Notre Dame’s Universal Watch


Cherry blossoms and Spring joy are chief among memories of our last visit to Paris. Courage, fear, flame and heart-stopping toppling spire are chief among my most recent. For years we’ve stayed only a five minute walk away, so early pre-breakfast visits to the Quire of Notre Dame became for us a norm.


And here – among literally millions of others through the ages – we sensed Our Lady Universe quietly watching and waiting with her catholic comprehension. We sensed perpetual presence and self-giving; we knew the one who waits sometimes at the foot of her Son’s cross – indeed at the foot of countless ‘crosses,’ and the Great Soul who, even when her Heart is torn and rent asunder, glows warm without and forever within – the very universal life-bringing breath of God.

Here is our Mother. Yours and mine. Be we people of faith or of no faith. Be we people of particular faith or of no particular faith. Be we ‘hill and vale and tree and flower’ – here is our abiding, giving, suffering, watching, waiting Universal Mother: Notre Dame. Here is the one who births Christos – Anointed – embodied in each of us, inspired and held, and holding, eternally, in the ‘Everlasting Arms’ of the Creator of All Things.

Some will understand, in every age, that, whether showered with cherry blossom or the sparks of destruction, there’s a divinely assayed gold * at the Heart of her. Notre Dame lives on and on and on. And She re-members us as we re-member her: in all, everywhere, everyday. Look upon this gold at her heart – shining in the very midst of disorder and gloom – and never be afraid of the power – indeed the life-giving bread – that is universal metaphor.

I know of her in Nazareth. I feel her in my soul’s depths. I hear her in the prayerful singing of her children as they struggled to respond to the sight of their own heritage on fire in Paris. And as they’ve struggled, throughout history, to respond to the ‘Crucified,’ ‘outside the city walls,’ and also – in every age – elsewhere. I see her now in my neighbour. I pray for and with her in the frame of a friend and poet who is a grieving – but also life-giving – mother. I touch her in ordinary, everyday contact with our planet and her peoples. I awaken to her in and through the passing of scents and nanoseconds, years and aeons. Yes: the Theotokos of history, of all that has been and will be, and of the here and now; Theotokos, the God-bearer, lives and persists in Parisian stone showered even today by cherry blossoms – and in you, and in me.

Notre Dame bénie vit!

*assayed gold: something precious – tested for its ingredients and quality

Untouchable serenity

So many things which once had distressed
or revolted him — the speeches and
pronouncements of the learned, their
assertions and their prohibitions, their
refusal to allow the universe to move —
all seemed to him now merely ridiculous,
non-existent, compared with the majestic
reality, the flood of energy, which now
revealed itself to him: omnipresent,
unalterable in its truth, relentless in
its development, untouchable in its
serenity, maternal and unfailing in its

Pierre Teilhard de Chardin
Hymn of the Universe

There’ll be a hard frost again tonight. The air is sharp, the mind possessed of clarity and recall unusual for this time of day: depths above, around, beneath and within. Silence. Serenity. Resting place. Soul space.


I’ve been watching BBC2’s Stargazing Live and am literally awestruck. My boyhood imagination was profoundly touched by the early Apollo Missions, and although not one of the patient sorts that willingly stay up all night with a flask and a telescope, the enormity, excitement and energy of physics and space exploration has me spellbound.

Presenters Dara Ó Briain and Professor Brian Cox, astronaut Tim Peake – currently one of the team aboard the International Space Station, and almost everyone associated with the tv programme, with the Jodrell Bank observatory, and with the space mission, have a distinctive aura about and around them that I can only think to describe as an infectious joy. They’re all smiling, buzzing, and one has the impression that they’re simply bursting to share the news of all they’re learning.

How can I be surprised by such a joy? Humankind is moving at a rate of knots from one glorious discovery to another. Stunning new digital photography of Pluto is immeasurably better than that available only twelve months ago. Tim Peake is able to chatter to home-base as though leaning over a garden fence. Our sense of the sheer enormity of the Universe rolls along in tandem with our growing knowledge of the infinite power contained in single atoms.

Paying attention to Uni-verse. One-world-ness. Re-discovering. Re-membering. Re-uniting separated entities. Pushing boundaries. Overcoming obstacles, contemplation, meditation, patience, prayer, awe and wonder. Communion.

Mindfulness is a lifetime’s journey along a path that
ultimately leads nowhere, only to who you are

Jon Kabbat-Zinn

Tied with ribbon

“My agent says I’m a PR dream: a Muslim who celebrates Christmas”.

Nadiya Hussain, Great British Bake-Off winner, enjoys a big family celebration for her birthday on the 25th December, writes Tony Turnbull in the Times today, but will also find time for a personal Christmas tradition:

“Every year, I always make things like biscotti, florentines or shortbread as gifts. I’ve got a rule that if I can see your front door from my house, you’ll be getting a little bag of chocolate biscuits, biscotti or shortbread, wrapped in cellophane and tied with ribbon. It’s not so much about celebrating Christmas as being mindful that some people don’t have family and friends, perhaps, and want nothing more than a friendly chat.”

Jesus of Nazareth and other big hearted, big minded teachers in every nation and age have shown that it’s little “rules” like Nadiya’s that are the building blocks of the uni-verse, the one-world.

“If I can see your front door” … or any neighbour’s, or a whole street of homes, or a town, village, country, continent, globe – or international space station and beyond: if I can see you – there’ll always and everywhere be something to celebrate. Connection, giftedness, humanity, relatedness – “tied with ribbon”.