A Letter from Bishop Martin Shaw

Dear Friends,

I am writing to you at Epiphany. Western Christianity celebrates today as ‘The Showing’; the ‘Manifestation of Christ to the World’. Eastern Christianity celebrates today as Christmas. One of the reasons for the calculation of the date of the Winter Solstice. So, using both festivals, the 12 days of Christmas mark the days of celebration using West and East as sort of bookends. Epiphany has a powerful story around it of Wisemen, Kings, Ambassadors; no-one is sure what they, who they were or exactly how many of them there were. Given that Christianity, west or east, has a strong focus on the Trinity, three has become a kind of sacred number. Remember to approach these stories as you would poetry: revealing truths that cannot be expressed otherwise. That’s why there’s such powerful music around Christmas.

During the Roman Occupation, the puppet king Herod was so threatened by the birth of a ‘Child-King’, that he conducted a pogrom, a heartless and mindless slaughter of as many children as possible to protect himself – a holocaust! In the middle of this unspeakable suffering, as Christians have it, the Divine presence is perceived in another ugly moment in history: through defencelessness, poverty and rejection. This, of course, makes Epiphany uncomfortable.

The current crisis of the Pandemic is for everyone a deeply uncomfortable and deeply painful moment. The global nature of this crisis, let alone the numbers of those afflicted and the stress on those who face the crisis directly is a ‘showing’ and ‘epiphany’, if you and I have my eyes open even a little. Compassion, kindness and humour. These are the ‘three gifts’, more precious that gold, incense and myrrh, that the ‘three kings’ bring – which you and I can bring. I’m not urging false optimism, but an altering of perspective away from a blaming negativity that can so easily break into public discourse and private conversation.

What I’ve noticed in the way the staff of Exeter Cathedral School express themselves on Microsoft Teams and the other online platforms that are now utterly essential, is a marked compassion, kindness and humour. What lies underneath these three, I hazard to suggest further, is a gentleness; a fourth gift perhaps. [Who’s counting?] That gift of gentleness is not a kind of wafty spongy softness, but a strength and calmness that takes practice and skill.

Your children are blessed indeed to experience the Epiphany itself in our school, although neither you nor they will describe it in that way, I suspect. No matter what you do or do not believe, I hope the coming weeks and months, as we live through this crisis [a word that means a dangerous moment of opportunity], we will give enough time and energy to notice the showing of the Divine Light right in front of us. That noticing, after all, is what the school is about, whether remotely online or face to face.

If you want to get in touch with me, through my email: m.shaw@exetercs.org

In the wonder of the Epiphany, every blessing and strength to you and yours.

Bishop Martin

8 January 2021
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