Today the Knife Angel arrived in Coventry.
Standing so close to our two cathedrals, it occupies a good place to plant seeds of hope, inviting us all to reflect on the choices we make in life. Of course, we’re no strangers to loss, pain and destruction here, nor to making positive choices when another route might seem so much easier. I can’t imagine that Provost Howard was universally popular when, in 1940, he responded to the Coventry Blitz not with hatred or anger but with the two words which are still present in the apse of the ruined cathedral, “Father forgive”.
The power of the missing word is, I believe, Coventry’s greatest gift to the world, for where there is no “them” you are prevented from “othering” anyone, forced to recognise that we all have potential for both good and evil, that the choice is ours.
The Knife Angel, looking down at his own empty hands, is not a figure of power but of helplessness. He seems to be asking “Why? Why?” and, like us, has no answer.
While our own patron Michael, the Archangel, is confidently beating down Satan under his feet, - an angel sure of ultimate victory - Alfie Bradley’s Angel finds himself unarmed and uncertain, still in the midst of the struggle. Under his questioning gaze we can perhaps gather our thoughts, our longings for peace in the city, and make our own choice, to opt for a better tomorrow in which violence and hatred have no place.
In making something beautiful from the ugliness and violence of the knives Alfie follows a pattern that is part of the Cathedral’s own DNA – using the pain of the past to build something brighter and stronger – a peaceful future.
Of course we must not imagine for a moment that, having welcomed the Knife Angel, we have done our bit to stand against knife crime. The causes are many and complex, but the over-riding absence of hope in some parts of the community must surely be a significant part of the picture. I was particularly sad to hear how often victims are knived with their own weapons…in other words, whatever the popular narrative, carrying knives does not make anyone safer…Those who have been hurt are too often the very ones who brought weapons to the scene.
This year we’re exploring the mess and muddle of 21st century Britain in our Cathedral Lent course, based on the BBC series, Broken. Ethics look different when viewed from a perspective of grinding poverty and I’m so conscious of the sheltered viewpoint I still have. My hope and my prayer is that while he is with us, the Knife Angel will help us to review not only our own choices but the provision for those who may feel they have no choices at all.
I’m certain they do.
Please, put down your knives…