The One About the Grey Havens and Goodbye

The Rector’s Digest 2022:01
4 February 2022
Cornelius the Centurion (1c)

Happy snow day (?!?), St. B’s Family —

Yesterday at mass we blessed throats.

February 3 is the Feast of St. Blaise (also called Blasius), a wildly popular saint in middle-ages Europe, but about whom we actually know very little. We know he existed — he’s named in an ancient medical journal, he served as bishop of Sabaste in modern-day Turkey more than 1700 years ago, and Marco Polo visited his shrines. He’s also the patron saint of veterinarians. Holy Blaise was martyred under Licinius around 316 A.D., but we remember him today because of the legends that grew up around him.

St. Blaise and His Beasts

According to one legend, Licinius’ soldiers were marching Blaise to prison when a woman approached the caravan distressed that her pig was being attacked by a wolf. At Blaise’s command, the wolf released the pig, and the woman later brought candles to Blaise’s cell so he would have light to read. The most famous legend has the imprisoned bishop miraculously curing a young boy choking on a fish bone, thus his fame as the patron saint of throat ailments and yesterday’s little liturgy. Even the woman’s candles find their way back into the story, because in time the custom arose of blessing the throats of the faithful by holding two tapered candles (called a “candelabrum”) against the throat while invoking the intercession of St. Blaise against any illness, particularly ailments of the throat.

The Church has blessed and prayed for the sick since its earliest days. In chapter 5 of his epistle, St. James wrote: “14Are any among you sick? They should call for the elders of the church and have them pray over them, anointing them with oil in the name of the Lord. 15The prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise them up; and anyone who has committed sins will be forgiven16Therefore confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another, so that you may be healed.”

The annual blessing of the throats is an old sacramental practice, a sign of the struggle against illness and of praying for healing. I learned the practice as curate at the Church of the Ascension & St. Agnes in Washington, DC, where my mentor, Fr. Ron Conner, would bless almost anything that moved — taxi cabs, firetrucks, animals of any kind, water, plants, rosaries, and — of course — throats. And I’ve taken the practice with me to the Advent in Boston and, now, to our parish church here in Nashville.

Even before arriving at St. Bartholomew’s, I’d heard of the emphasis on healing here. From the old weekend retreats on healing to the prayer stations in the nave every Sunday (thanks, Phyllis!), healing has long been part of this parish’s ministry. I’ve heard story after story of folks who arrived at St. B’s beaten and bloody, only to find healing and wholeness in the Sacraments and through the love of this community.

Looking back on my time here, I’m happy to say I’ve found healing here, too, and in ways I hadn’t expected. Part of healing is becoming aware of the particular shape of one’s brokenness, and that comes through self-awareness. Thanks to the relationships I’ve built here — with the staff, vestry, and members of our parish — I’ve come to understand myself so much better, which helped me find particular patterns of sinfulness to carry to my confessor, and the coaching the vestry procured for me and the staff over the past two years gave me tools I didn’t even know I needed to be a better husband, father, priest and friend. I’m leaving a different man to the one I arrived as, and I’ll forever be grateful for that.

So I wanted to write one last short Digest just to say thank you — for everything. In less than a week I fly to NY to take a new post, but I leave Nashville with a St.B’s-shaped hole in my heart. I’m sad, to be sure, but if grief is but the other side of love, then my sadness is an indicator of the love I have for this place and for you.

In the closing pages of Tolkien’s famous trilogy, Gandalf the Wizard rides with Sam and Frodo and Bilbo out of the Shire, to the Far Downs and the Towers, and to Mithlond, the Grey Havens (always sounded like the saddest place imaginable) in the long firth of Lune, where they meet Merry and Pippin. In the shadow of the great white ship that will carry Gandalf across the High Sea and into the West, Sam is “sorrowful at heart” at this parting of friends. And typing today my heart’s sorrowful, too. But I’m reminded of the parting words of Gandalf the Wise:

“Well, here at last, dear friends, on the shores of the Sea comes the end of our fellowship in Middle-earth. Go in peace! I will not say: do not weep; for not all tears are an evil.”

J. R. R. Tolkien, The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (London: HarperCollins, 1995): 1007.

And lastly, for one more time, the latest —

If you find yourself by a fire this weekend, here’s what I’ve been up to of late:

  • Reading: I’ve been so tired at night lately that I’ve honestly not read much of anything. But one thing I want to read is a little book Meredith Flynn told me about yesterday — Dennis Linn’s Sleeping With Bread: Holding What Gives You Life. If one of the questions at the book’s heart is “For what am I most grateful?” then a handful of wonderful years at St. B’s is at the top of my answers list.
  • Listening: Fleetwood Mac’s Rumours turns 45 today. My eldest, Elizabeth, says Stevie, Mick, and the gang are her favorite band, so my parenting can’t be all bad, right?
  • Watching: Our own Tony Morreale recommended this one earlier in the week — Captain Irving Johnson’s Around Cape Horn, stunning video and commentary of his voyage to the bottom of the world in 1929. That led me to the Ghosts of Cape Horn documentary. Maybe I’m got barques on the brain, or perhaps it’s just anticipation of a journey, but both had me riveted. And if you just can’t get enough, revisit Gordon Lightfoot’s classic, and I defy you not to hum it for the next 2 days.

As always, thanks for reading all my meandering posts. Hope to see you for the Bonfire and BBQ on Sunday! I’ll treasure all the memories, and pray God blesses you —

Published by Fr. Sammy Wood

Interim Rector of St. Mary the Virgin Episcopal Church in Times Square

2 thoughts on “The One About the Grey Havens and Goodbye

  1. We love your meandering comments and will miss you and your family. Bob and I wish you and your family safe travel. We will also miss your great sermons and stories.

    Liked by 1 person

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