Tag Archives: Lemn Sissay

Reflections on Living Together, VII: Wise Words and Wise Gestures from Lemn Sissay.


Just before our travels we attended NAIB’s doctoral graduation in Manchester, where we were addressed by the Chancellor, the poet Lemn Sissay. Eloquently, he urged the graduands to remember those who had made their higher education possible: their parents, their parents’ parents, and their parents before them.

He brought a tear to my eye. In my own family, my generation were the first to have that opportunity, though my mother completed her BA in her sixties. Both my parents left school at fourteen; poverty and ill-health limited life chances for them and many more.

I noticed, as the graduands stepped forward, the great diversity of backgrounds they must have come from. Some were overseas students, attracted to Manchester’s engineering expertise, but many were home grown, including some Muslims. Although the ceremonial expects the graduand to shake the Chancellor’s hand as token of receiving the degree, this gesture would have been an embarrassment for some; but Mr Sissay gracefully received and sent each one into the world with a bow, a smile, a gesture of total acceptance and goodwill.

What kind of world will a Muslim woman engineer be building? What understanding of classical civilisation will her veiled fellow graduate share with her own students?


Let us trust that God is working in strange and wondrous ways among the people (Psalm 96:3) and let us heed the call to make his paths straight (Isaiah 40:3; Matthew 3:3). Meeting the graduands half-way was the University and Lemn Sissay’s response to that challenge.

Even if we have little or no opportunity to foster interreligious dialogue, we can each of us rejoice in a neighbour’s accomplishment, or make even a couple of seconds of their lives more wondrous. That is part of our calling as children of God.


Lemn Sissay by Philosophy Football

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Smiling Angel Faces

I cannot leave those angel faces without reflecting on the poet, Lemn Sissay. He was being interviewed on the radio, in the back of my ears which pricked up when he said that growing up, he thought the world smiled. People smiled at him, but he did not realise that his smile drew the smile on their faces.

He has not lost the knack:

All I can send is love
In all that this is
A poem and a necklace
Of invisible kisses.

Have a look at http://lemnsissay.com/ for the rest of that poem.

His child’s smile was one of those angel faces of John Henry Newman’s Lead Kindly Light.

Two angel faces smiled on me today; not children but a woman and a man of retirement age. T was walking into town, invisible under her umbrella till she called me. She was avid for news of a neighbour in care. Her interest was a chance to consider my support for our mutual friend. We parted when she met a young friend of hers who embraced her in the street and wanted to hear all her news.

H and I shared a few minutes of family news and he invited my wife and me to join him and his wife an afternoon of tea and talk.

If we do not recognise the angel faces that smile on us every day, perhaps it’s time to look in the mirror and practise that smile, ready to unleash it as a weapon of peace and love between human brothers and sisters.

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