Tuesday, 5 May 2015



 *** Our beautiful and hurting world

Anna Briggs an amazing knitter and long- time member of the Iona Community has written some inspiring hymns. One of my favourites is the one which starts this way:

“We lay our broken world in sorrow at your feet, haunted by hunger, war and fear, oppressed by power and hate…and ends with these words..….O Spirit on us breathe, with life and strength anew; find in us love, and hope and trust, and lift us up to you.” 

As we look around, it’s easy to feel discouraged. The unimaginable pain and suffering in the lives of many of our sisters and brothers is there for us all to see day after day on TV. It becomes overwhelming, and, as we all know, there are no quick fixes. The other day a glorious spring sunshine illumined Edinburgh and made brilliant the river which runs in front of my home. The beauty of the morning was all around. Yet ten minutes later the BBC News brought me, and thousands of others, to the ancient, narrow streets of Kathmandu in which hundreds of people lay dead under rubble. The earth had moved.  Together we weep – often silently in our bewilderment. 

 At a time when things were dark in my life I wrote the following words. The other day  I heard them being read in a church service. I had not thought of them for several years, but looked them up and now include them here. I hope that as you read them you may find that renewing spirit within you which is such a powerful marker in Anna’s  hymn.

With the beckoning and dawning of another day,

can the fragile, yet extraordinary words of Jesus

propel us to a wider awareness

a gentler compassion?

To the rediscovery of the sacred in ourselves and in our world.

To that risk-taking place

where we are free to be aware?

To a different journey 

in a listening companionship

with these prophets of our time – 

the wounded and weary

who, amazingly, announce the Kingdom

and carry in their stories

the seeds of the morrow?

The ‘hidden ones’ whose joy and pain

when threaded through our lives

enlarges the heart and brings new meaning to God’s story.

The God whose light still shines, and who tenderly invites us

to love our neighbours as ourselves.

*** Two special lives to remember:

Elizabeth Templeton a great Scottish theologian who was for many a shining star in the world church and especially in the ecumenical movement here and overseas.  Elizabeth’s rich and memorable insights concerning the Christian narrative touched the lives of many, yet her own life knew sorrow and times of desolation. She was a prophet in our time and we give thanks to God for her loving, creative life. Her words and wisdom will live on. 

Elio Toaff who was for more than 50 years the chief rabbi of Rome built bridges of understanding among all faiths. Like Elizabeth, Rabbi Toaff had known personal suffering and saw massacre at first hand, yet he never lost the vision of a healed world in which genuine reconciliation took place. On the death of his close friend Pope John Paul  in 2005 he was honoured to find that he was one of only two people named in the pontiff’s last will and testament. The Pope acknowledged that his friend had done more than anyone to improve relations between the Catholic Church and Judaism. “How can I fail to remember the rabbi of Rome?” wrote John Paul.

*** The Tower of David in Caracas:

Many thanks to all of you who wrote to me following the reflection on the Tower of David in Caracas. A good friend in Switzerland, Dr Reinhild Traitler who knows Venezuela and its people was one of those who responded. This is in part what Reinhild wrote: “The big problem in Venezuela is the omnipresent violence and fear. It is not just the poverty and inequality rampant in so many poor areas and among some of the sixty-nine Indian tribes. This violence concerns everyone, because you cannot leave your home for fear of being abducted or killed. The Tower of David in Caracas is well known there, and many other slum dwellers regard those families who live there as being fortunate. Swiss TV ran a programme on it last year, with interviews, showing all the ingenuity that the people have developed to make daily living as good as possible. The Tower is also a symbol of people taking possession of the ruins of capitalism and doing something useful with it. When I was there I was so impressed by the spirit of the local people and their warm welcome to strangers. Even in the face of so much injustice the people have not given up.”

( Recently I think the families in the Tower of David have been moved on but I am not sure of this.) 

****  Sandy’s Mill, by Haddington, EH41 3SB, East Lothian, Scotland.

This restored small mill cottage on the banks of the river Tyne about 25 minutes by car from Edinburgh  is now up and running for people to use. Either to stay there or as a place for day retreats/workshops. For day retreats there is space for approx 15/16 people. The cottage is surrounded by beautiful countryside and there are many wonderful walks all around it. It is also suitable for quiet retreats for individuals. It is fully furnished with 3 bedrooms (sleeps 5) and a lovely enclosed garden. There is also a small pilgrim route by the river. Please share information about the cottage with friends. If you need more information contact me by e-mail at:  ionacottage@hotmail.com. 

May the day ahead for you be touched by one of God’s surprises.

Saturday, 21 March 2015





Close to the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem stands the Tower of David. It dates from before the time of Christ and is now a famous museum, full of precious archaeological finds. Also known as the Jerusalem Citadel it was enlarged in the 5th century and because the Byzantine Christians thought it was the palace of King David they named it “the Tower of David” – borrowing the name from words in the Song of Songs reputedly written by David’s son Solomon. “Thy neck is like the Tower of David built with turrets upon which hang a thousand shields, all the armour of mighty warriors.” Today the tower looks out over divided Jerusalem, perhaps, in quiet moments, reflecting on its own often turbulent history.

In Jerusalem over the years, millions of visitors have gone to the Tower of David. Hardly any have visited another Tower of David which I have been reading about recently. This second tower, known to locals by the same name as the one in Jerusalem, stands in the teeming heart of Caracas, the largest city in Venezuela, a country with one of the world’s lowest minimum wage rates and with high unemployment. As in many countries and despite attempts by successive left-wing  governments to bring greater equality, Venezuela  remains divided between those who have much and those who have nothing. Although it is true that there is a growing middle-class, the Caracas Tower of David, built in 1990, mirrors the huge divisions, not just within that country but within the present global economic order. It is 52 storeys high and was intended to house luxury apartments but the developer went bankrupt. In recent years this unfinished structure, which is in many respects very unsafe has been home to 750 local families who are squatting there indefinitely. 

The Dutch photographer Iwan Baan who has visited the tower writes: “About 3,000 people live in the tower. There is such an immense need for housing in Caracas that any vacant place is squatted. The political system is so dysfunctional people have to find their own way of dealing with things. Almost 70% of the city’s population live in self-built structures, slums and barrios. At first, the tower was just a construction site: no elevators, running water or electricity. But over the years more and more families have moved in, and nowadays it’s more like a village – a self-sustaining community in the sky. It has its own economy – every floor has a shop, there are hairdressers and a gym. Connected to the tower is a car park, also unfinished. Because there are no elevators, people set up taxi services in the car park, which ferry people and goods up and down the ramps between the floors The ingenuity is incredible. These people have absolutely nothing, but they have ways to get by. They are so proud of what they’ve achieved – they built everything in there by hand.”

Dr Martin Luther King wrote: “the moral arc of the universe is long but is tilted towards justice.” Many believe that, even if we often see signs to the contrary. Several of the Biblical passages used by the churches around the world during Lent remind us of that tilt towards justice: of God’s preferential option for the poor, for families like those in that great unfinished tower in Caracas. In recent weeks I have had the opportunity to be at worship services in various churches here in Scotland. Some have quite large congregations, others only a handful of people. Some are concerned only about their own welfare while others seek to reach out not just to the local community, but to those much further afield. Yet (and here I include myself) are we honestly in our prayers and worship able to comprehend in a meaningful way what it is to have nothing? We all know that actually feeling what the poor experience is almost impossible; a truth which came home to me every day when our home was in South India. Not only are we “comfortable” but even the most compassionate and insightful hearts can be unknowingly patronising to those who have nothing. I know this is a complicated issue which has led to endless discussion within many aid agencies as they seek to walk alongside marginalised people in places of great poverty.  

As we think of our sisters and brothers going up and down these ramps inside that 52- storey unsafe Tower of David in Venezuela, can we also think of God thinking about them? That may sound strange, but on the Cross as he was dying Christ was concerned about the two criminals who hung on either side of him. Not just about his own death but also about their well-being and future. “Today you will be with me in Paradise,” he told one of them – in other words, today you will be held in the loving hands of your Creator. Our Christian faith is never something just individual. It is not just about how I feel with God. It’s much more about how God feels about us all, and although some would disagree, I often feel he is much closer to the folk in that tower in Caracas than to me. The tilt to divine justice is still very much in play in our world. That being so, I hope I sometimes feel uncomfortable as I understand more about how my way of living is directly, not indirectly, connected  to the poverty of millions of others, even if many see no such connection. 

Lent is a time given to us by God to think hard and long about all these inter-connections. To allow ourselves to experience the pain others feel. To know that their sorrow is also our sorrow.  To recognise that the Christian faith is never static but can take us to difficult places in which we are neither secure nor comfortable. Our global technology is propelling us to understand more intelligently God’s world of which we are a tiny, yet meaningful part. At its best, technology is bringing us close to the truth of our common heart-beat; to the knowledge that the Tower of David in Caracas is part and parcel of our own short journey in this life. That is a living truth which both discomforts and encourages us. The late, and great, Bishop Helder Camara of Recife in North East Brazil was able to express it succinctly. “Lord, don’t give us an easy peace in our hearts but press us uncomfortably till we find that other peace which is truly Your peace.”  In the book “HOLY GROUND: liturgies and worship for an engaged spirituality” by Neil Paynter and Helen Boothroyd there are these lines from a litany – “ When politics and policies are biased to the poor, then shall the light shine forth like the dawn. When none go hungry and good food is for all, then shall the light shine forth like the dawn.”  Let us all say ‘Amen’ to that as we move through these weeks of Lent.

Thursday, 26 February 2015

                    REFLECTIONS FOR FEBRUARY 2015         PETER MILLAR



On the evening of Ash Wednesday, the dawning of Lent, I found myself in the extraordinary and mysterious beauty of the medieval Rosslyn Chapel (founded 1446) near Edinburgh. I have known this world famous place of prayer since childhood. Over recent years it has been magnificently restored and thanks, at least in part, to Dan Brown’s The Da Vinci Code is one of most visited places in Scotland. On Ash Wednesday the Chapel was lit with literally dozens of candles – reminding me powerfully of its complex  history and of the thousands of people who have spent time there - seekers and believers alike.

But I was also thinking of many other things as I worshipped in that sacred space on Ash Wednesday. Of the close and faithful friends I have lost in recent weeks; of my elder son serving as commander of the current British force aiding the Iraqi military in its war against Islamic State; of the thousands who are suffering unimaginable violence and oppression in many countries; of the young people travelling from Europe and elsewhere to join terrorist groups because they believe God is calling them to do that; of the way in which our own political system has become so meaningless to millions of people; of  why the word “security” now dominates so much of our thinking; of the huge benefits of the UK’s National Health System so often derided; of thousands around me here in Scotland struggling to make ends meet or find a job…..and so it went on. And in the stillness I wondered - not for the first time! - what God must make of His world and of the human race, created in love.

And then I thought of words in a hymn written by Shirley Erena Murray who I had the privilege of meeting some years back in her New Zealand home. Her words do not provide easy answers to the many things in our minds at this time.  Rather they invite us to place our often bewildered thoughts about the world and God in a wider perspective. That perspective of God’s wisdom, patience, tears and healing about which places like Rosslyn Chapel remind us. None of us walks alone. We are held. Here are Shirley’s words:

God weeps at love withheld, at strength misused, at children’s innocence abused, and, till we change the way we love, God weeps.

God cries at hungry mouths, at running sores, at creatures dying without a cause, and, till we change the way we care, God cries.

God waits for stones to melt, for peace to seed, for hearts to hold each other’s need, and, till we understand the Christ, God waits.

As we approach the real and lasting hope of Easter, may we be able to pause for a moment each day and ask God to make our own life an instrument of love and peace upon the earth.

***** Murdoch MacKenzie who died in Edinburgh on February 3rd was one of these close friends in my thoughts on Ash Wednesday. In 1978 I had the privilege of following Murdoch as minister of St Andrew’s Church in the heart of the great city of Madras (now Chennai) in South India. He was a truly global person, a person of prayer at home in many cultures and who passionately believed not only in Christian unity but also that the oppressed and marginalised of this world have so much to teach us about what it means to be a loving human being. In Britain, Murdoch was recognised as a wise, ecumenical leader and until the very end of his life people across the world sought his advice and valued the compassion which companioned it. In his death the British churches have lost a visionary leader but also a humble, loving man who sought to follow Christ each day.  ( If you would like to know more about Murdoch’s life please Google: The Scotsman: Murdoch Mackenzie, Obituary.)

*****  Some words from Donald Eadie a friend in Birmingham. These are from an introduction to a book I wrote in 2011 with Neil Paynter – “We Journey In Hope: reflections on the words from the Cross”. Donald’s thoughts are so relevant for Lent…..

“The Last of the Just is a remarkable novel by Andre Schwarz-Bart. According to Jewish tradition, thirty-six men, ‘the Lamed-waf’, are born to take the burden of the world’s suffering upon themselves. The old Jewish tradition tells of a figure that keeps appearing within history. The form of the figure is tragic and yet therein lies the mystery. The one who is pain-bearer is also the one through whom liberation, healing, hope and life are released. The book concludes with the story of a figure wandering among the Jews of Europe heading for Auschwitz in 1943.

A friend tells of the time spent in Belfast and of listening to women, Catholic and Protestant, whose husbands, sons, neighbours and friends had been killed, wounded, imprisoned during the Troubles in Northern Ireland. ‘So this is the cross that you carry?’ she said to the women. It became clear that after all this time, through all the suffering, these women had never made a connection between their own pain-bearing and the cross-bearing of Christ. And that remains the case for many of us. We simply do not make the connection.”

***** A prayer in the Celtic tradition from David Adam…

From the flowing of the tide to its ebbing: from the waxing of life to its waning: of Your peace provide us: of Your light lead us: of Your goodness give us: of Your grace grant us: of Your power protect us: of Your love lift us: and in Your arms accept us from the ebbing of the tide to its flowing: from the waning of life to its waxing.

***** Recent Booklets:

A MOMENT TO PAUSE: thoughts for any time of the day or night - by Katherine Rennie and Peter Millar.     WE NEVER WALK ALONE: reflections for the good days and bad days – by Peter Millar. Suggested donation for the booklets is £4.00. They are available from The Iona Community Shop, Isle of Iona, Argyll PA76 6SN. Shop phone no is: 01681 700404.

Thursday, 8 January 2015


Again the shots ring out:

this time on a quiet street

on a winter morning, in Paris.

But it could be my street,

your street, a friend’s son.

For is it not a war amidst technology -

endless death amidst tower blocks, 

distant sand dunes and in the air?

And none of us clearly know

its causes, although we guess

or think we know,

because it’s about both guns and souls. 

The soul of God, and the souls of people;

and sometimes we have forgotten

the depth of the soul and its hopes.

So sorrow and the heart’s longings mix

on this January night

as we light the candles

and France weeps.

                                      Peter Millar, Edinburgh, Scotland.

                                 (Please feel free to share this reflection.)

Thursday, 18 December 2014


Dear Friends Around the World,

Yesterday, Tuesday 16th of December I was in Glasgow. When I returned I sat down to write a Christmas Reflection. I waited for ages looking at the blank page. It was one of these days when there are many thoughts but they are somehow unable to transfer themselves to paper! I turned on the TV and heard for the first time the news of the terrible tragedy in Pakistan. The deaths of countless children and some of their teachers came just a day after the tragic murders in central Sydney. Like millions in the world I was heart-broken for the children in Peshawar and their families. And also for our world in which there is seemingly endless sorrow this Christmas. I had also just had the news that my elder son Eldon is later this week, once again, going to Iraq, to head up the new UK Military of Defence training programmes alongside the Iraqi military. This is a huge task for Eldon and his 300 colleagues, especially in the area of land-mine disposal. We think too of all the families involved. 

And then came today. A new day. When I opened my e-mails there was a message from a good friend Karen in Canada. Karen’s husband Dirk, a man of compassion and wisdom died earlier this year, and by e-mail we have been talking about these often dark days following the loss of someone close to us. And also about the love of family and friends which surround us at such times.  In her message Karen included a few lines written in 1986 by a friend of hers, Diane. I share them with you not only because they are such beautiful words but also because they speak to us prophetically in these days of Christmas. I am sure they link us all in our world where hope and sorrow always  companion  one another. Thank you Diane for helping us to be re-connected to the One who comes each day to restore our deep humanity. 

                              So much agony, near, far and within oneself;

                              yet, there is still CHRISTMAS -

                              a brief, vital pause  -  

                              THE SHINE OF LOVE.

      Peter, with warm wishes from Edinburgh.

Wednesday, 10 December 2014

At Christmas

It’s easy to despair

as we think of the world 

this Christmas.

The conflicts that mark our age,

the beheadings  we can watch,

the myriad hatreds running  deep,

the millions dispossessed

 as a planet groans in pain.

And rightly we ask,

does the old tale hold against such odds?

That story of Light, of Love, of Hope –

is it still around?

“It’s there in the darkness”

says a tender voice.

For it’s where the stars don’t shine

that Love is present;

and even in the blood and tears

is the One who suffers and heals;

not somewhere else, but in our midst, 

as on the first Christmas morning.

                                Peter Millar, Edinburgh, Christmas 2014.  

                  (No copyright. Please feel free to share this short reflection.)

Friday, 7 November 2014




Return of the Monthly Reflection

Thank you for all your messages these last few months. Much appreciated. I have been doing these Monthly Reflections for several years, and seem to have had a sabbatical for the last few months! I hope things are going well with you wherever you are in the world.

Sandy’s Mill, near Edinburgh.   Together with a friend, Pat Bryden, who also lives in Edinburgh, we have bought an old restored cottage very close to Edinburgh in the beautiful countryside of East Lothian – an area of Scotland I have loved since childhood. It is a small cottage by the River Tyne and was formerly part of a mill there. “Sandy” may have been a miller there many generations ago. We hope that this cottage will be a place of welcome for many. You could perhaps call it a small retreat house. Already we have had many visitors. We shall be giving out more information about Sandy’s Mill soon. Thank you to all those who have already visited this place of hope and peace.  ( I continue to live in Edinburgh.)


November in the UK and in many other countries is a time of remembering those who have died in war. Some years ago, the Worship Group in Carnwadric Parish Church in Glasgow, under the guidance of John Bell and others of the Iona Community, wrote a beautiful hymn relating to remembrance of wars and those who have perished on battle-fields. This hymn is number 712 in the Church of Scotland Hymnary. Here are some of the words from that hymn.

What shall we pray for those who died,

Those on whose death our lives relied?

Silenced by war but not denied,

God give them peace.

I love that line “silenced by war but not denied” for without remembrance all our lives are spiritually impoverished – whatever we may think of war itself. Without this ability to remember and to reflect on the past, however war-torn it may have been, I believe our souls remain only half-healed within the purposes of God. To be human means that our “past” – personally and corporately matters greatly in the wider scheme of things, so long as it does not imprison the present. And our shared history which is often marked by terrible conflicts, matters to God. The God who has wept over war, and still weeps. Most people are not “for war” in any shape or form, but surely that must not mean that we cease to remember the millions who have died throughout human history because of it.

And as we remember all those who as they say “fell in war” we think of all those who are falling today in places of unimaginable violence and pain. It sounds such a bland thing to write, but for them we also weep. And if this weeping makes us feel inwardly uncomfortable – or disturbs our embedded way of looking at the world – then we are grateful to God that the deepest places within us actually “feel” human sorrow. That is for me both the mystery and the hope of human connection. So “at the going down of the sun” let us not forget all those who have died in wars, lest we spiritually diminish ourselves and our communities. In a world of many incredibly bland options, remembrance, however much we may hate war, remains precious. For in our remembering we walk on holy ground.

Gerry Hughes

Father Gerry Hughes, a well-known Scottish born Jesuit priest who has died at the age of 90 was a good friend to many of us. He was a compassionate, wise prophet for these times and his best–selling book GOD OF SURPRISES has helped thousands of people who were on the brink of leaving the church to remain in it. But Gerry’s words of deep encouragement also spoke to huge numbers of people who would never be seen inside a church building, for his books always took seriously both the reality of God and the vulnerability of our human lives. Gerry never preached at us, but rather, as in all of his writing and retreat work, walked alongside us – wonderfully aware of our frailty, his frailty and God’s understanding of both. A truly good person on earth who quite often made his superiors uncomfortable - not least dogmatic bishops -  Gerry will also be remembered for his tireless work for global justice, his campaigning to abolish nuclear weapons and his tender companionship of  countless folk living on the margins. In his own prayerful and creative life he was one of God’s surprises – enabling many others to see the surprising spirit of God in daily living.

A Prayer from Amnesty International 

****       We pray for all whose basic needs for food, shelter, clothing and healing are not met. Stir up the consciences of peoples and governments, to re-arrange the world’s unjust systems; teach us all to live more simply that others may simply live.  ****

Remembering Many

**** Lord, you who knew suffering, we hold before you all who today in many parts of our world are being silenced, violated, abused, driven from home, exploited, held hostage, tortured, or betrayed for they are our sisters and brothers known and loved by you.****

END NOTE   Please feel free to share any of the material in this Reflection. Many of you have my e-mail address if you wish to be in touch concerning Sandy’s Mill cottage.  I would also like to say how much I have valued many recent visitors, not least a close friend  Noelene Martin from Sydney who sadly died shortly after staying with her husband John at my home in Edinburgh. Noelene was a prophetic voice for global justice and for Fair Trade in Australia.