Levitation lessons?

St Joseph of Cupertino levitating during prayer

Levitation lessons are requested by the novices at the Benedictine Convent of Oby in Sylvia Townsend Warner’s engaging novel The Corner that Held Them. 

Now there’s a thought!

How splendid it would be to be able to levitate. Jasmine, parish assistant, has suggested it could solve the problem of how to clean the high level windows in St Chrysostom’s. Unfortunately, it seems that those who have levitated as Christians didn’t always have an easily controlled direct flight path – we’d not want someone to crash into the windows.

Branwell Booth, son of William Booth, founder of the Salvation Army, told how at Salvation Army Holiness meetings “beyond all question he saw instances of levitation–people lifted from their feet and moving forward through the air.” Some early strands of Methodism record the phenomenon too, but the phenomenon does not seem to have been reported in the Church of England.

St Francis of Assisi was said to be able to levitate, as was the Orthodox saint St Seraphim of Sarov. Perhaps the greatest example is St Joseph of Cupertino (1603 – 1663) – feast day September 18th. It is recorded how this saintly Franciscan during the mass, and the church’s prayers, would levitate. Understandably his religious superiors felt this habit was rather disruptive to the congregation and so he was confined to a smaller sphere of influence.

An image of the Buddha levitating

Several world faiths have claimed examples of levitation among their followers. Examples are found, for example, in Buddhism, Hinduism, Judaism and Christianity. However the scientific community understandably remains rather sceptical, and explanations of illusion, hallucination etc are given.

Poor nuns of Oby, it seems then they may not achieve their aim to levitate – unless perhaps they wander into mystical ecstasy.

Perhaps an insight for us all from G K Chesterton, might serve as a first step towards levitation:  Angels fly because they take themselves lightly.

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Mount Carmel

In our sermon series on Hills of the Bible Canon Alma spoke on Mount Carmel. Here is a summary of what she said:

A view of Mt Carmel

Mount Carmel was the dramatic setting for the Prophet Elijah’s confrontation with the prophets of Baal. It was a great showdown – between Gods one prophet and the 400+ devotees of a false religion.

The whole of Elijah’s life was out of the ordinary. Remember, at the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, Jesus was accompanied by Moses and Elijah, the two greatest figures of the Old Testament.

Elijah is God’s appointed prophet to oppose the evil regime that the First Book of Kings describes- that of Jezebel and Ahab. Appalling government and perverted religion- within living memory, the world has suffered terribly from these. There has been Stalinism, Nazism, Apartheid and now Islamic extremism. There have always been a few, sometimes a very few heroes, who have battered against these evil forces- people such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer or Nelson Mandela. Elijah’s story tells the cost of such a stance. He is sent to prophecy a long drought for Israel as the Lord’s punishment. While the Baal religion dominates and the King and Queen are abusing their power, the nation suffers .

A statue of Elijah at the Carmelite Convent, Mt Carmel

Eljiah goes into hiding, and suffers the despair and fear of his isolation. God sends him food via the ravens, and later by angels. While in hiding with a poor widow, he performs a miracle by providing food during the famine, and keeps them alive. When the widow’s son dies, he brings him back to life. But the great showdown with Baal prophets happens at Mount Carmel, when each prepares a sacrifice and calls down fire from heaven to burn it up. Elijah is so confident of God that he drenches his sacrifice in water. The opposing prophets in a fury, call unavailingly on Baal all day long, even slashing themselves with knives to urge him to act. Elijah, meanwhile, mocked them, telling them to shout louder – perhaps their god is asleep! Of course Elijah sacrifice is burnt up, water and all.

But this triumph does not bring Ahab and Jezekel down nor is it the end of Elijah’s struggle. Again, he flees and is consoled by God with the still small voice, that shows his presence.

He sees the end of the great drought with the sight of a ‘cloud no bigger man’s hand’ in the sky.

So what a film it would make! Lone, victorious hero against tyranny and false religion. Times of fear and despair, when God consoles him. The dramatic showdown on the mountain. The miraculous provision of oil and meal for Elijah and his protector . His raising the boy from the dead and finally his assumption  into heaven

Elijah is a huge hero, and he figures still in Christian and Jewish thought, for all that he fought against is all too evident in our world.

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Mathematics and my faith

Continuing our series on how our studies influence our faith. Here Fr Ian Michael, a friend of Fr Ian’s, whose Doctorate from Oxford is in Mathematics, writes on Mathematics and his faith:

Faith seeking understanding – one of the classic definitions of theology. How does being a mathematician serve to deepen my understanding of Christian faith?

Mathematicians tend to like paradoxes. The scriptures are full of them, “The first shall be last and the last first,” and so on. Above all there is the paradox of the Incarnation, “God in man made manifest.”

Mathematicians are often drawn to, even fascinated by, extreme cases. One of the tests of a mathematical conjecture is to push it to the limit. So to for discipleship. Consider Dietrich Bonhoeffer (1906-1945), whose writings and, even more his living and dying, show that there is no safe and cost-free discipleship. Or think of Simone Weil (1909-1943) and her insistence that, when we are faced with an apparent choice between following the truth and following Christ, we must follow the truth. Eventually Christ will meet us. (Her brother André, one of the most celebrated mathematicians of the 20th century, used to correspond with her about his mathematical work.)

Mathematicians are at home with abstractions. That can make us aware of the limitations of abstractions. The deployment of reason has a necessary, but limited, place in the understanding of Christian faith. “One thing is needful.” (see Luke 10: 38-42). Paradoxically, the passage of time makes me more deeply aware both of the inexpressibility of God and of the sheer physicality of our encounter with Christ, in prayer and sacrament and in the people He sends to us and to whom He sends us.

A P.S. The Belgian priest Fr. Georges Lamaître (1894-1966), among the first to advance the “big bang” theory of the origin of the universe, was once asked whether he thought cosmology to be the science closest to theology. After a pause he replied, “No, I think it’s psychology.” As one commentator said, “There spoke the parish priest!”

Click here for a previous entry in this series:  Metallurgy and my faith.

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Mount Nebo

During the Summer we had a series of sermons of Hills of the Bible.  Here’s a summary of Fr Chris’ sermon on Mt Nebo:

“Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho, and the LORD showed him the whole land” (Deuteronomy 34.1)

The view from Mt Nebo

Mount Nebo stands in what today is the country of Jordan.   It’s slightly to the north of the capital, Amman.   From it you look down at the river Jordan and see the spot at which Jesus was baptised by John, and then you look further and you see on the other side of the Jordan the land of Israel.


We know the history which preceded this glimpse of the “whole land” – the promise of God to Abraham to be given a land flowing with milk and honey, yet that promise seems to be broken.

There had been the time of slavery in Egypt – a time when the Jews began to think that God had forsaken them.  Then along comes Moses.  Moses the champion, hidden as a baby in the bulrushes, and who challenges Pharaoh’s rule and leads the Israelites out of slavery towards the Promised Land.

The concept of the Promised Land is for some the physical, temporal land of Israel.  But it needs also to be seen as a place where God reigns with his people – where righteousness, justice and peace are in abundance.

God grants to Moses a glimpse of this physical and metaphorical land and then Moses dies.

The arrival in the land seen from Nebo isn’t got to easily. There is the escape from Egypt and then years in the wilderness, and a time of feeling that God had forsaken them.

In Matthew’s Gospel the disciples, after Jesus rose from the dead, ascend a mountain to be given authority and instruction to baptise people.

As the baptised people of God we too stand on Nebo looking out on a life with Jesus.  A life of full abundance as St John puts it.

In fleeing from Egypt the Israelites passed through the Red Sea. We too pass through water –in Baptism we die to sin, we are restored and received as a child of a loving God, we enter our promised Land – we enter the Kingdom of God.

For earlier Hills in this series see: Mount Ararat and Mount Tabor.

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Meocou at St C’s






C’hazh Chester, Cat Clarach, Kayt-Cheshire, Gath a Bow Chester, Gath Sir Gaer. All are names, in other languages of that well known character from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland The Cheshire Cat. (Does any linguist recognise the languages – and what do they have in common?)

Our grinning friend, the Cheshire cat, has been represented in different ways by artists. There are a few above, and bringshere are some more:






One of the most well known modern representations, although not perhaps the most artistically pleasing, is undoubtedly from Disney’s Alice. And in the Disney guise the cat is at St Chrysostom’s! Like Alice’s cat, our Cheshire Cat is seen then vanishes for a while.

This academic year Izzy and Jasmine, our parish assistants have a special task – to encourage the Cat to appear at Church at differing times to join in our events. Our faith encourages us to be positive and hopeful, and to have a sense of fun. The Cheshire Cat will remind us not to take ourselves too seriously.

Alice only refers to the cat as ‘the Cheshire Cat’ but we thought we’d like to give ours a name.

We asked Viet, a young man from Vietnam who often comes along to Church to name our cat, and he suggested a Vietnamese name Meocou. So there we are!

Look out for Meocou at Church, and return the smile.

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Bishop’s head dress – a contribution to a debate

What Bishops wear on their heads has been causing some discussion, some seem to be very bothered about it, most probably are not. Well, it is the silly season so we offer some thoughts. A low church minister has written about the issue here. He is particularly concerned about Bishops’ mitres. So we thought we’d think about alternative headgear. Perhaps the examples of past Archbishops can offer historical insights.

Where better to turn than the Guard Room of Lambeth Palace, the official home of the Archbishop of Canterbury? This notable room contains many portraits of Archbishops in a variety of headgear. Here are some.








What a wide choice for the modern bishop to consider (although the red hat of Archbishop (Cardinal) Pole may be frowned upon). Perhaps the colourful mitres of today could be replaced by the sedate and sober wig of the type favoured here by the fresh faced Archbishop Moore. The slightly jaunty hat of Archbishop Laud adds a gentle and different  option to the selection.

And more could be proposed. Here is  Archbishop Cosmo Gordon Lang, seen here as Bishop of Stepney, or Bishop Winnington Ingram of London, photographed in the street with a colleague. Both bishops are resplendent in top hats, and what about Bishop Winnington Ingram’s companion?

The Canterbury Cap, once quite common among Anglican clergy, has not gone entirely out of fashion although Watts and Co. no longer seem to offer them in their catalogues.

Archbishop Ramsey preferred the episcopal version of the Canterbury cap, seen here, and it is also the choice of the current Archbishop of Uganda, the Most Revd Stanley Ntagali. Perhaps it will reappear in England on the heads of bishops.

But what about the current Archbishops of Canterbury and York? In the midst of this discussion and debate about episcopal head dress have they a distinctive contribution to make? Can we turn to them for a lead?

Well here are two rather different types of headgear worn by the current archbishops, Archbishop Welby and Archbishop Sentamu.

We simply offer these two photographs of current Archbishops’ head dress to the current debate for consideration.

Perhaps someone would care to comment below.

(And on the topic of bishops what about their names? Thoughts at a previous post here)

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Two or three gathered

Sunday evening worship in August at St Chrysostom’s can be very quiet, and is often very special. Paul reflects on taking part in a Sunday Vespers. 

Where exactly can I find God? I expect this is a question asked by countless people through the ages. For many of us He is in the bread and wine of the Eucharist, for others in the prayers we know so well and for others He is in the simple acts of kindness shown by strangers and I suppose for most Christians He is in all these things.

I was left pondering this question on Sunday evening after assisting at Vespers. ‎Ann and I arrived in plenty of time to get ready, we set up with candles lit and gentle music playing, we had the psalter and service cards ready and started at 5pm sharp; it was a lovely service but there were only 3 of us!

 We could have felt deflated by attendance but actually there was a real sense of God’s presence in the chancel for those 20 or so minutes and, however, much more than that, during the hour or so we had church open, a Spanish lady came into pray whilst the music played softly in the background, a gentleman came in part way through Vespers, lit a candle with a cheery hello to us in the chancel then left again. At the end a couple of gentlemen, probably homeless, came in and we had a cup of tea with them, they said they had not had a decent cup of tea made for them for ages and they were thirsty!

 So, whilst attendance at the service was low on that Sunday, ‎there was a real sense of God’s presence in so many ways and I left feeling very proud to be part of St C’s!

Jesus said “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” (Matthew 18.20)

Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. (Hebrews 13.2)

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