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Canon Angela Tilby - 02/05/2018

Thought for the Day

One of the issues Sajid Javid will have to address in his new role as Home Secretary is the worrying rise in knife crime. In just a year reported stabbings have gone up by 22 per cent. Children as young as 13 have been found carrying knives; some children report that they only feel safe if they have a knife on them – a dangerous security.

My own experience of knives has made me cautious. I once accidentally cut myself with a Stanley knife within millimetres of a major artery. But one of my long-term projects has been to improve my culinary abilities, and so last Saturday I went to a class on knife skills which involved cutting up an onion, a leek and an orange under instruction from a trained chef. As I suspected, I have been doing it wrong for over forty years, putting my thumb and fingers at risk and producing a bit of a mess. The art, I learnt, is to cut on the forward down stroke, imitating the action of wheels on a stream train. After practice it was lovely to watch how neatly the blade flailed the onion, to contemplate the perfect matchsticks that came from the flattened layer of leek.

We had a go with beautiful patterned Japanese knives tempered by extremes of heat. Sashimi experts make every cut count, the delicate fish flesh must not be torn. Cutting into my orange I thought of surgeons and what it means to go under the knife. There is a lot of stress in both professional cookery and surgery, but there is also huge satisfaction.

As I delicately segmented my orange, slowly separating the flesh from the pith, I wondered how long it would take to train my muscles to get into the flow and develop the speed and competence of a proper chef. Cutting correctly is an art form, almost a meditation. I learnt that I only really needed one knife – not a range - to cut at what nature has produced and make it delicious and digestible. I thought the good knife is a tool in the human vocation to be co-creators with God, who began creation by separating the light from the darkness, and so creating as much by division as by multiplication.

One of the early Christian monks, Evagrius, wrote of ‘thoughts that cut’, suggesting that these can be bad thoughts that cut off good impulses, or good thoughts that cut away bad ones. If we want to take care of our emotional health we need to learn to diagnose our inner sicknesses and not let our corruptions linger. We all need the surgery of the Spirit that cuts off violence and the corrosive self-pity that can foster it. This is how we protect our healthy instincts; gratitude, delight in life and empathy with all living beings.

We learn by practice. A good knife is a beautiful thing when there is balance and control. As in preparing food, so in the making of persons.

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3 minutes