Advent is the season when we prepare both for the birth of Jesus and for his return in glory. It invites us to journey with the people who prepared his way, from the Old Testament Prophets to Mary the mother of God, and also to contemplate the reality of our own ultimate meeting with God. It is both a joyful and a serious season which challenges us to ask ourselves what really lies at the heart of our lives.
Jane Williams’ book The Art of Advent sheds new light on the season’s themes through art from all over the world, including masterpieces by Rembrandt, El Greco and Blake, 15th century Ethiopian frescoes and contemporary works from China, Australia and the UK. Considering how art can illuminate familiar themes and stories, we will explore paintings and the insights they offer into the theology and spirituality of Advent.
Dr Jane Williams is the Assistant Dean of St Mellitus College. She is the author of academic and popular works of theology including The Art of Advent (SPCK 2018) and The Merciful Humility of God (Bloomsbury 2018).
The Christmas stories are some of the best-loved in the Bible but their familiarity can mask their real, mind-boggling message: God comes to the world in a human body, in obscurity and vulnerability, and nothing is ever the same again.
In this evening, Paula Gooder, the renowned New Testament scholar, will unravel some of what these revolutionary stories really tell us. What does it mean that the God who shaped the universe into existence was prepared to be born as a tiny, vulnerable baby in a dangerous time? Why did God chose this ludicrously risky way to redeem the world? And what does it mean that he trusted the whole plan to a young girl?
She will also explore what Jesus’ birth means for the powerful and the poor, then and now, and how we might come to these stories afresh, letting them reach our hearts and change our lives.
Dr Paula Gooder is one of the best-known New Testament scholars and teachers of our time, and Chancellor of St Paul’s Cathedral, the first layperson to hold the role. She is the author of numerous academic and popular books of Biblical theology, including Journey to the Manger: Exploring the Birth of Jesus and The Meaning is in the Waiting: The Spirit of Advent (both Canterbury Press).
The evening will be chaired by Andrew Carwood, Director of Music at St Paul’s Cathedral, and include plenty of time for questions and answers.
In a recent poll, one in ten Britons claimed to have experienced the presence of an angel, and one in three believe they have a guardian angel: a surprising story in a sceptical age.
But what are angels? They make many appearances in the Bible, sometimes bringing comfort but more often arriving with challenging or mysterious messages from God. Are they part of the poetry of religion? Or are they real, a manifestation of divine concern?
In this talk, Peter Stanford will explore something of the history, theology and cultural significance of angels and how they might illuminate a deeper truth about human existence and the cosmos.
Peter Stanford is a features writer at the Telegraph and a contributor to The Tablet among many other publications. His books include What We Talk About When We Talk About Faith; Martin Luther: Catholic Dissident and Judas: The Troubling History of the Renegade Apostle. His latest book is Angels (Hodder Faith 2019).
We know that laughter is great for our wellbeing, builds relationships and helps us deal with failure, but does it have anything to teach us about God?
Christianity has had a very mixed relationship with it. The puritans and some saints condemned it outright but the writer of Ecclesiastes says that there is a time to laugh, as well as a time to weep. And in the medieval church, the Easter service included uproarious jokes so that the people greeted the Resurrection with an outburst of joyful laughter.
Tricia Hillas says that joy and laughter are profound gifts which can lead us into a deeper understanding of God and what it means to be the children of God. She also says that if we want to change the world, especially in dark times, we must change it with radical joy.
In this afternoon, we will explore the place of delight, wonder, joy and laughter in the spiritual life and in becoming people of change and hope in the world.
Tricia Hillas is Canon Pastor at St Paul’s Cathedral. Before ordination, she was a social worker specialising in working with people with HIV/Aids and she has recently completed her MSc in conflict resolution and mediation.
As people made in the image of God, we are entrusted with the care of what God has made and also with sharing in the joy and creativity of making a difference for good.
In her new book, Saying Yes to Life, Ruth Valerio draws on the creation stories from the book of Genesis to illuminate the most vital issues of our times. She relates their themes, including light, water, the seasons, other creatures and Sabbath rest to matters of environmental, ethical and social concern. She will challenge us to do the same this Lent, asking ourselves foundational questions about what it means both to be human and to be a follower of Jesus.
Dr Ruth Valerio is Global Advocacy and Influencing Director at Tearfund, and an environmentalist, theologian and social activist. Her latest book, Saying Yes to Life (SPCK 2019) was commissioned by The Archbishop of Canterbury as his official Lent book for 2020.
Most people find prayer hard. But there can be ways in which, by grace, we can be in touch with our capacity to know and feel the presence of God in all things. St Ignatius was a rare and gifted teacher in helping people to discover how to do this. Both extraordinarily modern in his understanding of human psychology and breathtakingly free in his approach to prayer, his insights have offered countless people a way to be in touch with God’s limitless desire to break through and surprise us, and our own built-in ability to respond.
Just before Lent, we will spend an afternoon exploring his way of prayer, using silence, imagination and the everyday reality of our own lives.
Dr Gemma Simmonds is a Sister of the Congregation of Jesus who has taught Ignatian Spirituality at Heythrop College in the University of London, worked in prison chaplaincy and among women and street children in Brazil. She is a renowned international speaker, a regular broadcaster on religious programmes, and her latest book is The Way of Ignatius: A Prayer Journey through Lent (SPCK 2018).