Tag Archives: Worship

Today would be a good day to be (slowing down) in the Cinque Terre

A new year has started and I don’t know about you, but it hasn’t taken long for my diary to start to fill up and the pace of life to start to get hectic again. I hear so often (and try to stop myself from saying) the answer “busy” to the question “how are you?”

So today, I’m thinking back to a place I was just over a year ago where life felt much slower, and I was just basking in the beauty of village life and of the magnificent creation. Five fishing villages along the Italian Riveria, carefully built on terraces all the way down the cliffs overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. I’d love to get back there again today.

What did I love about the Cinque Terre?

It was the week before Christmas, and so some travel experts had actually advised not to bother visiting as much would be closed for the winter. I’m so glad I ignored their advice!

Yes, many of the boats were pulled in for the winter, and some of the restaurants were closed.

But the tourists were fewer …

… and the locals were just enjoying their everyday lives.

And the beauty remained.





I think perhaps this is one of the most picturesque places in the world.

Certainly it boasts some of the most scenically located train stations.

Walking between the villages there are moments when you feel like you are at the end of the world.

And life just seems to be going at a more relaxed pace.

What did I learn from the Cinque Terre?

I think the main lesson from these villages for me was just about slowing down. Even the sunset felt like it lasted for hours.

And the combination of slowing down and appreciating the beauty of the creation around me leads me to worship.

I’m not the only one … it was a delight to stumble upon some of the places of worship scattered throughout these villages …

… and to join with all those who have come before in pausing in this place to acknowledge my Creator and King.

This is perhaps most obviously seen at Christmas time at Manarola, where a man named Mario Andreoli has for over 30 years been sharing the story of the incarnation in lights on the hillside, forming the world’s largest nativity scene.

It is another moment to just stop, slow down, be still, and say wow! My iPhone photos really don’t do it justice,* but they remind me and inspire me to seek to find moments to slow down and to worship in my own, too-often-too-busy, life.






*For a much more impressive view of the Manarola nativity … check out this one by Christian Leone from villeinitalia.com

Today would be a good day to be at La Sagrada Família

If you haven’t visited Barcelona’s Sagrada Família, you might have difficulty believing all of these photos are of the exact same building. I’ve been back from my latest holiday just on a month, and the place I have spent more time trying to describe to people than any other would have to be this remarkable church. I’d love to have a few more hours to spend there today.


With an ambitious design by Antoni Gaudí, construction on this spectacular church began in 1882. Current estimates are that it will be completed by 2026, although that still seems to be a massive task. Barcelona is a beautiful city for many other reasons, but I think it would be worth visiting just for this one building alone.


What did I love about Sagrada Família?

On the outside, the church tells biblical stories. The Nativity façade, the only side Gaudí saw completed in his lifetime, uses lifelike figures to present all aspects of the story of the birth of Jesus the Messiah – the familiar and the unfamiliar, the triumphant and the tragic.


The details are incredible.


On the other side, the Passion façade follows Gaudí’s plans but with the style of a completely different sculptor.


The story of the betrayal, trial, death and resurrection of Jesus the Saviour unfolds through figures with square-cut faces and yet amazing depths of emotion.


The third façade, supposedly the “largest and the most striking” has not even been begun yet, but will tell the story of the risen and triumphant Jesus the King.


The building is fascinating and complex and intricate on the outside.


There are extra, unexpected details and symbols everywhere you can see.




And then you walk inside …


The interior took my breath away.


The light.


The colours.


The sense of space. This is a place for prayer and reflection, to marvel at the God of creation in all His magnitude.


A place to slow down, to wonder, to worship.


What did I learn from Sagrada Família?

I teach a subject called “Understanding the Biblical Narrative” and in my PhD I looked at ideas of orality and embodiment in understanding the Bible. For me, this church brings some of that to life. The biblical story can be seen, felt, even interacted with, in a completely different way to reading words on a page.


The world has changed an awful lot since 1882, and I wonder if the architects and funders of this project had known how accessible the Bible would become whether they would have embarked on this project. But I’m so glad they did.


“Reading” the story in this way takes time, and oral storytelling to go along with it, and imagination, and engagement. Despite the overwhelming accessibility of the printed and digital text, things we can so often lose.


The contrast between the outside and inside of the church, for me, took me to a whole other place. It is one thing to know the stories, to ponder their meaning, to enter into their emotions.


It is yet another to be brought to a place of stillness, silence, speechlessness.


This is not a church of my tradition, and in some ways it is more a tourist attraction than a house of prayer. And yet … sitting in the pews, taking time to tune out the voices bustling around (listening to this podcast helped me focus), for me this became a place of prayer and worship.


To be sure, I have experienced the same wonder and worship in nature, in community, alone in my room.  I don’t need a place like this to spend time with God, but it sure is a genuine delight to be provided with one every now and then.

Today would be a nice day to be in Port Douglas


I’ve just got back from overseas so it’s a little more difficult than a usual Monday morning to imagine somewhere else I would like to be. It’s pretty good to be home. But if I didn’t have to go to work today, a day relaxing on a beautiful beach does sound lovely …


I have tended to make most of my travels to places which are either big cities with lots of history, culture and events to take in, or to places where I can serve and learn from different cultures, ways of expressing faith, and experiences of life. So Port Douglas was a real change of pace for me. I spent a week there nearly three years ago and to be honest I did get a little bored by the end. But it was an absolutely beautiful place to relax for a bit, and a day there would be a wonderfully nice change of pace this morning.


What did I love about Port Douglas and its surrounds?


The colours. Photos just don’t quite do them justice. The incredible variety of shades of blue in the ocean and the sky, the greens of the tropical trees and lush rainforests, the whites and yellows of the sand. And of course the incredible colours of marine life at the Great Barrier Reef.


The space. Walking the beach at night with no one around for miles. Swimming and snorkelling in the ocean so far away from the cares of the world. Climbing the mountains on the scenic railway up into the misty clouds.


The pace. Slowing down and taking time to see, smell, hear and soak it all in. Relaxing. Not worrying about what was happening next.


What did I learn from my time there?


About myself, well, that I do like to be busy and learn and grow and experience new things. Weeks of lying on a beach somewhere doing nothing is never going to be my thing. But, I appreciate that I also need to slow down sometimes, to just take time to breathe deeply and to simply be. To worship. To remember that the world will keep spinning without me. That walking alone on the beach at night is a great time to pray and hear God speak into my life  – to be still and know that He is God. (Which reminds me that I need to do that more often even when I’m at home!)


I also went to church at the beautiful (and tiny) St Mary’s by the Sea Chapel and met people from all over the world who were in town that Sunday. We prayed for each other and shared something of our stories, a really special experience of coming together for a brief moment, aware of the cares of our lives and yet able to entrust them to our great God’s keeping in one another’s presence, and to worship Him for His presence and goodness right then and there.


And finally, it was on my last night in Port Douglas that my niece was born. I spent a couple of hours late that night praying on the beach – praying for her birth, her life, her faith, her journey, her parents, our wider family. So as she continues to grow, Port Douglas reminds me to keep praying for her, and that one of those prayers can be that she too will find places which help her be still and know God’s presence in the moment.