Skip to main content



Cheonggyecheon stream in Seoul, South Korea, daylighted from sewers in 2003. Image: Kaizer Rangwala, Flickr. Daylighting is an urban environmental movement which encourages city planners to uncover culverted rivers and discover the difference that properly managed waterways and green spaces can make to the wellbeing of those living and working in cities. The UK has been relatively late to this global trend, but it might have a special resonance in my home city, named after a long-buried river. Steve Aisthorpe in his book "Rewilding the Church", which uses contemporary environmental strategies as prompts and metaphors for thinking about the future of  church increasingly post-Christian west, uses this movement to suggest a re-examination of the diverse historic spiritual streams as explored by Richard Foster in his book "Streams of Living Water." Not only is this a good idea, it got me thinking and writing again after a long "dry" period. That p
Recent posts

A Landscape of Scars

Sally and I visited the small but superb Colin Davidson retrospective in the F.E.  McWilliam Gallery in Banbridg e a couple of weeks, which includes not only some of his famous portraits, but also a couple of his earliest works, Befast landscapes and a number of brighter street-scenes in both Belfast and London as seen reflected in shop windows. There was also an opportunity to view the short BBC film about his seminal "Silent Testimony" series. Viewed together they were highly moving and inspiring, prompting the words below almost instantly. At first I was wary of demeaning Colin's genius by trying to capture it in this limited piece. Then I read this article in the Irish Times and I thought I would share it after all. The last two lines are taken almost verbatim from a dialogue between Colin Davidson and journalist Barney Rowan about "Silent Testimony" in the Agape Centre at the 4 Corners Festival a number of years ago, probably one of the most powerful eve


A wee something prompted by McCartney's  "Blackbird" (one of many of his earworms that have afflicted me over the past few days despite not seeing his much-hyped appearance at Glastonbury), the sound of my mother in law's so-called twitter-tree (a roosting place for a large family of sparrows) over a phonecall, a recently completed jigsaw, my current reading of Simon Barnes' superb "The Meaning of Birds" and thinking recently about the early days of the pandemic lockdowns. Sing To celebrate life Sing For sheer survival Sing In defiance of death Sing To stake your claim Sing To transcend the science Sing Your own simple song Sing The stolen songs of others Sing To salute the spring Sing To anticipate the dawn Sing Though the world disregards Sing Through a pandemic pause Sing In a language few can fathom Sing Because it is who you are Selah

The Blessing of the Boasts

Last week Sally and I took in a couple of events at the Belfast Book Festival. The first was a superb interview with Ian Rankin. The second, was a series of film-poems entitled "Translating /City", which given my own artistic and urban ministry leanings, Sally thought would have been right up my proverbial... However it actually left both of us a little non-plussed. Some of the pieces were interesting but others were either underwhelming, or a full blown exercise in filming the Emperor sashaying up the red carpet in his new clothes... or perhaps we are simply artistic Philistines... One of the more inspired and inspiring pieces was "A Blessing Of The Boats By The Village Mothers" taking words by Donegal poet Annemarie Ní Churreáin and marrying them to the sound and visuals of artist Laura Sheeran. It is based on old Irish blessings and was a site-specific arts collaboration drawing on stories of Fanad Lighthouse where it was first shown as part of the Eargail Arts

A Protestant’s Prayer to Mary on the Q.T.

In the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a town in Galilee,  to a virgin pledged to be married to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. The angel went to her and said, ‘Greetings, you who are highly favoured! The Lord is with you….  Do not be afraid, Mary, you have found favour with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David,  and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants for ever; his kingdom will never end.’ Luke 1: 26-28, 30-33 For one group this stop was the last on this year's Methodist Conference event, "We Make the Way by Walking" where we led conference members around Belfast city centre.... for others it waswhere they started. That in itself might be a metaphor for the different spiritual journies of Christians in this city

First Church

As we continued to "Make Our Way by Walking" at Methodist Conference, we took a slight detour to Writers' Square opposite St. Anne's Cathedral, where in an area literally paved with excerpts from local literature, I was not arrogant enough of offer any of my own writing.  From here we proceeded through an historic but chronically run-down corner of our city, to Rosemary Street and arguably what is the oldest place of worship in the original town boundaries of Belfast, having been founded in 1644. The current building merely dates to 1783, by which time there were 3 Presbyterian Churches in Rosemary Street, a second formed because the first building wasn’t big enough to contain all who wanted to attend and then a third because of a theological split. But as such, the original building and congregation goes back to the days before splits in the Presbyterian church over doctrine culminating in the rise of Henry Cooke, whom I mentioned earlier, and the ultim

Custom House Square

Stop number 6 on the Methodist Conference's "We Make the Way by Walking" event took us across from the "Big Fish" into Custom House Square. This square reflects a number of dimensions of Belfast's history. Its origins as a trading town at the mouth of the Farset (hence its name “Béal feirste” - “The Mouth of the Farset/Sandy River”), where it discharges into and Lagan Rivers is reflected in the erection of Custom House here in the middle of the 19th century, one of the many buildings in Belfast (including Queens University, The Botanic Gardens Palm House and Sinclair Seaman's Church) designed by Charles Lanyon. But McHugh’s Bar across the square reflects the shadow side of those origins as a port, in that it dates from the 17th century and together with DuBarry’s Bar, that used to sit beside it were “houses of ill repute” frequented by sailors. Indeed "The Albert Clock" (at its jaunty angle, caused by the foundations being somewhat unstable bec