Big World Small Boat

Private Diary of A Priest. OK, so we're not all angels...Everyone needs a place to get things off their chest! And yes, I do talk to God about it all! Even He has a sense of humour! Want proof? Well, he made me, didn't He? Oh, one last thought-If you don't like what I've written, please keep in mind - it's MY diary. Go write your own!

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Location: England, United Kingdom

I've been serving children in crisis for over twenty five years. My goals are not to raise money, but to find organisations and individuals who can help change lives! What may be outdated equipment for you could change the life of a child in Eastern Europe! To learn more please visit our site at: www.ProjectNewLife.org

Tuesday

Grass Is Always Greener On The Other Side

I have a friend who is an auditor for an international company. She travels extensively, criss-crossing between languages and cultures and at times it seems she spends more time on aircraft than she does on the ground. It’s a gruelling job and the constant travelling, plus the intricacies of her profession, demand that she keep her senses fine tuned at all times.

But her friends suggest that she has a swank life; jetting off to foreign lands, staying in posh hotels - it all seems so glamorous. And as a result, sometimes it becomes difficult for her to engage with her friends back home.

I understand completely. With many of my own friends who work for the airlines, I can sit with them whilst they talk about a great lunch they had in Cape Town on Monday, and a wonderful little bistro they found on Copacabaña Beach in Rio the following week. To outsiders it might appear they are boasting. But the reality is that it's the nature of their work.

But those people who do this work, living out of suitcases, surfing across time zones, and listening to their children grow by phone, rather than seeing them grow, have surrendered more than most can imagine. For airline crew, the destination they’ve reached has required them to (literally), walk halfway around the world. They’ve had to face aggressive passengers, smelly passengers, rude passengers, demanding passengers, and occasionally just downright strange passengers.

And what do they get in exchange for collecting all those dirty meal trays? On board, they get abuse because of the weather, because the passenger got stroppy with the gate agent and didn’t get a free upgrade, or because they had a row with their spouse before leaving for the airport and they needed someone to use as their punching bag!

They get to pop on a bus after all the passengers have disembarked, they get to check into a hotel far away from the city - sometimes into rooms that smell worse than the passenger they’ve been so anxious to escape for the past eight thousand miles. They get to wrangle with their body clocks to force themselves to sleep. And most of the time they wake up not remembering where they are because every single hotel room begins to look the same.

I can attest to this. Many years ago there was a time when I spent one hundred and eighty seven nights, in a single year, in Marriott hotels. (plus another 75 in an assortment of, Ritz, Four Seasons, Intercontinentals and Westins!) One morning I woke up not having a clue where I was.

The only things of which I was reasonably certain was that there would be an exasperating ‘how was your stay’ questionnaire on the bed, the bathroom would be on the right, the towels would be some 1970’s retro rendition of earth-tone beige, the ergonomically curved soap would have had a matching colour and the bathroom would reek with the lingering scent of miniature bars of Neutrogena soap. The other thing of which I was certain was that there would be a beige phone and that I could dial '55' and hear the aspartame voice of a management trainee who was trying to exercise a nurturing concern for whatever it was I was rambling on about.

I remember the morning I groped for the phone through the dark and pressed 55. ‘Where am I?’ I quietly asked. I still recall the conversation as if it were yesterday. ‘You’re calling from room 1819,’ the chirpy little voice confirmed. I would have rolled my eyes but they were still stuck with sand. ‘No, WHERE am I?’ I repeated, hoping I wasn’t going to have to go through facial exercises that early in the morning.

‘You’re in the Marriott, sir.’ You could hear how she emphasised the word ‘sir,’ as if she were looking around the hotel herself for confirmation.

‘No…,’ I moaned, ‘What Marriott!’ The girl now seemed to understand. ‘You’re in the Marriott City Centre, sir.’ And I could hear her tone of satisfaction as if she had just successfully completed the next level of Marriott’s management training course in dealing with hung-over guests.

I do give thanks to God for making me inherently friendly. I still had to muster up my best ‘phone smile’ to ask ‘please, can you tell me what city I’m in?’ There was a pause before the girl responded. I know she didn’t go outside to check for herself and I hope she didn’t have to ask anyone. I think she was just surprised by the question. She quietly whispered ‘you’re in Melbourne, sir.’

I can’t recall whether I put the phone down first or sprang up in bed first. I wasn’t going to demean myself further. She really would have thought I was some torpid, hung-over drunk. (not a good thing when you’re in a Mormon owned hotel!) I swung my feet over to the floor and forced myself to take account of my surroundings. I had fallen asleep, atop the bed spread, in my clothes, and with the telly on. Glaring at me through the darkness was the same old repetitious twaddle of CNN International.

It finally dawned on me that I was in Australia. The problem is that I had been in Orlando just two days before and when the girl said ‘Melbourne,’ ...well, you can imagine. The common term is ‘jet lag.’ But for me it was the catalyst I needed to not stay in a Marriott again for many years. (no offence meant, Marriott.)

Living in this fashion may be fine if you’re single and determined to remain so for the rest of your life. But if you’re married, or in a committed relationship then it can become taxing, not to mention detrimental to both of you.

People who live out of suitcases often fantasize about a life where they can stand still and not have to keep their guard up continually. Those who live the more ‘conventional’ (if there is such a term nowadays), lifestyle, fantasize about the opportunity to travel.

For those of you who hop on an aircraft in the morning, arrive in a foreign city at night, drag yourselves out of bed the next morning to go sit in an office with people whom you don’t know, or worse, detest, then that afternoon head back to the airport to fly home, just to repeat the exercise several days later; I admire you! But hope you have a plethora of psychiatric insurance coverage!

For those of you who drag yourselves out of bed in the morning, get the kiddies ready for school, then head off to work, then come home to receive your children, wash clothes, clean the house, prepare dinner, then drop off to sleep from exhaustion; I admire you too!

Without either of you, our world would be a lesser place.

Go get em tiger!

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Sunday

Celebrating Easter Twice

I received an email from my friend Natalia in Moldova asking me why did the Easter dates she and I celebrate differ.

Throughout the Commonwealth and the Americas, this year Easter is celebrated on the 5th of April. However, across Eastern Europe, Russia and the Middle East it's on the 12th of April. It’s an excellent question. I was first going to write Natalia and jokingly blame Pope Gregory for just wanting to keep us on our toes. But the more I’ve thought about it, the more I feel she deserves an accurate answer and perhaps there might be some here who are interested.

So for all my friends here in Eastern Europe, I hope this helps. And to our friends around the world, I hope this makes sense. (and my usual apologies for being so loquacious!)

On the 5th we celebrate the most important date in our Christian calendar. Hopefully, churches will be overflowing. People jokingly say that the CofE (Church of England) also refers to Christmas and Easter – the only days you’ll get a Church of England member into a church. Sadly, that can hold more fact than fiction, sometimes.

But for those who aren’t attending church, and for many who go to church out of a sense of ‘well, we’ve always done it before, so we’ll keep on doing it, although we haven’t a clue what it’s all about,’ they will most likely be celebrating the original pagan festival of ‘Eastre.’ Eastre, ‘ the goddess of springtime and birth,’ or the literal term ‘offspring.’

 
In early times, missionaries who spread the Gospel, were compelled to blend Christian theology with the then currently practised pagan celebrations. This way, it prevented communities, who would have interpreted the message of Christianity to be detrimental to the growth of crops, from revolting. They would have also seen the promulgation of Christianity as a threat to the villages and health of the residents.

Eventually, the locals came to believe that by adding Christianity to their practices, it ‘might’ help their prosperity. However, at the same time, they held close to their original pagan rituals. Over time, the name Eastre morphed into Easter as more and more became converted.

The ‘church,’ which increasingly gained power over societies, continued to allow the use of pagan rituals so as to avoid anarchy among the people.

During the first centuries of Christianity, there was great disagreement over the true date of Easter. The first attempt at resolution was made at the First Ecumenical Council meeting, in Nicaea in AD325, which produced an acceptable calculation measured by the position of the moon.

It was agreed that Easter would be celebrated on the first Sunday following the first full moon, after the spring equinox. This was decided as it maintained a close link between scriptural records and the yearly celebration of Eastre/Easter.

However, there continued to be disagreement over the exact dates that Easter fell upon due to the fact that the four Gospels did not provide the actual date of the Resurrection. They only allude to the fact that it occurs in relationship to Passover, and on the first day of the week (Sunday). However, there still remains confusion.

At present Western churches calculate the date of Easter using the Gregorian calendar, which was introduced in 1582, It remains today as the worldwide standard calendar.

Interestingly, most Orthodox churches, including the Russian church, maintain the older Julian calendar to calculate Easter’s date. Unfortunately, the Julian calendar does not sustain alignment in measuring solar years, such as keeping months in alignment with the seasons.

There has always been agreement that the celebration of the Resurrection should not be a sign of division among Christians. Unfortunately, that consensus was broken when Pope Gregory XIII reformed the calendar in 1582, thus again changing the dates for Easter. Most Orthodox churches refused to alter the method for calculating Easter.

In 1998 the World Council of Churches and the Middle East Council of Churches, representing the majority of the world’s churches, agreed to set a common date for Easter. They agreed to use the current formula, but would also adhere to the most accurate astronomical scientific knowledge available. It was felt that this would help overcome any division that existed, whereby both traditions insisted upon retaining their old methods for calculating the date.

This is despite the fact that the formula actually isn’t entirely faithful to the original formula laid down by the early church. The formula, or algorithm, used today is known as the Nicaea formula. Unfortunately, a definitive decision regarding which calendar would be followed still has not been agreed.

So, during the next two decades there are actual dates when both calendars do fall on a common date. They include: 2014 and 2017.

Despite this decision, there have been occasions when the world churches have had to resist intense pressure from governments, which were presumably pressured by highly paid lobbyists, and businesses, to hold Easter on the same date every year. (Sorry Hallmark, Nestlé, and Hershey).

The churches have been resolute in their determination to remain faithful to the Nicaea formula. The Resurrection is a divine event that keeps check with reality, rather than the convenience of world governments and its’ powerful businesses.

With all the discord that exists between churches, we pray that in the coming years there will be an agreement whereby we can all celebrate together.

In America, Britain, Australia and a few other countries, the ‘Easter egg’ and ‘Easter bunny’ stand as the commercial understanding of Easter. The bunny also originated with the pagan festival of Ēastre, and again, through the goddess
Ēostre, Anglo-Saxons worshipped the goddess through her earth-bound symbol the rabbit.

It was German settlers who brought the symbol of the rabbit to the Americas. In fact, it wasn’t embraced by the Americans until shortly after the Civil War. It may come as a surprise to some, that even the Resurrection itself wasn’t celebrated in America until the mid to late 1800’s.

The ‘Easter egg’ dates back to the earliest of time when it was a symbol of rebirth in most cultures. It was introduced to the Americans just after the Civil War.

In Eastern Europe the egg holds similar symbols of rebirth, but the spiritual attachment runs much deeper. To Orthodox Christians, the Paschal egg became the sealed tomb wherein the body of the Lord had been placed after His crucifixion.

Traditions state that the custom of the egg had its start with Mary Magdalene, who is often depicted in icons holding a red egg. She may have been aware that the Romans would know the meaning of the egg as something that brings forth life from a sealed chamber.

After Jesus was crucified and ascended to Heaven, Mary was in Rome. When she met with the Roman Emperor Tiberius, she gave him a red coloured egg and announced, 'Christos anesti!' (Christ is Risen!) She then went on to preach to Tiberius about Jesus. It was an intelligent choice on her part because it was something the Romans would have understood.

In the early days of Christendom, red was the only colour used in colouring the eggs, as it signified the sacred blood of Jesus which had been shed on Calvary.

During Orthodox Paschal services the priest will bless the eggs. They are then distributed. The worshippers greet one another with the words ‘Christ is risen!’ At the same time they hit their egg against the other person’s as they respond ‘He is Risen Indeed!’ This supplication symbolises a mutual prayer for the breaking of one’s bonds of sins and misery. It also stands for entering the new life we receive from Christ’s resurrection.

Eventually, none of the eggs will remain unbroken. The breaking of the egg emphasises that our Lord had conquered death and is risen, granting new life to all. The egg is then consumed as a symbolic breaking of the Lenten fast.

There are many variations on the use of the egg throughout religions. Even in Iran, the egg is used during Nowrooz, which is the Persian New Year. It too celebrates new life.

I consider myself very fortunate, in that I have the honour of celebrating Christ’s resurrection twice; in England, and with my friends in Moldova, Romania and Hungary. Regardless of where I am in person, I will certainly be in spirit!

He has Risen Indeed!




How blessed is this day, when earth and Heaven are joined and humankind is reconciled to God! May the light of Jesus shine continually to drive away all darkness. May Christ, the Morning Star who knows no setting, find His light ever- burning in our hearts—He who gives His light to all creation, and who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen. BCP '79







Írásos Bill atya gyűjteményéből. Imádkozunk az egészsége. LR



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Thursday

Mothers Day? Is it Just for Women?

I’ve always tended to look upon our school headteachers as wise captains of ships, full of young impressionable minds. A headteacher’s wisdom and guidance serves to nurture and inspire those dedicated teachers who give so much of their lives to help develop our nation’s children towards adulthood.

So I was shocked to read that Helen Starkey, the headteacher of Johnstown Primary School in Wales, made the decision to ban Mothers Day. Well, in fairness, as I understand it, she has banned the children from preparing Mother’s Day cards, and any associated events. Her reason was not out of cruelty, but I suspect, more so as a result of falling prey to the advancement of America’s commercial marketing grasp on the rest of the world. According to Mrs Starkey, her reason was out of ‘sensitivity,’ as five percent of her students were separated from their natural birth mother.

Here in Britain Mother’s Day is actually known as Mothering Sunday, and is celebrated on the fourth Sunday of Lent. However, it has no association with the American holiday in May known as Mother’s Day, or as some cynics call it, (me being the leader of that cynicism!) ‘Hallmark Day.’

The original translation from Latin is a derivative of ‘Refreshment’ or ‘Laetare Sunday,’ during Lent: the first words of the opening prayer of the Mass are Laetare Jerusalem (Rejoice Jerusalem), and honour is given to the Mother Church. The extension to actual mothers was gradual, and evolved at time when children, mainly daughters, who had gone to work as domestic servants, were given a day off to visit their family.

Now it is a day when children give presents, flowers, and cards to their mothers. But it can also be recognised, in its truest form, as a time to recognise those who practice the act of mothering. The dictionary defines ‘mothering’ as ‘to care for or protect.’ It is not gender specific. Unfortunately, as the distance between continents become shorter, the commercial aspects of this date overpower its broader and possibly purer origins.

‘Mothering’ comes from carers, nurses, male parents, or anyone who serves or cares for others, those who provide loving, nurturing care as if they were the mother to the individual. These people are so often forgotten or ignored and I find it heartbreaking that due recognition is seldom given. The individual who has cared for an invalid or elderly person, who needed mothering in its truest sense, may be forgotten this Sunday and at all other times.

Most Sundays in the year churchgoers in England worship at their nearest parish or ‘daughter church.’ Centuries ago, it was considered important for people to return to their home or ‘mother’ church once a year. So each year in the middle of Lent, everyone would visit the main church or Cathedral of the area.

Over time the return to the ‘mother’ church became an occasion for family reunions when children who were working away returned home. (It’s difficult to comprehend that less than a hundred years ago children who were as young as nine or ten would leave their village home to work in cities like London.)

And most historians believe that it was the return to the ‘Mother’ church which led to the tradition of children, particularly those working as domestic servants, or as apprentices, being given the day off to visit their families. As they travelled along country lanes, children would collect wild flowers or violets to take to church or give to their mother as a small gift.

The American holiday, which has sadly become so commercialised, began in 1912 when an International Mother’s Day association was formed, as a result of the efforts of a Methodist spinster, who recognised the importance of strengthening family ties. The United States Congress passed a joint resolution marking the second Sunday in May as ‘their’ official ‘Mother’s Day.’ It was then proclaimed as a national holiday.

The American date failed to catch on in countries where the US didn’t have strong influence or control, because within the resolution was the mandate that the American flag be displayed on all homes and government buildings in reverence to the mothers of America. It just smelled a bit too nationalist for other countries.

No matter who it is that nurtures, cares for, supports, defends, helps and loves, they certainly deserve accolades of gratitude, praise and love. Today, above all, please don’t forget to recognise them, no matter where in the world you may be!


And if you simply can’t think of anyone at all….you could always hug a priest. There’s not enough of that either!




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Monday

A Child's Funeral

Tomorrow at eleven I shall celebrate the funeral of a three-year-old boy. It will be difficult for me, but a thousand times more difficult, of course, for the young parents, the grandparents and the rest of the family. Here was a young life full of promise, welcomed with love and longing by his family and it all ended almost before it had begun.

The service for the funeral of a child is desperately moving; though for the family, the liturgy of faith and hope will not be easy either to say or to hear. Yet I know that the family will survive; in one sense life will go on and perhaps in time, they will even be strengthened by this dark and awful experience.

All around us, as we share the service together and lay the tiny coffin deep within the earth, the priorities of our world will continue. People will go about their daily work, their shopping, and their gardens. Newspapers will lay on the kitchen table, with headlines about war in Syria, President Obama, or the Royal Family.

For us, at the graveside, all the world will come to a standstill, just for a minute or two-there will be nothing more important than a small box and a few handfuls of soil. It seems like a parable on the subject of perspective.

Our perspectives for those fleeting moments will be unreservedly clear. Nothing else will matter. And then, of course, we shall return to what we call a ‘normal’ life, where perspectives are seldom clear and often hopelessly distorted. Before we know it, perhaps, the great and small issues of our days will take over, and it will be the price of petrol, or the continued rising deaths in Iraq that disturb our peace of mind.

Jesus accused some of the religious teachers of His time of ‘straining out a gnat and swallowing a camel’ - a very vivid way of saying that they’d got their priorities hopelessly out of perspective. Yet who, in our media-saturated world, really knows which are the gnats and which are the camels? What really matters, and what is of minimal and passing importance in the light of eternity?

In our moments of clear perspective, when our priorities are obvious, the values that tend to emerge are love, commitment, kindness, courage and hope. It’s when the tawdry agenda of every day takes over; celebrity, sport, news and gossip (which are often much the same thing), that we cater to the partisan, to cruel and unthinking words, and harsh, judgemental opinions.

It seems a pity that it takes very often a tragedy or crisis to help us see things so clearly.
As I stand by a child’s grave tomorrow morning I hope I won’t be too quick to forget what I learn there.


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Sunday

A Thought For Advent

This may seem an odd subject to write about at the beginning of Advent, but this year there have been many successes in the arrests of child-traffickers and those who exploit women and children for gain. I see this as a wonderful blessing. But there is still a long way to go.

The trafficking of the young and innocent is an appalling offence. It inevitably affects the most vulnerable and least secure of women and children, making them false promises and offering false hope. These girls from Eastern Europe, often struggling with poverty, come to our country in trust, dependent for their safety on those who brought them over, believing that here they’ll find a loving home, honest work and have legal protection.

Instead, they’re betrayed, exploited and abused by the very people they depend upon. Often lured by women working for the traffickers, the girls are sold the dream of a safe, loving family of other girls in similar circumstances who will care for them and help guide them along the way in their new life. How tragically different the truth is.


Enforced prostitution is an utter violation of women. It is a violation by a whole racketeering industry, which treats them as commodities and robs them of sexual integrity. It is a violation by individuals who want what the women have, without any respect for who they are.

And yet, this is an appropriate Christmas story. For it taps us into the darker side of Christmas. It reminds us this is the kind of world that God came into: a world where the vulnerable are abused and where to be fragile is to be easily exploited. Human violation of the defenceless was as great at that first Christmas as it is now; with homeless refugees on the move, and the slaughter of hundreds of innocent children.

The irony of the Christmas event is that God didn’t come as a great military hero to impose a new regime, or as the world’s policeman to do a clean-up job. He came precisely as one of the world’s most vulnerable: a baby, defenceless, fragile, unable to help himself, utterly dependent on those who were His protectors.

The Christian story challenges the very foundations of all our play-safe policies, our protection against being vulnerable, our fear of powerlessness. For it says instead, that the vulnerable matter, the weak are highly significant, the susceptible are important, the defenceless count. In taking on human vulnerability at its most fragile God gives dignity to each defenceless person, and requires us, in our relationships and our laws, to do the same.

Living without defences, Christ knows the sufferings of people who struggle under evil, whether girls sold into prostitution, or parents of murdered children, and God will act on their behalf. For in the vulnerability of a baby in a manger lies the power of divine love and justice.

The story of Christmas is Emmanuel, God with us.

May your own coming Christmas be filled with warmth and joy!

Father Bill Haymaker+

Publicat în memoria iubitoare de Părintele Bill
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Words of Comfort For the Dying

What do you say to someone who is dying? What words of comfort for the dying can you offer? And especially, how do we offer prayers for the dying?

A parent of friends of mine is currently in our local hospice. It’s sad to see that his deterioration has come so rapidly and particularly in that he has so clearly been fighting for survival. On Saturday, he was unconscious and it was thought that he would soon pass. But on Sunday morning, he was chatting with his wife and hospice staff. This is not unusual.

It’s a common occurrence to see people in the final hours of their lives, moving between a peaceful calm and an anxious state. There is clearly a struggle in their spirit to live. And it’s a fact that the strength of that spirit is undeniably tied to their struggle to remain on this earthly plain. Even though their physical bodies are failing and damaged beyond our ability to repair, the powerful spirit within that individual – that deep instinct to protect our human shell, fights to accept any kind of quality of life that is offered them.

Death is that moment of passing that comes as the spirit acknowledges that these mortal remains are no longer able to sustain its presence. And it is okay to acknowledge this, to accept it as yet another part of our journey. In fact, this is where the presence of family, friends and carers can often help most, with their words of comfort and prayers. The dying will come to accept the new journey that their spirit needs to take.

If you’re a family member, speak of the happy times you’ve shared together, the celebrations you’ve had, the joys you’ve experienced together and never forget to share how much you love them. Acknowledge that this is just an interval in time and that you will all be together again soon.

If you’ve had a spirited relationship with the person who’s dying, acknowledge that you’ve had your ‘ups and downs,’ but reaffirm the power of that love and ask them to forgive any transgression there may have been. Please, do not use this time to be accusatory or stating what your wishes may have been. This time is long past and by your presence and giving of yourself; you are providing the greatest blessing you could ever imagine – for both of you.

One of the greatest gifts you can provide, whether you’re a family member, friend, or professional carer is the gift of touch. Even when words can no longer be spoken, the gift of touch is a potent form of spiritual communication. I often rub the hands or feet of someone who is in transition. There are times when I stroke their hair. These gentle acts are no different than the loving embrace we receive as we come into this world.

And of course, there’s the power of prayer. Never underestimate the strength of that communication. As you offer your supplications, not only does God hear, but the living spiritual being you’re praying for hears as well. Acknowledging that it’s okay to let go, that there is life beyond is a form of blessing. And indeed, you too will be blessed.
Heavenly Father
You have given us so much. Thank You for the gift of life, for all the treasures we received, through the wealth of those who’ve loved us and those whom we’ve loved.
This body You have given is frail and damaged. And now we ask You to grant us peace, as we begin our next journey, to a new life, free of pain and suffering. Ease the sorrow of those we leave behind, knowing that we will always live on in their heart.
Take my hand and lead me now, until that time when we shall meet again, on that day where there is no sunset and no dawn. Amen
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Friday

Dying Alone

Today I celebrated the passing of a life. Emily Hanwell, age 95, died alone in her home. She had lived through two world wars, the sinking of the Titanic, the advent of television, and four monarchs. She is survived by two sons - both no longer living in the area.

Emily died in her bed. The coroner listed her cause of death as ‘suspected natural causes.’ It was the best the coroner could offer. Emily had been dead for several weeks before her body was discovered. Nature had followed God’s mandate and there was little of her mortal remains left.

I spoke with one of her sons. He had already been made aware of her death. He told me that he was 'too busy' to attend her funeral, but he was sure that his brother would ‘try to do something.’ He said his mother had become difficult to deal with and it was a ‘blessing’ that it was all over. I asked him when it was that he had last spoken with her. He said he had spoken to her on Christmas Day ‘when she had called him.’

When I arrived at the funeral directors, I discovered there were no flowers. There had been no calls about Emily, or anyone asking about her funeral. Her coffin was of the ‘particulate variety,’ a polite euphemism for cheap board, with colourless plastic handles, which was all the government would pay for. I went next door to the local florist and purchased several bunches of daffodils to place atop her coffin.

And so we headed to the chapel at our local crematory. In Britain the pallbearers are the professional staff of the funeral director. There was no one there to receive Emily. And it was impossible not to have tears form in my own eyes to see this pitiful coffin lifted up and placed upon the catafalque, with no one there to mourn her loss or celebrate her passing. Often my children have attended funerals I’ve celebrated, when I know there would be no one to attend. But in my heart I was certain that at least one of her sons would find time to attend their mother’s funeral.

Just as with any funeral I celebrate, I prepare a Homily that is unique to the deceased. Sadly, there are times when I have nothing more to guide me than looking at the face and hands of the deceased. For me, there is often an endless story that is revealed in the lines on someone’s face. This was the case with Emily. But in my Homily, I did say to the pallbearers that I wondered what the last days of her life were like.

One of the greatest fears that a human being can experience is the fear of being abandoned by family and friends and being left to live one’s life all alone. Prison guards know this when they place recalcitrant inmates in solitary confinement and torturers know it too when they need their victims to confess to fictitious crimes.

To be cut off from human contact is immensely painful, but it pales when compared to being cut off from God. And yet that is the daily experience of too many of His children, wandering about this earth with no sense of any larger purpose or destiny and no vision beyond the blank wall of death. What a tragedy, and how unnecessary it is!

And as Emily’s soul was committed to God’s care, I was able to smile, knowing that she was not alone, nor ever would be.


Emily, I know that as God opened His arms to receive you, the angels danced.


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Tuesday

A Bedside Prayer for Death of a Child

I was honoured to have attended a child’s passing last night. Kayleigh was nine years old. She would have turned ten in November. Leukaemia had ravaged her body and she was extremely weak from both the illness and the aggressive treatments she had endured over the past few months.

Several hours earlier, the doctors had worked determinedly to resuscitate her when her heart failed. I didn’t need to ask in this case, I instinctively knew that Kayleigh’s mother still had not moved to acceptance that her daughter’s body was failing and thus had refused to sign the ‘DNR’ order, allowing Kayleigh’s spirit to pass on without further interference with her body. But you could see in the eyes of the kind doctor and nurses that they knew what the inevitable outcome would be.

In the early afternoon Kayleigh was talking with her seven-year-old sister Justine and mother. I sat in a chair far in the corner of the room. I could still just barely hear them speak, but couldn’t always clearly hear what was being said. Justine had been devotedly swabbing Kayleigh’s lips with a small sponge on a stick to provide moisture to her lips.

It was just before 5 when Kayleigh’s mother said she needed to take Justine home where her grandmother was preparing dinner. She would return within the half-hour. I promised I would remain with Kayleigh while she was gone.

As I walked with the mother and child to the doors of the ward, Justine looked up at me and said ‘ Kayleigh said she is going to send each of us a card.’ She said it with that beautiful conviction that only children can show, as if they were speaking of Father Christmas arriving the following morning. ‘That’s wonderful Justine,’ I said. ‘I’ll look forward to hearing from her.’


I said goodbye at the hallway and watched the pitiful figure of the mother move down the hallway, with Justine half-skipping, half-running beside her. I could hear Justine cheerfully chatting away about something as I turned back into the hospital ward.
When I returned to Kayleigh’s room, she was still. Her eyes were open and in any other setting, saving the pale grey appearance of her skin, you might have thought she was just gazing at the ceiling. It had only been a matter of minutes from when we had walked out the door to my return and Kayleigh's body had taken its last breath.

I felt the tears welling up in my eyes, but I also felt myself smiling. She was at peace. But there was something much more powerful in the moments that had passed. Kayleigh had fought hard to remain there for her mother and sister – to impart that powerful message to Justine – that she’s only going on a journey, not that she simply wouldn’t exist anymore.

And for both her mother and sister, Kayleigh’s passing occurred at a moment when little Justine would not have been subjected to a repeat of her mother’s frantic and poignant fight to try to protect her daughter from a disease that had ravaged the child’s body.

One of the nurses named Betty, came into the room and saw me standing at the end of the bed. It only took seconds for her to realise that Kayleigh had passed. I was deeply touched because without any words she put her arms around me and hugged me. Betty removed the IV line whilst I closed Kayleigh’s eyes and together we straightened the bed and turned down the lights. I didn’t really think about it, but I took a floppy eared sock rabbit that Justine had brought her sister from the nightstand and tucked it in beside Kayleigh.

I asked Betty if she would like to stay with me as I offered prayers for Kayleigh. She held up her finger to indicate ‘just a moment,’ and she left the room. Seconds later she returned with another nurse and one of the ward assistants. We gathered around Kayleigh’s bed and prayed:
Christ Jesus, most merciful Saviour,
Hear our prayers as we gather in Your name
We commend this child into Your arms of mercy.
Kayleigh has been a blessing to all who knew her.

She brought laughter, warmth, and comfort to many
And in the moments when her mother and others showed despair
Kayleigh provided a noble message of hope and promise,
in her unfailing conviction that her life here may be limited
but is by no means final.

Grant comfort and strength to those who gather here now,
dedicating their lives to the care of others,
who often must face life as it moves to shadows.
Embrace them with Your eternal love
through everything they do.

Thank you for the love we would never have known,
but for Kayleigh’s brief days with us.

May the angels surround Kayleigh
and the saints welcome her with joy.

Lord God, we commend this child to Your everlasting care.

In the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Amen

One of the staff very sweetly offered to remain with Kayleigh as I walked to the entrance of the hospital to await the return of her mother.
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Now Lord, You let Your servant go in peace. Your word has been fulfilled. Support us O Lord all the day long of this troublous life. Until the shadows lengthen and the evening comes. The busy world is hushed, The fever of life is over and our work is done. Then Lord, in Your mercy, grant us a safe lodging, A Holy rest, and peace at last. Through Christ our Lord. Amen
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Saturday

Thank You Sarah

It was just past midnight as I sat in hospital with my friend Sarah. Her children and grandchildren had gone home for some much needed rest. It was obvious that Sarah was at the end of this life's journey and preparing for her next. The nursing staff had kindly moved her into a private room, affording more privacy and dignity.

I had brought with me a small radio and a book, which I read to Sarah during the night. And I was prepared to offer her Viaticum (a prayer of provision for her journey) as morning broke. It was our private time together.

It was close to 2AM when Sarah opened her eyes. I had stopped reading and was watching the shallow rise and fall of her frame as her body instinctively fought, clinging to the last vestige of life. The music that softly played from the small radio was Vaughan Williams' The Lark Ascending.

I asked Sarah if she would mind my saying prayers for her now. She had such a sweet and lovely radiance in her face. I found a tissue in my pocket and wiped a tear that ran from her eye. I stroked her hair and briefly thought of her sisters and children.

Almighty God, look upon Your servant Sarah, as she lies here in weakness. Comfort her with the promise of life everlasting, given in the resurrection of Your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sarah surrendered her mortal life a few hours later, with dignity and embraced in love.

Thank you Sarah. Thank you for the honour of being my friend.



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Monday

Finding The Right Words of Comfort

What does one say to distraught and grieving parents who have just buried their young child?


Truthfully there isn’t much we can say that will help. We can express our sorrow and sympathy. We can offer words of care and concern and of course love. We can tell the parents that we shall pray for them. But for most of us the truth is that we don’t know what to say.

I stood a short distance from the family as mourners came to offer their condolences after the burial. And I watched and listened as people so desperately tried to convey their compassion over the tragic loss this young couple have just experienced.

Some fumbled with words then simply broke into tears. Others offered sentiments that some might consider to be inane or even cruel. ‘You’re both young, you’ll have more children,’ one woman offered. The couple were too lost in their grief to even comprehend what the woman had said.

Perhaps it’s because we don’t know what to say that we sometimes say the wrong things. In our distress with another person’s suffering we often feel that we must offer words that will somehow help move the grieving individuals along.

Personally, I feel there is much more of a spiritual connection and sentiment in the power of a silent embrace. No words are necessary to convey sharing the human emotion of pain and sorrow and loss. Especially when we all accept that there are no answers. And so we weep at what has happened. And so too - God weeps with us.

One elderly gentleman suggested that the child’s death was God’s will. I disagree. The God we worship, our God who watches over us, doesn’t will the death of children, or the pain of their parents. Many, many things that happen in this world are not the will of God. That is part of the price of the freedom we have been given by God.

I watched the couple stand in numb silence as an aunt told them that God wanted their son in Heaven with Him. While I am confident God has welcomed him into His kingdom, I am certain God did not want this child to die right now so that He could have him there.

Others continued to offer the same thought; that they were young and they could have more children. This may be true, but other children will never replace this little life. He was his own person. The empty place his death has left in their hearts will never be filled simply because they have another child. Nor should it be. Every child is unique and precious. I realise that people say such things with a desire to comfort the bereaved. They desperately long to find some way to help. May God Bless them for it.

But know that we are faced with a mystery - the mystery of life, and of death, in which there are no easy answers.

And for the grieving parents who may feel that no one will ever understand their pain?...

God understands. He has a son who died also.
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Friday

Faith Is Not A Crutch For Living

Our national charity for the elderly, Help the Aged, recently published a report entitled Dying in Older Age. It aims to lift the profile on the spiritual beliefs and stories of older people and help all of us avoid the nervousness with which we so often approach the subject of death.

Old age is often a synonym for ‘problem people’ - a liability to the optimism of our Brave New World. People fear the mortality of old age. But that's nothing new. The Irish poet, W B Yeats, who felt old from the age of forty, went kicking and screaming into old age.

‘What shall I do with this absurdity,
O heart, O troubled heart - this caricature,
Decrepit age which has been tied to me as to a dog's tail?' - he asked.

Not a great advert for senior citizenship then, is it?

But whenever I spoke with my friend Sarah I quickly had a rather un-Yeats like version of old age. She kept control of all her faculties to the very end of her life. You needed to be very careful what you whispered to anyone if you were sitting close to her. And a matter of hours before she died, even though she could no longer talk, I vividly recall her bearing down with her jaw, determined not to let anyone remove her false teeth.

And she's not alone. Britain has a veritable 'Methuselan' roll call of people who have accomplished great things in their advancing years. Like Elizabeth Scofield: At 84, and with an 80% mark, she became 'top girl' in her Reading and Writing Course. Or take Percy and Florence Arrow-Smith, married for 80 years. They hold the world record for the longest marriage. Sadly, Percy died a few weeks after their anniversary. But he was the quintessential model of dignity and marital endurance.

Old age still has a lot to say to us in life, as much as in death. It was only a little more than a few years ago that Pope John Paul brought the world to a standstill, pulling princes, politicians, and the public into his vulnerability and death.

We need models of how to live. But we also need to know how to finish well. Each of us has a responsibility to help our elderly finish with dignity and reverence. So beyond pension schemes and Meals on Wheels, respect and honour will go a long way in helping to achieve it.

Finishing well must be numbered amongst the great virtues of faith.
Faith is not a crutch for living. It's a springboard, which takes us beyond death. For Christians, it is faith in the living Christ, which best prepares us to finish well.If you're a young person reading this blog, please don't discount the infinite rewards of investing a few hours a week simply sharing thoughts with a senior person. You'll be amazed by how much they actually understand you! And if you're a person who already has a bit of snow on your roof, but still lots of fire in your furnace, there's plenty to be learned about a life to come.
Granted, you may not always like what you see, but you'll still have the energy to help change it!
And by sharing time with a senior, you may gain valuable insight as to how you'll cope in the years to come!
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Wednesday

Wanted: Part-Time Wife

"Wanted: Part-Time Wife…(only in a metaphorical sense!) Do you like sorting out hopeless men? Are you tidy almost to the point of being compulsive? Are you capable of putting a feminine touch in a home and organising a Father’s life? If so we need you! A Father who constantly travels needs a part-timer to first ‘fix it’ by doing a little decorating, organising things, do some shopping and possibly occasionally cook a meal when I’m away. Then discuss long-term plans to help keep us organised and feeling that we live in a home instead of a suitcase!" saveourmess@yahoo.com

Okay, perhaps it wasn’t the best composition I’ve ever created, but I was trying to sincerely yet accurately express what we needed. There have been times when I’ve either endured an extended hospital stay, or arrived home from a long journey and had so much to do the moment I landed, that a week could pass before I even remembered that my suitcase hadn’t been unpacked!

My son, being a typical teenage male, tends to take a rather ‘relaxed’ approach when it comes to doing much of anything around our home. And I would never have placed an expectation upon my daughter to have to help with the minutiae of household chores; decorating, laundry, opening the post, etc. I simply felt a bit of assistance, slightly beyond that of our conventional housekeeper might be helpful. And I certainly had no intention of enduring her wrath by suggesting that her culinary skills could be classified as biological warfare! Hell hath no fury as a cranky Mrs Higgins if I suggest that the cake she so kindly baked is lovely, but we already have several door-stops around the house!

Embraced with a fusion of trepidation and hope I submitted the ad on our local paper’s website. When I returned home that afternoon, I was surprised to see I had an email from the paper.



Unadulterated in any manner, here is the email I received:

Ad placement number: YI6O1FB1G
Unfortunately we were unable to process your advert. The reason for rejection is as follows: Sorry we are unable to accept your advert due to sexual discrimination. We apologise for any inconvenience caused and please be assured your credit card has not been charged for this advert. Kind Regards, The Friday-Ad Team
support@friday-ad.co.uk

‘How absurd,’ I muttered. I certainly hadn’t thought my ad to be sexist or discriminating against anyone. Considering the context of what I had written, I felt the public would have understood what I was trying to convey. Frankly my feathers were ruffled by the pedantic nature of the newspaper. And now with a twinge of irritation, I re-wrote the ad, believing the paper would see how absurd their response was. Here is the revised ad:

Wanted: Part-Time non-gender-specific individual. Do you like sorting out hopeless non-gender specific individuals? Are you tidy almost to the point of being compulsive? Capable of putting a non-gender specific touch in a home and organising someone’s life? We need you! A non-gender specific parent who constantly travels needs a part-timer to first ‘fix it!’ Then discuss long-term plans to help keep us organised and feeling that we live in a home instead of a suitcase. (please note: The Friday Ad says it’s discriminatory for me to use the words ‘Wife, Feminine, or Father’ in the context of this advert)
SaveOurMess@yahoo.com

The following morning I received an email from the newspaper:
Ad placement number: YI6O1FB1G
Unfortunately we were unable to process your advert. The reason for rejection is as follows: Sorry we are unable to accept your advert due to sexual discrimination and I cannot put this in about Friday-Ad. We apologise for any inconvenience caused and please be assured your credit card has not been charged for this advert. Kind Regards, The Friday-Ad Team
support@friday-ad.co.uk

Now I was becoming cranky. The paper has one of those ‘Live Contact’ buttons (an oxymoron if ever there was one!) on their web page, which allows you to ‘chat’ online with them about whatever problems you may be having with placing your ad. So online I went.

Thanks to the miracles of modern technology, I have been able to save the entire thread of our communication. Such has been my exasperation with the individual who was rejecting my ad, I thought it might be interesting to share our ‘chat’, warts and all: (not one single word has been modified, deleted, or enhanced!)
Friday Ad: Live Help Please wait for a site operator to respond.
Martin: You are now chatting with Martin. How may I help you?

Father Bill Haymaker: Good morning Martin, may I ask please, are you in the UK?
(I was giving them the benefit of doubt in case I was ‘chatting’ with one of those support centres in Bangladesh and this was what had caused the misunderstandings).

Martin: Yes
Father Bill Haymaker: Thank you, the reason I asked is that I thought perhaps I might be having a cultural challenge with someone misunderstanding the context of an ad I was trying to place. May I gave you an advert number to retrieve? It is YI601FB1G
Martin: I can see the email in our support inbox with the advert text

Father Bill Haymaker: I have been reading the mail I've received from your company regarding my advert. Personally I think it's quite daft. Do you REALLY believe that it is sexually discriminating?Martin: no but due to the Trading Standards law all job adverts are supposed to be equal for both males and females.
Father Bill Haymaker: I corrected the ad as you can see. But now you’ve rejected it because I’ve stated only what you quoted to me. Why is this then?Martin: I cannot put this in about Friday-Ad I'm afraid

Father Bill Haymaker: why not, it is your own statement to me.

Martin: its not our rule it comes from Trading Standards.

Father Bill Haymaker: Okay, then we can correct it! “Friday Ad says that trading standards prevents me from using the words 'Wife, feminine, or Father in the context of this advert." How’s that?

Martin: its not our rule it comes from Trading Standards
Father Bill Haymaker: You already said that and I’ve corrected the ad now, so you’re in the clear.
Martin: its also in the Advertising Procedures
Father Bill Haymaker: well then we can add that as well.

Martin: and we have to obey these rules
Father Bill Haymaker: Okay Martin, then we can add that we must obey these rules.


Father Bill Haymaker: anything else we need to add Martin? Wait a moment and I’ll re-write it.

Father Bill Haymaker: how’s this:

Wanted: Part-Time non-gender-specific individual.
Do you like sorting out hopeless non-gender specific individuals? Are you tidy almost to the point of being compulsive? Capable of putting a non-gender specific touch in a home and organising our non-gender specific lives? We need you! A non-gender specific parent who constantly travels needs a part-timer to first ‘fix it!’ Then discuss long-term plans to help keep us organised and feeling that we live in a home instead of a suitcase. (nb. Friday Ad says it’s discriminatory to use the words ‘wife, feminine, or father’ in the context of this advert AND it’s also in the Advertising Procedures AND we must obey these rules.’ SaveOurMess@yahoo.com

After a very long period I ‘nudged’ Martin, who I was beginning to imagine had gone out for a stiff drink.

Father Bill Haymaker: Martin?
Father Bill Haymaker: Martin? Are You There?
Father Bill Haymaker: Martin, if that isn't acceptable, here's an alternative:
Father Bill Haymaker: Sort our house, home, hovel...whatever you want to call it. …only non gender specific people may apply. email: SaveOurMess@yahoo.com

Martin: under the sex discrimination act here in the uk, it is illegal to discriminate on the grounds of sex, against either men or woman when advertising a position under situations vacant. Therefore i am not happy to print your advert containing the statement above!

Father Bill Haymaker: What?!! Does suggesting that we live in a home somehow offend a homeless female? I'm very confused now Martin! And thank you for reminding me that we're in the UK. In the midst of this thread I did feel compelled to look out my window just to make sure.
Martin: This is the wording that would be acceptable if you wish to continue in placing your advert! Cleaner re-queered, in Bexhill area. Please call .........

Father Bill Haymaker: Unfortunately, I’m afraid the term ‘re-queered’ might have a negative impact on people who are only just newly queered…whether they are originally queered or recently re-queered may be considered an act of discrimination against those just considering becoming queered for the first time.
Again, after a considerable period of time, I gave Martin a 'nudge.'
Father Bill Haymaker: Martin, are you there?
After a few minutes have passed...
Father Bill Haymaker: Martin, are you still in the UK?
After even a few more minutes passed...
Father Bill Haymaker: Sadly, this has really become an exercise in futility. Under the circumstances, you’ve left me with no alternative but to cancel the advert altogether. I certainly wouldn’t wish to offend anyone regardless of their gender, predilections, or ability to decipher an advert in the Friday Ad! Thank you for all your help today Martin.
Martin: Perfectly fine thank you using live chat!

Well, I thought it was all over. That is until a few days later when I received a call from a friend. Earlier in the week I had shared the story with her. She thought it was hilarious and typical of the messes I sometimes get myself into. ‘I think you’d better go out a grab a copy of the Friday Ad,’ she said.

In the Opportunities section of the paper was the following ad:

Part-Time non-gender-specific individual. Do you like sorting out hopeless non-gender specific individuals? Are you tidy almost to the point of being compulsive? Capable of putting a non-gender specific touch in a home and organising our non-gender specific lives? We need you! A non-gender specific parent who constantly travels needs a part-timer to first ‘fix it!’ Then discuss long-term plans to help keep us organised and feeling that we live in a home instead of a suitcase.
SaveOurMess@yahoo.com

By the end of the week we had received 18 responses. None of which really floated in my ‘comfort zone!’ There wasn't a single response relating to what the ad was intended to attract...although a few of the respondents suggested that all we needed was some discipline and they had the 'tool's for the job...yikes!

But the most confusing response was this:
"Would you be interested in a 23 year-old TV? If so give me a call. I think I have just what you’re looking for!"

Love Felicity XXOO

Crikey! We didn't even advertise for a television. Besides, we have enough trouble picking up the BBC on our two-year-old TV. I can’t imagine what we’d do with a 23 year old one!




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