One of the strange things I do is write “hello” a lot as I sit thinking or when I just sit (!). I’ve done it since Primary School. You’ll still find “hello” written in all sorts of places like my bible, my notes for a sermon or any old bit of paper lying around. Sometimes even on my hand. I should probably seek counselling about it! But it’s more fun to keep writing and ponder what a counsellor might say.
Perhaps I’m like Karen Blixen. In the film ‘Out of Africa’, when her husband complains about a lack lustre goodbye kiss she says “I’m better at hello”. Meryl Streep, who plays the Danish Karen Blixen, fills the words with moody promise.
Hello is so full of possibilities, new beginnings. But it can be scary too. A new job, a new situation. New people. Will we cope? Will we get on with the in-laws, or new neighbours?
Goodbye is the end of things. And yet many goodbyes are good! How many people have said something like: “I love it when my grandchildren come to see us. I also love it when they go!” We’re often glad to receive visitors and glad when they go as well! Serious things come and go – problems get resolved, and we move on to a better place.
So our lives are full of hellos and goodbyes. Some, like when people come to visit, have a clear beginning and end. Other hellos are much more long-term – like when a baby is born. So hello to Elspeth, and Eliza and at least two more to come soon to parents in our congregation. And, of course, goodbyes can be very permanent too, or seem to be, as when someone dies.
As someone about to be 60 (I know you can’t believe it, but it’s true), there are many things I need to say goodbye to. I’m never going to play cricket for Ireland. I’ll never run faster than either of my sons again. There are still so many things I’d like to do, but I’ll have to make some hard choices or none of them will get done….
But however old we are, a significant event in our lives is an opportunity to stop and reflect on some basic questions like: where next? What does God want me to do in this next chapter of my life? We move on and God continues alongside us, inviting us to continually reshape our lives in response to his guiding and empowering Spirit. “Keep in step with the Spirit” advises St Paul (Letter to the Galatians 5:25).
We are soon to say goodbye to Jimmy Lawrence, our curate. It doesn’t seem long since we first said hello. We’ll miss his lively, encouraging presence among us. We’ll miss his thoughtful sermons. We’re grateful for all he’s given us. He has formed us, and we have formed him, and Hannah. We are the better for Jimmy and Hannah having been with us. And we’re delighted for them that they can actually live together now and work out the details of their next step.
To Jimmy and Hannah, and to all of us, on the ever changing path of life, with all its hellos and goodbyes, there is perhaps no better advice than “Keep in step with the Spirit”. Our living loving God is always with us and will never desert us. “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want” (Psalm 23). Alleluia!