the penultimate WORD

Series 2006 - September
The reach of my arm...


The Irvine Tartan  My monthly column in The New Brunswick Anglican





Journeys succeed each other and accumulate like generations, between the grandson you were and the grandfather you will be, what father will you have been. Therefore the journey, however futile, is necessary.”  José Saramago, The Stone Raft, page 222


Albert was his name. I didn’t know him by name; in fact, I didn’t know him at all. As a grandson I was unknown to him. He had died before my father escaped his teens. The endearing terms of generations were unknown to me; I know only his name.

But his name, Albert, is the touchstone allowing five generations to penetrate the depth of our faith journey. Let me explain.



This summer I stood at the font where I had been baptized 61 years ago. On this occasion I baptized my grandson, Isaac. As I cradled Isaac in the crook of my arm and leaned over the edge of the font I revisited a familiar space. This space had been layered now by five generations. John Vernon Young had baptized my grandfather at this font. He had baptized my father, Theodore here as well.

Here I was made a child of God, a member of Christ and an inheritor of the kingdom. The grandson of Albert, now as the grandfather of Isaac, I stood at this fountain of living water to reach beyond my grandson and cup the water and bring it to his forehead.

As a grandfather, I’m just beginning. “Grampy” is a moniker I will find more comfortable with use. From Albert to Isaac, five generations have stood, as Albert and Theodore stood, or have been held in the curve of an arm as I and Isaac were in our turn. And we all four met here at the portal of the Kingdom.

José Saramago has grasped the depth of the successive layering of generations sharing a journey, separated in time but united in purpose. The faith of our actions reached beyond my arm cupping living water and penetrated the depth of five generations. This was holy time, and this is holy space.

The Five Books of Moses presents us with the primeval journey that is at the heart of all spiritual quests. “I bore you on eagles’ wings,” the Lord God tells Moses, “and brought you to myself.” A journey from the oppression of slavery led to a promise made in a wilderness: “Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples. Indeed, the whole earth is mine, but you shall be for me a priestly kingdom and a holy nation.”

Standing at the font I knew that Eagles’ wings had brought us to this holy place and that faithfulness to God’s covenant ensured that Isaac was God’s treasured possession. I held in my arms my grandson, grafted into a priestly kingdom, indeed a citizen of a holy nation!

This activity was not isolated in a solitary event. Others shared this time and space: Janhea, Keagan and Johnathan likewise were signed and sealed as Isaac was, and marked Jesus’ own, forever. The breadth demands our peripheral vision while at the same time ensuring a depth of our faith reaching back… as far ahead of my spiritual birth as I am able to reach after, and hold my grandson.

Every generation takes this journey. Faithfulness encourages each successive generation, assuring each one of God’s promise of hope.

Saramago’s indictment, “what father will you have been,” challenges me to ensure that hope in God’s covenant promise is clearly stated. The challenge extends to me as the male parent of my own children, now grown. It extends to me as well as the priest I am who has come to be known generally as “Father Jim”. I am reminded that as a Father I need to be conscious of my role in encouraging people in their faith. I am aware that a parent enables children to become adult in their faith. Knowing my failures, I have learned to allow failures in others and enable them to recognize hope and forgiveness and love in the midst of the damnedest things.

I’ve learned, too, that I am not alone in this. Men across this diocese, in Holy Orders and otherwise, need to recognize the accumulation of preceding generations and the contribution our current generation makes as an investment in the regeneration belonging to Isaac, Janhea, Keagan and Johnathan.

Copyright © 2006 James T. Irvine

Midi sequence: Shalom aleyhkem Peace Upon You

Series 2006