Saturday, 1 December 2007

Moving away from being horribly religious

So I returned to Bristol with my tail between my legs after the failure of my stellar attempts (!) to become an Evangelist. The year was 1965 and I was 21 years old.

I was 21 years old and utterly unqualified for any career. After all, I had gained only two O levels in “High School” - in English Language and English Literature. Most white collar employers demanded a minimum of five O levels, and I was totally unprepared for blue collar work.

So I went on the “dole”. In order to receive unemployment payments I was required to sign in twice each week at the Employment Exchange on Nelson Street in Bristol.

I would shuffle through the lines of unemployed men and women to await my “interview” with a clerk. Most of the unemployed smoked cigarettes, and I joined them. We would puff away as we awaited our turn.

The dole lasted for ten weeks. Then I landed a job as a Civil Servant - at the very lowest level. I clerked at the “ Inspectorate of Armaments” (IArm) and the “Inspectorate of Fighting Vehicles and Mechanical Equipment” (IFVME) located in two lovely Victorian houses on Woodland Road in Clifton, Bristol.

On my first day my new boss took me to every room to meet my new colleagues. He introduced me as “Michael” - my middle name. I was too bashful to correct him. Five days later he came into my room to apologise. “I should have introduced you as John” he said. I countered with “yes, but there is another John in the office, so I will stick with Michael”

Thus I became Michael, the name with which I now identify myself. Only my siblings and a few old friend know me as John. The name change was more than an accident. I was emerging from the old “John” (compliant, obedient, conformist) to a new “Michael” who would be much more free.

Mum and Dad complained about this name change, but I countered with a rather snooty “but you gave me two names, and never said that I could not use my middle name”. Brother Martyn was concerned about mail addressed to “Mr. M. Povey” and I gave him permission to open any letter with that address.

My immediate boss was Miss Gwen Pragnell. I liked her a lot. She lived in Bitton (half way between Bristol and Bath) with her “brother”. Later we discovered that he was not her brother, but her lover. An unmarried woman with a lover had to keep a secret.

I was always first to arrive at the office. Gwen Pragnell would be next. One day she arrived in a fit of giggles. “I know that I am an older woman” she said, “and you are a young man, but I have to tell you that I lost my knickers (panties), when walking up the street from the ‘bus stop. The elastic snapped, and they fell to my ankles. A young schoolboy waiting for his ‘bus could not believe his eyes”. That was worth rich laughter.

One of my junior colleagues was one Terry Caie. He and I would walk across the street for a beer at lunch time (yes a new Michael was emerging from the “Peeb” darkness) and we would listen to Simon and Garfunkel on the juke box. Terry later became a policeman.

And there was Miss Jones, another colleague. She was a gentle “maiden lady”. That Christmas (1965) the IArm and IFVME held a dinner dance at the Royal Hotel - my first.

Wanting to dance, in a moment of sheer inelegance I approached Miss Jones. No “may I have the pleasure of this dance?” from me. Instead I said “How about it Miss Jones?” Well, Miss Jones was up for “it”, but she fell flat on her bum as I inexpertly danced with her.

I was changing. I was a Plymouth Brother who smoked, drank and danced. Tisk, tisk.
And I was a Plymouth Brother who wanted a man in his life. Thus I began my flirtation with the Church of England.

Friday, 30 November 2007


There was a time when I wanted to become a Bishop. I had that dreadful Episcopal Church disease called “purple-itis”. Supremely confident in my own ability, I knew that I would be a great, godly and wise Bishop!

Bull-shit. If I ever had become a Bishop I would have fallen into that greatest trap - “believing my own propaganda”. That’s what happens to Bishops.

Bishops wear purple. Hence purple-itis. That purple came from the Roman Empire. Men of the equestrian and senatorial classes were allowed to wear togas with purple stripes. It was a sign of status.

Victorious Generals were allowed to wear the “toga piota”, a toga dyed entirely in bright purple. Later on Emperors wore this toga piota, even hairless boy Emperors who had never seen the light of battle.

That’s what our Bishops wear.

We swear that some parish Priests have a purple clerical shirt in their closet “just in case they should become a Bishop”. I never owned a purple shirt, but I wanted to be a Bishop.

That desire was put to the test. Twice within ten days I was invited to join searches for Bishops, one for the Diocese of Newark, and another for the Diocese of Delaware.

I was tickled pink, if not purple!

I spent a couple of hours with my own Bishop in Western Mass, to try to discern what this might mean. He was very helpful in outlining parameters for discernment.

About a week later I awoke in the middle of the night with one thought: “but I don’t want to be a Bishop”. By 9:00 the next morning I had written to Newark and Delaware declining to be considered.

Why did I make this decision. Well, I imagined myself in a troubled parish, meeting with the Vestry until late at night, and then driving home to a lonely apartment, only to get drunk.

And I imagined myself “believing my own propaganda”.

Thank God that I was delivered from purple-it is. I may, or may not have been a good Bishop, but the cost to my soul would have been great.

And I question the purple; the episcopal ring (a fancy ring which Bishops wear); and the pointy hat.

Why are these accoutrements deemed to be so essential? Does it have to do with power and status?

Do we believe that a man or woman in a pointy hat, with purple vestments and a fancy ring is automatically more wise and godly than the woman who sits in the pew next to us?

Yes, we believe that. And more dangerously, the Bishops believe that.

But I must be careful. What I do wear in Church is that long white garment known as an Alb. It is all too reminiscent of a Toga.

And I wear the scarf like vestment called a “stole”. It was originally the “orarium” worn by Senators and Consuls of the Roman Empire. Now there’s a bit of status for you.

And the one article which I cannot use is the crozier, or crook. This is the Shepherd’s crook, carried for the protection of the sheep. Only Bishops may use these.

And I wish that they were never be-jewelled and ornamented. A simple wooden staff ought to be enough for any Bishop who is content not to be an imperial figure, but to be a shepherd.

Thursday, 29 November 2007

When you are older than your Father.

I had been anticipating November 26th for about three months. In the event the day came and went, and it was not until this evening (29th Nov) that I remembered the significance of that date.

For on November 26th I became older than my father was when he died. That’s given me pause for thought.

Dad was born in November 1910. He died in May 1974.

He was born into a world in which Britain ruled the waves, and the British Empire had never been more “glorious”. That Empire wealth was leached away in the Great War -1914/18, a war from which the comparatively few “heroes” returned to a Britain which was beginning to go broke.

They came back to be heroes, and were greeted with massive unemployment for all but the reviled and despised military “Officer Class”.

Winston Churchill was discredited on account of the disastrous Dardanelles campaign against the Turkish Navy. The working people never forgot that Churchill had mobilised troops against strikers in 1910/11.

By 1926 when Dad was 16, there was a General Strike in Great Britain. This too was broken by Churchill’s skill at propaganda when he launched a government newspaper “The British Gazette”. Troops again were mobilised, and warships were tied up in our home City of Bristol as well as in other places. This was Dad’s world.

Then came the Depression. Dad had planned to become an Engineer, but as family lore has it, the money my Grandmother had saved to finance Dad’s education had to be plunged in to the “family business” of plumbing. Dad became a plumber, trained by his father, who had been trained by his father. Three generations of plumbers. Dad lived a life of lower middle class respectability, without much money. His parents were fervent teetotalers, and Dad “took the pledge” which he honoured until quite late in his life.

He attended lectures and concerts at the Methodist Central Hall, and developed a lifelong love of classical music. He once attended an evangelistic campaign led by “Gypsy Smith”, and “went forward” at the Altar call.

He and Mum met in the same Methodist Church (respectable to say the least) and got wed on December 26th 1936. Less than three years later his father (my grandfather) was killed in a road accident, and Dad inherited the struggling family business.

When Dad was 29 World War II broke out. By this time Dad and Mum had two children, my sisters Maureen and Jean.

Dad could not serve in the military as he was blind in one eye. This was a source of great frustration and disappointment to him. He was a plumber and fire-watcher throughout the war, and was once taken to court and fined for leaving a light on overnight at his place of work.

My twin and I came along in 1944 (another older sister, Sylvia, had died soon after her birth).

The end of the War did not mean the end of hardship, and the British economy limped along until the mid sixties. By that time we were a family of nine children. Money was short.

Our earliest memories of Dad were of an angry loner. He played a very small part in family life, but would spend endless hours in our kitchen listening to classical music on the BBC.

Sunday dinner was often the occasion of some irritation which set Dad off in a rage. And they were dreadful.

I have often wondered about Dad’s anger. I think that it was born of frustration and disappointment. Life for him had always been hard.

But in the last 6- 8 years of his life, a new Dad emerged. He and Mum took vacations together, often with my five younger siblings. He would occasionally have a glass of lager. His humour came to the fore. He became much more sociable. He knew so much about so many things.

We came to enjoy our Dad, and he came to enjoy us. And it was at that time that he was taken away from us, dying of cancer. We were pissed about this. Mum was broken-hearted. He was so young, just 63.

And now I am 63, and older than Dad was when he died. That has given me pause for thought.

I am grateful for the simple things which Dad liked - a watercress sandwich in brown bread would bring him great pleasure.

I am grateful for his love of classical music which I inherited, at first by osmosis, (though Dad did not care for Chamber Music and Opera, which I adore.)

I will never forget his pride in me when I entered Seminary and was on track to be ordained. He longed to see my ordination, but never did.

Many times I think “Oh, Dad told me that, or taught me that”.

When I was 14 Dad was “moonlighting” by doing some plumbing for the parents of my school friend, David Rodgers. David and I were “hanging out” when his father said, “come and see this”. What we came to see was my father wiping a lead joint with a blow-lamp (blow-torch) in one hand, and a moleskin in the other. It was a work of art. I treasure the memory.

And now I am older than Dad was when he died.

Wednesday, 28 November 2007

Aunts, Uncles and Cousins

My mother’s birth name was Evelyn Maud Finch. She hated her middle name. We would tease her by singing “Come into the garden Maud”.

Her parents were Francis Finch and Kate Ames.

Kate, my maternal grandmother died six months after my birth, and Francis died when I was less than two years old.

Mum had one sister, Kate, who died at a young age of what was called “lockjaw” (tetanus?).

There were six brothers. John, Harold, Reg, Fred, Wally and Albert.

I met my Uncle John only once. He was a mortician. He lived in Southend-on-Sea, Essex, and came to Bristol for the one family reunion which Mum organised. Uncle John and his wife (whose name I cannot remember) had one child, my cousin Margaret.

Harold was a cobbler. I knew him quite well, as well as his wife my Auntie Doll. They had two children, my cousins John and Shelia.

Reg was married to a fairly unkind woman, my Aunt Dorothy. They were childless, but “fostered” many children with a harshness that bordered on cruelty.

Uncle Fred and his wife Auntie Phyll lived nearby. He claimed to be an accountant, but was simply a book-keeper. Uncle Fred was known for his temper tantrums, and when I was a young boy and got into a temper, my parents would call me “Freddie”. Fred and Phyll had one daughter, my cousin Rosemary.

Uncle Wally (Walter Charles - hence “W.C” behind his back) also lived nearby with my Auntie Irene. Wally had various careers, including being an insurance agent (the old door-to-door, collect each week kind), a traffic warden, and a rent collector for the City.

Wally and Irene had four children, Alan, Janet, Kate and Christopher.

Uncle Albert was killed in Normandy in August 1944, when I was three months old. My brother Martyn and I took Mum to see her brother’s grave in Bayeux, France in September 1994 - 50 years after his death.

So I had eight first cousins.

I cannot remember if I ever met Cousin Margaret.

I met Cousin John a few times when I was young, but he was already “growed up”. Cousin Sheila became very close to our family. We adored her but sadly she died of cancer when she was in her late 40’s or early 50’s.

Cousin Rosemary died when she was in her early twenties. She was a beautiful stylish young woman, but succumbed to Hodgkinson’s disease (leukaemia).

Best of all I knew my cousins, Alan, Janet, Kate and Chris.

Alan moved to Holland many years ago, and died there (in his fifties) two years ago.

Cousin Kate lives in Spain, and I have not seen her in years.

Cousin Chris is a Methodist lay preacher. He has visited me twice in the United States.

Cousin Janet lives in Bristol with her partner Steve. They have been using a time share on Longboat Key, near here, for five years. Little did I know when I moved to SRQ that Janet and Steve would be here each year. Last year I cooked them a Thanksgiving dinner, and tonight they treated me to a great steak in an SRQ restaurant.

We chatted “family”, and that’s why I have been reminded of my mother’s siblings, and of my cousins.

Reg was the last to die of those siblings. Only Auntie Irene (my aunt by marriage) yet lives. That’s cool, cos she always was my favourite Aunt. She still lives in Bristol.

Dad was an only child so there are no cousins on his side of the family.

Tuesday, 27 November 2007

Her name is Anna

Her name is Anna. I met her at one of the three parishes I attend in this neck of the woods.

I recognised her faint German accent and told her about the wonderful German bakery here in SRQ.

Anna is in the hospital, and I visited her yesterday.

She was born in Berlin in 1930, just three years before H-tler’s rise to power. As inflation was conquered and employment grew, she enjoyed those days. A little girl would not understand the abnormality of the ghastly regime.

Even during the first years of the war, things seemed normal to Anna. Then the Allies began to bomb Berlin, and her father sent her, with her mother and sisters to a safe country place near the Polish border.

Anna was a member of the H-tler Youth (what child of that era in Germany was not?) and she, at aged 13 and 14 would be marched out every day, with other children, some younger, to dig trenches for the retreating German soldiers to occupy.

Then the Red Army began its march west, and the females of this divided family moved again, to escape what they knew would be Soviet style terror.

Somehow, she cannot remember how, they managed to get aboard a freighter bound for Denmark. They were in a Danish harbour on D-Day, and were kept in the bowels of the ship for two weeks. Many died in the ship, especially many little children. But Anna and her family held on.

Once on land they were placed in a Displaced Persons Camp, barbed wire and all, where they remained for two years. Anna’s mother bribed a guard with a gold watch, and he promised to mail a letter to the father, yet in Berlin. My some miracle he received it.

After two years they returned to Berlin. As luck had it, their home remained standing, and it was in the American Zone. On one side, where a window had been there was but a sheet of plywood, and the children looking down through a gap, saw nothing but rubble.

Anna married a G.I. and came to these United States. She is now on the cusp of being 78 years old, and has never told her story to her children and grandchildren.

She told it to me. Perhaps this was because she is to have major surgery this week. I was honoured to hear it.

(Anna is not her real name)

Monday, 26 November 2007

Friends and Thanksgiving

As you know my friend, Bruce Wirtz, a retired Episcopal Priest, died on October 2nd. He was but 73 years old. I had known him since 1976.

Bruce and his wife Mary Virginia divorced many years ago. They had four wonderful children, Nelson, Kati, Andrew and Eunice.

Mary Virginia died in 2006 and I officiated at her funeral in Worcester, MA. Just six week previously I had officiated at the marriage of Nelson and his beloved Meredith, on Cape Cod.

Bruce met Ben Morse 15 years ago and they enjoyed a wonderfully loving relationship. It was largely because of Bruce and Ben that I moved here last year.

Nelson, Kati, Andrew and Eunice adored their father, and his partner Ben.

So it was no surprise that Nelson and Meredith invited Ben to join them on Cape Cod for Thanksgiving. Ben (85) asked if I would travel with him, and I was pleased to do so and be part of this family Thanksgiving. The family includes Emma, a fine thirteen year old young woman from Nelson’s first marriage.

Ben and I left Sarasota last Tuesday. Our first flight was delayed by four hours, and of course we missed a connection in Baltimore. Our re-booked flight took off 83 minutes late, and so it was nearly midnight before we arrived in Brewster where Nelson and Meredith live.

On Wednesday we “bummed around” the Cape, and then drove back to Boston, in two cars, to meet Meredith’s Step-Mother at Logan Airport. Then we took ourselves to Boston’s North End for a wonderful Italian Dinner. (See my yesterday’s sermon for a record of a sad incident in the restaurant).

After dinner I drove over to Cambridge/Somerville , whilst the others returned to Cape Cod. Nelson is a fire-fighter and was working a 24 hour shift on Thanksgiving, so they all ate at the Fire House in Chatham. I am told that it was quite the Feast, with deep fried Turkey.

Meanwhile I stayed overnight with my dears - Pat Michaels (the organist at St. James’s), his wife Laurie Rofinot (a Priest who also worked with me at St. James’s), and their daughter Marian.

Thanksgiving morning Pat had to play for the St. James’s service, so I played at cutting up apples with Laurie and Marian. Then Pat and I went for a long, long walk in balmy weather, and stopped by to see Tom Hirschi and his wife Jane Smillie, and their daughters Anna Lee and Ursula. This was fun cos Jane grew up in Sarasota, and we talked about the Town.

Pat, Laurie and Marian took me to their friends, Bob, Hanna and Sophie, for dinner. (Marian and Sophie are “best buds”). Bob is a somewhat eccentric professor, and Hanna (from Denmark) is an artist. We had a rollicking good time with excellent food, serious conversation, and lots of silly time when we laughed without measure.

I excused myself from dessert and hoved over to see Derrick Jackson (Boston Globe Columnist), his wife Michelle Holmes (Harvard Medical School breast cancer researcher), and their second son, 17 year old Tano. We ate dessert, and to my joy Michelle parents, Ken and Mary Holmes were there too. They were amongst my favourites at St. James’s.

Both dessert and fellowship were sweet, and I dragged myself away at about 8:30 p.m. to drive back to Cape Cod.

Friday dawned a little on the chilly side, but we took ourselves to Provincetown to have lunch at the Lobster Shack. I enjoyed superb Lobster Bisque.

On our way back we stopped to get Little Neck Clams and Oysters, and I for the first time in my life ate Oysters.

Ben and I left Cape Cod just before 5:00 a.m. on Saturday morning to return our rental car to Logan Airport and to fly back to SRQ via Atlanta. This time the fates were with us and we arrived at SRQ 10 minutes early - back into the warmth which I have grown to love!

Lord above, how blessed I am with so many friends.

Sunday, 25 November 2007

Nov 25th Left brain sermon which I did NOT preach. Scroll down for the sermon I preached

Sermon for November 25th 2007
The Revd. J. Michael Povey at All Angels Church, Longboat Key, FL

Jeremiah 23: 1-6, Psalm 46, Colossians 1:11-20, and Luke 23: 33-43.

Thank you for your welcome when I visited last month, and again this morning.
My name is Michael Povey, and your Rector and I knew each other back in Massachusetts. I have one little question. What happened to St. Michael in your Church dedication!

The Queen and Prince Philip celebrated their sixtieth wedding anniversary last weekend. It always amuses me in republican (small R) America, that whenever we say “The Queen”, we know that we are taking about the Queen of the United Kingdom, not the Queen of Spain or of Belgium. Sometimes it feels as if she is our honorary monarch!

You know that today we reach the end of a one year cycles of readings for each Sunday. What we’ve read through the long green season, culminates in what Roman Catholics call the “Feast of Christ the King”. Although that is not an official feast in the Episcopal Church, since, for the most part, we have the same readings as our Catholic friends, what we’ve read today has a “Kingy” flavour about it.

However, be alert. The choice of readings, whilst not arbitrary or whimsical, depends to some extent on the theological biases of those who compile the Lectionary. So we must be careful that we do not, for instance, make an instant mental leap between Jeremiah’s words about a King, and Luke’s identification of Jesus as King of the Jews. We should take each passage on its own merits, and not look for links where none exist.

The Bible, for the most part, takes a dim view of Monarchy. You will remember that G-d allowed Israel her first King under protest, so to speak, and for the most part the Kings of Israel and Judah were a sorry lot. How often we read “he did what was evil in the Lord’s sight”. The Bible is well aware of human corruptibility, and of the tendency of Kings to feather their own nests at the expense of the people, and to enter into dangerous foreign alliances. But, if there is a role for the Biblical King, it is that he should be the guarantor of justice.

Jeremiah, at the very end of a disastrous Monarchy, states that the Lord will raise up a Branch (that is a descendant of David) who shall reign as King, and do wisely, and execute justice and righteousness in the land.

The Bible is never expounds on various theories of justice. It is much more specific and concrete. The justice which the King is called to enforce has to do with taking care of widows and orphans; dealing with bribery and corruption; ensuring known and identifiable boundaries between property; welcoming strangers, ensuring honest weights and measures and the like. The Bible knows that the poor are vulnerable. It agrees with the old English aphorism “it’s always the poor wot suffers!”

When we come to the New Testament, the concept of Kingship is the same, and is different. It is the same for instance in Matthew , where the King, giving judgement in effect asks “did you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the prisoner, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger?” (In an ad hominem excursus I add that the King did not ask “Did you keep my Church pure from gays and lesbians?”, which seems to be the cause du jour of many of our leaders.)

Since preaching which does not call for action can be all sound and fury, I commend to you the Millennium Development Goals which are being supported in this very conservative Diocese. Good for your new Bishop. Look them up on the Diocesan website, and think about the ways in which they might become part of the woof and warp of this good parish. In that way you could be delivered from the tedious arguments between right and left about the meaning of justice, and join in the royal ministry of justice. King Jesus calls us this way.

But there are changes in the concept of Kingship in the New Testament, which become evident in today’s Gospel. The Kingship of Jesus is a direct threat to all other Monarchies. The message over the cross may have been a cynical joke by the tyrant Pontius Pilate, but Christians used that inscription to defy the cruel might of the Roman Empire. The Emperor might well declare himself as “Dominus et Deus” - Lord and God, but “not so fast” said the Christians. We have a greater loyalty than to Caesar, it is to Jesus whom we proclaim to be “King of Kings”. Caesar is subservient to Jesus. And the challenge to us (dammit the Gospel too often has a challenge!) is “where is your ultimate loyalty?”

As one who became an American by choice I rejoice in my allegiance to the Constitution and Bill of Rights of this marvelous Country. But, patriot as I am, my ultimate loyalty is to the King who reigns from a cross. Working that out on a day to day basis is the hardest matter.

But there is a difference in those and all of our loyalties. For Jesus never demands or extorts loyalty. His call to us is not that of a rapacious King who seizes all and demands all. His call is of a servant King (there’s a paradox for you) who gives all in forgiveness, grace and hope without measure. For this King is the one who also says, “I do not call you servants, I call you friends”.

There’s a wonder for you. We are called by Jesus not to be his subjects. But to be his friends.

November 25th Right Brain sermon which I preached

Sermon for November 25th 2007
The Revd. J. Michael Povey at All Angels Church, Longboat Key.

Jeremiah 23: 1-6, Psalm 46, Colossians 1:11-20, and Luke 23: 33-43.

Thank you for your welcome when I visited last month, and again this morning.
My name is Michael Povey, and your Rector and I knew each other back in Massachusetts. I have one little question. What happened to St. Michael in your Church dedication!

There is a word in the Welsh language which is almost untranslatable into English. It is “hierith”. It is a word for this time of year, between Thanksgiving and Advent.

Hierith is a word which is so hard to describe. It’s a longing for one’s home, land, family, and it’s a deep sadness in the soul for all those who are away from their homeland and kinfolk. It’s a longing, yearning to be whole again, both a sadness and a blessing.

I wrote my sermon for today last Monday. It’s alright in its own way, and I’ll post it to my blog. But it is not this sermon. For I had a moment of hierith on Tuesday night.

It was in a dream. I dreamed that I was back home again in England. I was at home in our dining room. And there was my mother. My mother who died six years ago. She was sitting at the dining room table in her favourite camel coloured top coat, and wearing her “Sunday go to Church” hat.

Then, in my dream, it was the next day, and I was upstairs in our home. I saw my step-father and told him with great excitement “Mum is back”. He refused to believe me. “Yes” I cried, “I had dinner with her last night”. “You weren’t even here last night” he replied.

I woke up with such hierith. It dominated my heart for a couple of days. “If only Mum were here with me now”.

Hierith. Deep longing, with both sadness and blessing. The holidays bring that out in us. We want to go back to when he/she was yet alive. Or even better, we want to bring him or her into our present.

Hierith. A sad wistfulness for that moment, that day, that year, that period of time when every thing and every person seemed to fit into the right place.

Hierith. A sadness for what might have been. We long for the person we loved, who died, or moved away, or ceased to love us, or never loved us despite our own deep passion. Or a wry remorse for the choice we made or did not make.

But also a longing for the future. Hierith, that fitful lusting for a future in our own lives, in the lives of our children, in the life of the Church, or in the life of our beloved United States. A future when proud divisions will cease. A longing for a time, maybe even a moment at which we will know that we are eternally loved, loved without doubt by the God we dimly know.

Maybe Jeremiah was living in hierith. His nation had been all but destroyed. He was about to go into exile. All his preaching had been in vain. He has hierith for the past and for the future.

For the past: a longing for the golden days of David the King. Golden at least in memory.

For the future: A longing for a new King, who will be wise, and just and righteous.

We long, do we not, for the good old days, and for better days to come.

And the writer to the Colossians. An hierith for the future - a reconciliation of all things, whether in heaven or on earth through the exalted Christ. It has not happened yet.

And yet we continue to long and yearn to be whole again:- in ourselves, in our families, in our Church and Nation, and in the world.

That’s a way to approach Advent. To think of it, not as a season of penitence, but as a season of hierith - a yearning that the Christ-child for whom we long, will set all things right.

Is it a futile longing?

I thought so at first last Wednesday. I was with friends in an Italian restaurant in Boston’s North End. There were three or four families in a private room just off the main dining room. They were noisy and boisterous in a good sort of way. Then I watched in horror. A father pushed his 13 or 14 year old daughter by the shoulders, backing her into a corner. She held her hands alongside her face, with fingers in her ears as he screamed and yelled. He raised his fist to her, and I was both ready to intervene, and paralysed with fear. He launched his right fist, and smacked it into his left hand, held inches before her face - as if to say “I could punch you right now” . He called her a shit, and returned to the others. She slowly returned too, head held low. My hierith, with tears, was for the hope that no child, NO CHILD, should ever have such violence done to her. I retreated to the bathroom to weep.

An hour later I was in Cambridge, MA and stopped at the local CVS. As I left a beautiful young African American teenager accosted me. “Would I like to buy some candy, to support keeping kids off the street?” he asked. Cynical as ever, I suspected a scam. But the face of the young girl in the restaurant was still in my mind. “How much is the candy?” I asked. (And it was brand name candy). “Three dollars for the candy” he said, “but the smile is free”. “Oh”, I said, “they have taught you such a line”. “It’s not a line” he replied, ‘it’s what I want to say”. So I gave him five dollars, and took a pack of “Kit-Kats”.

“What’s your name?” I asked. “Duran” he said. Then my hierith returned with full force and tears. I looked in to his eyes and said “Duran, please hang tight with all those people who love you, and all those people you love”.

The Sunday after Thanksgiving, but before Advent. A Sunday for hierith.

A longing, yearning to be whole again, both a sadness and a blessing.

Please hang tight with all those people who love you, and all those people you love.