Sermon for the Feast of St. Andrew

Feast of St. Andrew
King’s College Chapel, Halifax
November 30th, 2017

“And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.”

The Feast of St. Andrew points us at once both to ends and to beginnings.

Compared to the calendar new year, which so often feels firmly rooted in winter, the change in the liturgical calendar that we are about to experience from Trinitytide into a new church year, often feels as though we are stuck between two worlds, seasonally and spiritually.

We have, it feels, one foot firmly planted in what remains of this last year, and one is creeping over the threshold into Advent and the new year.

We are not quite at the end of this year, but already we feel it. The birth pangs that accompany the end of one year, mingled with the anticipation and perhaps even excitement of what follows Advent. Something new; a beginning in which is also an end.

This month has been a time, too, when the end seems very present to us. We begin by celebrating in quick succession All Saints’ and All Souls’; a vision of what our true end looks like, followed by a reminder that we aren’t yet there.

And so how fitting it is that November ends with Andrew, the protokletos, the first called; whose Festal day can fall either before the end of the year, as it does today, or often just after the end, at the beginning of the next.

Even the Gospel for the Sunday Next Before Advent, which you have no doubt heard this week, recalls Andrew and the story of his being called to follow Christ from being a follower of John the Baptist.

Of Andrew, fairly little is known.

We know that he was a native of Bethsaida, a fisherman and son of a fisherman, brother to Simon Peter, and a fellow disciple of John the Baptist alongside John the Evangelist.

He was the first called to become a disciple of Jesus, a story which we heard in the Gospel for the Sunday Next Before Advent, “John the Baptist stood, with two of his disciples, and looking upon Jesus as he walked, he saith, ‘behold the Lamb of God!’ And the two disciples heard him speak, and they followed Jesus.”

But that he later returned to his life as a fisherman, to be called once again by Jesus to give it all up and give himself wholly to discipleship, “And they straightway left their nets, and followed him.”

It is believed Andrew was martyred under the reign of the Emperor Nero around the year 60, having been crucified on an X-shaped cross.

In this season of ends, a season of diminishing light, of the diminishing Trinitytide, Andrew and the readings that remember him now, in these end times, all point to the beginnings which follow.

In the Gospel for this week we see the fulfillment of John the Baptist’s prophecy of the coming of the Lamb of God, and the fulfillment of what he told his own disciples, “…this my joy therefore is fulfilled. He must increase, but I must decrease.”

Here at the end of John the Baptist’s ministry is a new beginning in Andrew, the first called and the first missionary, as the first to be told of coming of Christ was Andrew’s own brother, “One of the two which heard John speak, and followed him, was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother. He first findeth his own brother, Simon, and saith unto him, We have found the Messiah (which is being interpreted, the Christ).”

John Baptist goes out with no last words, no blaze of glory, no final statement. His life snuffed out by Herod. His decrease we experience beautifully and symbolically by the darkening of our days until shortly before the birth of Christ when daylight begins to increase once more.

But in the midst of the darkness of these end times, amid diminishing and decrease we see Andrew, poised on the threshold of the new year pointing us, as all the Saints do, towards the one brighter and greater than he.

We see in Andrew’s first missionary act to his own brother a diminishing and an increase; we hear little of Andrew after that, but Peter becomes the rock upon which Christ will establish his church.

Andrew shows us that all things have their end in Christ. No end, whether of a ministry like John’s or a livelihood like Andrew and Peter remains simply an end, but finds its fulfillment in and through Christ.

The Feast of Andrew heralds in the season of Advent, a season in which we will turn ourselves to fasting, repentance, and anticipation.

It is only through this repentance that we can be truly emptied of our wills and all other barriers that keep us from receiving Christ when he comes.

It is only through being emptied of our will the way that Andrew was emptied of his at his calling, that we can let go of our all our treasures, for the sake of the beauty that is God.

 

“What we call the beginning is often the end
And to make an end is to make a beginning.
The end is where we start from.”

Amen.

 

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The Indomitable Seasons

“Once, the annual cycle of the season must have seemed eternal and indomitable. The year moved from the birdsong and flowers of spring through summer’s work of harvesting and husbandry to autumnal stock-taking and into the icy challenge of winter. Every year was different, but the pattern of the seasons was consistent – a consistency powerfully strengthened by a rich calendar of proverbial lore, annual rituals, and frequent festivities. Although the weather and the seasons actually had an element of unpredictability from year to year, they were nevertheless yoked to a calendar that marked their characteristics and their progress with absolute certainty.

But now everything is changing. The seasons are blurring, they no longer have such apparently distinctive beginnings and ends…Once common cultural references are forgotten, and twenty-first-century British society is becoming ever more remote from the social and economic realities of rural life.” Nick Groom, The Seasons: A Celebration of the English Year, p. 25

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It has been just over one year since I entered a life of parish ministry.

Lately, after noticing that this year has seemed to pass the fastest of any other year of my life, I have been reflecting on the passage of time and how this has changed for me in the last few years..

Before becoming the Rector of the parish I serve I spent 10 years in the post-secondary world as a student. There’s a great deal I miss about that life but what has been the most jarring is how much I miss the structure of the year and the passage of time as a student.

Perhaps my longing for this way of marking the passage of time exists because in my heart it reminds me of connections to friends and learning, communities in which I lived, and a time that was so quickening and beautiful for me. Lately, though, I’ve been wondering if I long for it simply because it was a kind of regula and order imposed upon my life and by which I could mark the seasons.

Not only was I subject to the passage of the academic year, but I was being shaped by the rhythm of the liturgical through my involvement in the campus chapel.

There is something comforting about subjecting oneself to an external force like the seasons, there is something deeply comforting and harmonious about their indomitability and power.

A few times over the last year I have visited a friend’s family hobby farm and had a taste of life lived there and it has made me envious. There life is lived in complete subjection to powers beyond our control, like the weather and the seasons. The year is marked out by ritual tasks that must be done. Thanksgiving always brings with it the knowledge that the pigs will need to be slaughtered; December means the time of  Christmas tree harvesting has come; and at a certain point in the Spring it is time to turn the garden beds.

There is a great beauty in being governed by those forces and necessities, of the repetition and ritual that comes with the passage of each year.

The church has her own calendar and way of marking the passage of time, but the sad fact is that so much of the church suffers from a tragic amnesia about itself.

Modern lectionaries and church calendars have diminished, and in some cases destroyed, the inherent logic and beauty of the way that the church, for millennia, marked the passage of time.

Take for example the feasts of St. John the Baptist and St. Thomas the Apostle. It would have been very clear to people who lived in closer relation to the natural seasons that there was a reason why we celebrate the Feast of the Nativity of John the Baptist at the Summer Solstice and St. Thomas at the Winter Solstice – John announces at the time when our days begin to darken that he, “Must decrease so that He may increase,” until we find ourselves on the darkest day of the year when St. Thomas is turned from the darkness of doubt and we begin our journey back towards light.

With modern calendars having moved the Feast of St. Thomas to July the subtle beauty and distinction is lost.

In my parish we use the modern calendar and lectionary but it means very little to anyone. We no longer have access to the church seasons like the -gesimas that bring so much more meaning to Lent, nor are we privy to the joys of Epiphanytide, or Whitsuntide, nor Rogationtide. Our church year has simply been parcelled out into large chunks of either Ordinary Time or something slightly less ordinary.

In the last year we have recognized church festivals such as Rogationtide, the Ember Days, and Lammas Day, even if only through little ways. We live in a heavily agricultural and rural province where most people are, at most, only one generation removed from farming so these are all parts of the church calendar that people connect with, but there is still so much left to rediscover.

 

Here in the Rectory we are trying to reclaim some practices and habits that will help us to live more in relation to that indomitable and governing structure of the seasons both natural and liturgic: we recognize and celebrate the daily offices from the old calendar and lectionary, we will be preparing our yard for growing food next Spring, we will be eating more seasonally, I allow myself to be subject to the natural rhythms and seasons of the fish in my fly fishing, and I will be brewing beer through the winter using flavours and ingredients fitting the seasons.

They are small steps, but it is an attempt to reclaim that which has been lost through our distance from rural life, from the ancient rhythms of our church, and from allowing ourselves the felicity of having our lives governed by forces wholly external to us

The Finches – Wendel Berry

The ears stung with cold
sun and frost of dawn
in early April, comes

the song of winter finches,
their crimson bright, then
as they move into

and then against the light.
May the year warm them
soon. May they soon go

north with their singing
and the season follow.
May the bare sticks soon

live, and our minds go free
of the ground
into the shining of trees.

Sermon for Ascension Day

Sermon for the Feast of the Ascension
St. Peter’s Cathedral, Charlottetown – Latin High Mass
May 24th, AD 2017

 “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye gazing up into heaven?”

 In nomine Patri, et Fili, et Spiritus Sancti. Amen.

            This great feast of the Ascension is the day in which all other celebrations in our church find their consummation, completion, and fullness.

All other feasts days look to this celebration and depend on it, just as our salvation hinges upon Jesus’ ascension; without it everything we do here, everything we say, the scriptures, the church, every word of Jesus drifts away in the breeze and we are left with nothing.

And so this is a feast of great joy—it is the fulfillment of Jesus’ descending to earth at the Nativity, and it is the completion of his death upon the cross and resurrection from the dead. It is what he promised us would happen; it is part of our salvation.

And so be joyful, but know that this celebration is bound to disappoint us as well.

For through this Feast our worldly hopes, our desires, our ambition, and our loves will be crushed.

This is a disappointment and heart break that even the apostles felt, “Ye men of Galilee, why stand ye staring up into heaven?” asks the two angels of them.

And indeed, why stand staring, agape at Jesus’ departure if not for sadness?

 

Their grief was great because they saw him for whom they had left everything being taken away from their senses and sight. Their fear too was great because they were left as orphans…not yet strengthened by the power from on high.”

 

Writes Bernard of Clairvaux.

Jesus told the Apostles that he would, after a time go away, and in his place he would send the comforter, but the disciples were confused and afraid and did not understand what he meant.

Would any of them who truly remembered his words, “Ye shall weep and lament, but the world shall rejoice: and ye shall be sorrowful, but your sorrow shall be turned into joy,” stand staring up after him? So great is the apostles’ distress that the angels have to remind them of Jesus’ promise of return, “This same Jesus, which is taken up from you into heaven, shall so come in like manner as ye have seen him go.”

The apostles’ pain is one that we all know.

We all know what it’s like to lose or leave someone who moves us, someone who through their presence, their conversation, their friendship, and their love, allows us to know beauty and goodness in a deeper way. The sort of person we cherish, the one in whom we see qualities and characteristics we admire and wish that we had ourselves.

The pain that accompanies the loss of this kind of friend is the kind of pain the apostles felt at the ascension.

Alongside their pain is also fear, and a lack of trust, and I suspect it is the very same that we often find in ourselves, and is the reason that the collect tonight reads as it does.

In the triptych that is the collect, epistle and gospel for each week and feast of our calendar, the collect is often used to distill the lections and offer us a pointed note on what this week is about, it teaches us what the thrust of the readings are by what it gets us to pray.

And through tonight’s collect we pray to be helped with the very thing that caused the apostles’ disappointment, “like as we do believe thy only-begotten son our Lord Jesus Christ to have ascended into the heavens; so may we also in heart and mind hither ascend…”

But therein lies the challenge. It is the same challenge offered by Paul in Colossians, “If then you are risen with Christ, seek those things which are above.” For us, easier said than done.

The apostles stood standing and staring up in to heaven because with Jesus’ ascension came the death of all of their worldly loves, hopes, and desires. “They could not be filled with spiritual understanding”, writes St. Augustine, “unless the object of their earthly love should go from before their eyes.”

This is the disappointment to which the Ascension leads us.

Our hearts break at the ascension because through it we see how desperately our hearts need transformation; we see how little and seldom we seek those things from above.

But we rejoice because we are shown what is our spiritual destiny as the children of God. We rejoice because we are shown that our bodies will be, “fashioned like unto his glorious body.”

This is why we gather together on the Ascension: to pray that our hearts might be reborn, transformed; that God might take all of our desires and passions, our loves, our ambitions, and transfigure them. That our minds and our hearts might “hither ascend.”

             Amen.

Mothering Sunday & Rectory Hospitality

One of the things that my wife and I have been discovering since arriving in the parish in September is that the parish loves being invited into the rectory.

We have welcomed parishioners in to the rectory for a few social events, but also for a couple of council meetings that I’ve hosted here alongside a shared meal.

We have a sitting room and my study on the main floor, and so I’ve met with people in both of those places as well.

One of the reasons that I think people like it so much, aside from the fact that it’s most often in connection with food and fellowship, is that it communicates a collegiality between rector and parishioners.

We moved into the rectory wanting it to be a place that was, in some sense, a shared space. It is of course our home, but it doesn’t belong to us. It is also a kind of neutral-ground, neither one church nor the other, and not the parish hall. It stands apart from other physical spaces in the parish in that it is a dwelling, but we see it as nonetheless a shared place for fellowship.

Clergy can be overprotective of their privacy and their time, and rectories are often places that get shuttered, and the parish locked out, since it becomes the place of refuge away from the parish and daily work.

Our hope is that in opening it and offering the kind of hospitality we do, it will actually shape our relationship with those in the parish, and the relationship of parishioners with each other, such that we don’t seek refuge or respite from one another but a truer fellowship.

Here are a few pictures from our Mothering Sunday open house that we held this past Sunday.

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday in Lent

Sermon for the 2nd Sunday of Lent
King’s College Chapel
May 16th, 2017

“Have mercy on me, O Lord, thou son of David; my daughter is grievously
vexed with a devil. But he answered her not a word.”

The silence must have been deafening.

His disciples, at first, at a distance. Jesus, alone with her.

Not a sound. Nothing from the one in whom she had put her hope.

No doubt she had heard rumours of this man whispered throughout the land, rumours of one who could cast out demons and offer miraculous healing, even to some who simply touched his clothing.

It was a mother’s love and desperation that brought her to him, seeking help for her daughter who was possessed by an unclean spirit.

But she was a Canaanite. And what’s more, she was a native of the area into which Jesus and his disciples had entered. Tyre and Sidon were Gentile territory within the holy land itself; to disciples and indeed to most Jews it was a land of darkness, idolatry and false Gods.

Whatever interactions she had with the Jewish community in her life could most likely be summed up in the disciples’ response to seeing her beseeching Jesus for help, “send her away.”

To them she was no more than an annoyance.

And devastating as Jesus’ silence must have been for her, his next words—equally hard for us to digest, and seemingly un-Jesus-like—would be crushing, yet expected, “I have not come but to save the lost sheep of Israel,” which is to say, “I have not come for you.”

We ought, I think, to be somewhat puzzled by Jesus’ response here. His actions should, for you, as it did for me, stand out.

He treats her with silence, he refuses her, and then calls her a dog. This woman who in faith reached out to seek help for another.

Our Lenten pilgrimage so far has been shaped by readings that give us a sense of what torments and hazards we will face on our journey to Easter morning, and they have shown us Jesus at work, casting out devils and offering healing—they have shown us the pitfalls and dangers of our pilgrimage, but also show us the answer to them, the salve and medicine—that is, Jesus.

Today is no different, but with the curious—and perhaps difficult—reaction of Jesus to the Canaanite woman. This is not the Jesus we have seen, or that we feel that we know from other parts of the Gospels.

The easiest thing for me to do at this point, to make both a long sermon short, and to give you a take-away for tonight, is to point out that it is the Canaanite woman’s persistence in faith that had the unclean spirit banished, and returned her daughter to health.

Christ as God surely had the foreknowledge of how this event would go for he, “needed not that any should testify of man, for he knew what was in man,” as John tells us in his Gospel, and so his silence is simply about bolstering the Canaanite woman to be persistent, to not give up in prayer and faith until she got what she wanted.

I wouldn’t be lying to you if I ended it all here. But I won’t.

Because what is remarkable about this encounter is not just that the daughter was healed, but what she is brought to through Christ’s silence, and indeed his outright refusal of her.

Christ says to her, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and to cast it to dogs,” which is to say, “what I have, what I offer, is for the Jews; to offer it to Gentiles would be to offer it to dogs.”

And her response to Christ, “Truth, Lord; yet the little dogs eat of the crumbs which fall from their masters’ table.”

This image might conjure up a cute vision of puppies eating up the toast crumbs from the breakfast table, but the image is in fact quite terrible. It is an image of slavery, of the downtrodden kneeling on the floor waiting for even the possibility of a scrap to drop from their master’s table.

Her response illustrates a profound humility with which she approaches Jesus, but only after facing severe rebuke.

We all know the moments, or perhaps the long periods in our lives, when we, like the Canaanite Woman, have experienced Christ’s silence in the face of our pleas.

We know that in times of great uncertainty and anxiety, when everything we know and everything in which we have put our trust and to which we have given our lives seems to hang in the balance as we wait on Christ to speak, that the temptation to distrust grows in us.

Jesus’ silence before the Canaanite Woman shows us that those periods of anxious silence, of painful and fearful waiting, and of facing the temptation to distrust are given to us to help us distil our wills; to help us to weed out what is our selfish demand, borne of fear, and what is our true longing. This is humility.

The Canaanite woman came to Jesus with a plea, with begging, and maybe even frantic begging. And what parent wouldn’t?

But Jesus’ silence and his harsh words—which were his rebuke—brought her to a point of humility, of knowing, “not my will, Lord, but thine, be done.”

Jesus’ silence was not incidental to this encounter, it was essential to it.

And to learn to live in that silence is to know humility.

Without his silence, without that period of uncertainty and anxiety, the Canaanite woman would not have given up her pleas and her desires and surrendered them to God’s will. She would not have come to know her truest longing.

So it is with us.

We believe that our desires and our longings, our pleas that are borne out of fear are good and just, and that if only we throw them at Christ’s feet and demand mercy, we will get what we want. The woman’s plea was for another, it wasn’t wrong or bad, but humility is knowing that the only way to know our truest longing is to know, “not my will, Lord, but thine.”

As much as we attend to the moments when our hearts are the most filled and our souls the most quickened, so must we attend to Christ’s silence, which is the rebuke of our demands. We must listen to it, live in it, and by it, allow our hearts to know and to utter, “not my will, Lord, but thine.”

Amen.

Burying the Alleluias

Image
Our Alleluia Casket

On Sunday at St. John’s Church (one of our two points) the Sunday School “buried” the alleluias.

The original plan had been to do this outside, but with -15° temperatures, frozen ground, and no snow, it had to be done inside.

The “Burying of the Alleluias” is an odd but lovely liturgical practice with medieval roots, though the practice of putting a stop to the word alleluia during penitential seasons likely goes back further.

The idea is that our halting the singing or saying of the word alleluia in church for the penitential seasons is marked by a simple ceremony of hiding or burying a depiction of the word itself, thus burying the word and restraining ourselves just a little bit until we can look into the empty tomb on Easter morning and shout it with unrestrained joy.

I was a week late doing this–properly the burying of the Alleluias should be done on Quinquagesima, the week prior to Lent 1, but due to a large number of kids being away, we opted for a Lent 1 burial.

I prepped them two weeks earlier by giving a children’s talk on the upcoming season of Lent, and by having them colour some legal-sized sheets with the word “Alleluia” on them, but left what we would do with them a surprise.

On Sunday (Lent 1) I brought in a wooden chest that would serve as our casket and had some Lenten-purple cloth to line the inside.

At the Children’s time I was delighted when I asked one of the boys to explain to his brother, who had been absent the week before, what they had coloured. He replied, “but, I am not allowed to say the a-word.” Clearly these kids are listening.

One thing that I was not able to track down was any kind of standardized liturgy for burying the alleluias, I suspect because there isn’t one. It is not a common practice, and those that do seem to come up with something appropriate on their own.

I did manage to find a few things that I compiled into a burial liturgy that looked like this (combined with Children’s time):

Children’s Talk

What does alleluia mean?
What is Lent?
Why do you think we stop saying the Alleluia during Lent?

Two verses of Alleluia Sing to Jesus are sung by all
Children process (if possible) to burial place

Priest: We are now entering into the season of Lent. Lent is a time when we remember that  Jesus gave up his life for us. We give things up in our lives sometimes, so that we can be like Jesus and offer a small sacrifice of our own.

Here in our church family, we give up saying the word Alleluia—which means, “God be praised”—so that on Easter Morning, when we can see that Jesus rose from the dead, we are able to say Alleluia (God be praised) with our whole heart.

For now, we bury these Alleluias as a symbol that on Easter morning our joy will rise with Jesus, when he rises from the dead.

Children place their alleluias in the casket, leaving it open.

Priest:  Alleluia, May the good angel of the Lord accompany you,  and give you a good                            journey, that you may come back to us in joy, Alleluia.

May Alleluia, that sacred and joyful word, be heard from the lips of all people.

May this word, which comes from the mouth of angels, come from our lips as well on Easter morning.

And may the joy that you express yield fruit in our hearts by helping us to grow in love.

Priest: Let us pray.

Lord God, our creator, as we bury this sign of praise and
thanksgiving, help us to give up all those things that stand between
us and your love and to walk with Jesus on the road that leads closer
to you.  We give up our Alleluia for 40 days so that, when we come to
Easter, we may with joy proclaim you our Savior in our hearts and with
our voices.  Amen

This is just one, obviously more kid-friendly, way of conducting the Burial of the Alleluias; I took most of my cues from Modern Medievalism, and modified some of what they provide. I would be very keen to see more formal versions.

On Easter morning we will unearth these Alleluias and they will adorn the rood screen during our family service, and later festoon the walls of the Sunday school room.

What I liked about it in terms of a teaching lesson for children was that it reinforced both that Lent is a time when we put things away, when we have to exercise some self-restraint, but also a time when we look forward to when we can bring these things back and enjoy them once more.

It helps to reinforce that the feast and the fast do not stand alone; each depends on the other, and each is an equal part of our penitence, and our joy.

We’re Getting Rid of the Internet

Yes, you read that right.

It’s been a thought I’ve been incubating over the last year and one that I have spent lots of time considering. A number of months ago I expressed my feelings to my wife and she agreed that it was time to cut the cord (so-to-speak).

Soon we will be moving. I will be taking my first parish and we will be leaving the apartment where we have been for two years and moving into a rectory somewhere else in the Diocese. When we get there we will not be installing internet (I have not had television for 6 years now, that also won’t be coming into the house).

Not only will we not be installing internet, but we will also be “downgrading” our smart-phones to flip phones with no data access.

We will have access to public libraries, coffee shops, and I will likely have an internet-enabled church office very near by, so we will still access the internet, but we are making a conscious choice not to make it part of our home life.

Computers have been a part of my life for a very long time, both of my parents’ jobs necessitated them having computers at home, even when I was in very early elementary school at a time when no one else had computers. Soon after, just as dial-up internet was being made available publicly, we had that enabled in our home. My fascination with computers was largely due to the tinkering side of my personality, and the internet opened up a whole new world of people, interests, knowledge, and fun that had before then been very different to access. From then on the internet was a household and daily part of my life.

 

In so many ways my access to the internet has led to good things: people I have met, access to incredible amounts of knowledge and things to read, games that could entertain for hours. It also does something though, that when unchecked, becomes quite insidious: it desensitizes, it makes disturbing imagery intimately close, and it skews ones desire such that there is an almost insatiable drive to keep browsing.

This desire combined with unfettered and intimate access means that the gritty and gruesome details of the latest ISIS massacres are welcomed right into our beds as we check our phones before we sleep, or right after waking up.

I once remember a journalism professor remarking to us that what makes radio unique above all other forms of media is that radio is with us where television and newspapers are not: a human voice that is with us in the shower, next to our beds, in our cars as we drive, in our ears as we walk, in our kitchens. Like phones, radio exists in those intimate places in our lives that other forms of media cannot penetrate; unlike radio, which is scheduled and finite, the internet provides an endless rabbit hole of fascinating and often depraved things to click and read.

Where once I sated my desire to get lost in reading with books, now I reach down beside my bed and pull up Google. Where once I could distract myself from reading books with day-dreams, now even that time has surrendered itself to my iPhone.

Now at this point you might be saying to yourself, “But Colin, this is your problem, not the internet’s. This is a problem of your self-control and discipline,” and indeed you are right, it is. It is extreme, perhaps, but there is something to be taken I think from a loose interpretation of Christ’s words in Matthew 5:30–it’s not my hand I will be cutting off, but rather the very thing that enables us to spend our time in a way that neither of us want.

It has been such a dependable routine for so long I know that there will be pains in the beginning, it will not be easy. Thankfully the excitement of starting a new job and setting up our home will help mitigate whatever difficulty we have and hopefully books, focus, and quietude will again become parts of our regular home life.