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

The house I live in in Leeds is a couple of hundred years old. It once belonged to a family – the Oates family – whose son became very famous for all the right reasons. I’ll tell you the story briefly.

A hundred and ten years ago tomorrow a Norwegian explorer called Roald Amundsen won the race to be the first person to stand at the South Pole. He got there a month or so ahead of his British rival, Captain Robert Scott. Not only was Scott’s party disappointed, but they also all died on the way back to civilisation. One of his men, Captain Titus Oates, was suffering from frostbite and gangrene and decided he was compromising the chances of the others moving more quickly and surviving. One day he left the tent in a blizzard, his last words being: “I am just going outside and may be some time.” It was his 32nd birthday.

If you really want to annoy me, when you’re leaving our house, just pause at the door, look solemn, and say: “I am just going outside and may be some time.” It was funny the first time …

Captain Oates was brave, but also realistic. He knew how his behaviour and his decisions would impact on the wellbeing and survival chances of his friends. He laid down his life in the interests of others.

Now, I think that Captain Oates has something to say in a week when, away from blizzards and frostbite, we face challenges to our own lifestyle and decision-making. The Omicron virus is … er … virulent, and there are renewed fears about public health. So, the public is being asked to look not only to their own interests, but to those of others to whom we might transmit an infection. My own rights or freedoms might thus be limited or restricted. But, it is not all about ‘me’ – rather, it’s about us.

Jeremy Thorpe once said of Harold MacMillan: “Greater love has no man than this, that he laid down his friends for his life.” Titus Oates thought differently, taking Jesus seriously and laying down his life for his friends. When it comes to loving your neighbour as yourself, I’m with Titus.

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

I have always felt a bit deprived. I don’t have a middle name. Apparently, I was called Guy for the first few weeks of my life; but my parents then decided that I was born too close to Guy Fawkes Night, so changed it to Nicholas … and didn’t give me a middle name. That means I had no options when I got fed up with Nicholas.

Unlike my youngest son’s Nigerian mate at school who had fifteen names and, technically, could have used any of them.

But, I was stuck with Nicholas. Over the years I got called Nick, but that was the only option for change. About forty years ago my in-laws gave me a glass paperweight on which was written something like: “Nicholas – winner of great victories; strong leader”. I thought they were having a laugh … or, at least, trying to make a point.

But, today my name comes into its own. 6 December is St Nicholas’ Day and is celebrated around the Christian world. Nicholas was Bishop of Myra and died in the year 343. And his story is where we get Father Christmas from.

If you’re looking for a powerful, triumphant leader in St Nicholas, you’ll have to change the way you think about strength, power and leadership. Nicholas turned it all upside down.

He was born into a wealthy family of Greek Christians in Turkey. Orphaned when very young, he used his inherited wealth to support sick and poor people. The Father Christmas bit comes from his dropping bags of gold coins down the chimney of three sisters whose father couldn’t pay their dowry, so risked them having to go on the streets. The rest, as they say, is history.

Well, if that’s how power, strength and leadership are to be understood, then I am proud to be a Nicholas. The old saint was a follower of Jesus who, rather than marauding around the planet with a sword, was born as a vulnerable baby in a cowshed … and opened his arms on a cross, welcoming all that the world could throw at him, but not throwing it back.

St Nicholas got it. And I got the name. Now, I have to live up to it.

This is the script of this morning’s Pause for Thought on BBC Radio 2’s Zoe Ball Breakfast Show (with Gary Davies in the chair).

So, we start this week with new Covid restrictions – just at the point when we were hoping to emerge into a brighter world. And, yet again, we have to learn to wait for the day when the misery will – somehow – pass. In the meantime, the uncertainty drags on – perhaps inviting us to learn that this is normal for most people on this small blue planet.

It’s perhaps fitting, then, that today marks the twentieth anniversary of the death of George Harrison and this month the anniversary of his great post-Beatles album All Things Must Pass. He got it, didn’t he? Everything is transient, everything changes, seasons come and go. You can’t come to terms with living and losing, longing and … er … laughing without accepting first that all things must indeed pass.

For me this is built in to the rhythm and seasons of the year. Yesterday marked the start of Advent in the Christian calendar. What now follows is a rather weird exercise in learning to wait (as if we don’t know what’s coming) whilst actually knowing how the story goes. That the people have been waiting for centuries for God to come among them again: praying, longing, looking for signs. They try to make sense of their story in the light of what is happening now, but it doesn’t seem to compute. Then a baby is born in Bethlehem and the world is taken by surprise.

But, and this is the point, we don’t know that yet – not in Advent. So, we Christians try to re-live that waiting experience, trying to be open to being surprised when Christmas eventually comes – that God’s coming could have been a bit more impressive … than a mere baby born in an obscure village in a corner of the Middle East.

And that’s the point. As the Welsh poet RS Thomas put it: “The meaning is in the waiting.” In other words – and for a generation that wants everything now: Advent slows us down, makes waiting active and not empty, and leaves us open to surprise.

All things must indeed pass, George, but the story ends with a comma and not a full stop.

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.