Monday, 23 February 2015

A sort of epitaph

"If I should go before the rest of you
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone,
Nor when I'm gone speak in a Sunday voice
But be the usual selves that I have known.
Weep if you must,
Parting is hell,
But life goes on,
So sing as well."

Joyce Grenfell

Rainbow Time in Oxford

Oxford's Rainbow Flags: "whatever's going on?", I thought to myself, as I saw first Hertford, then Wadham (& Gomorrah), then New College, sporting rainbow flags today. So, ever the scientist, at New College porters' lodge, I asked. "It's for gay and lesbian and transexual ..." "Oh, I know what it means, but why TODAY?" "It's all week, sir" "Good heavens. I wonder if they're doing it in Christ Church - in my day, we only acknowledged one Queen". And he laughed like a drain, and I went on my way, enlightened.

Monday, 9 February 2015

The Power of Touch

A Homily for Holy Communion on
Monday , 9th of February, 2015, 9 a.m.

for the Sisters of the Love of God
Fairacres Priory, Oxford

Mark 6 53-end

The Power of Touch

+ May I speak in the name of the Divine Trinity, God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Time to discuss a touchy subject – literally the question of touching. Mine has become, by stealth, something of a touchy-feely generation, still more so the one that has come after. Men and women alike, meeting complete strangers, will hug and kiss like long-lost childhood friends. Those of us who are not tactile in this way, and are more likely to flinch than to luxuriate in the embrace of a stranger, are made to feel that we are missing out on something, even that somehow we are not quite all there. A bit “touched”, perhaps.

But sometimes we can feel vindicated, reading the sad stories of old men who were famous in our childhood being brought to book for inappropriate touching, or worse, long ago. Reading their victims’ accounts, it’s as if not knowing the difference between appropriate and abusive touching, they didn’t know didn’t have the words to reject it. The legacy of these trials is a challenge to the touchy-feely generation to teach the next that there are limits on how far you can go.

Even without those sinister implications, touch can be used abusively, to suggest that all is well – hug and make up – when all is not in fact well. The lie is compounded by making it physical, just as the sin is compounded when our intention becomes action. I’ve been in a group (it was a very right-thinking charity) that was addicted to redemptive hugging – a practice which at times could feel more like the kiss of Judas, because what was wrong was still wrong, and we were pretending a hug had made it all right.

And touch has lately been controversial in our own church – who may or may not properly touch the candidate in an ordination. What is transmitted by that touch? And does it matter who has been touched by the same hands before? I have absolutely no intention of providing answers to these questions, but the answers are out there, and some of them are pretty ferocious.

So that’s why on reading this passage, what struck me first is that the crowds are coming out to touch Jesus, but - and this would be music to the ears of those responsible for what we now call "safeguarding" - notice they were – “begging him to let them touch even the fringe of his cloak”. They ask permission. And he grants it, and they are healed.

The whole of our Eucharist can be seen as that asking permission – “but only say the word, and I shall be healed” – leading to the moment of Holy Communion in which we fulfil our pilgrimage and stretch out our hands to touch the incarnate God, in bread and wine.

Dare we say that then we are healed, like the crowds who came to Jesus? The Good News must surely be that we at least glimpse – no, we touch – the possibility of that healing which makes all things new.

Richard Haggis
Barton-upon-Bayswater, Oxford
February 2015