly how bad he was feeling in prayer. Despite all that fabulous stuff with the fire, water and the prophets of Baal – Elijah is in the depths… It’s too much – take away my life lord, I might as well be dead – he says. Elijah is very sad but he tells God how it is for him and how he feels honestly. But this kind of prayer – is a special kind called a lament. When we lament, we are having a tough time – and we tell God all about it and how we feel. God answers this kind of prayer (but it needs us to be honest!). The answer is not necessarily what we may have thought would be best – but it will be answered. Lament is a path to transformation and wholeness – psalms are full of them.

This is how God answered Elijah’s prayer of lament – Elijah fell asleep. An angel came – placed bread and water at Elijah’s head and then woke him up. Elijah sat up ate some bread and drank some water, but then he lay down again and went back to sleep. Now the angel was having none of this, and returned and woke him a second time. This time Elijah got up, ate some more bread and some more water. In an amazing answer to prayer the bread and the water – was enough to give him the strength to walk for 40 days to Mount Horeb. Why 40 days? Well can’t we hear the echoes of other times. Looking back to the 40 years in the desert of the Israelites and looking forward to 40 days in the wilderness of Jesus.

When he eventually got to the top of Mount Horeb, another name for Mount Sinai – that’s where we encounter him today. Elijah went into a cave to rest and spend the night. This time it wasn’t a raven or an angel that woke him up but the word of the Lord that woke him up and said what  are you doing here? This time Elijah shared his concerns about the Israelites. I have always served you, God, but the people of Israel have killed your prophets and worshipped other Gods and now they are trying to kill me….

(Elijah is not seeing very clearly now here as we don’t when we are in the depths! – People had turned back after last week’s events BUT Elijah hadn’t stuck around to find out that as he was too frightened (and in particular frightened of Jezebel!). God instructed Elijah to go and stand on the top of the mountain, but before he had time to do that he had many experiences of the wonders of our natural world. Wild wind that split the hills  and shattered the rocks. Then there was an earthquake and then there was a fire. All these things moved Elijah but God was not in them. Then there was a soft whisper – which was God’s voice and Elijah covered his face with his cloak.

And a voice said  – again What are you doing here? And Elijah again shared his concerns about the Israelites. I have always served you, God but the people of Israel have killed your prophets and worshipped other Gods and now they are trying to kill me….

Then God spoke clearly to Elijah and gave him a clear plan. He promised him someone to help him and succeed him as prophet. Elijah was to return to Damascus – Anoint Hazael king of Syria, and Jehu king of Israel who would deal with most of the problems. He also appointed Elisha as his successor as a prophet who would do the rest. God reassured him that he was not alone (and put right his perspective). There are 7000 Israelites who had stayed faithful God said. And the story continues from there as God has set out – Which maybe we will hear on another day!

So Elijah had yet another set of answers to prayer. All sorts of answers in this story! This time following an amazing experience of the power of God under the tree and on the mountain – e is given another set of things he needed – not least someone to help him. This came from Elijah being open and honest with God about how he was feeling and lamenting. Then God transformed the situation and helped him regain the perspective of the situation he had lost whilst in the depths…. This is particularly easy when life is a bit of a rollercoaster like Elijah’s!

We would do well on occasion to pray as lament too and then allow our helper – the Holy Spirit to transform us from the inside out. And to regain any necessary perspective we may have lost (it is a human thing to lose perspective like this!). We have experiences of God through the power of the Spirit, which sometimes knock us off our feet (not always literally like Elijah). But are the stuff of the Spirit which guides us too through the difficult things that challenge us day by day. How Elijah felt in the depths (and in the despair of being threatened by Jezebel) – God’s Holy Spirit is in us, we just need to open our hearts. God’s Holy Spirit will strengthen us and guide us. We need to be open to this strengthening and guiding and God’s Holy Spirit will flow through us to those we meet. Helping us to be compassionate, caring, welcoming and loving as God intends us to be…

We say this regularly in our services (and we will later in this one!)

The lord is here – His spirit is with us

Let’s do that again

The Lord is here – His spirit is with us

As it was for Elijah the presence of God with us is amazing – let’s rejoice and give thanks for that today (and not forget the way the Spirit can move if we need a good lament too or need help to regain our perspective). Amen

The New Revised Standard Version of the Bible (1989 © 1995).


Transfiguration – 6th August 2023

Transfiguration – 6th August 2023

Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14 and Luke 9:28-36

In the name of the living God, Creator, Redeemer and Sustainer, Amen.

The book of Daniel is an interesting read – there is the story of Daniel during the exile and the challenges he faced, including the writing on the wall, the lion’s den and the fiery furnace, and then a sequence of dreams and visions – which is where our Old Testament reading came from today. As a book there are lots of theories about it’s origin and dates. It is about a passage of time which happened significantly before it was written, and contains apocalyptic stuff – which is a way of writing we don’t often indulge in (foretelling the future and picture language with lots of hidden meanings that the people would have understood differently at the time). In all of this we can’t be very certain about all the meanings but some of the editing may well be in the same time frame as some of the books of the New Testament. Frankly Biblical scholars disagree about this!!

Our extract was part of one of Daniel’s dream visions. The bit we got is a judgement scene – including one seated on the divine throne (which we interpret as God the Father and creator) and the appearing of a second heavenly figure (which we interpret as God the Son, the redeemer – Jesus Christ, given an everlasting dominion over the earth and his people.  (This vision has parallels with other visions in Ezekiel and Revelation). The original language is very poetic in nature, with metaphors and similes and linking in to other ancient traditions. All and all it is complicated, has many layers to it.

It is rather graphic too in what Daniel dreamed! I just want to pull out a couple of aspects of the vision Daniel had of God. The first of these are that he was surrounded by fire, his throne was fiery flames and its wheels were burning fire. A stream of fire issued and flowed out from his presence.

Fire, rather naively, can be seen as entirely positive, to provide us with light, protection and guidance. But a wider view of fire is that it is something transcendent, absolute, and dangerous, mysterious and destructive. The difference between a flickering candle flame and the recent wild fires on Rhodes. God’s appearing is often described as from a violent storm, whose lightening flashes fire of heaven (Exodus and Deuteronomy) or within the brightness of the sun in Ezekiel. The presence of all this fire points to the otherness of God, which is beyond us. It gives us a sense of terrifying power – omnipotence, all powerful and almighty – which is not an inappropriate way to understand the wonder of God.

The second thought is about describing God’s clothing as white like snow and the link to our Gospel reading when Jesus became dazzling white too on the mount of transfiguration with Peter and James and John looking on.

This is a definite pointer to the fully human and fully divine side of Jesus – showing his divinity in a new way. A way we can’t really explain or rationalise. I am sure for Peter, James and John this was a ‘you had to be there’ moment. These are times that we simply cannot adequately describe to someone else (often trying to describe something that you found hilariously funny at the time but afterwards it is hard to explain why).

Peter has the misfortune of babbling in the face of such wonder when Moses and Elijah also appeared to complete the scene. We understand this because sometimes we don’t have the words either to really capture what is unfolding before us and the wonder of God with us. For some accepting this mysterious and wondrous side of God is particularly challenging as it defies logic and scientific scrutiny. I think we really limit ourselves if we limit our thinking to entirely what can be proved (and I do have a scientific background too!).

There are moments when we have to understand things beyond our linear reason – like where the part of the vision of Daniel we got today ends. That to Jesus was given dominion, and ever lasting dominion, that shall not pass away.

We may not this side of heaven’s divide understand exactly how all of that works or fits together, but at many levels we don’t need to understand it, we need to live informed by it and the wonder of an all powerful God who loved us so much that he send Jesus to save us in the way that God did.

I want to end with a story which challenges us to understand how God is with us, sometimes dazzling us as happened in Daniel’s vision or to Jesus on the mount of transfiguration and beyond us.  

Dr. Paul Pearsall and his wife were attending a meeting in Rome, Italy. Their first stop was a tour of Vatican City. Michelangelo’s work in the Sistine Chapel had just been renovated. Dr. Pearsall and his wife waited for hours in line for a glimpse of this remarkable feat. At a distance the paintings did not look all that impressive. People chattered and joked about a paint-by-number replica of Michelangelo’s work for their own ceilings. When they drew closer, however, they were overwhelmed. The paintings seemed to engulf them. Everyone became quiet. Necks ached with the effort to keep looking up. Now they were seeing the paintings as Michelangelo intended for them to be seen. The impact was unforgettable.

Then Dr. Pearsall noticed a fly crawling across the paintings. He thought, ‘What a shame. That fly is right up there where I would love to be. He’s right on top of it… but he just can’t see it.’ Then Dr. Pearsall remembered reading the words of philosopher William Irwin Thompson:

‘We are like flies crawling across the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. We cannot see what angels and gods lie underneath the threshold of our perceptions… ‘


(‘Flies on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel’, in Paul Pearsall, Making Miracles, Simon & Schuster, 1992, ISBN 0130893501). Story reproduced from © with permission and other material, The revised standard version of the Bible (1989, 1995 ©) – The word Biblical Commentary on the book of Daniel.