The secretary introduced Niamh as a new member of staff, saying that she hoped everyone would give Niamh a warm welcome. The chairman smiled benignly, nodding his agreement with the sentiments expressed.
The meeting proceeded to work through the agenda. “Now”, said the chairman, “we have a report from Nam”.
“It’s Niamh”, the secretary whispered, in a voice so audible that everyone could hear.
“It says Nam here”.
“It’s not pronounced like that”.
“Well, why is it spelt like that”.
“It’s an Irish name.”
“Well, if it’s pronounced that way you say, it should be spelt that way”.
It was a cringeworthy moment. Naimh turned red with embarrassment but presented her report in a cheery and gracious manner.
The chairman was a good man, warm-hearted, friendly, generous; the moment seemed out of character. In retrospect, he probably regretted it himself. Had he been unsure, he might easily have said that he had not seen the name before and smiled, “You must tell me how to pronounce it properly”. Instead, he looked boorish and ignorant.
Advent is a penitential season leading to Christmas, a time of reflection and self-examination. The prayer written in 1549 for use on the first day of the season emphasises change:
Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness, and put upon us the armour of light, now in the time of this mortal life, in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious Majesty, to judge both the quick and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, now and ever. Amen.
It is very poetic, but probably not where the average churchgoer is at. Most of us don’t do ‘works of darkness’; at least, if we do, we wouldn’t regard them as such. We don’t engage too often in evil deeds, unlike the sixteenth century churches, which regularly burned alive their opponents, and, sometimes, even burned their friends, who might have been foolish enough to have asked questions. (Thomas Cranmer, the writer of the prayer. was himself burned at the stake in 1556).
Works of darkness don’t present problems in the average church; pride and unthinking arrogance do. They are not intentional. The ‘Nam’ naming chairman would have not wished to cause offence, but the offence was nonetheless real. It is being a boor and being blind to others that need to be cast away; well, they certainly do in my case.
It is in the second part of Cranmer’s prayer that points to the way to change, “in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility”. Humility is not complicated to understand; it’s just very hard to do – especially for me.