This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought with Zoe Ball on BBC Radio 2.

It probably shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone that if you make a film about a place, loads of people then want to go there to see with their own eyes. ‘The Dig’ is a case in point. I watched the film the day it came out and was captivated. If you haven’t seen it, it’s about the discovery of an Anglo-Saxon burial ground at Sutton Hoo in Suffolk in 1939, and the movie – with Carey Mulligan and Ralph Fiennes – explores how it nearly didn’t happen at all.

Visitor numbers have shot up since the film was launched – so, I do understand the draw to see the place. When I was a vicar in Leicestershire we had the shaft of a Saxon cross in the churchyard, dating back to the mid-800s. I baptised in a Norman font that had been there for a thousand years (Norman was the period, not its name). We drank wine out of an Elizabethan chalice. People through the ages in that village had seen and touched these objects as the world changed around them.

I guess there is something powerful about a physical connection with people in the past that makes us realise that Now is transient, and one day we will all be someone else’s past.

Next Saturday I’ll be ordaining 23 new clergy at Ripon Cathedral. I have encouraged them all to go down into the Saxon crypt, reputed to be the oldest stone-built place of Christian worship in England. The people who brought Christianity to these islands were brave and radical, giving up their lives for the sake of love and rejecting the brutal plays for power through violence that characterised much of life then. And they were here.

The past might be a foreign country in many ways, but we need physical things that connect us, that remind us of where we have come from, of who we are and what has shaped us. This should not come as a surprise to me: Christian faith is rooted in the conviction that God once took flesh, opting into the material world of stuff.

So, what is spiritual always needs a touching place.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s Breakfast Show with Zoe Ball.

This has been a great last month for me with a new album by Imelda May and Bob Dylan’s 80th birthday (which doesn’t seem to have cheered him up at all). Then, this week one of my best bands, Crowded House, released ‘Dreamers are Waiting’. The problem with this album is that it makes me want to listen to the whole back catalogue stretching into the mid-1980s.

The title itself is evocative. Every generation needs dreamers – people who can see beyond the immediate challenges and imagine a different world in the future; people who  don’t agree that we just have to accept the way the world is now, but envisages something better. And, as the album title suggests, dreamers have to have the patience to wait and work for that future, not just stamp their feet when they don’t get immediate satisfaction.

One of the songs on the album goes even deeper. ‘Love isn’t hard at all’ is a beautiful song, but – and maybe this was the intention – the sentiment struck me as wrong. Love is hard. To love someone means to put them and their interests first. The Beatles knew that “you can’t buy me love” – it’s a relationship to be struck, not a commodity to be acquired.

Actually, the song goes on to get it right. “It feels like love isn’t hard at all” – I get that. When all is well or romance is high, loving feels easy. But, love demands more than sentiment or casual ease … as anyone who has ever loved another person knows all too well. Love is costly; love, as the Apostle Paul reminds us in a letter often read at weddings, “is patient, love is kind, … is not envious or boastful or arrogant, … it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends.”

So, to go full circle, love lies at the heart of patient dreaming, too. Love draws us into a place of openness and vulnerability, a place where others might ridicule us or call us naive for our longing for mercy.

In other words, love hurts, but is worth the cost. So, I’m going to dream on and learn to wait.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s Zoe Ball Show:

The death of the Duke of Edinburgh last week at the age of 99 puts into sharp relief some of the cultural changes we have seen in the world during his lifetime. Much is being said and shown about his long life and some of its ups and downs. For a younger generation, especially one that goes to Netflix’s The Crown for its history lessons, his choices might cause some discussion.

Prince Philip was a husband and father as well as consort to a monarch. But, the questions raised by these roles – how they co-exist and which should have priority when – demonstrate the personal cost of public service for him. Put simply, would he live to fulfil his own potential, or would he put his own interests at the service of his wife, the Monarch?

These are not trivial choices. Prince Philip decided to serve his country and the Commonwealth by serving – not always comfortably – the Queen and not himself.

I only met him a few times, but found him astute, combative, curious and very funny. He lived through so many social, cultural and political changes that his ability to keep abreast of it all seems even more remarkable. Indeed, his establishment of St George’s House in Windsor, a place for conferences, debates and learning, was one outcome of his commitment to enabling real development of people, not just flashy events.

Yet, perhaps he earned the respect of many people around the world precisely because his wrestling with a changing world was not always hidden. Noted for his frank talking and acute – sometimes un-PC – observations, he always ran the risk of saying more than intended and opening a crack into which the light of realism might shine. In other words, he was a real human being who strove to fulfil his duties and work out his choices within the constraints of the particular times and mores in which he lived.

He also was clear about questions of faith. Having preached at Sandringham one Sunday morning, he took me to task over the content of my sermon. It made for an interesting and feisty dinner. But, he avoided indifference and, wanting to press the matter, pushed me on content and sources. Now, this might sound odd, but this is how Christian life should be lived: arguing and wrestling with the Bible and with faith – not merely nodding as if it really didn’t matter what was said, thought or believed.

My prayers are with the Queen and their family as they grieve their personal loss. This is not diminished by fame. Prince Philip has lived long and well. The country and the Commonwealth owe him a huge debt. May he rest in peace … and rise in glory.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on the Zoe Ball Breakfast Show on BBC Radio 2 with Matt Lucas.

I went for a walk the other day.

You’re supposed to be impressed! Most days for the last year or so I’ve been stuck in my house behind a screen, talking to people or ‘enjoying’ meetings. I know we’re supposed to get exercise, but it hasn’t always worked out.  And that app on my phone that tells me how many steps I haven’t done each day – well, it’s an embarrassment.

Thirty years ago we lived in the Lake District and one of the great pleasures – when it wasn’t raining – was to get out into the fells. I’m not good at walking on my own, but loved doing it with family or friends. I actually discovered that you have a different sort of conversation when you’re walking than when you’re sat in a room.

This is why I am taken with the story at Easter of the couple walking home the few miles from Jerusalem to Emmaus, deep in conversation about how to make sense of what had been going on at the weekend. They couldn’t work out how Jesus, in whom they’d invested so much hope, had got himself nailed to a cross and killed. It didn’t compute. Nor did the stories of him now being seen again by his friends.

While walking and talking, a stranger joined the couple and asked what they were discussing. They were surprised he didn’t know the gossip about the dead man walking, so they told him anyway. And it was only when they’d finished trying to explain it all that the stranger offered to re-tell the story in a way that did make sense. But, it meant they had to risk seeing God, the world and themselves differently. Not easy.

One element of this is simply that walking and talking is good for us. Given the last year in which many people have felt trapped or stuck between four walls and a screen, the spring opens up the space to walk and talk. To express what has been going on. And possibly, by talking about it, to draw some of the sting of loss. And share the hard questions of what it all means.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s Breakfast Show with Dermot O’Leary standing in for Zoe Ball.

If you have a thing about round numbers and anniversaries, then today is going to have you shouting bingo out of the window.

150 years ago today the Royal Albert Hall was opened in London – ten years after the death of Queen Victoria’s husband, Albert, and a visible expression of her grief. It’s a reminder of the fact that grief is a process and not an event.

I’m glad she decided to honour Albert in this way because when I lived in London for eleven years I always went to Jools Holland’s gigs there and they are unforgettable. Just like the said Albert.

But, Victoria’s grief speaks to us today because it recognises that loss has to be marked. This wretched pandemic has cost the lives of nearly 130,000 people – and that represents a lot of hurt and pain and mourning. Our ability to mark this has been limited, of course, because of all the restrictions.

Grief can’t be “defeated” like an enemy. It has to be lived with, gone through and accommodated, knowing that it is an unavoidable consequence of love.

In a beautiful song about this sort of stuff, the Canadian musician Bruce Cockburn wrote: “Each one’s loss is everyone’s loss, you see; each one lost is a vital part of you and me.”

This week for Christians is called Holy Week. We follow Jesus and his friends as the tensions grow, the emotions get fired up, and a cross is planted in a rubbish tip called Calvary. You can read it in the gospels. There is no romance or wishful thinking, no bargains with God for an easy life or an exemption from suffering. The utter realism of Jesus – although, to be honest, his friends weren’t quite on the same page – is striking. He grieved his own impending loss and tried to prepare his friends for their own grief and how to navigate it.

And what did he urge them to do? To love one another, to wash the feet of the undeserving, to recognise that we belong together.

At the end of it all is love and mercy. And that is where the healing begins.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on Zoe Ball’s BBC Radio 2 breakfast show:

I grew up in Liverpool, by the sea. Even though I now live in Yorkshire – between the coasts – I can still smell the salt in the air and listen for the sound of seagulls enjoying target practice on unsuspecting children. Somehow it’s like a memory muscle that takes me straight back to the smells and sounds of my youth.

I remember being taught sea shanties at school and putting them in the same bracket as other hey-nonny-no folk music – something that didn’t appeal when I was discovering Led Zeppelin and Deep Purple. It was what we used to call ‘sandals and socks’ music. So, I have ignored them for decades until – yes, you’ve guessed it – Nathan Evans sang one called ‘Wellerman’ on TikTok and it all kicked off. Now, just to add to my surprise, I keep seeing big names like Gary Barlow and Ronan Keating picking them up and doing their own.

What is going on?

Well, I think it’s brilliant. Not only have loads of people been getting together virtually to sing these old songs, but they’re also discovering a rich part of our tradition as an island people. Sea shanties aren’t merely romantic ditties about abstracted emotions. No, they’re rooted in and emerge from the working experience of ordinary people in local places. They’re about everyday things. They’re sometimes romantic in substance, but always coloured by the stuff of communal work and colleagues and hard lives.

In other words, they sing of what they know. And the singing has a raw authenticity because it’s drawn from the depths of real life with all its edges unrounded.

I think this is why I have rediscovered sea shanties with surprised joy. I come from a tradition which is sunk in poems and songs and stories of everyday life, human experience in all its richness and agony: the Psalms; Jesus telling stories and using images that people could relate to (usually called parables) because they emerged from normal life. And people got stuck in – together – talking, singing, playing.

Why don’t you try it? Sing along with a shanty and your spirits rise. And I still have no idea what a wellerman is.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on Zoe Ball’s breakfast show on BBC Radio 2:

There’s nothing quite like a ten year old looking at you as if to say: “Are you really that dim?” Well, that was my experience – trying to homeschool a grandson in maths. Not only was I always rubbish at numbers, but he seemed just to ‘get’ concepts I had to struggle to work out. And I think many people will understand the challenge of trying to teach children who end up teaching us.

Now, this made me laugh. Because it’s often the children from whom we learn the most. In the gospels Jesus brings a young child into the midst of a group of earnest adults and cheerfully tells them that if they want to enter the kingdom of God, they’ll have to become like this child. (I’ve often wondered if it was a boy or a girl, a three year old or a ten year old, a quiet one or a loud one … and so on. We’re not told.) But, I think what Jesus was getting at was simply that kids are curious, want to learn and find the world inexhaustibly full of things to wonder at.

So, I think that wise and curious adults should constantly try to look through the eyes of a child, asking the basic questions and being open to the joy of surprise. What I realised with my grandson was that maths hasn’t changed since I was young; but, the language used and the approach to learning has. The subject is the same, but the means of understanding have moved on. Other people can see through the equation to the reality it describes, whereas the best I can do is to colour it in.

This is obvious, really, isn’t it? But, sometimes I think we get so accustomed to things that we fail to see the wonder in it all. I need to look through a child’s eyes in order to see afresh. I need to keep listening for new ways to describe the world, always learning.

So, whether it’s maths, poetry, theology, music or biology, ask a child to explain it and enjoy what comes out.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on the Zoe Ball Show on BBC Radio 4.

When I was a kid I found December a hard month. Waiting for Christmas was a sort of torture. Do you know what I mean? I’m not even sure I can remember what I was waiting for that made it so exciting: it was the ‘something’ that Christmas promised that couldn’t be nailed down to presents I might or might not get.

I now think it had something to do with just growing up and learning that some things can’t be rushed – they have to be waited for. You can buy cards and presents, but you can’t make Christmas Day come any quicker. A bit like pregnancy: you have to let nature take its course and wait for the time to come when the baby enters the world with a cry.

The Welsh poet RS Thomas wrote that in fact “the meaning is in the waiting”. The journey is as important as getting there. And if we simply waste the journey dreaming of what might meet us at the end, we’ll miss the surprises and mysteries along the way … if we keep our eyes and ears open for them.

But, waiting is really hard. Especially for children. And in a year when many families will have to reduce expectations of material gifts, this waiting might be coloured by a certain fear or regret. But, even this experience can bring its own gifts.

For example, lockdown restrictions can give us time and space to think afresh about what Christmas is for – not just a midwinter festival of light, but rooted in a story that changed the world. Like the teenaged Mary living through her pregnancy and not knowing what the future might hold for her or her child – probably just as well, really. Or her people longing for freedom from Roman oppression, but unable to bring it on. Or us wanting freedom from Covid and an end to restrictions, but finding any relaxation leading to further problems and the grinding pain of uncertainty.

Mary’s baby came when he was ready. And he came into a world as conflicted as ours to people as complex as we are.

So, we wait on. And mustn’t waste the waiting.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2 with Zoe Ball:

I don’t know about you, but I just find it impossible to read while listening to music which has lyrics. I can do it if the music is instrumental only, but I get stressed between the words on the page and the words in my ears, and lose out on both.

Unlike my kids who seem to have earphones in while doing anything … like work or study.

The other day I was trying to read Barack Obama’s new book, A Promised Land, and made the mistake of putting on Bruce Spingsteen’s new album, Letter to You. By the time I got through to the last song I gave up on the book. It was the words that got me.

One track – In My Dreams – is a beautiful song and I got distracted by remembering dreams I have had recently – especially since lockdown. I never usually remember dreams, but recently that has changed a bit, and I find it all a bit weird. Do my dreams really just replay the world as I would like it to be, or re-run things that have gone wrong in a subconscious move to put them right? I don’t know.

What I do know, though, is that dreams matter. Not just the line we keep hearing these days about “follow your dreams” and all will be well. Experience tells us that not everything in life works out as we would like. Not even dreams as vague hopes or aspirations. But, dreams have a habit of getting under our skin and shaking us up a bit.

In the Bible dreams are really important. They are often the turning points in someone’s life, offering a vision of how the future might be, or warning that trouble might be on the way. They sometimes provoke a crisis which demands action once the dreamer has woken up. Or they provide a way of checking if my vision is ambitious enough.

In my dreams I hope to glimpse how I might change in the real world, loving better, living better, choosing better. Like Obama, I might be energised by a vision of a promised land.  Or, like my kids, I might one day be able to do two things at once: listen and read.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s Zoe Ball Show:

Good news! In only four weeks the days start getting longer again. The light will start to grow.

But, for me, the next four weeks won’t just herald the end of lockdown or the approach of the Christmas juggernaut, it’ll bring something even more powerful as we look towards the end of a tough year for everyone. Advent – the season that dares to defy the darkening days and awaken our imagination to the possibility of hope – and it starts next Sunday.

I was once in the Foreign Ministry in Jerusalem, engaged in a difficult conversation with the then deputy Foreign Minister, a rabbi. At one point he stood up and banged the table. He said: “Sometimes it seems as if there is no light at the end of the tunnel. But, it is not because the light is not there; it’s because the tunnel is not straight.” And I wrote it down as I thought it might be a good line for a Pause for Thought script one day.

It’s a vivid image, isn’t it? Drive through the Mersey Tunnel and you’ll get the idea as the road bends around in the darkness. (And ignore the late great Terry Pratchett’s line: “There was a light at the end of the tunnel, and it was a flamethrower.”)

But, Advent, as we anticipate Christmas, beckons us to wait – to look and watch and not be done in by the present gloom. For the people of the first Christmas this meant yearning for the end of military occupation and daily suffering or humiliation. The light was coming into the world and no darkness – not even imperial Roman violence – would be able to kill it off. Or, in the words of the songwriter Bruce Cockburn, in the darkness we are actually “closer to the light”.

So, in this sense, Advent needn’t just be for Christians. I think it offers an invitation for all of us in these days of gloom to lift our eyes towards the light that will come, however bendy the tunnel we are in.